WBG Score: 7/10
Player Count 2-4
Published by: HABA
Moonlight Castle looks amazing! There is a 3D castle stood around a moat, with brightly coloured flowers and shrubbery surrounding it. When I first set this up my children were instantly amazed!
I then showed them the characters they could choose from and I was greeted with cries of "how cute!" and "I want this one! No, wait. That one!" So far, so good.
And then, I introduced them to the sliding mechanic whereby you fill the castle with gems tiles, and then push them into play, one-by-one, using a sliding mechanism; and well... their tiny little minds were blown away!
You can see below how the clear tool on the right is used to push forward a stack of tiles that are hidden inside the castle at set-up, to slide the jewels out into the castle pathway.
In truth, this can be a little fiddley. It doesn't always quite work as it should due to the cardboard nature of the set up allowing for slight variations in the movement of the castle. But a few wriggles here, and jiggles there and you will be away.
In terms of table presence for children's game, I have not seen many better.
How To Play
The game itself, like many Haba games in this range, is very simple. Your goal is to collect as many jewels as possible. You will do this by placing your character onto one of the various flower spaces and paying the cost of that space. One green pebble for a green space, one red pebble for a red etc. You will then draw as many pebbles as shown on that spaces from the blue circles, either zero, one, two, three, or four. And then if you are next to a path space, you can claim that jewel if you can pay the cost. Again, matching the colour pebbles to the coloured jewels. One pebble per jewel shown.
This jewel then goes into your collection for end game points. One point per jewel. But before your turn is over, you must flip the jewel tile to reveal a potential bonus action. Either you will be asked to bring more jewels out from the castle or have another turn.
There will be times when you don't have the right pebbles to take an effective turn, on these occasions you can go to the white flower spaces that don't cost anything, and give you extra pebbles to plan for later turns.
The game ends when a certain marked jewel appears out of the castle. You can randomly shuffle this to to appear anywhere at set-up, or place into a specific position to determine the game length. But using all the jewels will only mean a 10-15 minute game, there is no real reason to shorten this game. At the end of the game, the player with the most jewels wins. In case of a tie, the player with the most remaining pebbles wins.
The game itself is perhaps a little too simple, although of course this game is aimed at younger gamers. I just always feel younger gamers are talked down too. I have been playing Scythe with my son since he was six. Now, I understand not every child wants a complex game, nor does every adult for that matter. But I do think you could add variations to games like this to add extra levels of strategy.
The extra levels in this game add different places to place your character with four ritual fountains included in the game and one added to each game per player. But they are double sided and have various options depending on what type of game you want.
Either they offer the chance to draw free pebbles at no cost of placing your character there. Or on the advanced side, they force players after drawing four pebbles to either select one colour to keep and discard all other colours, or to keep one of each colour drawn and discard any duplicates. This does not really make the game any more fun, just frustrating. Things that take away in games like this always confuse me. Life does that enough, why have it in games?
The other variation is to remove the player screen. Usually, players would place any pebbles they have behind their player screen. This stops the other players from knowing how many pebbles they have and what colour they currently possess. Without the screens, players can play a little more tactically and block their opponents based on what positions they place their own characters. But again, this just makes the game less fun. It brings more take-that to the game, and makes it a little more vindictive.
Due to the simplicity of the game and disappointing variants, I have only scored this a seven. That has been driven up by the table presence and wow factor for kids. I feel this game has focused on that more than the game mechanics itself. Now, this is a common issue for me with family games aimed at young children, so not a comment directly targeted at Haba or the designers of this game. But with a few changes, I think this game could easily be an 8 for younger gamers.
A few more variations of what is on the back of the jewels would help. Some variations where some spaces on the board cost a lot more to place your character there but offer higher rewards. Perhaps some mission cards so add temporary effects during the game? Or, individual player powers that allow each character unique opportunities to try different things in the game.
Moving forward, I would implore Haba and all designers of family games to think about things that add more fun to the game, rather than take away opportunities to do fun things in games. Moonlight Castle looks stunning and it plays fast and fun, but I feel it missed a trick to become a real modern day family favourite.
Overall, I have enjoyed playing it and think it will come to the table many times as it just looks so appealing. And as it plays so fast, people wont be left too disappointed by the simple mechanics and unnecessary take-that.