Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Castle Panic - Defend Your Castle, But Don't Forget The Nitroglycerin


At my house, we love almost all games, but our constantly evolving list of favorites tends to migrate toward cooperative games. In fact, I just recently I ordered just over a hundred duckets worth of them from Coolstuffinc.com to get the free shipping they offer on larger orders, and instead of being a selfish prick and getting what I would normally buy for my own amusement, I decided that I should put the family first and get some of the most highly-touted co-op games. The titles I selected were Pandemic: On The Brink, Ghost Stories, A Touch Of Evil, and last but not least, Castle Panic.

I'd read quite a bit about Castle Panic and have had friends tell me how much fun it was, so I just had to have it. I am happy to report that although my friends may be wrong about important stuff, like their disbelief that the Philly Phanatic is indeed the coolest mascot ever, they were right about Castle Panic. It's fast, it's fun, and it may actually cause you to contract angina from the absolute, well, panic that ensues during points of the game. Just to be clear, that wasn't a typo, I actually meant the medical term for chest pain, not that other thing that sounds a bit line angina. Come to think of it, the idea that I actually thought of my wife when purchasing games for us to spend "quality time" may in fact help with that other thing too. Epic Win!

Getting back on track, let me describe the game's main concept. First, you have to accept that this game is essentially an ordered chaos. The premise is that you have these six groovy little walls on standies that guard these six groovy little towers, yes, on standies, from the onslaught of pure evil incarnate, the forces of green. I say the forces of green because pretty much every enemy in the entire game has green skin. Maybe I shouldn't be so upbeat about this game, since it's so blatantly discriminatory against our green brothers; after all, the object is, essentially, to commit genocide against them. Anyhow, these beryl-toned bastards are legion, and they come at you, literally ceaselessly, from every possible direction. You, as a Director of Anti-viridian Policy, are tasked with using your Swordsmen, Knights, Archers, and Heroes to slaughter them like so many blades of grass. The problem, though, is that for every one you cut or shoot down, two more come out of the woodwork to assault your castle. The game really comes down to the simple and time tested conclusion: Kill all the baddies before they kill you.

When you crack the box, which is the standard bookshelf box size that most American games seem to come in, you'll find a very smartly illustrated quad-folded game board, six cardstock tower bits, six cardstock wall bits, twelve standies, a green D6, 49 really well illustrated enemy tokens, 55 very nicely designed cards, and three little tokens that are used in response to cards being played. All the art is very good, and really sucks you into the game's concept of epic battle against the Emerald Evil. The board has four sets of concentric rings that act as rangefinders, telling you how far out the enemies are, and which type of your troops may attack on your turn. All in all, the retail price of twenty-five bones is a small price to pay for such a good game with such really cool looking art.

The game setup is quite simple, with the players placing the six walls between the castle and swordsman regions of the board, placing the towers just behind the walls, and randomly placing the starting enemy group of three goblins, two orcs, and one troll in the Archer ring. After that, each player is given a set amount of cards, which constitutes your ongoing hand limit and is determined by how many players are playing. Once you have your starting cards, the game begins.

Gameplay consists of several linear steps, starting with the draw phase where you draw cards from the pile until you reach your hand limit. Then, you may discard one card to take a replacement. After that, you may swap one card with any other player, but if you do give a card, you must take a replacement card. Once you’ve gotten your cards sorted, the majority portion of the turn begins, which is the action phase.

The meat of the action phase consists of playing cards, which hits enemies or allows you to perform an action. The combat cards are in one of three colors which match the three regions of the board, have a card type on them, such as Swordsman, Knight, Archer, or Hero, which indicate which ring you can attack. Swordsmen can only attack enemies within the ring closest to the castle, Knights can only impale enemies that are within the mid-range ring, Archers can only rain fire down upon the outermost attack ring, and the Heroes may attack at any range they want within their color. Monsters are placed on the board in the Forest ring, which cannot be attacked, and so you must wait for them to advance into the interior rings to attack them. Further, once a creature has breached the outer perimeter and destroyed a wall, there is no real recourse to affect them besides three cards in the deck which allow you to do so. There are some wild cards that allow you to attack any color as well, so there’s a tremendous amount of variance in where you can attack both in the different ranges and within the different regions, so sharing cards and having a cohesive, forward looking strategy is crucial.

After the player does as much as he can, he then advances each enemy towards the castle by one ring. If an enemy is in the Swordsman ring and would make contact with a castle wall, the wall is destroyed with the enemy losing one hit point and the enemy remains in the Swordsman ring. If the wall was previously destroyed, though, the monster advances into the tower, destroying it, and loses a hit point. If at any point a monster is in the castle ring, it is at this point that you are screwed blue. The monster rotates clockwise within the castle ring, destroying any towers it comes in contact with as noted above, but that monster is immune to the walls and simply continues killing towers and taking hits until either all the towers are destroyed, causing you to lose the game, or the monster is destroyed.

Finally, after all monster movements have been resolved, the player pulls two tokens out of the monster token pool and reveals them. If they are a monster, you roll a die and place them in the forest region that shares the die value, but rank-and-file monsters are not the only problems the players will encounter. There is a huge variety of enemy tokens, with some being Plague tokens that cause the players to discard all classes of a single type, tokens that cause all monsters in a certain region to move forward, and the worst, Boss Monster tokens. There are four of these within the pool, each having unique abilities, with the most truly evil being the Healer that heals all enemies on the board immediately.

This game is a blast, but it’s far from easy to win, and we have experienced no small amount of frustration during gameplay due to not having the right cards at the right time. It’s not exactly a luckfest, but luck is indeed a significant part of the game because the monster tokens are so varied that it’s not uncommon to end up drawing 4 or 6 tokens at least one time in a game. That being said, this game is engaging and fun enough to make you want to play that third game, after losing twice, just to take another shot at winning.

Things That Make This A Winner:
*Interactivity between players makes this a true co-operative game in every sense
*Replayability is very high, and with the price on average at about twenty-five dollars, it’s a huge value
*The art is really quite nice with theme dripping off by the metric ton
*Short setup and game time makes this a game you can play several times in a row
*Simple rules and gameplay make this a perfect game for Family Game Night

Things That Caused Me No End Of Pain:
*Although there’s ways in the rules for an easier game, it’s still very hard to win if you’re not lucky
*Fuck the Healer. Take him out of the tiles right from the start as he always shows up at the worst time
*There’s not enough cards to kill enemies within the castle ring, which is the single most important.
*Don’t expect a deep, thoughtful game, because this is definitely on the light level of complexity.

Overall:
This game is just plain fun, and even as hard as it is to win you still want to play it again and again. Great art and player interaction make this one of the best party games I’ve ever seen.

Rating:
3.75/5

Learn more about Castle Panic here:
www.firesidegames.com


2 comments:

Sinfreealex said...

Great review, man. When are you reviewing the other games you purchased? I hear Ghost Stories is a total jerk.

=+=SuperflyTNT=+= said...

Thanks! The truth is that I haven't played Ghost Stories yet. The policy of the Circus, meaning me, is that I have to play a game at least 3 times before reviewing it. This ensures that a bad game gets a fair shake and a game that initially seemed fun doesn't get a pass if it turns out after multiple plays to be boring.

Tonight is "Friday Game Night" and I may very well get that played. The next play of A Touch Of Evil will be the third as well, and it is indeed billy bad-ass. Great game, so far.