Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Friday, 16 November 2018

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Once Upon A Castle

Game: Once Upon a Castle

Publisher: Blue Orange

Designer: Corentin Lebrat, Ludovic Maublanc

Year: 2018

Each player will build their ideal castle. You’ll construct majestic towers and beautifully decorated walls that will attract the population and build a ‘comfortable’ tower to house your less friendly guests. Whoever knows how to best exploit the resources of the region, and enlists the help of some high calibre guests, will draw the most beautiful castle in the kingdom!

The last 12 months have certainly been the year of the roll and write game. At Essen this year, there were probably 15-20 roll and write games released and, realistically, it’s hard to stand out from the crowd. It seems that there are at least three categories emerging; roll the dice and colour in squares or write numbers; roll the dice and do some Tetris; and roll the dice and the draw something that adds some theme to the game. Once Upon a Castle falls into the third category and really takes the bull by the horns – by dialing up the drawing aspect of the game, Once Upon a Castle really stands out! One side of your player sheet has the outline of a castle whilst the other side is basically a blank sheet of paper so that you can freestyle!

Gameplay

Once upon a castle is a 2-4 player roll and write style game in which players will roll dice to generate resources, and then spend those resources to build the various parts of their castles. Each player is handed a play sheet (one side with a join-the dot style castle, the other a blank canvas), a pencil, a (double sided) player board, and a handful of discs of their colour. Players will take turn rolling the 2 dice, with the active player getting both rewards and the other players choosing which of the dice they want.

Most of the die faces are resources: food, wood, stone and gold, whenever you gain one of these you place a coloured disc onto one of the spaces of that type on your player board so long as you are able. Then, if you have completed a row or column, you can remove all the discs in that line in order to gain the pictured reward which you then draw onto your play sheet. The other 2 die faces are the question mark, which lets you choose any resource, and the people, which lets you draw 2 people inside your castle with more points rewarded the more you have.


The game ends when the first person finishes all the structural elements of their castle, the 4 towers, the 4 walls and the 4 levels of their dungeon. However there are different ways to gain these that may give you more points (for towers) or more people (for walls) if you take a longer route. You can also gain flags for bonus points. Finally there is an advanced mode that introduces complex guests that have in-game or end game bonuses and a more complex player board with a few new powers such as stealing a guest from your opponent.


Amy’s Final Thoughts

For a simple game you will be hard pressed to find a worse rule book than Once Upon A Castle. not because the included rules are unclear or over-explained, but rather because there are no details given for almost anything. The basic rules are super simple, but as soon as you have a question about a niggling little thing then I can almost guarantee the answer is "it doesn't say in the rules". You end up having to make assumptions about what was intended rather than what is written.

Onto the game itself: It's a simple roll and write with a lot of charm, but that charm comes back to bite it in the but. You see there are 2 ways to play Once Upon a Castle, you can either treat it like a bare-bones dot-to-dot and play it for the games sake, or you can embellish the castle as the game suggests and create a work of art. Both are viable games, with the first being a 20 minute filler and the second being as much of an activity than a game, but you had best be sure that everyone is on board with the same style. No-one wants to be impatiently waiting for you to draw the dragon flying past the clouds or to get the jester's hat just right.


The advanced mode is much needed complexity and it does seem a little more rewarding with easy to make flags etc. The guests you get for building your dungeon tower actually let you specialize somewhat (there is a market of 3 to pick from!), but you always have to be aware that your opponent can steal them from you! This adds a nice bit of depth which will be appreciated by older gamers. Ultimately, Once Upon A Castle is a bit of fun, but it definitely did not hit the mark for me, as a game it's too simple, so the fun has to come from the drawing, which in turn makes it take far too long to play! It's a gimmick, but to the right family probably an absolute godsend that will keep children distracted for hours.


Fi’s Final Thoughts

A couple of years ago, I jumped on the adult colouring book craze. I meticulously coloured in an intricate picture of a turtle, using all my old colouring pencils from when I took art at school. I may also have coloured half a butterfly, but then I stopped. The same is true for my effort levels in Once Upon A Castle. The game is half therapeutic drawing activity and half game. In game one I drew something I could be quite proud of, only finally giving up when coming up with unique ideas for all of my citizens. After that game (pictured on the right below) I just didn't have the patience, and in further games I just coloured massive blocks of colour to represent completed castle elements. I can't imagine many people wanting to take on a full art project every time they play!



I could, however, imagine that you could get kids playing this game, potentially for hours at a time. With younger kids they might not really be playing, but they're still participating in a family activity. Then there's the basic mode to introduce some mechanisms and the advanced mode that is the only way I'd ever want to play the game from a selfish perspective.

Not only does Once Upon a Castle have some of the drawing aspects that can make a roll and write a more thematic or engaging experience, it also has some new mechanisms too. In most roll and writes you're pushing your luck, but here you're doing it a little differently with the way you assign markers on your player board to rows and columns to unlock different actions. This gives you avenues to pursue big points, or a fast game, or even attack the other players in an advanced game. Games end up quite close because you're experiencing 50% of the same dice results in a 2-player game, but there are key decisions too make in the game that affect whether you might win.

Once Upon a Castle is charming, but it needs the drawing aspect to stand out from the crowd, and at the same time it is that drawing aspect that makes the game outstay its welcome. If you have an artistic flare, or think that Once Upon a Castle would be a good fit for your family, then it's a roll and write game that I'd certainly recommend.


You Might Like...
  • You can be really creative in your drawing of the castle - this activity is as much about drawing as it is about playing a game.
  • The placement of tokens on your board adds a new dimension to roll-and-write games, and gives some interesting push-your-luck decisions.
  • The 'expert' side of the board promotes additional player interaction and has a little more going on for an older or more experienced age group. 

You Might Not Like...
  • If you have a mix of people at your table, some of whom want to draw a nice castle and others who want to play a game, there will be a lot of tension at the time spent between turns.
  • For a super simple game, there are still aspects of the rules that are not clear from the rulebook.

The Verdict
6/10 Once Upon a Castle is a great activity for introducing gaming to young players. For gamers, the drawing aspect is a bit of a gimmick that gets old quickly, but underneath there's some new mechanisms to explore in this roll and write game.


Once Upon a Castle was a review copy kindly provided to us by CoiledSpring Games.

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