- Designer: Stefan Feld
- Artists: Antje Stephan and Claus Stephan
- Release Year: 2019
- Mechanics: Set Collection, Tile Placement
Not that I’m particularly well traveled or cultured, but I had never heard of a Tuscan castle before. I visited English and Dutch castles in my youth, and like most things, if I haven’t experienced them, I just assume they don’t exist.
The Castles of Tuscany is Stefan Feld’s 2019 follow-up to one of his most popular games, The Castles of Burgundy (2011). I won’t get into the specifics of what makes these two games different, because I’ll dedicate a whole article to that in the future. Make sure you’re following me on Twitter and Instagram to be notified when that article is live!
Disclaimer: The rulebook contained several ambiguities that required clarifications from the community FAQ. Publisher Alea has revised the rulebook (available here) which changed some rules; most notably, the ‘draw two cards’ action is now ‘draw three cards’ by default.
The Castles of Tuscany is a 2 – 4 player game that usually plays in under an hour. In The Castles of Tuscany players will collect tiles representing towns, villages, and monasteries and place them into their lands surrounding their castle, collecting special benefits to accrue points. The neat twist on scoring in The Castles of Tuscany is that there are 2 score tracks and two types of points that you can earn: green points and red points. During each of the 3 scoring phases, you gain red points equal to the number of green points you have. This means that a green point you earn at the beginning of the game will score you 3 red points by the end. At the end of the game the player with the most red points is the winner.
Each individual turn in The Castles of Tuscany is quick and smooth. You can only do one action per turn (although if you have a marble you can spend it to take a second turn). You may choose from the following actions: take a tile from the centre and put it into your supply, pay two cards from your hand to play a tile from your supply into your province and gain the special benefit of the tile, or draw cards into your hand.
The ‘timer’ for the game comes from the number of tiles each player takes. When a player takes a tile from the offer row they must replace the tile they took with one from their own stack. When the first player depletes their first stack of tiles, the first scoring is triggered. When a player depletes their second stack, the second scoring is triggered, and when one player runs entirely out of tiles, the game ends.
A new game from prolific designer Stefan Feld and being the successor to a wildly popular game means The Castles of Tuscany had some big shoes to fill. And the quick summary is, The Castles of Tuscany is easier to teach and faster to play. It feels streamlined and smoothed, almost as if it’s been finely developed by someone who has been making board games for decades.
Because it’s so smooth and streamlined, the gameplay flows well. Turns come and go quickly, leaving little downtime between turns. In my experience, because players only get one action per turn there is very little action paralysis.
Due to turns being so short, I found each individual turn to be somewhat unsatisfying. It may take several turns to queue up anything of value. This is especially true during the first few rounds of the game. It takes two cards of the same colour to play a matching coloured tile, so it’s not unheard of to spend two or three turns in a row just drawing cards, hoping you get the correct ones. You can always spend two cards as one card of a different colour, but my instinct refuses to let me do something so inefficient.
Restricting players to only one action per turn means that you can generally see what other players are planning on doing. You can afford to defer specific actions, safe in the knowledge that your plans won’t be foiled by a sudden rug pull. Of course, it’s important to notice when a player has a stone and they are able to pull off a double turn, both placing a tile and snagging the last blue tile available, much to your own chagrin.
The Castles of Tuscany is a perfectly fine game. The component quality is nice, the rules aren’t too onerous, and it’s easy to pick up and play. I find it lacking the punchy moments where you’re able to build up to big exciting moves. “I play this tile, which gets me this tile, and I use a stone which lets me play this tile, which gets me six points” is about as exciting as it gets. Now, not every game needs to have moments where the whole table leaps to their feet, hooting and hollering (especially when the baby is napping), but the entire experience of The Castles of Tuscany feels subdued. I enjoy that play time is less than an hour, which means that The Castles of Tuscany is more likely to get played than some of my other more exciting, but longer board games, but in the end it falls short of the expectations that were heaped upon it.