Castle Panic (Fireside Games, 2009) was one of the family board games I bought when the RockyMountainNavy Kids were much younger and was trying to start a family gaming renaissance. My copy has the GAMES 2011 Traditional Games 100 seal on it. I know I played it a few times with the kids although I only recorded two plays from 2012 in my BoardGameGeek logged plays (back then I was not very diligent at logging plays). I always thought of it as a cardboard video game; a paper version of the classic collapsing tower defense game with evil trolls and orcs and goblins descending on your castle.
What I failed to realize until this weekend was just how much the RockyMountainBoys had played the game without me. So much the board tore apart! I discovered this when LittleRockyMountainNavy brought the game to me Saturday afternoon as a nominee for our weekly Game Night. When I opened the box to look at the rules he (nonchalantly) warned me about the busted board. All the other components were in there (including sleeved cards) so we went ahead and played it later that evening.
Between my “manual video game” attitude and a perception that Castle Panic was more of a kid’s game, I didn’t have much hope for a deep game experience. The game is rated for ages 10+ and only one hour of playtime. Unexpectedly, after playing the game I was pleasantly surprised at how the cooperative play and simple strategy decisions deliver a tense play experience.
I had forgotten altogether that Castle Panic is a cooperative game. Sure, one mode can determine a winner, but at it’s heart the cooperative play mechanic makes this a game of teamwork. I really like the Order of Play which has you draw up your hand, then decide to discard and draw, then trade, then play cards. Each step involves all players as everyone watches for a card that is needed, agonizes over whether to discard and draw, and then jockey for the right trade. Even playing cards in the right order can be important. None of these strategic decisions are hard, but the tension of the collapsing tower and visibly descending hoards makes even these “simple” decisions being made under pressure and fraught with danger.
In our game we started off strong but the midgame turned bleak as too many smaller monsters descended through our defenses. It didn’t help that a few Plagued cards – forced discards – hit us at inopportune moments. We also started worrying because the real Boss Monsters – the strongest and most powerful ones – didn’t come out until literally the last set of draws. Even that one was bad as the final Draw Monsters step had a “Draw 3 Monsters” come out, which in turn brought out the final three Boss Monsters at the same time! Fortunately for us, we seemed to have hit our stride and made smart discards and trades that not only strengthened our hand but also set up the next player to be stronger too. My final Draw Cards was so thematically appropriate as I drew the awesome Barbarian – a one kill wonder – to eliminate the final Boss Monster as it was knocking down the walls of our tower.
Fireside Games offers several expansions for Castle Panic. We own the first expansion, Castle Panic: The Wizard’s Tower, though we didn’t add it to our game this weekend. The RockyMountainNavy Boys say it makes the game much harder. It looks to add about 30 minutes of playtime to the game, which actually makes it a better fit for a Game Night where we look for games from 90 minutes to 3 hours. I see there are two other expansions available too. I don’t think either of these are in the future for the RockyMountainNavy family; we like the game but more as a family filler than a Game Night centerpiece.
Castle Panic delivers a great, tense game of meaningful decisions in a very simple set of rules. Although the game is certainly kid-friendly, it is far from a simple kid’s game. Castle Panic will remain in the RockyMountainNavy collection and likely will be played more as a weeknight lite game when a hour of filler is needed.
Featured image courtesy Fireside Games.