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The White Castle

Designed by Sheila Santos and Israel Cendrero, and published by Devir, The White Castle is a game where there's a lot going on and there are several icons to decode. Nevertheless, The White Castle is a surprisingly accessible medium-weight euro game, and it plays remarkably quickly: the game takes 1-4 players and, even with four players, you can expect to complete a game in just a little over an hour.

Tho' it's euro game where you're ultimately amassing end-game points, the eponymous White Castle is the imposing Himeji Castle, constructed in feudal Japan, which is the setting for the game. It's a dice drafting and placement game. Red, white and black dice are rolled at the start of each of the three rounds and they are placed out in ascending order on bridges of the corresponding colour. The number of dice of each colour is one more than the number of players. On your turn, you can select either the highest or lowest number die of any colour and use it to place out in the castle section of the board to take the action(s) for that colour of die. Alternatively, you can place a die to send one of your gardener, warrior or courtier meeples to corresponding spaces on the board. You can send any die to the well, where it will earn you resources, and you can allocate a die to your own board where it will earn you resources and possible additional actions, depending on your previous actions and the meeples you've dispatched. Locations indicate a specific die value. Allocate a die with a higher value and you take coins equal to the surplus; allocate a lower-value die and you have to pay coins to make up the difference. However, when you take the lowest value die on a bridge, you additionally get to take a 'lantern' action which will net you rewards that correspond to the cards you have stacked in this area of your personal board.

You only get to take three turns in each round (ie: three dice selections) so just nine turns in the entire game. Some turns just net you resources (coins, food, iron, mother-of-pearl and/or Daimyo Seals). You need food to place out gardeners, iron to place out warriors and mother-of-pearl to place courtiers inside the castle. Some actions require the payment of coins and others demand a Daimyo Seal, and you can always exchange two Daimyo Seals for any one resource - tho' that's a painfully expensive rate of exchange. You'll mostly be trying to take actions that trigger other actions. For example, if you take an action that lets you place out a warrior, that might trigger the ability to take another red die action which could in turn trigger another action; always provided of course that you have the specific resources required to pay for all of your actions.

Tho' you can pick up a handful of victory points during the course of the game, the bulk of your points will come in end-game scoring. Courtiers, for example, each score 3, 6 or 10 points depending on which level they've reached at the end of round 3, but their total is multiplied by the number of warriors that have been placed out...

The White Castle is not a game where there's a lot of interaction beyond players taking the spots you were hoping to go to on your next turn. In a three- and four-player game, you can stack dice (ie: place a die on top of one that's already been placed there on a previous turn) so locations chosen by another player aren't immediately blocked but you can still find that carefully planned turn frustrated by a rival - especially in the four-player game and with just two players (where there's no dice stacking). Still, individual turns are generally quick and you should be able to plan at least your first and second turn each round while others are taking theirs. That said, there's no denying the importance of turn order and it can be worth taking actions that improve your turn order in the next round.

The Board's Eye View team have enjoyed our plays of The White Castle at all player counts, tho' the game particularly shines with three players. Although it's pleasing to have a game that plays relatively quickly, some of our team have expressed frustration at the game ending after just three rounds. It's perhaps more compliment to the game than complaint that some players wanted to continue playing for a fourth or fifth round!

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