Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Castilion Kickstarter Review, Part 2: Gameplay & Verdict

This review is for a project still at the Kickstarter stage. As such, final game contents may vary from those shown here.
Welcome back, gentle readerfolk!  In our last article we dissected the contents of the Kickstarter project Castilion: a 2 player strategy game from Joe Mellanby for 2 players.  Now it's time to draw our swords, nock our arrows and... umm... wave(?) our spears, as we march to battle and bring you our verdict on the gameplay!

In Part 1 of the review we looked at the various different decks of cards which make up Castilion, as well as the gaming board.  Once both players have selected their Castle, General, Royal, and army, there's nothing left but to take to the field and let battle commence!

Each player has 2 playing pieces - one representing the General, and one representing the castle (we didn't show these in Part 1 as we were playing with prototype pieces) - and these both begin the game on their castle's respective spaces on the board.  The castle piece actually remains there for the game, just to mark out the players' strongholds to each other, whilst the General piece tracks the movement of the armies.

Both players have their own gaming area, where their troop deck, movement deck, and graveyard are all kept.  At the beginning of their turn, they draw 3 cards from the troop deck and 2 from the movement deck, and add them to their hand.  Armies can be moved up to 2 spaces per turn, after which they players can discard as many movement cards as they wish out of their hands to continue moving up to the number of spaces on those cards.  Now the rules of the game didn't specify a hand limit, so when we raised this issue with Castilion's creators they suggested we try out a hand limit and see how it plays.
Eventually we settled on a hand limit of 8, and this really did seem to work.  This gave players the options of either filling their hands with movement cards and having light hit and run armies, or letting them load up with troop cards, restricting their movement but allowing their army to pack a wallop when they finally reach their target, which brings us to the main aspect of the game...

Unoccupied castle spaces on the board are effectively safe zones, meaning players can't be attacked as long as their army is occupying one of those spaces.  Those safe zones aside, if a player ends his movement in the same space as their opponent's army - or their castle - then it's time for battle to commence!

Battles are resolved using the troop cards in each players' hands, which is why it's important to find a balance between troops and movement!  All of the cards in the coloured troop decks feature Attack and/or Defence stats in the top-left corner, and these are used to determine the outcome of the battles.

The coloured decks, as mentioned in Part 1, are broken down into Troops, Actions, Formations, and Items.  In order to attack an opponent's army or castle, a player must have at least one Troop-type card.  They can then add to that any other cards from their hand (or their General if they wish), as long as they are of the same colour, up to a maximum of 5.  This makes hand-management essential, as having one colour of Troop in a hand full of a different colour's Actions/Formations/Items means that you're not in as strong a position as you may hope for!
The defending player must defend their army in the same manner - first of all needing a minimum of one Troop, and then adding defensive equipment and formations as they see fit.  Once both players have chosen their cards they are revealed to each other, and total Attack and Defence values compared - the highest total coming out victorious.

In the example above, the green player has attacked using four cards, with an attack total of 60.  The red player was fortunate to have a defensive hand though, and has countered with a defence of 95, resulting in defeat for green!

When defeated in battle, all of the defeated players cards go to their graveyard, including the general if they took part!  Once a player has no more Troop-type cards left in their deck, they can no longer attack or defend, and so must surrender to their opponent - this prevents players from attacking recklessly, forcing further tactical hand-management to ensure their precious Troops remain in play.

Of course, this only happens if two armies meet each other face to face!  If a player manages to attack an opponent's castle whilst their army is preoccupied elsewhere, they effectively get a free swing at the stronghold!  In this instance the defending player cannot submit any cards to the battle, and so the attacker's total attack value is dealt as damage to the castle, before they retreat back to their own stronghold.  If a player's castle defence value is reduced to 0, they are defeated and the game is over.  This is where having a light but fast army can come in useful - chipping away at a castle a little at a time.  Of course, there are also merits to a slow moving sledgehammer of an army!

