Castle Panic is a semi-cooperative game from Fireside Games for 1 to 6 players (yup, it can be played solo). You each play stalwart defenders of a castle trying to organize your defenses as goblins, trolls, and rampaging orcs lay siege to it.
Play revolves around a person drawing and trading cards, attacking monsters on the board, and then randomly adding additional monsters. The game ends in a victory with the players killing all the monsters, while a group loss results if all the inner tower sections are destroyed.
The game board has a series of concentric rings representing different range bands for specific cards (archers attack in the furthest, knights in the middle, and swordsmen in the innermost circle). Additionally the board is split into three different color sections. So a red archer can only attack the outer ring in the red section. Got a pesky goblin in the green section? Tough luck.
After drawing and trading a player attempts to destroy as many monsters as possible. Each card played will do one damage to a creature. While goblins are easily dispatched with one hit, orcs and trolls take a few more attacks to drop. If a monster is destroyed, it’s taken by the player that killed it.
After a player makes all their attacks, monsters on the board move closer by one space. Hitting an outer wall of the castle inflicts damage to the monster, but also removes that wall. If monsters are inside the castle courtyard, they destroy a tower section instead. If monsters remain alive inside the courtyard and are required to move, they move clockwise one section, destroying another tower section.
Players have very few options to destroy monsters once they reach the courtyard, relying solely on rare heroic cards that can dispatch these beasts. This makes for a frantic time as all the players are trying to wipe out as many as creatures as can and try to predict where monsters will be on future turns. Every player turn, monsters move closer in and more are added to the board. Throw in special monsters that heal creatures, ones that allow current baddies on the board a free move, to tokens that rotate each monster one section over, you end up with a frantic race against an ever encroaching horde of creatures.
As I mentioned the game is semi-cooperative. Players keep the monsters they killed. If they survive the onslaught, the player with the most monsters slain wins the game. This is a nifty aspect of the game as you are trying to ensure the survival of the tower so everyone doesn’t lose, all the while judiciously handing out cards to make sure you are slay the biggest creatures awarding the most points. It’s a very optional part of the game, but one I found enjoyable allowing for a little competition in what could also be a very cooperative game.
The Good –This is a fun and engaging game. There is plenty of player interaction as you are constantly bartering for cards. The mechanics are simple and easy to grasp, but still has an interesting puzzle aspect as you are continually seeing the optimal cards to play and trade as you tackle certain monsters and try to predict where others will be on later turns. The added individual victory condition of killing the most monsters is also a nice touch (which can be easily dropped if looking for a true cooperative game).
The components are colorful and the castle being represented by actual standing cardboard sections is a nice touch. The monster tokens are thick cardstock and the entire means of recording damage by simply rotating the triangular token is a great idea. All of this adds to a tactile experience playing the game, and allows for easy bookkeeping.
The Bad – The game can be very unforgiving if you get a bad turn and poor luck can be an issue. While there is strategy and a need to plan for future turns, there are enough wildcards in the game to throw everything into a chaotic mess. You can lose this game through bad luck which can rub some people the wrong way.
Also while the tokens and board were very sturdy, I found the card stock of the cards lacking. An accidental spill on the table for me resulted in some cards almost disintegrating. So the component quality is a bit of a mixed bag.
The Verdict – Castle Panic is great and doubles as a wonderful family game. It provides a frantic play experience as you continually go through a roller coaster where you think everyone has a handle on the incoming monsters, only to experience sheer panic as things suddenly spiral out of control. The rules provide some different variations to make the game easier or harder, including an option of pitting one player as an evil overlord fighting against everyone else.
It can accommodate quite a few players, and also be run as a light solo game. The turns move rather quickly and trading also helps in reducing downtime between turns, keeping everyone engaged in the game. It’s a light, family friendly game which can be challenging for adults. Definitely one to add to your collection and a keeper if you have kids (or plenty of pals in the mood for a beer and pretzel game).