Full disclosure: A review copy of Castello Methoni was provided by Mandoo Games.
Yeah, I really think getting that Curators review done was enough to help me temporarily shake off whatever productivity nightmare I was in for the last few weeks. I’m mostly playing a lot of solo games, but I feel like writing again, and that’s huge. Really can’t overstate that. Either way, though, the actual input of new games for review is going to be relatively low for a hot minute, so please bear with me. In the meantime, though, we’ve got this great-looking new game from Mandoo, Castello Methoni! I say great-looking even though my box kind of got rained on in transit so I actually lost the box cover, which sucks. I’ve instead used the box art where I’d normally use a photo I took of the box, just so you can see how nice it looks.
In Castello Methoni, you play as my favorite thematic group of people: Mediterranean traders. However, instead of trading in gems or spices or something Very Generic, you’re trading in castles. Your goal? To expand your territory enough to become lord of Methoni. That seems like a pretty good gig. So spend your wealth to annex territory, place houses and villas, and expand your domain. Just, you know, don’t run out of money. Who will claim Methoni for themselves?
Setup is pretty straightforward. Set out the board:
Set four money near the board in the Market:
Set six money on the Market spaces on the board, as well, and divide the remaining money evenly among the players. Give each player 5 Land cards:
And give each one Objective card:
Give each player the houses in their color:
Then give them the villas:
Finish up by giving them the towers:
Finally, set out a number of walls, depending on your player count:
- 3 players: 30 walls
- 4 players: 33 walls
- 5 players: 36 walls
Once you’ve done all that, you’re ready to start! Set aside the score sheets:
And then, choose a player to go first:
Pretty solid game flow, with this one. Your goal is to build up your territory by placing towers, houses, and villas. The more you place, the better you’ll score. Score the most Victory Points to win!
On your turn, you may either Build or Trade. You may do two actions; you may perform the same action more than once.
When you perform a Build Action, you discard one of your Land Cards face-up. Once you do, you may choose any space of that type and build a Wall from the supply on any free border of that space. Note that a “free border” is any line that isn’t within a Domain (more on that in a second) and doesn’t already have a wall on it.
Once you’ve done that, add one of your houses to either side of the wall. Then choose the player to your left or right and add one of their houses to the other side. You can’t place Houses in the ocean, no matter how much you may want to. Some cards are Market Cards, meaning that you can place a wall on any Market space or shore-adjacent space.
If you create a closed section of walls, you’ve created a Domain! If you create one, you must acquire it, and you cannot create a Domain if you don’t have enough money to acquire it. There’s some situations in which this might be your only option, but that’s exceedingly rare.
When you acquire a Domain, do the following:
- Buy land: Pay 1 money per space in your new domain to the bank.
- Buy houses: Pay 1 money per house to their owners.
If you end up with three houses of the same color, they are upgraded (after paying) to a Villa of that color. Take the Villa from that player’s supply if there are any remaining, and if you upgraded, return the houses to that player.
Finally, add your Tower to your new Domain. This has the side benefit of activating the Market in that Domain (if present), which allows you to Trade from it. More on that later.
The best part of this is yet to come. If you create a Domain adjacent to another player’s Domain, you may annex it by spending even more money! Then it becomes yours. To annex:
- Pay the domain’s owner. You must pay the original owner of the Domain 2 money per space in that Domain, 1 money per House, and 5 money per Villa. The owners of the Houses and Villas don’t matter; only the player who originally owned that Domain profits.
- Destroy walls. Every wall separating your Domain from the Domain you annexed must be removed and placed back into the supply.
- Make upgrades if necessary. If the newly combined Domains have three or more houses of specific colors, those are immediately upgraded to Villas.
- Remove the old tower. It’s your Domain now. Kick the other player out.
If you have enough money, you may continue to annex additional Domains. You may also annex your own Domains, if you want, but you don’t have to pay yourself.
If you take the Trade Action, you may take 2 money from the bank. To do so, you either must discard a Market Card or a Land Card with an activated Market.
There are 6 Market spaces on the board, and if you control a Domain with a Market in it, you collect 2 money from the bank (per Market you control) at the start of your turn.
End of Game
Once the final wall piece is taken (even if subsequent annexations cause the wall supply to be refilled) the game ends when that player’s turn ends. Each player then scores:
- 3 VP per space inside your Domains.
- 1 VP per remaining money.
- 1 VP for each space that matches one of the three types on your Objective Card.
- 10 VP for the player with the largest Domain (if tied, all tied players get 10 VP).
- 5 VP for the player with the second-largest Domain (if tied, all tied players get 5VP).
- 1 / 3 / 6 / 10 VP for placing 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 Towers.
The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
Fairly substantial amount, to be honest. Since the game’s all about player interaction and zero-sum markets, having more players in the game will naturally change the way that the game’s flow works. Every player starts with less money at higher player counts, so, it’s going to be tougher for them to make big annexations early on. Thankfully, you avoid the awkward tension at lower player counts where it’s possible for two players’ objectives to be mutually exclusive (but the third player’s is not), so the third player is in a bit of a bind. At five, everyone’s gonna overlap with someone else, so this isn’t as much of a problem. And there’s going to be a ton of contention for various spots at the higher player count. To that end, I kind of prefer Castello Methoni at higher player counts to drive those interactive moments. I think it’s more exciting that way! It’s still fun at three, but I think it shines with more players.
- You want to price some properties to sell. It’s a good way to make money in the early game, especially if you know you don’t necessarily care about that land. You can make 10+ money pretty quick if you’re placing it suck that your opponent wants to pick it up. Try to have a few of those; they can also help you burn through cards you otherwise don’t want.
