Game "Review": The Lowdown on Castilion

It's no secret that the proliferation of the functions of Kickstarter has allowed all sorts of new games to contend for your hard-earned cash. Given the scope of your choices, it can often be difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff, as it were. 

Castilion is very much in the former of those two categories. This card-based euro is a strategist's dream: concise, tactical, and bereft of the often-cruel Lady Luck. You, the player, must defend your castle from invading forces (your fellow players) via careful management of your troops, the terrain they navigate, and the resources they utilize or consume. The game is simultaneously appreciable at both the micro and macro scales with beautifully rendered artwork and surprising playable depth. 

A full overview, including introductory videos, can be found on Castilion's Kickstarter page. This extremely well-managed venture also features a production deal with premier card publishing house Cartimundi. It's refreshing and reassuring to see a fundraising campaign be as detailed and thoughtful as the creators are with their game. I had the privilege of exchanging communications with Joe, one of the trio behind Castilion. The below is what he had to say about this offering of mental jousting.

Image via the Castilion Kickstarter page

It’s very clear that you and your team have a passion for gaming, but what prompted you to want to become developers?  Once you decided to put on the developer’s hat, what made you choose a card-based format (beyond just minimizing the element of chance)?

It was in September of 2012 when my business partner came to me and suggested that we should work on a trading card game. I grew up playing one of the biggest trading card games ever and I thought that it would be really interesting and fun to develop one of our own. Castilion did start as a trading card game but it wasn’t until early 2013 when I decided that a board game would be more attractive because of the vast community that surrounds board games and RPG games too. Immediately after that we started developing the game mechanics. We had ideas before which included adding luck elements to the game, but we both thought that a euro-style strategy game would be more interesting and engaging for the average gamer.

Our mechanic has received praise for being unique and intelligent and we didn’t want to take anything away from the game by introducing luck. We wanted the game to be easy to play but also thought-provoking so making it purely card based meant that we could achieve both goals.

Castilion has defined roots in the medieval era. Are you history buffs or did that particular epoch just mesh well with your concept for the game?

The original game included actual facts. The castle cards were based on real ones; of course copyright excluded that idea so we steered clear from solid facts about castles and made up some history of our own. All of the items and formation cards used in the game are true to real life and were weapons and tactics that armies used.

We aren’t history buffs per say and we didn’t want fantasy to take the lead with this game, we wanted most of the game to be as real as possible. The only aspects which aren’t historically correct are the names of the Castles and Generals. Every other character shares their name with names that were used during the medieval times.

The game is touted as being extremely easy to learn, but a highly satisfying overall play experience. How long would you say it takes people to pick up Castilion and what demographics do you think would most enjoy the game?

Many people don’t really grasp the overall size of Castilion. It is a massive game with many different aspects, however, once players have understood the different card types and how the game reacts by using them, the game can be set up in 5 minutes and you’re off fighting for your castles honour! 

We wanted the game to be aimed at children of 11 and over. We thought that kids would really engage and learn about the history involved, especially English children, after all medieval history runs very deep in the English. We took the game to a primary school so the kids could have a play and they loved it! They were very excited to interact with the characters and the castles. We didn’t realise the vast community that is the board gaming community! People love playing board games so demographically speaking, everyone can enjoy Castilion.

It has taken you nearly two years to get to where you are right now with Castilion. What would you say were the most enjoyable or most enlightening parts of the development process and what were some of the biggest challenges you faced?

Developing a new board game is always going to be challenging and we didn’t really know what to expect. The best part about the process was designing the game mechanics and play testing. The game didn’t come overnight and we had many a game that would run for hours because we were inventing new rules and regulations every minute. I really enjoyed creating something that is new and fresh.

The most challenging part of the process was finding an artist; we had everything in place with no art! We really didn’t think the game looked very good without the artwork. We got the game printed with no art, close to where we operate and the printer was very interested in what he was printing so he asked us about it. We told him it was board game and we needed an artist to finish the cards. It just so happened that he knew someone that lived right around the corner. We spoke to her and after 2 years of hard work she ended up painting all the artwork (barring the castles) for Castilion.

Balancing out the strengths, weaknesses, and abilities of the individual cards obviously has an enormous role in ensuring that that Castilion is an enjoyable playing experience. Was striking that balance difficult?

At first, yes, but after hundreds of game testing we finally came up with the magic numbers that make the game as fair as it is fun! We knew what we had to do to make the game enjoyable and the only difficult aspect about it was the time it took to do it. We based the abilities on the looks of the cards at first and came on from that. The balance is perfectly equal; no one can really win back to back games often.

Well thought-out strategy is very clearly the foundation of Castilion. What was the inspiration for this and what do you feel differentiates Castilion from other strategy/tactical games?

We didn’t want the game to be a boring luck-based game that people wouldn’t get sustained and increased joy from, so the inspiration was giving people something different and intelligent, gamers appreciate games much more when they are extremely skilled. The game is short enough so that players won’t get bored by the endless thinking but it is clever enough that players can strategize quickly and efficiently just by looking at their hand.

The game is solely based around cards and your head; it is like chess but with so much more interaction. We wanted Castilion to be a premium product that gamers can appreciate. I don’t think many pure card based games can offer that experience. 

Is there anything else that you think potential backers and players should know about Castilion?

Castilion is extremely FUN! We want to get across that we are making this game for everyone who enjoys playing board games. We love the seriousness of the gameplay and some of the characters but we want people to know that playing the game is so fun and once you are fully engaged can be more exciting than a roller coaster ride! We really want to bring this game to the market because we have some amazing and unique ideas for expansions.

Intrigued? You have 17 days to check out the Castilion fundraising page or read more at the official Castilion website! A special thanks to Joe and the rest of the Castilion team!

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