Secrets and Soirees, the first (and currently only) expansion to Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig fits into the category of a ‘more stuff’ expansion. That is to say that it doesn’t add a huge amount in complexity or rules. It doesn’t completely change the game, and it probably won’t change your mind on the game if you dislike the base game already. What it does do though is add a little more interest to the puzzle at hand, more variety in how your castle can be made up, and a bit more interaction between you and the players around the table who aren’t your direct neighbours. It also adds two modes of solo play, of which I have played one, and the ability to play with an eighth player, though I have not gone up to this player count.
First, to one of the new room types that has been added, activity rooms, with the lute-like symbol in the top left of the tile. While functionally the same as any of the tiles from the base game, they introduce new scoring rules. They will score one point per specific type of tile orthogonally (up, down, left and right) adjacent to it. Fairly standard, as this is very similar to the ways other tiles score. The more interesting part comes from the second scoring rule for these room types. They will only score you one point in total if it has a specific type of tile anywhere around it (in the case above, living rooms), which means that you have to think carefully, not just about where best to place the activity room and the tiles it doesn’t want to surround it, but where to place other tiles which may score adjacency bonuses from those types of tiles. This creates a nice bit of extra spatial awareness, where before it may have been fairly straight forward.
The tile pictured next to it is one we already know from the base game; a tile you gain from getting a bonus, but the scoring rules are again a new addition, and this is where the extra bit of interaction I mentioned comes in. It allows you to score one point for each specific room type in the adjacent castles. This incentivises you and your neighbour to place specific tiles in their other castles, as it may help both their castles now, not just one. You may also just glance over to the other castle your neighbour is building and think that you can try to capitalise on what they are doing over there. Another thing I think it helps with, but still doesn’t necessarily solve (because this scoring rule won’t come up overly often) is the slight issue I had from the base game where, a lot of the time, it seemed an obvious choice of which tiles to place in which castle. Now with the ability to score a tile placed in one castle in your other, it may give you something else to think about.
The other type of tile added in Secrets and Soirees is the secret rooms, with the arrow symbols in the top left and right. These room types copy a room at which it is pointing. So in the example pictured, the secret room is pointing to the downstairs room, meaning that it’ll copy the room type, the symbol in the top right, and the scoring rule of one point for each activity room above it. This is an intriguing addition, for many reasons. Firstly, it will make it easier to get the bonuses for having 3 or 5 of a certain room type. Secondly, you’ll be able to use it to potentially increase your score, both by duplicating scoring rules, and also enabling you to score more if other tiles need the room type that it is copying. But the most interesting parts, I think, are that you can string them together (having one secret room pointing to another secret room, which points to a certain room type, as an example), meaning you’ll be able to find clever combinations, and also, because secret rooms don’t have a restriction on needing to be underground or overground, you could use this to get around not being able to get a certain room type in a certain spot to maximise your scoring abilities. The good thing is, because the game comes with little tokens to place on the secret rooms to show you which room type they are copying, there’s no headache trying to work it all out when it comes to scoring, or checking if you’ve fulfilled a bonus.
Secrets and Soirees introduces solo play in this game, where there wasn’t one before. Most of Stonemaier Games include a solo mode, created by a partner, Automa Factory, and I have played these modes for each game of theirs I own. I do this, predominantly, to learn the games when I first receive them, because even if I don’t get the same feeling as playing with my friends, it still allows me to understand the intricacies of the game, more that I would just by going through the rulebook, and this makes it easier for me to teach. That may not be the case for everyone, but it works for me. The solo modes for this company’s games are definitely more robust than most, if not any, others I have played.
The mode for Secrets and Soirees which I have played gives you two automated players, who will play against you, with what they do being based on action cards you will draw. Each automated player will have a preferred room type assigned to them from the beginning of the game, and that will come into play when you’re picking the tiles they take. At the end of the game, the automated players will score based on how many of each room type they have taken, you will score the castles you have built as normal, and, as per the multiplayer game, if your lowest scoring castle outscores them, you win. While this may be my least favourite of the solo modes put out in Stonemaier Games’ catalogue, that isn’t necessarily a criticism, as they are all very good. I just feel like the feeling of a multiplayer game is much more difficult to recreate in this game than it is in their other titles, which for some may well be a good thing.
Secrets and Soirees is no exception to the rule when it comes to excellent production and Stonemaier Games. They give you another organiser from Game Trayz, which slots in with the others in the base game box. You get a brand-new score pad with the additional room types on, with just as many sheets on as in the base game. Each player gets a new player aid, still succinctly explaining each room type and the bonuses it provide. It’s only an expansion, so they’re limited to the amount of ‘wow factor’ they can include, but they do the most with what they can.
As I mentioned at the beginning, Secrets and Soirees probably won’t change your mind on this game if you dislike it. I, however, think this game is a good game, only made better by this expansion. For the most part, I want an expansion to add an extra level of depth to a game, without over-complicating it, and this is what this does.