Board Game Review: Castle Panic

We will protect this HOUSE!
This last week, a buddy of mine introduced me to a pretty fun little game called Castle Panic.  He described it as "cooperative-castle defense-randomness," and if I didn't actually want to write reviews, I'd simply leave it at that!  Those four words don't make for a real thorough article, though.  This game captures the imagination and offers just enough fantasy fun to keep everyone entertained - true nerds and normal people alike!  Fireside Games has put together a pretty good offering in this title, and I could see myself wanting to break it out a few more times.

Castle Panic plays very simply and  This is a rules light, high chance game.  Players take turns trying to defend the castle from the oncoming hoarde of attacking monsters.  And believe me - they're coming!  The game consists of a medium-sized board that has a big circle drawn on it, with four lines that divide it into five levels: Forest, Archer, Knight, Swordsman, and Castle.  The board is sliced like a pie in six places and numbered thusly (1-6) to create 6 distinct areas.  Lastly, the cirlce is divided once more and color coded, to create a Red Zone, Green Zone, and Blue Zone.  The castle is built at the center of the circle, consisting of 6 towers and 6 walls facing each area.  The game also has monster tiles and cards, as a well as a few special pieces.

The game board showing the 5 zones.
While it is true that this game is cooperative in that everyone works together to see the castle defended, in the end, there can be only one (cheesy Highlander reference, I know) winner.  That is the person who has collected the most points.  Points are represented by the value of the monsters slain, which I'll look at later.  If the castle is destroyed, nobody wins - points don't matter.  So there are times when you have to make choices between netting yourself some points or helping out the greater good.

During a player's turn, he walks through a specific ammount of actions and an oder that is the same for each player.  If memory serves, there are 6 actions (there might be 7 and I'm missing one).  First, he "draws up" to a certain number of cards from the deck to the default hand size, which is 5.  Second, he is able to discard one card from his hand and select another card from the deck at random, if he chooses.  Third, he can initiate a trade with another player.  He may only trade one card, so if multiple players want to trade, he can only pick one.  Fourth, he plays any cards that he'd like to play from his hand.  Fifth, all of the monsters move forward one level.  Sixth, he draws and places two monsters from the stack.  These two monsters are random, and there are effects and whatnot that go along with them as well.  Occassionally, these combinations were just too brutal.  You'd draw a boulder, that would kill monsters but beat up your castle as well, and a "draw and resolve three more tokens" token; then you'd draw two trolls and a boss that would move them or help them.  It can be rough!
Green Zone: Covered by House McFadden!
Monsters that enter the board always enter in the forest.  You simply   During the movement phase, each monster will move up one level; so in a monster's first turn, he will have moved up from the forest to the archer level.  The levels are named becuase a monster can only be attacked by a card played in the appopriate level.  Thus, a monster in the "Archer level" can only be hit by an "archer" card.  All of the cards in the game have effects.  Most of them are cards that inflict one hit to one monster in one level.  Some can slow-down monsters, and some can cause you to draw more cards or search the discard pile for more options.  The cards are also often color-coded, so a monster in "Archer level" in the "Green Zone" can be hit by a green archer, and so forth.  Once a card is played, it is put in the discard pile.

Monsters each have a hit value as well.  The strongest monsters are trolls, which have a strength of 3.  This means that they have to be hit 3 times in order to be killed.  If a monster runs into a wall piece or a tower piece of your castle, it destroys that peice and takes a hit.  So, one rogue monster who makes it into your castle can't entirely wipe you.  The person who deals the final blow to a moster collects that token as his prize.  Orcs have a strength of 2, while goblins clock in at 1.  There are special monsters, however: the bosses.  Boss monsters - when they enter the game - have some tricky game effect as well as being generally tough.  At the end of the game, you collect points based on the monsters you've slain.  Monsters are worth points equal to their strength value; bosses are always worth 4 despite their strength.

An approaching orc.
Certain other factors come into play: boulders show up, you can fortify walls, and monsters will sometimes shift position. The game comes to an end when either your castle is destroyed or all of the monster tokens have been exhausted and the last person has finished his turn.  So, no matter what you do, you cannot escape the inevitable fact that you will be forced to destroy every monster in the coming army - you have to figure out how to handle them as they come.  That will prove to be no easy feat, my friend. :)

I enjoyed this game.  It is certainly too light to be something I would consider "amazing."  I like my board games to be pretty meaty, which lots of tough choices and strategies.  This game just doesn't have a ton of rules and options going for it.  But what it does do it does well.  As far as a filler game goes, Castle Panic is perfect.  I liked the cooperative and yet competitive nature of the game.  "Well, if I trade you this red swordsman, you can slay the troll and he won't knock over a wall, but it would net you 3 points.  I can't do that, sorry!"  There's a certain level of give-and-take in that kind of strategy, and I found that part to be unique.

What Castle Panic Does Well:
  • Provides a nice light filler
  • Easy to learn, easy to play, and fun
  • Gives a good sense of tension and anxiety that this type of game should
Where Castle Panic Falls Flat
  • I personally do not think the artwork is that great
  • Awfully light - too light
  • Some monster combinations can "coup de grace" you in nearly one shot
Final Thoughts: Castle Panic is a good filler that will appeal to all types of people, but its high level of chance and frantic nature might turn some off.