Tetris Tower Defense - Castellion Review

This is the first of 3 reviews I'll be doing over the course of the next couple of months on the Ominverse games released by Z-Man. Onirim and Sylvion will be the others (Urbion doesn't get a lot of mention these days) in the line up. Originally I was only going to concern myself with Onrim after Zee Garcia kept bringing it up in Dice Tower episodes, in fact this seems to be a trend now. First he hooked me onto Pillars of the Earth, then Biblios which was a major surprise that I even liked it and now Onirim which has taken me forever to find a copy. Lucky for me Z-Man stocked up on their Omniverse games at Essen and so I raided their stall for all of them! Of course it's not like I love every game that Zee mentions - after all he likes Power Grid!

I'm also one of the reviewers that will praise the merits of solitaire gaming. Of course the main reason we play board games is to interact with friends and other people, but that's not always possible to achieve and for someone like me who has yet to be blessed with a significant other that enjoys board games, a chance to whip out a decent game even when by yourself makes a good evening in. Just boil the kettle for some green tea or pour a chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc and I'm happy! So these Ominverse games have always intrigued me being predominantly intended for solo play only. Yes you can play them as a 2 player co-operative, but I believe the vast majority opt for solo mode and for the purposes of these reviews I will be focusing on that style. Not to mention that Christmas is incoming and some of you are probably on the lookout for some stocking stuffers. . .




Designer: Shadi Torbey
Publisher: Z-Man Games
# of Players: 1-2
Age: 12+
Time: 15-30 Minutes
Rank/Rating: 6.69 / 6009


The Dreamworld Is Threatened!


A nasty shapeshifting entity called "The Menace" (sounds like something out of a Care Bears cartoon) is threatening to destroy your castle at the centre of the Omniverse and is preparing its onslaught of monstrous attacks. Your job is build a stalwart defence against The Menace using the denizens of the castle to fortify your castle and also assist you with their special abilities. Over the course of the game you will flip a denizen tile and decide whether to build it in your castle or discard to use it's special power including swapping tiles, blowing up unwanted parts of your castle or foretelling future tiles to place out (i.e. flip four and use in any order you choose).

Over the course of the game The Menace will launch several attacks at your castle which require you to have built it in a specific way. Ranks will protect you from traitor tiles that may pop up and towers will allow you to see these attacks before they happen allowing you to strategise how you build your castle. If you are able to set up the right defences and survive all 3 attacks without losing your base fortifications, you win the game.


Because Cards Don't Make For A Strong Wall!


All the other Omniverse games are known for being card games. This has changed things up a notch and gone for tiles instead. The same effect could have been achieved using cards, but it's nice to see something different and the tiles themselves are good quality with the same weird and wonderful artwork as with all Ominverse games. Whether you like the artwork or not is a matter of personal opinion though. I'm not going to go out and say it's amazing, but it's nice and fits the whole "dreamworld" theme. Think of it like those old 2D animated story telling kids shows - I don't know, it's hard to compare it. But whether you like it or not, you can't argue that it's really colourful, especially when you've got a load of them laid out in mid-game with all that yellow-ness staring at you. My only beef is that the shapes sometimes require a second look to tell them apart. If you're not paying attention it's perfectly possible to mistake a square for a circle because all they do is pretty much just round off the corners (i.e it's not a perfect circle).

Having tiles also creates a new problem - tile shuffling. Shuffling a deck of cards is easy, but shuffling tiles, that's a skill that takes some development to master. As such you're going to find that the initial setup of the game will be a little fiddly and time consuming, unless like me you opt for the old fashioned "spread and mix" approach on your table and just hope the tiles last.

The insert holds all the pieces so it does the job though I'm not sure why they opted for storing them vertically. The rulebook is very easy to follow and even follows a crescendo style of teaching where the introductory game teaches only the basic building mechanics, then the base game introduces the denizen powers and finally the expert game brings everything together. It's a great way to learn the game, but frankly if you've played games before you can just jump into the expert mode right off the bat, the easier difficulties are purely for the non-gamers and children really.


