Castle Keep Review
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Players: 2-4
Playing Time: 20 minutes

A surprisingly fun children's game, Castle Keep was a hit with my 8-year-old, Emily. She told her best friend it was "really, really, really fun." It's hard to beat that endorsement!

The object of the game is to be the first to build a complete castle comprised of nine tiles. Each player is dealt four tiles face down, which may include the castle parts of Tower, Wall, and Keep. Each Tower or Wall tile comes in three colors (red, yellow, and blue) and three shapes (curvy, zigzag, and straight). The Keeps are only colored and not shaped.

On a player's turn, he or she can choose to either build on their own castles or attack someone else's castle. To start, the player chooses two tiles from one of the extra stacks of tiles, and then if she wants to build a castle she will place either a Wall or Tower tile—a castle may not begin with the Keep. After the first tile is placed, any new Walls or Towers must have a corresponding shape or color (or both) to be placed adjacent to the starter tile. For example, if you placed a Red Straight Wall, then you must place either a Red Tower of any shape or a Straight Tower of any color. It took my daughter a quick game of open-handed tiles to master the concept of building a three-tile-square castle and not putting Walls to Walls or Towers to Towers, but after that, we were good. The Keep must match one of the colors in the Walls or Towers and is placed in the middle of the castle.

Should the player choose to attack an opponent's castle instead of building her own, she may play a Wall tile that exactly matches (in color and shape) a Wall in the targeted castle, and remove that matching Wall. As a bonus, if said Wall is connected to other same-colored tiles, then they will also be removed. There's a slightly different method to destroy the Keep, but this also involves exact tile matching.

Emily and I ended up playing several games in a row after we mastered the basic rules. We quickly graduated to the advanced rules, which require matching on both sides for the last tile in the castle, and destroying castles with matching Towers as well as Walls. We both found the destruction aspect of the game to be quite fun, and Emily quickly learned to be more strategic in her tile placement and attack procedures. She was also able to quickly teach her best friend to play.

One minor problem she had with the game is that the tiles were too thick for her to hold in her hand like cards, so I put a divider up so she could have her tiles laid out in front of her secretly. Finally, the suggested age is 8 and up, but I'm thinking I should be able to play by simple rules with my younger child by next year, when she will be 5. Mom gives this game an enthusiastic thumbs-up.

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