So that's the basic breakdown of the gameplay mechanic, but what did we think of it?
Well first of all we enjoyed the overall feel of the game - the map, the troop decks, the terrain cards and so on... basically we didn't feel like we were playing a re-hash of another game.  There do seem to be a fair few projects on Kickstarter which look as though the designer has just piggybacked onto a successful game, whereas Castilion does feel very much like it's own thing, which is good.
The gameplay itself is easy to pick up.  In spite of the fact there are lots of different card types in the game, it's not actually too taxing.  We were furnished with a quick-start set of rules and a full set, but we ended up leaping straight in with the full rules and finding ourselves in full swing fairly quickly!
The castles having different defence values based on their proximity to resources is a nice touch, although in 2 player games we felt that allowing players to pick their castles was better than random selection, purely to prevent them from ending up right next door to eachother!  In larger multi-player games it wouldn't be an issue, but as a house rule we preferred choosing our own.
The troop decks/battle mechanic were one of our favourite things about Castilion - especially after we'd experimented and settled on a hand limit.  Each coloured deck only contains 3 Troop cards, giving each player a total of 6, and seeing as you can't attack or defend without one it forces players to think carefully before charging headlong into battle.  The fact that the attack/defence cards need to be of the same colour also adds a nice hand-management element to the game.
Using cards to move is another well-done element once a hand limit has been put into play again.  As mentioned previously, it's great to be able to choose whether to have a light/fast or heavy/slow army at your disposal, or even to switch half way through the game to throw off your opponent!
And we did like the fact that there are a few different win conditions - obviously the destruction of the enemy castle is the main one, but depleting your opponents troops will also secure a win, as does defeating their General and Royal.  This gives players a few options on how to approach the game, and allow it to fit their play style.

No game is without flaws though (our first ever 10/10 rating is still up for grabs!), and we'd be neglect in our reviewing duties if we didn't mention the downsides.  Whilst we did enjoy playing Castilion, we really do think it's a game which would benefit from more players.  We did bring this up with Joe Mellanby, and if the Kickstarter raises enough funds then extra cards/players will be introduced as a stretch goal.  We do very much hope for this, as frankly it would take the game to a whole other level!  When playing the game we really did think it would great as a 4 player free for all, rather than a 2 player grudge match.
Our other little niggle was the text size on the cards, which older players may have problems with.  The attack and defence values are printed quite small, so it may be a struggle for some to actually read the stats on their cards.
And our final nitpick is that of the troop cards.  We like that you can only attack or defend with at least one Troop (after all, just having a sword is no good if you've got no one to carry it!), but it seems a shame that the Actions/Formations/Items all work in the same way rather than having something to make the categories matter, such as a bonus of +15 if you use one of each, or something along those lines.  Perhaps this will come up in future expansions of the game.

We do have to say though, that Castilion does seem to be a Kickstarter project being done the right way.  Too many large companies approach Kickstarter with a finalised project which backers have absolutely no influence over.  With Castilion, the creators do actually respond to constructive criticism and shape the game accordingly!  It's for this reason that we're forgoing our usual "Good Points/Bad Points" quick list at the end of the review, as it's an evolving project and so unfair to fire bullet points at!

For further details about Castilion visit their website here, and to back the project at Kickstarter level click here!

Recommended Number of Players: 2 (Hopefully 4!)
In it's current base state, Castilion is a 2 player release.  However, pending Kickstarter success it will be expanded for further players (even up to a total of 8 - one for each castle), and our gut instincts have been telling us that 4 players would make for a very good gaming experience.
Average Game Time: 45 minutes
We found that our Castilion games often started with us tiptoeing around eachother before one player became gutsy enough to make the first strike.  Once first blood had been shed, however, the pace soon picked up, and our games usually took around the 45 minute  mark.
Replay Value: Medium
It's difficult to gauge the replay value on Castilion due to the fact it's still in development.  Obviously the different castles, Royals and Generals add some variety across repeat plays, but the grudge match nature of the 2 player game may wear thin without a range of opponents to take on.  Again, we do feel that having extra players will help in this matter.
Price: £30
Castilion has just gone live on Kickstarter, now as a four player game!  Unless you manage to snag an early bird, a copy of the full game will set you back £30 - a fairly standard price for a specialist game.  Backing on the project ends on August 2nd.
(With additional players we'd push this up to a 7.5, maybe an 8)
Tea consumed during this review: A wide range of Twinings herbal teas, gratefully received with our review copy of Castilion! Average brew rating: 7.5/10

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