Wednesday, 21 October 2009


Castellers was one of the games that Chong Sean ordered, when he, Han and I pooled together to order a batch of games from Canada. Since he is in KK, the earliest that he will be able to get his hands on his game is next month, when Han has a business trip to KL, and can bring it to KK for him. I put all his and Han's games in one corner, waiting for Han to pick them up next month. I was surprised (pleasantly) when Chong Sean asked me to open up his games and play them and share with him some photos. To gamers (or maybe it's just me), opening another gamer's game is worse than sacrilege. Opening a new game is a sacred ritual - ripping off the plastic wrap, listening to the first box fart (if any), punching out the cardboard components, bagging them and so on. Only with Chong Sean's blessing, I went ahead to open up Castellers and gave it a go.

The theme of Castellers is a traditional sport in Spain, where teams compete to build the tallest human tower. The current world record is 10 levels high, which is quite amazing. In the game, you build these human towers using nice big wooden blocks. Everyone starts with a hand-size of two blocks. On your turn you have two actions which you can use freely. The three possible actions are: (a) drawing a block from the bag, (b) adding a block to a tower, including building a new tower, and (c) swapping your block(s) with an opponent's single block and immediately adding that single block to your tower. When building a tower, there are only a few rules you need to remember: (a) blocks must be of the some colour, (b) you must complete one level before you start the next - your tower can be of any width, but once you start building on the 2nd level, you have committed to the width for that tower (i.e. the width of Level 1), and (c) a block above another must have a larger number - numbers range from 1 to 7.

Not all towers score points for you. For a tower to be "active", it needs at least two complete levels and at least 4 blocks, e.g. a 2-width 2-height tower, or a 1-width 4-height tower. Towers score according to the number of blocks in them, and some blocks give 2pts instead of 1. There are bonuses for widest tower and tallest tower. For each tower that you build, you deduct 1pt. This discourages you from building many useless towers.

I have only played one learning game with Michelle. We were both quite conservative about starting towers, and spent many turns drawing blocks and hoping to get good hands before we started building. The game was very quick. I started building earlier, and ended the game before Michelle could do more building. She underestimated how quickly the game could end, and this costed her the game.

My four human towers. The blocks with a light purple background score 2pts each. The rest score 1pt.

Close-up of the blocks. The block with a white shirt is a joker.

Three of the six types of bases, and the bonus tokens for widest tower and tallest tower.

One of Michelle's towers. The cloth bag in the background is used to store the blocks.

Close-up of a tower. Unfortunately this one does not score, because its second level is not yet complete.

Castellers is a simple and quick game. It is meant for 2-4 players, but I'm not sure how well it works with two. I have a feeling it's not tense enough, because probably both players will try to build in all four, or at least three, of the colours. I think with more players things will be more exciting, because you'll have to watch out for more opponents force-swapping your blocks. There will probably be more tension in choosing the colours to build in too. This is my gut feel.

One thing that I didn't like is the production. I think this is clearly a case of physical attractiveness over practicality. The blocks only have stickers on one side, so you need to place your towers at an add angle so that both you and your opponents can easily (read "with bearable trouble") see them. The publisher probably could have provided double the sticker sheets, but peeling and pasting the stickers to the blocks would be double the work. The round bases that come with the game seem unnecessary to me. Also they are not wide enough if I want to build a tower of width 4. I would have preferred the game to be implemented as a card game. But of course it wouldn't look as impressive.

A passerby may think this is a Jenga-like game, where the towers are eventually supposed to collapse. They're not. Please don't cheer if you see another group playing this and a tower collapses.


Chong Sean said...

Han left his copy of BroodWar at CarcaSean, because mine haven't arrived yet, i punched the tokens and sleeved the cards and put on the stands for flying figures, mixed with my copy of StarCraft basegame.
I felt a little guilty and when mine arrive i return the new one to him instead.

According to BGG, the 2nd edition of Castellers have additional stickers for the backs.

I am a Knizia fan. Another knizia game "Penguin" by FFG, which involve stacking penguins. I like it very much but it is very hard for 1st time players to stack them because of the narrow slots.
It is then republish as Pingu Party by Amigo as a card game.

Hiew Chok Sien said...

It's good that the 2nd edition has stickers for both sides. A bit more work in preparing the game, but much more practical when playing it.

I'm a Knizia fan too, but I tend to like his heavier and more thematic games, which he isn't doing many of in recent years, unfortunately.