We had an epic day of gaming this past week that included a few rounds of the Castles of Mad King Ludwig. What a game. We enjoyed it so much we were inspired to start a few bands based on our crazy castle building experience. But don’t expect to hear the Glamour Castles or Intimidated by Hallways playing anytime soon at a stony palace near you, we’ve decided just to play the game many more times rather than actually start a band, which is really a bonus for everyone.
During the planning of our 9 castle tour, we asked ourselves, why did this game inspire us to be as crazy as King Ludwig? Was it because the game had too much downtime, too much time to think? Or did it not have enough downtime, forcing our brains to run at high speeds? You know what, the downtime was just right. What about the length, maybe too long and our exhausted brains became delusional? Or too short with more time to be silly in between games? No, actually, the game length was just right. Guess what Goldilocks, this game is just right in so many ways. Are there others like Mad King Ludwig, not too hard, not too soft, but just right? We think so, and here are some of our favorites, but first, the criteria for getting Goldilocks to sleep in your bed. Um, sorry, I meant like your game.
The Golidlocks Game Test: The game must be just right in the following categories.
Length: For us, a little over an hour, but well under 2 hours is just right, so about 90 minutes. Interestingly, that is the average time for a full sleep cycle. Could being in the zone during a 90 minute game be just as refreshing as a sleep cycle? If so, bye, bye sleep, hello Goldilocks games from midnight to 7 am.
Simplicity: This refers to the rules, which should have a certain elegance rather than being a clunky collection of interactions between bits.
Complexity: This refers to the strategy. Planning ahead is fun, but if you have to hold 23 things in a brain space designed to hold only 7, Goldilocks will not be playing, which is a bummer, because she’s cute and cheery.
Downtime: We play games to use our brains in new and interesting ways, so thinking hard for short periods of time is enjoyable. Watching someone rub the skin off their chin is not. Goldilocks wants some downtime in her games, just not a halftime show.
Player Interaction: Too much player interaction and you have a great loud and chaotic pub game, too little and you might be playing a Feld or a Rosenberg. We’re looking for just enough interaction to keep the competitive tension high without the possibility of having your entire game ruined following one silly move by another bear.
Dr. Cloud’s Goldilocks List (numbered, but not in any particular order actually)
- Castles of Mad King Ludwig: Build wild structures with rooms that like or dislike other rooms: Fun. The most brilliant part of the game though, the master builder. Take turns setting the room prices in order to get paid and get the rooms you want. Pretty elegant. Some complain that this adds too much downtime to the game, we found it just right.
- Lords of Waterdeep: A smooth game with a simple design. Not brainy enough for elitists, but just right for us. We also love that the expansion sneaks right in without making a lot of noise.
- Snowdonia: Very rich and competitive for such a quick game, a brilliant race to build a train route up a mountain. Indie Boards and Cards took over US distribution and Kickstarted a new version with lame plastic figures and an even lamer price tag of $70. Still, a great game with 2 ways to play in the box.
- Last Will: Wasting money is always fun, but in this game its your goal. An interesting mix of worker placement and clever card play. Rio Grande games once published this one in the States, but Czech games is now handling their own US distribution, so Last Will is coming back kids.
- 7 Wonders: Now amongst the pillars of the tabletop genre. A bit short perhaps for Goldilocks, but throw in all the expansions, which you should do, and the length is just right.
- Fresco: A game about being a sensible artist: waking up your helpers at the right time to make the most of your day at the paint market, the chapel, and your studio. If Queen games ever gets serious about doing business again and stops the big box nonsense, we should have the basic Fresco game back in print sometime this year, which includes multiple expansion modules, so it’s already a big box. Actually, it’s just right.