Castles of Mad King Ludwig

By / July 31, 2015 / Board Games, In Play!
Castles of Mad King Ludwig


In the tile-laying game Castles of Mad King Ludwig, players are tasked with building an amazing, extravagant castle for King Ludwig II of Bavaria…one room at a time. You see, the King loves castles, having built Neuschwanstein (the castle that inspired the Disney theme park castles) and others, but now he’s commissioned you to build the biggest, best castle ever — subject, of course, to his ever-changing whims. Each player acts as a building contractor who is adding rooms to the castle he’s building while also selling his services to other players.

In the game, each player starts with a simple foyer. One player takes on the role of the Master Builder, and that player sets prices for a set of rooms that can be purchased by the other players, with him getting to pick from the leftovers after the other players have paid him for their rooms. When a room is added to a castle, the player who built it gains castle points based on the size and type of room constructed, as well as bonus points based on the location of the room. When a room is completed, with all entranceways leading to other rooms in the castle, the player receives one of seven special rewards.

After each purchasing round, a new player becomes the Master Builder who sets prices for a new set of rooms. After several rounds, the game ends, then additional points are awarded for achieving bonus goals, having the most popular rooms, and being the most responsive to the King’s demands, which change each game. Whoever ends up with the most castle points wins.

– Boardgamegeek description

And now for some Historical Perspective:

Touristy, glorious, and romantic, some of Germany’s best attractions are in Bavaria. My favorites are three of King Ludwig II’s castles: stocky Hohenschwangau, his boyhood home; the nearby and fanciful Neuschwanstein, his dream escape; and Linderhof, his final retreat.

Ludwig was just 19 when he became king of Bavaria in 1864. Rather than live with the frustrations of a modern constitution and a feisty parliament reining him in, he spent his years lost in Romantic literature and operas…chillin’ with the composer Wagner as only a gay young king could. From his bedroom in Hohenschwangau, Ludwig trained a telescope on a ridge to keep an eye on Neuschwanstein as it was being constructed.


Ludwig put his Neuschwanstein on a hilltop not for defensive reasons, but simply because he liked the view. The castle, which is about as old as the Eiffel Tower, is a textbook example of 19th-century Romanticism. After the Middle Ages ended, people disparagingly named that era “Gothic” — meaning barbarian. Then, all of a sudden, in the 1800s, it was hip to be square, and neo-Gothic became the rage. Throughout Europe, old castles were restored and new ones built, wallpapered with chivalry.

The lavish interior, covered with damsels in distress, dragons, and knights in gleaming armor, is enchanting. Ludwig had great taste — for a “mad” king. Germany became a single united country only in 1871. As if to bolster its legitimacy, the young nation dug deep into its murky, medieval past. These same heroes and legends inspired young Ludwig in decorating his fanciful castles.

Sitting at the foot of the hill, Hohenschwangau Castle is more lived-in and historic, offering an excellent look at Ludwig’s life (with fewer crowds). Originally built in the 12th century, it was ruined by Napoleon. Ludwig’s father rebuilt it, and you’ll see it as it looked in 1836. The walls of the beautifully painted rooms are slathered with the epic myths and exotic decoration of 19th-century Romanticism.

The homiest of Ludwig’s castles is the small and comfortably exquisite Linderhof, set in the woods 15 minutes from Oberammergau, the Shirley Temple of Bavarian villages (a 45-minute drive from Hohenschwangau). Surrounded by fountains and sculpted, Italian-style gardens, it’s the only place I’ve toured that actually had me feeling palace envy.

Ludwig lived much of his last eight years at Linderhof. Frustrated by the limits of being a constitutional monarch, he retreated here, inhabiting a private fantasy world where his lavishness glorified his otherwise weakened kingship. He lived as a royal hermit; his dinner table — pre-set with dishes and food — rose from the kitchen below into his dining room so he could eat alone.

Beyond the palace is Ludwig’s grotto, a private theater for the reclusive king to enjoy his beloved Wagnerian operas — he was usually the sole member of the audience. The grotto features a waterfall, fake stalactites, and a swan boat floating on an artificial lake. The first electricity in Bavaria was generated here, to change the colors of the stage lights and to power Ludwig’s fountain and wave machine.

Ludwig was king for 23 years. In 1886, fed up with his extravagances, royal commissioners declared him mentally unfit to rule Bavaria. Days later, he was found dead in a lake. People still debate whether it was murder or suicide. But no one complains anymore about the cost of Ludwig’s castles. Within six weeks of his funeral, tourists were paying to see the castles — and they’re still coming.

-excerpts from Rick Steves’ Europe

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