Turkey Weekend #Boardgame Night – No need to CASTLE PANIC (@firesidegames, 2009) because we’re gonna ABANDON SHIP (@alderac, 2008) after calling on NMBR 9 (@Zmangames_, 2017)

This Saturday after Thanksgiving turned into a boardgame family night at the RockyMountainNavy hacienda. Actually, the entire day had gaming moments for the family. Here are a few of the highlights.

RockyMountainNavy Jr. pulled NMBR 9 (Z-Man Games, 2017) out as he was eating breakfast and played a solo game with one hand as he munched away with the other; he didn’t score well but he did comment that it was an enjoyable pairing.

Photo by RMN

Late afternoon RMN Jr. asked if we could host a boardgame night with his best buddy, Gavin. Then it was for Gavin and his brother Skylar. Then it was for Gavin, Skylar, and Gavin’s Dad. No problem!

As we waited after dinner NMBR 9 made another appearance. After four plays I finally won! The scores for all were fairly low showing the difficult draws that this particular game produced.

Going into the evening we had a few choices ready for Game Night. Six players is a much larger player count than usual for us so we had to curate a selection. Gaming candidates included:

Since I am usually the Boardgame Teacher I spent a little bit of the afternoon going through the rules for the games one more time to quickly refamiliarize myself. Good thing I did because when the night started Castle Panic was the first to land on the table.

We played Castle Panic in full cooperative mode with open hands. We had to explain to Gavin’s Dad what a cooperative game was. He quickly bought into the game and he and his boys caught onto the rules fast. We were able to win after a fun 80-minute battle. That’s a bit longer than the 30-60 minutes advertised play time but that included a quick teach and some slow first rounds as they felt out the game. Verdict – FUN, willing to play again.

Courtesy Fireside Games

Interestingly, of my two boys it was RMN T, my Autism Spectrum hero, that recalled the rules and flow of the game best. I was surprised as he was fully aware during the game about the Boss Monsters and the danger they represent. We haven’t played Castle Panic in a while and if I had not reread the rule book earlier I would have not thought about it that way at all. I don’t think we give him enough credit because, once again, when it comes to gaming he showed he really is ‘on the ball’; perhaps more so than anyone else in the family.

The second game of the night was Abandon Ship. Gavin’s Dad immediately bought into the theme of the game – first for the awesome board and second when I explained that the first rat to the top deck scores no points because it gets trampled to death. He literally laughed out loud at that. Unlike the full cooperative play of Castle Panic, Abandon Ship is played in a semi-cooperative manner. At the end of the night RMN Jr. won but all the others were close behind in scoring. Verdict – DEFINITE HIT; must play again.

Courtesy TheBoardGameFamily on BGG

Tonight was also the full debut of the my BBO Poker World Traveler Game Mat. This is a VERY important piece of gaming kit in the RMN Home given Mrs. RMN just got a new dining room table and it is important we keep it looking good. Again, it was Gavin’s Dad who was the most complimentary of the game mat. He’s absolutely right; it looks really good on the table!

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Feature image by RMN

#FirstImpressions – Castle Itter: The Strangest Battle of WWII (@danverssengames, 2019) #wargame #boardgame

SOLITAIRE WARGAMES OFTEN HAVE A PROBLEM. That problem arises from the nature of solitaire play wherein the player not only ‘plays’ the game but often has to ‘run the game engine’ at the same time. Many times this leads to procedural play which can grow repetitive and uninteresting. To me, the key to breaking out of this game design cul-de-sac is to build great narrative moments into game play. Solo wargames like Enemy Coast Ahead: The Doolittle Raid (GMT Games, 2017) play out in ‘acts’ with each one telling a part of the story. In NATO Air Commander (Hollandspiele, 2019) one is always drawing cards but planning and executing your raids is full of nail-biting moments. At first look, Castle Itter: The Strangest Battle of WWII (Dan Verssen Games, 2019) comes across as very procedural and even a bit uninteresting. However, after a few plays, and as familiarity with the rules grows, a rich and exciting story emerges from play.