It's a very nice touch though in that the different modes almost tell the story of the preparation to the assault. For example the introductory game just has the architect telling you how to build. Then the base game has simpler attack cards with pictures of monsters held up like a puppet show by the general before the expert game then shows the full force of The Menace. Yeah it doesn't affect gameplay at all, but I'm a sucker for theme and I felt it was a nice touch.


Utilise The Best Of Your Workforce


In Castellion the idea is to build your castle forming ranks (horizontal lines) and towers (vertical lines) in order to meet the requirements of each goal card. To do this the denizens have to be placed in formation with matching colours, however you cannot place a tile next to another (other than the base row) unless the shapes are different. So there are plenty of restrictions in place to force you to think carefully about where to place a tile or even if at all. Discarding a tile instead triggers the special ability and the use of these is the best part of Castellion. All of the powers are essential to winning this game and it feels good to pull off some crafty moves to overcome a simple issue of identical shapes.

The formations also have an element of theme. Ranks protect you from the damage that traitors cause and towers allow you to view goal cards that aren't impending yet (only the next goal card is visible to begin with) as if you're looking out from the castle ramparts and spotting the force that's incoming. Again like I said before, it's light, but a nice touch. Castellion could have easily just chucked away the theme and gone 100% abstract, so it's good to see a bit of effort put in to avoid that.

But essentially that's all to it. The difficulty here isn't the rules of the game, it's mastering your use of the special powers and picking the right tiles to build your castle with. Simplicity, but with a good amount of depth for the game size - a characteristic I approve of in games in general.




Will The Fortifications Stand The Test Of Time?


There's plenty in the game to keep you entertained to get your money's worth although beyond that might be another thing entirely. The three modes of play are essentially teaching you the rules in piecemeal so before you know it you'll be constantly playing on the expert mode, tweaking the difficulty as you see fit with the two variants in the rulebook. There's a very basic expansion for building pantry tiles that don't count towards formations which adds again to the difficulty, but doesn't really add anything much aside from that and at that stage you're probably venturing into whatever stands for "hell" mode in Castellion. There's building a wall to withstand monsters and then there's being run over by a steamroller before you've put the first brick down.

You've got four different Defender creatures to play with for the abilities, but maybe a more interesting idea would have been to give us one or two additional types with their own abilities that we can add in at our leisure, or perhaps even restricting us to four, but randomly selecting which Defenders you end up with. That would be probably been quite difficult to design, but pretty cool as well. As it stands I fear the game will eventually get fairly repetitive even with the random selection of goal cards changing things up. But like I said, there's enough here to get your monies worth for the cheap price tag and even if you only bring it on travels, it will do you fine.


Verdict


Castellion is a neat little game with good production quality that doesn't take very long at all to get to grips with. The 3 different versions of the game teach the rules piece by piece so that any non-gamer could grasp it. It also sits very nicely on that boundary between being a good challenge and hair pull inducing frustration especially with the difficulty variants and the random selection of the goal cards. I'd best describe it as a little puzzle with plenty of options at your disposal for placing tiles and utilising the special abilities of the denizens, which is where the main enjoyment comes from.

It's refreshing to see one of these games use tiles rather than cards although the starting setup can be a little time-consuming and fiddly as you try to randomize all the tiles from the last game you played. 30 minutes is a decent approximation for a full game but this is after setting it up so it might cross that threshold of being a quick filler for some people. I wouldn't say it's one that's going to stand the test of time, but all in all, it's a good little portable puzzle game that should last a lot of plays and make up its value in no time.



YOU WILL LIKE THIS GAME IF:


You want a cheap game suitable for travel.


You enjoy puzzles in general - the Ominverse games are essentially ever-changing puzzles.


You want some quick games in the collection that allow for solo play, but could be adapted for two should the need arise.



YOU WILL NOT LIKE THIS GAME IF:


You want a game that will stay in your collection forever. It's good value for money, but there's only so much variety to keep it going.


You want to play this mainly with 2 players - it's focus is on solo play and there are lots of better 2 player games out there.


You can't stand the idea of tile shuffling.

0 comments: