When Toploader changed the lyrics of their hit song and dropped the word castle, little did they know that they wouldn’t be the inspiration behind HABA’s latest family board game, Moonlight Castle. What a ridiculous mistake that lack of foresight was!
HABA often hit the mark with board games for families and children. Whenever a new title appears I am always keen to give it a try. You see, HABA are behind such classics as Rhino Hero, Karuba, Miyabi, Monza and one of my favourite titles Schneck di Wupp, sadly known by its lesser title in the UK ‘Snail Sprint’. So when I heard that a new arrival had been nominated for Best Children’s Game at the UK Games Expo I was excited. Moonlight Castle had piqued my interest and I was lucky enough to be sent a copy for review.
Visitors to UKGE 2022 at the Birmingham NEC can see this game for themselves as it will be at stand 2-730 in the Family Zone. But you might be reading this in 2023 so let me tell you more about it, in case you missed it at the show!
Before you play for the first time there are some castle walls to build. These were fiddly enough for me to be glad I was doing it without the kids around me wanting to play but quite straightforward. It stores away constructed so this is a one-off.
Once that is created you unfold the board, place your castle in position and form a stack of face down river tiles. Draw three stones from the bag and you are ready to play. Nice and easy!
Throughout the game you will be converting stones into gems. The winner is the player with the most gems at the end of the game. On your turn, you perform two actions. The first is to move to a space, these are either to a fountain to gather a handful of stones, or to a position next to the magical gem river, which may grant you a stone too. Moving next to the jewelled river will cost a stone of a specific colour. You can never be on the same space as another player, but if you are next to the river you can choose to stay there and forego the opportunity to gather any stones again.
Drawing stones is blind from a bag and these remain secret behind individual player screens.
The second action is to convert stones into gems, this is done by paying the same amount of stones as there is displayed on the river tile you want to take. When you take a river tile you flip it over to see if there is an action on the reverse. The less jewels on the tile the more likely it will have an action. Mostly they are restocking the river supply of tiles, but occasionally you will get an additional turn.
Play continues until an end tile with no gems on it is revealed. Scores are then tallied and a winner declared.
What it’s like
This is a children’s game without doubt. Like many children’s games the playing field is levelled with some luck. This comes in the form of what stones are pulled and what river tiles are available on your turn. Opponents pebbles stored behind their screen is another leveller. However, there is a little bit of planning to factor in along the way, so you do feel like you are making some decisions rather than letting the game just play out.
The best bit about the game is revealing new river tiles, but I will get onto that in a bit!
There is a minor opportunity to cheat and this can always be a temptation for younger players. It can be mitigated by making sure you hold the bag when they dip into it so they cannot see inside. You see the bag gapes a bit and so it can be easy to see inside, especially if it is flat on a table. I’ve done it by accident, but have changed my dipping action as a result!
There is no official solo mode. However, my youngest, Max, played for half an hour with all the components creating his own single player variant. I have no idea how it worked but he was having fun and ultimately that’s all that matters!
The whole gaming experience is enhanced by the gimmick. What gimmick I hear you ask! I mean I obviously don’t literally hear you, you’re the other side of the internet. Anyway, the river appears from beneath the castle in a sublime sliding action by pushing an acrylic sheet from the other side. What’s more you use an evil owl wizard to perform said action. It’s fantastically satisfying to do. I assure you both kids and adults love the mechanism!
The castle is an epic component and steals the show. The character meeples are so cute they should come with a warning that they may melt your heart.
The instructions were curiously written. I got the gist of it quite easily but there were a couple of things that made me question myself. Particularly around where to discard stones and how you might find pebbles along the path. If you find yourself asking the same question, the stones you may find along the path are the circle icons on the places you stop, to be clear: you do not pick up any discarded stones, and frankly these should all just go in a discard pile until they replenish the draw bag. I think they go near to your character so you can check people are discarding the right pebbles.
I was pleased to see a distinct lack of plastic in the box with paper binding things together. The box has no insert and that may bother some people, it’s a kids game so it doesn’t bother me. Scoop it all up and chuck it in!
The paper laminated to the board and castle will inevitably show wear over time. Mine has a few places where it is coming away ever so slightly and so it will be inevitable with use and abuse by kids that this may get a bit scuffed up. I think the bag you draw pebbles from could’ve been upgraded, ideally printed with a cool design and it certainly would’ve benefitted from a drawstring. I am also left hankering to trade in my gem tiles for some actual crystals, or to delve into the bag and pull out coloured pebbles. I’m sure there is an age appropriateness to this which is why they aren’t included, but I think slightly pimping the components in this way would’ve matched the coolness of the castle. It certainly would’ve helped justify the quite pricey RRP.
What the kids thought
Max (7): I like the little cute characters and the screens that you can put your pebbles behind. I like the artwork and the castle. Also the surprise of what each gem tile does when you turn it over.
George (11): Best HABA game ever, I like everything about it, how it plays, the artwork. It’s cute without being babyish.
Final thoughts on Moonlight Castle
My younger two boys have really enjoyed Moonlight Castle. My wife and I have enjoyed playing it with them. Other people we have introduced to it to have gone on to buy it for their children. That’s because it is a great children’s game. However, it does have a ceiling in terms of target age group and just its appearance put off the teenager in my house enough to not want to play it.
The gimmick is spectacular! I’m pleased that there is more to the game than just a magnificent castle though. Some board games that cross into the toy realm often rely too heavily on the centrepiece to sell the game rather than worry about the gameplay that surrounds it. That’s not the case with Moonlight Castle. At a kids level, the gameplay is solid.
I can see why Moonlight Castle has been nominated for an award at the UK Games Expo in 2022 and would not be surprised if it wins. In its class, it is a magical game!
Number of players: 2 to 4
Board Game Review Recommended Age: 5+
Publisher’s Recommended Age: 5+
Playing Time: 15 minutes
Setting Up and Take Down Time: 1 minute
Designers: Wilfried & Marie Fort
If you are looking for a children’s game that doesn’t make you groan as your child pulls it off the shelf to play, this is a great option. You’ll be happy to play along with your younglings as there is plenty to entertain especially with an awesome gimmick to satisfy young and old!
Artwork and Components
Value for Money
- Fantastic gimmick
- Brilliant for adults to play with children
- Cute components
- Rulebook is a bit whimsical
- Some scuffing to components inevitable
- Relatively expensive
Need more games?
If you already own Moonlight Castle and enjoy it, or are looking for other inspiration, you might also like these similar games:
- Snail Sprint
- The Quacks of Quedlinburg
- Foto Fish
Buy Moonlight Castle
If you want to buy Moonlight Castle after reading our review click on one of our affiliate links below (note there has been no affiliate links until this point)
For clarity: we don’t get paid for our reviews. However, we were kindly gifted this game by Amaroni Toys. We have tried not to let this affect our review in any way.
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