Stuck in the Middle With You

Some of my favorite music moments are award show performances that combined two seemingly unrelated artists: Aerosmith and Run-DMC, Jay-Z and Coldplay, Elton John and Eminem.

Stonemaier Games and Bezier Games captured similar magic with Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig, a mashup of Stonemaier’s Between Two Cities and Bezier’s Castles of Mad King Ludwig. Designed by Matthew O’Malley and Ben Rosset, Between Two Castles plays 3-7 (with a 2-player variant) in 45-60 minutes.

Between Two Castles’ hook is that each player must semi-cooperate with the players to their left and right, as each castle is built by a team of two. In the end, each players’ final score is the lesser of the two castles they built, requiring balanced building.

3-player game with end-game scoring completed

I’ve played the game at 3 and 4 players, and I enjoyed both. The game seems like it will scale well from 3 to 7 without adding time to gameplay. Regardless of the number of builders, everyone focuses on two castles.

Colorblind Accessibility

My experience of Stonemaier Games from a color vision standpoint has been hit-and-miss. I can play Wingspan out of the box, and Viticulture is about 95% playable. I had the most trouble with My Little Scythe, which I could not play without modifications.

I asked Matthew how he and Ben incorporated the needs of colorblind gamers during design and development of Between Two Castles. He described how they ensured color wasn’t the only distinguisher for components.

“We double-coded all of the color-related information. Room type icons have a shape as well as a color, and the blue tile border (for outdoor rooms) is only for outdoors and fountains, so those are double-coded as well.”

Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig includes seven primary room types, each with its own type name, icon, and color. The player aid and score sheet clearly distinguish the rooms and their attributes using these icons. I also found that “table talk” naturally leaned toward room type names (e.g., Food, Living), not color, which is helpful for anyone with color vision deficiency. This game is playable in full greyscale, which is the “gold standard” for colorblind accessibility.

Icons on the Scoresheet

Similarly the outdoor rooms are denoted by a blue frame that is easily distinguished from the white frame of other rooms.

Could the icons be bigger? Yeah, a little.

Low Vision Accessibility

Are the icons too small? Maybe a little.

Since I’ve only been concerned with the tiles and castles right in front of me, I didn’t have much trouble at the current icon size. However, if I need to see details of a castle across the table (which I understand might be a mechanism in the upcoming expansion), this could become an issue. Jamey Stegmaier and crew described icon size as a production feasibility issue on their website’s FAQ.

“We would have needed to make the tiles and icons HUGE to make that possible (the icon size is constrained by the tile size, which is constrained by table size).”

The only icon pair that confused me a little were the Special Rooms and Mirrors. As shown below, these are pretty similar in shape. However, they had different purposes (one is a room type; the other is a type of wall hanging), so the icons never show up in the same corner of a tile, and after a couple plays it was a non-issue.

Mirror (left) and Special Room (right) icons were a little confusing during my first play

I would’ve appreciated iconography being 30% larger on the tiles, with the background art still prominent, but I also understand the desire to make the art shine. The selection of most icons is excellent, making this a minor quibble.

If you are already a fan of either previous game, then I can recommend Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig. Regarding color vision accessibility, the game is colorblind-friendly out of the box!

Colorblind Games received a complementary copy of Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig from the publisher for this review.

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