I backed Castle Itter on Kickstarter and recently took delivery of the game (I also picked up Pavlov’s House, 2nd Edition, but more on that later). The combination of critical praise for Pavlov’s House and the theme of the Battle of Castle Itter drew me in.

My first play thru of Castle Itter was…flat. The game is not very complex; each turn the Defender gets five Actions followed by three SS Cards being drawn and resolved. Lather, rinse, repeat. Simple yet very procedural and repetitive. I was so disappointed that I was sure I had messed up the rules somehow I reset the game and played again. I could do this in part because the game plays quickly in around 60 minutes.

That’s when the magic started to happen.

Mechanically, Castle Itter is both literally and figuratively a classic ‘castle defense’ game. Although some wargamers claim it has roots all the way back to Up Front (Avalon Hill Game Co, 1983) I never had that game so I can’t make a comparison. What I do see is  shades of Castle Panic (Fireside Games, 2012) where the monsters are descending on the castle or even Pandemic: Fall of Rome (Z-Man Games, 2018) where you not only have to defend Rome but accomplish your goals before the card deck runs out (in Castle Itter you have to survive until relieved which happens when the deck is exhausted). All of which is to say that mechanically Castle Itter feels not much like a wargame. Once I got that thought into my head the narrative portion of the game exploded.

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In play, Castle Itter builds an exciting narrative. Every action the rag-tag, motley crew of defenders takes becomes an agonizing decision. How do you organize a defense with an SS Officer (maybe the best leader?), an American tank crew, low-morale Wehrmacht soldiers, French prisoners, and an Austrian resistance fighter? How do you withstand hordes of SS riflemen, machine guns, mortars, and (worse) artillery?

By my third play the mechanically procedural play of Castle Itter had faded to the background and the story of the battle started emerging. I won one game (barely) and lost another (on the last two cards). In every game the tension was palpable.

I am not usually a solitaire wargamer. Although I do play solo (often against my nemesis Mr. Solo) the very nature of solitaire games often puts me off. Castle Itter is definitely an exception and will get out to the gaming table more often because not only can it be an evening ‘filler game’ taking 60 minutes or less to play but it is – at heart – an exciting story.


Images by self

Why Panic? Game Night revisit of Castle Panic (Fireside Games, 2009)

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.

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Evidence of an often-played game….

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.

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Courtesy firesidegames.com

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.

Family Friday – Castle Panic

Courtesy BGG

First, I’d like to start with a note of thanks to Wil Wheaton and his web series Tabletop over at Geek & Sundry. I appreciate how he shows the games through play. One game that caught my attention was Castle Panic.

This game has been around for a few years (since 2009) and I am sad I missed it before. The game uses a cooperative, collapsing fortress mechanic where the players must work together to defeat the evil hordes before all the walls of the castle and keep are destroyed. Mrs. RMN has stated that she really like cooperative games, so introducing this one into the house already had her stamp of approval. The real test was to see if Little RMN would enjoy it.

First game (Little RMN, T and myself) saw us barely defeat the hordes. Victory came through teamwork; Little RMN weakened the last monster then used his Tar to hold it in place so T could finish it off. I could not have asked for a better first game; Little RMN and T working together to defeat the enemy.

The second game (Little RMN, T and G) resulted in defeat. Undaunted, they all were anxious to try again.

The next game was at the RMN grandparent’s house. Grandpa played with Little RMN and T while I assisted Grandpa and Little RMN in learning and following the mechanics of the game. In a truly dramatic ending, the last monster was inside the castle walls and one move away from destroying the last wall. T had no cards to help, and Little RMN had used the Tar to avoid defeat last turn. The only way to win was to use a Keep card but nobody had one in their hands. Having nothing useful in his hand, Grandpa discared one of his cards hoping for something better. He got a “draw two additional cards.” First card was useless, but he second was the Barbarian! With whoops and hollars all three celebrated their victory, with the most touching part coming where Little RMN hugged Grandpa and from his heart thanked him for defeating the last monster. You would of thought Grandpa had just saved the entire world.

No question about it; this game is a real family winner!