A fun take on multiplayer Mahjong hits mobile devices
Android & iOS
# of Players
Dragon Castle is a modern take on Mahjong from Horrible Games, brought to digital by Studio Clangore. Players take turns grabbing matching tiles from a common board and playing them into their personal realm, attempting to match colors into large groupings to gain points. Once the common area has been sufficiently depleted, the game ends and the player with the most points wins, this typically takes about 10 minutes.
A turn in Dragon Castle begins by selecting a tile from the common board. It must be on the top layer and it must have one open side. After grabbing one the player has a few options. They may grab a second, identical tile from any level on the board (it must still have an open side). They may instead take a shrine, which is used later to gain points. The final option is to discard the tile you just took in exchange for one VP. Any tiles you end up with after the first phase of your turn must be placed in your realm, which is your own personal tile tableau. Tiles may be placed anywhere, and groupings of four or more tiles from the same group type are consolidated at the end of your turn. This results in all tiles in the group being flipped upside down and points being scored based on the number of tiles that were consolidated. Flipped tiles may have new tiles placed on top of them in future rounds. As a final action, players may play shrines on tiles that were consolidated this turn (one or two shrines may be played, depending on the tile type). Shrines on the first floor of your board earn one point, two points for the second floor, and three points for the third.
That’s the core premise of the game. Collect tiles, build up large spaces, consolidate them for points and to build higher, build shrines for bonus points. This alone represents a fun twist on Mahjong, but Dragon Castle has a few more tricks to bring to the digital table. First, the end game works a little differently. Once only tiles on the last floor of the common board remain, players now have the option to Summon the Dragon on their turn rather than take normal actions. This instantly grants two VP. There is a limited number of these available, and once they are all gone, the last turn completes and the game ends.
Larger changes come in with the Spirit and Dragon abilities. Spirits give players unique powers such as the ability to destroy one tile on the common board, you must sacrifice a tile from your board to pay for this ability. Dragons give players different scoring conditions to work towards which will shape your strategy in the game. Spirits and Dragons combine to add a nice variety to the game, once players are familiar with the base game they will likely want to use these more often than not.
Dragon Castle falls under the category of games I had no idea I wanted until I played them. A multiplayer Mahjong? Okay, I guess that could work...but there are enough twists here that make things quite a bit more interesting than you (or at least I) would have guessed. The scoring and tableau building alone is quite fun, then you add in the Spirit and Dragon powers, each of which has many choices, and you really start to have some depth in this game and it’s a lot of fun to play.
Barrier to Entry
The first time you play you are presented with the option to go through a tutorial. The tutorial moves quickly but hits all of the main points on the core game and the Spirits/Dragons additions. Dragon Castle isn’t an overly complicated game, and the tutorial moves at an appropriately quick pace. The game also features a full text rulebook that allows you to jump to the section you are interested in. The app makes it easy to learn the game and also to look up any details you might need later, which is all you can ask for.
Look and Feel
The game has a great overall look as the tile and Mahjong themes are carried throughout in the menus and elsewhere. The graphics are bright and look great, while the chances for details, such as the Dragons, are taken advantage of with great looking artwork.
In game, everything is done with a click-and-confirm method. Click on a tile, click it again to take it. The same works for placing a tile, or taking or placing anything else in the game. It all is very simple and works quite well. There is no undo button here which is a bit of a letdown. On the plus side, there is a menu option to run the game as 2x animation speed which greatly reduces the play time.
Online games can be played cross-platform and feature timeouts ranging from two hours to 14 days, providing real-time or asynchronous experiences. Games are joined in an online lobby, where players start up games with specified settings and player counts, then leave and the game will begin when it fills. The game uses the popular ELO rating system so you can see where you stack up with the rest of the player base. Shortly after release I’ve always seen at least a few open games in the lobby, waiting for players to join. This is a good sign for the health of the player base. Even better is that notifications work in the app, so the chances for abandoned games is lowered.
The game features a friends list, allowing you to invite specific users to your games when you create them. A very cool feature here is that games (including offline games) have a button to bring down a menu showing all of your ongoing games and their statuses. This allows you to quickly switch between all of your games, a fantastic convenience.
Single player games can be played against one to three AI opponents, each can be Easy, Medium, or Hard. You also choose whether or not to use dragons and spirits and, finally, which layout of the common board you want to use, there are six to choose from. Probably the biggest drawback of the entire app is that even on the hardest AI, the AI doesn’t put up much of a fight. I had some early close calls against Easy and Medium, but the more I played, the bigger those wins became and it translated right into the Hard AI.
The game includes a few really nice features we love to see, including saving and resuming local games and a host of achievements to chase, 33 to be exact.
Note that the initial iOS release had some significant bugs which prevented many from playing the game at all. There was a fairly quick update to address these issues, but the app store review damage has been done, at least in the short term.
The Wrap Up
Dragon Castle is a very fun game wrapped up in a mostly great app. The feature list for such a short, simple game is very impressive and everything looks and controls really well. The downside here is that the AI likely isn’t strong enough to keep you coming back for solo play for very long. Luckily, online play works really well and the game has easy to join random and invite-based games, which should allow you to play against remote players seamlessly.
Dragon Castle is for you if you are curious about what multiplayer Mahjong looks like or want to play this fun game online. It can’t be recommended if your primary motive for purchasing is solo offline play, as the AI doesn’t hold up to experienced players. It’s a tough app to judge because if you have some friends who want to play this game online, this is a perfect app in that regard. It you want to play offline, it’s not really playable after a short time. We have to put a bit more weight behind offline play, but hopefully our message about why the score ended up where it did is understood.