Game Buzz: Castell

Here’s a great example of board games educating me about the world:

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Castell is a recent game from designer Aaron Vanderbeek and publisher Renegade Game Studios.  2-4 players can participate in this game that is all about the Catalan tradition of building human towers.  I did not know this was a thing, but it’s huge in the Catalan region of Spain.  Take a look:

image from metro.co.uk

It is amazing to me how many people get involved in this.  Look at that crowd.  Not only that, look how many people are willing to a) climb up that high, and b) support all that weight.  There’s a definite process – a bunch of people form the base, then more people stack up.  The lighter people form the top, with the lightest (usually a child) climbing up to complete the castell by holding up four fingers to symbolize the four red stripes of the Catalan flag.

Castell the game doesn’t so much simulate this as go through the process of building a team.  The game comes with a main board, 4 player boards, 1 skill wheel, 150 castellars, 4 player pawns, 28 special action tokens, 30 size tokens, 8 board skill tiles, 20 player skill tiles, 14 festival location tiles, 32 local performance tiles, 40 prize tokens, 4 score markers, 1 round marker, 1 first player marker, and 1 giant cloth bag.

At the start of the game, put the castellars in the bag and draw out 3-5 per region, depending on the player count.  The skill wheel will be set for a standard or advanced game (the only difference is having an “all regions” or “no regions” space), and the 8 board skill tiles will be randomly distributed around the wheel.  Festival location tiles will be distributed based on type (I or II), and one size token goes below each festival location.  Deal two local performance tiles to each of the seven rows of the local performance area.  Each player gets a player board, a pawn, a score marker, 7 special action tokens, 5 player skill tiles, and 7 castellars from the bag.

image by BGG user RenegadeGames

There are ten rounds in a game of Castell.  Each round follows the same basic structure:

ADD NEW CASTELLARS: Draw new castellars from the bag to fill each region up to capacity.  This only occurs in odd numbered rounds starting with round 3 (since you did that for round 1 in setup).

ROTATE THE SKILL WHEEL: Turn it clockwise one space.

PLAYER TURNS: Each player takes one turn.  There are four different actions you may take on a turn, and you can take them all in any order you wish, but you can’t take any of them more than once.  Here are your options:

  • Move.  Move your pawn to an adjacent region.  The first time you take this action, you’ll just be putting your pawn on the board.
  • Recruit.  Take up to two castellars from the region you’re in and add them to your player area.  You’ll be able to use your castellars to build towers for use in festival scorings.  Each level in a tower must contain only castellars of the same size, with a maximum width of three.  Each subsequent level must have castellars of a smaller size, and fewer in quantity.
  • Train.  Increase a skill based on skill wheel.  If you’re in Matano and the available skill to train is Balance, you can increase that skill by one on your player board.  In the standard game, there’s also a skill that can be increased from any region.  In the advanced game, there will be a skill that can’t be increased from any region.  The level of skill you have determines how many times it can be used in a particular region.  The skills are:
    • Balance, which allows you to have as many castellars on a level as the level below it.  A higher skill means you have can do this with more levels.
    • Base, which allows you to have a level with an unlimited number of castellars.  The maximum width still applies to other levels unless you have a higher base skill.
    • Mix, which lets you have mixed sizes on a single level (more levels with a higher mix skill).
    • Strength, which allows a level in your tower to support a level with one higher size (6 under a 7, for example).  A higher skill can be applied to multiple levels or combined into one.
    • Width, which increased the maximum width by 1 for the entire tower, not just a single level.
    • Practice is a skill you cannot increase in rank.  However, when you get that skill on the wheel, you can increase any skill by one.
    • Special is another skill you can’t increase.  When you take it on the wheel, you get a special action (as outlined below) without having to spend a token.
  • Special Action.  You can do this if you have a special action token remaining.  You can recruit one castellar from your region OR you can move to an adjacent region OR you can build a tower that matches the requirements for one of the local performance tiles associated with your region.  Once you’ve done the action, put a special action token in the local performance area associated with the region you’re in.

Local performances can take two forms – tower shape or skill exhibition.  For tower shape, you must be able to build a tower in the exact shape indicated.  For skill exhibition, towers need at least a level equal to the number on the tile and must utilize all of the indicated skills.

FESTIVAL SCORING: Once everyone has taken their turn, it’s time for festival scoring.  This won’t happen in the first two rounds, but will from the third round on.  The festivals that will be taking place are indicated on the festival track.  In order to participate in a festival, your pawn must be present in the indicated region, your tower must contain the indicated castellars, and your tower must be at least four levels.  You get one VP per level of your tower, and one VP for each castellar in the tower that matches a size token for this festival.  Your score tracker will track your best tower score – you are not adding scores together, just tracking which of your towers did the best in all festivals.  The best towers in the festival will get prize tokens worth different amounts of points, and you get better prizes the more people are participating in a festival.  You can tear down and rebuild towers before each festival.

END OF ROUND: Pass the first player marker to the left and advance to the next round.

After the tenth round, the game is over.  To your best tower score, you add points from regional variety, earned prizes, size tokens, and local performances.  The high score wins.

image by BGG user punkin312

This is definitely an original theme to be in a game.  It takes the real, if terrifying, tradition of building human towers and builds an interesting set collection game around it.  It seems that there’s quite a bit going on here – traveling to regions, getting castellans, arranging towers, developing skills, fulfilling requirements of various festivals, and so on.  The action selection seems like quite the balancing act (pun intended) as you figure out when you need to do what on a turn.  It looks like a very good game, and it’s one on my list to try sometime.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading!

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