Kastles has a simple objective: everyone has a castle to defend and other castles to destroy. That’s it; no plot twist or hidden backstory, but what it lacks in narrative depth it makes up for in enjoyment. For this game, created by Gunpowder Studios and promoted by Red Knight Toy Group, uses strategy and silliness in equal measure as players try to steal secrets and catapults while protecting their king and queen from being burned alive by dragons. It’s a fantasy fan’s dream trapped in a child’s body.
I had the honour of receiving a personal demonstration of Kastles when I attended the UK Games Expo in June and met Red Knight Toy Group founder Rory Kelly and his teammates Terry and Andy. Rory handed me a tiny cardboard pack and I was immediately taken by the cheerful packaging covered in dark-age puns, such as ‘now with added moat and boat’, which put me in the mood for mischief. The playing cards inside were lovingly illustrated and the instructions were straightforward, including little diagrams of card layouts, F.A.Q.s and a card guide. As someone who takes a while to suss out new rules, here was a game I felt I could pick up very quickly.
Each player deals six random cards and places them face down around their king and queen like a castle wall. In their hand are five cards that they can look at in order to plan their first move. The game starts with the ‘grumpiest’ player – it says so in the instructions – and neither Terry nor Andy contradicted Rory when he appointed himself the grumpiest person in his team. Cards can be played in any order and on any player to either attack an opponent’s’ wall using gunpowder, flaming arrows or saboteurs, or defend a castle with moats, catapults and the not so exciting bucket of water to douse anything that is on fire. The game only ends when one person has parts of their castle still standing and all others have been obliterated.
Players are encouraged to make quick decisions on hilarious dilemmas to try and force them into making a mistake. At points, I would wonder if I should use my turn to put out the fire on my left-hand wall or send a spy to look under the wall for ammo because I need some for the next move, or maybe I should allow the wizard to teleport a moat to me because…why not? For such a fast-paced game, I was surprised that there wasn’t a timer to keep the players focused, but Rory did a good job of keeping everyone in check.
Laughter with this game is another key ingredient. It’s clear from the way the game is written and from the description on the packaging (‘easy to learn, fun to play and not very educational’) that it is not meant to be taken too seriously. At one point in our game, Andy took over from Rory and ‘accidentally’ slipped more cards into our decks, or turned a blind eye to some of the rules, just to spice things up and see how we would cope. The other players and I couldn’t help but laugh as we frantically threw our cards at a situation, knowing full well that whatever we did it would have a consequence before our next turn – either we’d left our castle wide-open for attack from every other person playing or we’d missed an opportunity to remove someone from the game. This humorous approach might frustrate the hell out of any player wanting to obey the rules and take their time with decision-making, but it made me grin like an idiot.
One claim the blurb on the Kastles box makes is that each game is different, and they’re not lying. After playing with Rory and co. at the UK Games Expo, I took the free pack they had generously given me to a games’ night with friends and we were all impressed by the replay value.
The game is flexible and allows the participants to try new things, for example, you can slow the pace down a fraction by appointing a game master and still make daft decisions, or add in a few additional rules as found on the Kastles website. Just dealing a new hand can completely change how you plan to attack and make you re-think your strategy. My mates were a little more rigid in their gameplay than Rory and Andy, happy to stick to the rules and point out when I’d forgotten to, but each one agreed that it was one of the funniest and most charming games they’d played.
For additional fun rules, updates and everything about the Kastles team, visit https://www.gunpowderstudios.co.uk/
For more information about other games from Red Knight Toy Group.