Castle Quest: a Review

Board Game by Creative Imaginations, 1986

The game comes in a long box with a board, five decks of cards, a number of plastic chips in four colors representing gold pieces, six plastic pawns and a die.

The board is a circular track of thirty-four spaces with a depiction of a castle within it. In the castle are twelve labeled castle sections (drawbridge, six towers, king's court, dungeon, kitchen, rosengarden and dining hall) which players will try to own -- denoted by holding a card with the corresponding name.

Players all begin on the Start space with fifty gold pieces and roll the single die to move forward. Landing on a castle section allows buying that section, or, if it is already owned, forces payment of half the purchase price to the owner. Costs range from six to the most expensive section, the Drawbridge, which costs twenty. No section may be purchased until the Drawbridge has been. Other spaces on the board force drawing a card from one of three available decks which may have a cost to use: Move (free) moves the player to another space; Give (costs two) has various positive and negative effects; Receive (costs two) is similar to Give; Wishing Well (costs ten) has various effects including the Key to the Royal Bedroom. No one can win without the Key card. In addition, it is necessary to own at least half the castle sections.

Other spaces on the board force payment of tax, placed in the center of the board, or the chance to claim all the collected taxes. There are also three Flogging spaces where the player must either pay ten to avoid the flogging and take another turn or else roll a single die and risk going to the Dungeon. Players in the Dungeon languish there until another player is sent to the Dungeon, at which point they pay the new player one gold and resume play. The only other spaces on the board are one each to pick a player to lose a turn and to choose a player to be sent to the Dungeon.

There were some problems understanding the designer's intentions for the game. The rules on how to win could be interpreted in more than one way. Some Give cards indicate that the player should travel completely around the board and return to the same space, which confers five gold for passing the Start, but it is unclear whether the player then draws another Give card. The rules say that the first time someone is sent to the Dungeon, they receive one gold, but not from where. Some players may also wonder whether they are absolutely required to send a player to the Dungeon when landing on the corresponding space, as they may prefer to leave a particular player there. Also unclear is whether they may send themselves. The King's Court space permits the owner to send the lander to the Dungeon, but the wording makes it unclear whether this sending works along with the Flogging rules or not, especially since this sending only lasts three turns.

Problems in game enjoyment surface as well:

The players moving earlier have an enormous advantage in being able to first reach the unowned castle sections. Players might want to try having the second player start five spaces forward from Start, the third player ten spaces forward, etc. The first to reach and buy the Drawbridge, with its hefty fee, should do particularly well.

The fact that there is only one Key tends to mean that the player lucky enough to acquire it tends to hold it forever and the players have no active means to try to get a Key except to hope that the holder goes bankrupt and must sell.

Players may spend a lot of time doing nothing in the Dungeon, especially if there are very few players or as they drop out.

It can be frustrating to spend money on cards, just for the privilege of a negative effect, such as paying ten to the wishing well just to lose a turn.

It might be preferable to re-shuffle decks after all cards have been visited rather than simply recycling the cards, whose order players may manage to remember.

There are many more chips than needed; the red chips are denominated at fifteen, but were never used.

It is inconvenient to figure out how much castle sections are worth when selling them back to the bank, which one needs to do when unable to pay expenses. It would have been nice if the prices had been printed on the card backs, which are blank.

The board center illustration is nicely done and is drawn in such a way that some board activity could occur there. It seems a shame that no real use, apart from showing which castle sections are still available for sale, was put to this part of the game.

All in all, the game is probably faster than Monopoly, which it obviously resembles, but not as satisfying as there are fewer real options for players to take. There are no house/hotel decisions to make, nor any point in collecting properties of similar type. This game is a good reminder of just how good a game Monopoly is (when properly played), how non-trivial it is to actually make a good game of this type, and how easy to fail.
Reviewing the Reviewer
Tue Jan 19 15:35:16 PST 1999
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