A game for 1 – 4 players
Play time around 60 – 80 minutes
Publisher: Devir Games & 999 Games (for the Dutch version of this game)
Take a fascinating journey through rich Japan and assume the role of a clan leader within the formidable walls of Himeji Castle. Witness the elegant flight of herons above the vast skies of Himeji, while the watchful Daimio oversees the orchestrated movements of the servants below. Among the serene koi carp pond, diligent gardeners attend to their tasks, warriors watch over the towering walls and courtiers wait impatiently for an audience that promises access to the inner sanctuaries of the court. When night falls, lanterns illuminate the castle and guide the workers back to their respective clans.
Welcome to “The White Castle,” a strategic board game in which players compete for supremacy, each at the head of a clan trying to best its rivals. Success depends on gathering influence within the court, cleverly managing resources and strategically placing workers in crucial locations. The stage for this epic contest? None other than the awe-inspiring Himeji Castle, where the banner of the Sakai clan flies proudly under the leadership of Daimio Sakai Tadakiyo. Immerse yourself in the intrigue and competition within the walls of this iconic fortress, where every move determines the fate of your clan.
Let’s get it on the table
A game of The White Castle is divided into 3 rounds, during each round every player has 3 turns.
The player that is on the top of the Turn Order track is the first to start in the round. Once the first player has taken his action, then the next player is till the end of the round.
During your turn, you choose 1 die from one of the Bridges and place in one of the areas that are marked with a dice symbol. When you take a die from one of the bridges, you can only take a die from the right or the left side of the bridge. No die from the center of the bridge can be taken!
After you’ve taken a die, place it on one of the available die spaces on the board. When you play with more then 2 players, you can also place a die on another die, but not in a solo or 2-player game.
When you’ve placed the die on a space that matches the number of the die then you just can take the corresponding action. But when you’ve placed a die with a higher result then you see on the board, you receive the difference in coins, when the result is lower than you see on the board, then you must pay the difference with coins.
For example, when you place a die with a result of 5 and place it on the board with a number 3, you receive 2 coins.
When you place a die with a result of 1 and place it on the board with a number 3 then you have to pay 2 coins.
On the board there are 4 different areas where you can place a die. The different areas are:
The Castle Dice can be placed on different places in the castle, there are 3 spaces on the first floor and 2 spaces on the second floor. When you’ve placed a die, you can carry out the action that is corresponding with the color of the die. Sometimes it’s possible that you can have to different actions with one die
The Well The value of this space is always 1, also more dice can be placed here. When you place a die with a higher result you still get the difference in coins. After placing a die, you receive a Daimyo Seal and the other bonusses on the 2 tiles.
Outside the walls there are 2 spaces not restricted by any color, so any dice can be placed here. You can take one of the 2 corresponding actions that are on 2 sides of a die. The three actions are placing a Gardener, Courtier or Warrior.
The personal domains when you place a die into your personal domain, you gain the rewards and after that you can take an action on the card that’s on your personal domain.
Every time you activate a Lantern icon, you receive the benefits of all the icons that are visible and in your Lantern Area. You can receive more cards by climbing up into the Castle.
You can place the different clan members to work in the gardens, training ground and into the Castle.
The different clan members are
Gardener: you can place a Gardener to a garden card but only when there isn’t already a Gardener from your color. Placing a Gardener cost you some food, when the Gardener has been placed, you can take the indicated action.
Courtier: You can place a Courtier in the Gates of the Castle, or you can move up into the castle. By placing a Courtier in the gates, you just pay 2 coins. The Gates can hold any number of Courtiers from all the Clans.
When you want to move up into the Castle, you can move 1 Courtier by 1 or by 2 steps. You must pay 2 coins for 1 step or 5 coins for 2 steps. When your move ends on the first or second floor of the Castle you must carry out the following steps:
-Take an action card from the room that tour Courtier just reached and place it into your domain board.
-The Card in your domain board will be placed face down in your Lantern Area.
-Replace the card on the board with a new card from the deck
When your move ends up on the third floor of the Castle, you carry out these steps in the following order:
-Gain the lantern Reward
-Place the Courtier in any available position of the card that’s in this place if there is any available. When there is no space left, you leave it there.
Warrior: Place a Warrior in one of the Training yards. Choose a training yard and place them where you want, but you must pay the amount of armor to place a warrior in any training yard. When you have paid and placed the warrior, then it’s time to carry out the action(s) indicated on the Yard’s tile, you can do this in any way you want.
When every player has taken 3 actions, the round ends. There are now a total 3 die left on the bridges.
After the first and second rounds you take the following actions:
1 New order of turns, the player that is the furthest on the Time track of the player that is on top, is the first player.
2 Activate the Gardeners if the bridge above has at least 1 die on it, you can choose in any order you want to activate them.
3 Prepare the following round, take all the dice, and roll them. Place them again on the corresponding bridges. Move the Round marker 1 space forward.
The Game ends
At the end of the third round, after establishing the new order of turns, the final points are counted.
1 Score points for every 5 coins and/ or Daimyo Seals and 1 Clan Point is granted.
2 Score the passage of Time, you influence marker has reached the second season you get 3 points, when you’ve reached further you can receive 6 points etc.
3 Score clan members
1 point for every Clan at the gate
3 points for every clan at the first floor
6 points for every clan at the second floor
10 points for every clan at the third floor
You receive points for every Clan in the yard by multiplying the value of your warriors by the location and number that you have inside of the Castle. Each warrior has a value indicating by the yard they are based.
Each Gardener grants their Clan as many points that are show on the card they are on.
The player with the most Clan Points is the winner of The White Castle.
Final Conclusion & rating
Difficulty: 3.00/ 5
My score: 9 out of 10 dice
I really think The White Castle is one of the top games of 2023! Both solo and multi-player I find this a successful game. The White Castle is an entry level expert game because you only have 3 actions per round that you can perform, in total you have 9 actions until the end of the game. Is it a quick game then? No, definitely not! The art and the goal is to perform several actions with one action on the game board, so you do place one die because that is the main action, but afterwards you can place several other actions and score points or use resources which you can use later.
What I really like is that at the end of round 1 and 2 you may also activate the Garderners again but only those with a die on the bridge. This also allows you to perform actions or prevent another player from performing this action by e.g., removing a die. The interaction in the game is mainly in the dice and the actions that another player can e.g., block for you. With 2 players this is even more the case because then you may not place a die on another die and an action is thus blocked. With 3 and 4 players this is allowed, leaving more possibilities.
There are so many considerations you can make during this game, e.g., do you take a low die and perform the lantern action with it or do you take a higher die and place it so you receive extra coins. Each game is different and therefore The White Castle for me really has a high replayability, there are so many different cards that are placed on the board but also the corresponding chits that determine the actions make for a changing game board.
The game rules are well and explained in the rulebook, each part is well explained and with plenty of examples. The game comes in a small but full box, all the playing material looks really nice. The bridges are easy to assemble and fortunately you can also leave them as they are, after this the box is a bit fuller but with a bit of puzzling you can get everything inside. The only thing I would have liked was that the game would have metal coins instead of cardboard coins but that is really a personal preference.
Solo I also like this game, but beware it is not a game you win just like that! The solo or automa in The White Castle is strong, as the makers themselves say, but I think that’s only good. A game which you win solo has no challenge after a few times while here you have to play several games to win once. I notice that there are many opinions about this online, but this is what I think. The game rules are clear, and you also quickly play a game solo because it only requires the cards and a different player color.
As I said earlier, The White Castle is one of the fun games of 2023 for me and I will be playing it more often.
Thanks to Devir Games for this review copy!