#GDE REVIEWS: CASTLE PANIC
Castle Panic is a great introduction to cooperative board games
Castle Panic is a cooperative turn-based tower-defense game in which 1-6 players take on the role of commanders giving orders to their troops to defend the castle from monsters that emerge from the forest every turn. The game is primarily cooperative, meaning players are competing against the game, not each other. If the players defeat all the monsters with at least one tower still standing, they win. If the monsters destroy all of the towers, the players lose.
There is an individual goal as well, with the player who collects the most monster trophies earning the title of Master Slayer. This keeps even the most competitive players engaged. But be careful! If the monsters win, all players lose regardless of monster trophies. This adds an additional element of strategy to the competitive play. Sure, you want to be Master Slayer, but as a prerequisite you have to be able to work together with other players to ensure victory in the first place or else no one, including you, can be Master Slayer at all. So the strategy is how you balance the cooperative element and competitive element of the game.
The rules are integrated into the board, pieces, and cards, making it easy for players to pick up the game and understand what to do at every stage of the game without having to refer back to the rulebook.
The board consists of a series of concentric rings at the center of which the towers and walls are placed. The next ring out is the Swordsmen ring. Monsters in this ring can be hit by Swordsmen cards. The next ring is the Knight ring, and the third ring out is the Archer ring. Beyond that is the woods that the monsters emerge out of.
The rings are divided into arcs labeled one through six. A six-sided-die determines which section the monsters enter. The six arcs are divided among three colors: one and two are red, three and four are green, and five and six are blue.
Two corners of the board list the turn order, making it easy for players to remember. The other two corners provide details on Special Monster tokens and Boss Monsters.
The cards represent the resources each commander has at their disposal. Most of these are troop cards, consisting of Swordsmen, Knights, and Archers in red, green, and blue. The type and color of the card determine which monsters a player can hit. For example, a green Archer can hit a monster in the Archer ring of arcs three or four.
Rarer special troop cards are even more powerful. You may draw a Swordsman, Knight, or Archer labeled “Of any color.” These troops can hit a monster in their respective ring regardless of color. There are also Hero cards that can hit monsters anywhere in their colored arc. For example, a Blue Hero can hit a monster in any ring of arcs five and six. Any color heroes are particularly useful.
The deck contains one Barbarian card that can immediately slay any monster on the board! The Barbarian has a special tower icon, which means it can affect monsters that make it past the wall into the innermost circle. Only two other cards in the entire deck can affect monsters that make it that far: Drive Him Back, which sends monsters back into the woods, and Tar, which prevents monsters from moving for one turn. Monsters that make it into the inner circle can do a lot of damage!
Other resource cards include Brick and Mortar cards that can be combined to rebuild walls that have been destroyed by monsters. The Fortify Wall card can be used to make an existing wall even stronger. Use these resources wisely, as the towers the walls protect cannot be rebuilt!
Event cards allow players to draw additional cards, search the deck for cards that have already been played, and even prevent new monsters from appearing this turn!
The game includes six tower pieces and six wall pieces. The towers are placed in the center of the board, one in each numbered arc. Each tower is protected by a single wall. Once placed, these pieces represent the castle of Castle Panic!
The monsters are represented by three-sided monster tokens. Each token displays the monster and the number of hits (hit points) required to slay it. When monsters are first placed on the board, the highest number points toward the castle. When a monster is hit by a troop card, rotate the monster token so the lower numbers point inward. The number pointing toward the castle is the number of times players need to hit the monster in order to slay it and claim the monster token as a trophy.
The most common monsters are goblins, which can be defeated in one hit, orcs, which require two hits, and trolls, three hits. The number of hits required also determine how many points each trophy is worth when determining Master Slayer at the end of the game.
Four “Boss Monsters” will emerge every game, each having a different effect. The Troll Mage causes all monsters on the board to move, the Orc Warlord moves all monsters in his color, the Healer restores all monsters to full hit points, and Goblin Kings requires players to draw three additional monster tokens when he appears! Boss monster tokens are worth four points each at the end of the game.
Special monster tokens include giant boulders that roll until they destroy a wall or tower, movement tokens that cause monsters to advance or rotate, and plague cards that require players to discard all of their Swordsmen, Knights, or Archers.
Additional pieces represent fortifications that can be placed on the wall pieces when the Fortify Wall card is played, and a round tar token played on a monster token when the Tar card is played and which indicates that the monster does not move this turn.
The order of play is important and is indicated both on the board and on special cards that can be dealt to each player.
Depending on the number of players, each hand consists of five or six cards, and each player starts their turn with a full hand.
Discard and draw one card (optional)
For example, if a player has a blue Knight, but there are no monsters in the blue Knight arcs, a player may want to discard and draw something more useful.
Trade cards (optional)
Players may trade one card in a two-to-five player game or two cards in a six player game. As in the discard phase, this is a good opportunity to trade for more useful/powerful cards. Keep in mind that all players are working together, so consider where monsters will be next turn. That blue Knight might not have been useful to you, but if there’s a monster in a blue Archer arc, it will move to the Knight arc next turn if you can’t slay it. You may be able to trade it to the next player for something useful.
This is when you play your troops to damage monsters in their respective arcs, resource cards to rebuild walls or slow down monsters, and event cards to affect monster movement.
Each monster on the board moves one ring toward the center. Monsters in the Swordsmen ring attack the wall, taking one hit and removing the wall from the board. If there is no wall, monsters enter the center ring, remove the tower in that arc (which can’t be rebuilt!), and take one hit. Once in the center ring, monsters move clockwise taking one hit every time they enter an arc with a tower and remove it from the board.
At the end of each turn, players draw and resolve two monster tokens, one at a time.
Turns must be taken in order, so don’t get so excited to take out that Orc Warlord with your Barbarian that you forget to discard and/or trade for some additional powerful cards!
Inexperienced players or gaming groups that include young children may find the game as described a bit too challenging, and the rulebook includes options for an easier game, including an “All for One” variant that eliminates the competitive element of determining Master Slayer, and “Heroic Powers,” which allows Hero cards to hit monsters in the inner castle ring.
After a number of games, you may figure out which cards are the most powerful, when to prevent monsters from appearing, and how to avoid burying cards in the discard pile only to realize that there are no red Swordsmen left and three trolls are about to take down the walls on arcs one and two! At this point, you may be winning every time and be looking for another challenge, and the rulebook includes variants for harder games as well, including “Dwindling Resources,” in which one Mortar and one Brick card are discarded from the deck every time the discard pile is reshuffled, and “Under Construction,” where the game is played with no walls protecting the towers!
Castle Panic is a great introduction to cooperative board games, which often include individual goals that complement (and sometimes conflict with) the main goal. The integration of the rules with the pieces makes it accessible to players of all levels, and the strategy and difficulty settings make it a game even experienced players will not quickly outgrow.