Updated: Mar 21
Between Two Cities with Capitals Expansions
WBG Score: 8/10
Player Count: 1-7
Published by: Stonemaier Games
There is a lot of confusion between the Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig, Between Two Cities and The Castles of Mad King Ludwig and I get that! I was confused too. But here is the simple history and my thoughts of Between Two Castles.
Ok, all caught up? Great! Let’s talk about Between Two Cities.
First up, how different is this to the follow up game Between Two Castles? Well in truth, not a great deal changed. Between Two Cities cemented the idea of playing with your neighbour, choosing two tiles to place either side of you into each city you are building, and point scoring based on your tile placement and set collection. So, all that is here in abundance.
Castles and Cities
The changes in Between Two Castles were largely around making the tiles you can place a lot more varied and the placement rules a little looser. These are Castles for a Mad King remember, not an organised council zonal controlled city! In Castles you can place the tiles into any shape you like, just as long as you obey each tiles own rules for position above or below ground. In Cities you have to form a 4x4 grid. (5x5 grid when using the Capitals expansion).
As such, in Between Two Cities, the game is a simpler and more focused affair, using just six different types of buildings. Shops, Factories, Taverns, Offices, Parks, and Houses. Between Two Castles has many, many more!
A lot of the positive talk around Between Two Castles is focused quite rightly around the beautifully designed ‘Games Trayz’ that hold the many tiles. In Between Two Cities the tiles sit loose in the box. There are bags if you want, but really you don’t need them. The lose storage assists the shuffling and set-up. And don’t worry about having to flip over tiles to be the right side when you open the box. Due to the quantity of tiles being so high, they fill the box entirely so tend to not flip over between games.
As such, set-up is a very quick process. Choose and take your “City Token” and place it in front of you on the table. Take seven random tiles from the box (nine with the expansion). Get comfy in your seat. Maybe get a drink. Check your phone and away you go! I don’t usually have time for those other things, but it’s so simple in this game, I will allow it.
The game operates almost as easily. From your seven tiles, you will choose two to keep and then you pass the other five to the person to your left or right depending on what round it is. Chose another two and place then and go again until you discard the final tile. There are a few rounds of this and well as a round with double sized tiles. Build your city, score your points. Simple.
Scoring is very simple and quite different to Castles. Only the Shops and Parks have placement rules, although the Offices have a bonus based on this. The Shops and Parks score exponentially based on how many you have in a row or for the parks, simply adjacent. The Taverns score based on how many different types you get from the four different varieties. The offices score based on how many you have but with an extra point for each one adjacent to at least one Tavern And houses score between one to five points based on how many of the different types of buildings you have in your city. Your final score is the value of your lowest scoring city, and the winner is the player with the higher score.
Two-Player and Solo Versions
In the two-player variant you simply make two cities yourself and score the accumulative total of both. It is a great and simple two player option. There are two solo modes against the mighty Stonemaier Automa system and both work very well. Its quick to set up, score and pack away so ideal for a quick solitaire game.
The Capitals expansion brings in three major changes. The Landscape mats, District cards and scoring tiles, and the Civic buildings. All of which add a small layer of complexity to the game, choices and scoring. They work essentially as three modules which can be added or removed as you see fit.
The Landscape tiles are my favourite edition. They expand the game from a free-form 4x4 grid to a 5x5 around a natural background. Be that a lake, river or meadow. There are five tiles on each landscape mat that you cannot build on and others connected via bridges. You must place your first tile on the mat and then each subsequent tile touching one previously placed tile as in the base game. It makes the grid you form by the end a little more complicated, but also more visually stimulating and varied. I like the small challenge this adds but mostly appreciate the table presence things brings by not starting with just an empty table.
The District scoring cards and tiles are a nice simple addition that affects the end game scoring. During set-up, six from seven cards are placed next to the three tiles, two for each. The final card is discarded. This then creates three groups of districts based on two building types for each. The player with the most amount of adjacent buildings of a specific type for each district will then score nine, eight or seven points respectively depending on which district it is. The person with the second most will score three, four, or five points.
This is a nice simple addition that makes you think a little more about where you place each tile during the game. Previously, there was not a lot to focus your attention when it came to where your tile went. It was a more about which tile to pick. It’s nice to now think more about which tile you will pick and where you will place it.
The final addition to the Capital expansion is the Civic tiles. This adds 21 new tiles to the base games 108. So, with 36 being drawn each game by each player you will most likely see a fair few each play. They are simple enough but do look a little complicated at first glance. Each Civic tile requires it to be built next to two specific types of other tiles. It will also show one type of tile you need to avoid. If you manage this you will score six points for that Civic tile. If it is next to just one type it will score three, and if you don’t get it next to any or it is next to the tile it wants to avoid, it will score one point.
I have found the players I tried this with avoided taking these tiles in the draft until the later rounds. They are a little less attractive as they are harder to place and score easily from. I like the addition, and as these are all modular you can easily take them out if you don’t want them. But it was certainly the part of this expansion I was the least excited about.
I like the simplicity of Cities. Against Castles it feels like a simpler game to set-up and start playing. And certainly, a quicker game to score! This expansion bridges the gap of complexity between Cities and Castles and would work well for people who only have Cities and want a bit more from the experience. But if you own Cities and Castles already and want a bit more, I would encourage you to just play Castles instead. But if you don’t own either yet, Cities with Capitals is the one for me.
Cities is my preferred game between Cities and Castles. Mainly due to the ease of the teach, set-up and scoring. I will play with the Cities expansion every time I play now and bring in the landscape module from Capitals whenever I teach new players. I will then add in the district’s module for game two and Civic tiles for game three onwards.
As such, I can see this making Castles a little redundant in my collection. Its probably only “normal” to have one of these two games. But being the huge fan of Stonemaier games that I am, and such an obsessive completist about these things, I really did want to have both. But with my consumer advice hat on, I would say go for Cities if you want a nice simple tile-laying game. Castles if you want more complex scoring. Or Cities with Capitals if you want the option for both.