- Don’t necessarily make your property too expensive too quickly. This is a bit of a common mistake with newer players; they spend too much money on building a mid-size Domain early on and that shuts them out of the economy. Nobody will buy that mid-size Domain, and they can either grow it themselves (and make almost no money) or try to build small Domains that their opponent can glomp (which makes money slowly). So you want to try to either make fairly expensive properties that you can go without, or wait towards the end of the game to make a massive Domain so that you can get that bonus.
- You don’t always need to place your own pieces inside of the wall you placed. Placing your opponents’ pieces will up your costs slightly (since you have to pay them when you form a Domain), but if you can get a Villa formed then you’ll make more money when someone else buys the Domain no matter what. Don’t just place your Houses so that you can save a bit of money; go after those Villas to make it harder to buy up your Domain.
- Sowing discord is a good way to make a quick buck. Taking an opponent’s Domain that a different opponent was going to annex isn’t bad; it means that they’ll have to pay you instead of them, which is always advantageous. Also placing your opponent’s pieces around can usually be helpful since it now increases their incentive to form Villas (or placing them such that you “waste” your opponent’s Villas is also pretty fun.
- Taking over market spaces is also a good way to make a quick buck. You gain two money per Market space per turn. If you can get enough of those, you can pull a decent passive income. It’s definitely useful as long as there’s money in the Market (and there isn’t always!).
- Annexing your own spaces is only good insofar as it pushes you towards the largest domain; otherwise it can lose you points. This is a subtle point, but it mostly deals with Towers. The more you have on the board, the more points you score. So making one massive Domain is only useful if you can get that 10 point bonus. Once you have that, you don’t necessarily need to expand that Domain for any reason other than defensively. You still score the same points for land in your Domain and for your Objective, anyways, so might as well focus on Towers once you’ve locked that down.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I absolutely love the art in this game. I think that I tend to love bright colors and blues and teals, and this game’s got that in spades. I wish I had the box to show y’all, but, it was literally limp and mildewed from water damage (shipping, whoops), so you’ll have to deal with the bright and colorful board instead. It’s a very pretty game, and I hope we get more games that look like this in the future. I’m a big fan of the aesthetic.
- Actually, I think zero-sum markets are also really interesting. I don’t play a ton of zero-sum games (in which no new money enters the system after the game starts), but I think they’re pretty cool. I appreciate that this one is lighter than a lot of the other ones that I’ve seen, so it’s not quite that intense.
- The strategic merit of placing other players’ tokens so that you can build villas and raise the price of your territory is really interesting. I think that’s where the game really shifted for me. In the first game we played, we were always putting our own tokens inside of the wall, so we ended up with a lot of Domains with 1 – 2 Houses of every color. Making the Villa really gave me an initial edge, and it wasn’t obvious whether or not that was a useful move. I really like the way that works for making your Domain more valuable.
- I really enjoy building up territory in this game. The process of playing cards, building, and Annexing is really gratifying. You get to feel a good sense of progress, which is one of the things I try to shoot for most when I’m playing a game. It’s a nice feeling.
- Pretty quick game, relatively speaking. I kind of assumed it would be a longer game than 30 – 50 minutes, but I think 10 minutes per player is a pretty good estimate once everyone has their rules down.
- The scoring allows for a few different paths to victory. It’s just as valid to try and hoard money as it is to try and acquire massive Domains. You really can’t do one to the exclusion of another, but you can lean more heavily on either and still come out on top. I appreciate that.
- Multiplayer games can get a bit annoying if you’re the player whose objective overlaps with players with mutually-exclusive domains. It can happen that two players have ZERO overlap, meaning that you’re forced to fight them both without the balancing effect of them needing to fight each other. When that happens, depending on how players play, you might not be able to come out ahead as they pick on you from both sides.
- Also, random card draws mean that eventually you can get caught with fairly garbage hands, which is kind of frustrating. You generally can use these for some utility by building on the border of lands you don’t want and lands you do, but ultimately you’re going to get stuck with that one land that isn’t adjacent to any of your Objectives, so have a plan around what you’re going to do to resolve that. It’s a bit annoying (though you can use them to Trade, I suppose).
- Since the game’s zero-sum, it’s decently possible to get picked apart if you’re not careful. This happens a lot more if players are gunning for you, but there’s also no way to make money without taking it from other players, essentially. You also need to acquire territory by usually taking it from other players, which means that players may team up and take everything you have if you’re not careful (without leaving you enough money to buy their now-massive Domains). Just keep an eye on the game and make sure you don’t get shut out.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Overall, I think Castello Methoni is a lot of fun! I particularly like that the market is zero-sum, and you can benefit a lot by making Domains that other players want to buy while pricing them so that they are just expensive enough to be purchasable by those players. It’s a clever market to manipulate since the market that you’re manipulating is other players, in this case. Can you convince them to go after a Domain that you’ve prepared for them knowing that it’s more valuable to sell than to keep? It depends on how much they think they need it. All the while, the interesting parts of this game are further accentuated by the frankly excellent art, I feel. It’s bright, vibrant, and colorful, and I love games that go for that kind of aesthetic. It really works for me. I think it’s a bit better at higher player counts, but that’s because I find some more of the tension between players gets a bit more diffused as the player count increases. That means everyone gets a shot to build up their territory, and everyone has to fight it out on a board that doesn’t scale in size. I normally wouldn’t like that sort of thing, but I think since the money is the driving factor in the game instead of combat, it doesn’t feel as personal? There’s definitely a difference between getting conquered and getting bought out, I suppose. And I think that’s what makes the game feel most interesting; the economic warfare happening in lieu of a physical fight. Either way, it takes me a while each game to wrap my head around how best to progress, and I think that’s pretty cool. If you like that sort of zero-sum economy, or you’re a fan of highly-interactive games, or you just like great art, then I’d recommend checking out Castello Methoni! I’ve been a big fan of it and enjoyed my plays.