One under-appreciated aspect of our hobby is how educational it can be; not just overtly didactic titles like Secret Code 13+4 (HABA) or Timeline (Asmodee), but games like An Infamous Traffic (Hollandspiele) and Freedom: The Underground Railroad (Academy Games) address and inform about subjects yet still provide a solid gaming experience. With so many Euro games set in the Renaissance, it is hard not to learn about that period of history, even if theme often takes a back seat to mechanics. So it is that I have now learned of Castle Methoni, a medieval fortification on the coast of southwestern Greece, which the Venetians added to and repaired during both periods they occupied it. However, beyond being a promontory surrounded by the sea, as far as I can tell that’s got nothing to do with the game play. So, what happens in the illustrated abstract that is Castello Methoni, designed by Leo Colovini and published by Mandoo Games?
Each of the 3-5 players receives a share of 60 coins, then 15 houses, 5 villas and 4 towers apiece; the houses and villas can generate cash, while the towers represent control of areas. Players also receive a private card showing three types of terrain which score extra at game end. The busy board, with art by Jakub Rebelka, consists of triangular spaces in six different terrain which are matched by cards drawn from a deck. On your turn, you will usually opt to play one or two terrain cards to build walls; when doing so, you place one of your own houses and, intriguingly, one of an opponent’s, on either side.
When a player fully encloses an area, they pay other players for their houses there and the bank for the land, then place a tower to show control. Groups of three same-coloured houses merge into villas before returning to their owner’s supply, refuelling expansion elsewhere. If there is an enclosed area adjacent to the one just created, the player may - if they can afford it - annex it by paying dividends to the owner for all buildings there; potentially expensive, but the best way to vie for the 10 point largest-area bonus and the cause of the biggest swings inside the game’s closed economy.
The other option on a turn is to discard a card to take 2 coins from the bank, so long as a matching market has been enclosed; such markets generate 2 coins at the start of the owning player’s turn, incentivising those areas of the board.
There is no getting away from the fact that Castello Methoni is a multiplayer abstract that revels in some fairly brutal area control. Walls placed belong to no-one, so setting up a good move presents that opportunity to all, depending on cards and capital. Once areas are established, little can be done to prevent opponents from annexing, beyond either doing so first or making it financially unviable. The end-game bonus for the largest area can be a trade off against the points for having towers on the board, as late-game consolidation may not leave enough time for aggrandisers to get towers back out; the game ends immediately the last wall is placed, there is no even number of turns. Land, coins, and bonuses all contribute to the final scores.
The three-terrain card received in setup pushes players toward a strategy; however, tactical exigencies will likely pull in other directions. As there are six of these cards, then with an even spread of terrain and fewer players it is likely some will be contesting fewer terrain types than others; it may not be a lot, but a steady eye on these objectives can yield decisive points.
The game can be quite mean already as there is a lot of messing with other player’s ‘stuff’; it is, though, possible that a player can have their houses put out by others to the point of hamstringing them into not being able to convert an area with a villa and reclaiming them; certainly, disadvantageous placement of opponents’ houses is expedient behaviour. Between that and top decking, control over your own destiny can be significantly impacted.
Castello Methoni is a highly interactive abstract game that rewards opportunistic and tactical play, especially at the direct expense of others. The capacity for screwage is large and players should be aware going in that this is the case, because there is no hand-holding or catch-up mechanism beyond players not picking on those doing worse. This is very much a game where preference for level of interaction should be taken into account when suggesting it; definitely more one for warmongers than care bears. That said, the design has subtleties that emerge beyond the words in the well-written rulebook and its brisk (30-45 minutes) play time should ensure quick reparation from any in-game damage.
But the ‘theme’ isn’t going to make a difference. I do wonder what year it will be when there isn’t a geographical location left on Earth that is not the name of a board game; good thing we’ll be colonising Mars, then. Now there’s an idea; oh, wait...
(Review by David Fox)