Building your castle right in the middle of the forest was probably not the smartest idea, so you shouldn’t be all that surprised that monsters are coming out of the woods to tear it down. Such is the dilemma of Castle Panic, from Fireside Games. Castle Panic is a cooperative game in which the players must defend their castle from hordes of goblins, orcs and trolls. The monstrous horde reigns victorious if they are able to destroy the castle, the players are triumphant if they defeat the entire gang of monsters laying in wait. Castle Panic is for one to six players and takes about 45 minutes. I think that it's a fun game and a great introduction to cooperative board games due to it's simplicity, but ultimately it lacks the depth and strategy that would allow it to be a great game.
The castle consists of six towers in the middle of the board surrounded by six walls that help to defend it. Working from the inside out the castle is surrounded by several colored rings; swordsmen, knights, archers and the forest. Monsters in the forest are in wait and can’t be attacked until they emerge, monsters in the other rings can be attacked by the appropriate soldier. Example: a troll that has moved into the Knight ring in the green section can be attacked by a Green Knight card. Monsters are randomly placed in the forest when they come into the game and on each turn they move one step closer to the castle, ultimately destroying the walls and moving onto the towers. There are 49 monster tokens in the beginning of the game and the players have to defeat them all in order to achieve victory. The game sort of works as a puzzle as the players attempt to piece together the best offense by anticipating where monsters will wind up on a given player’s turn.
Each turn the players have a chance to trade cards with one another, and if the game has a key strategy it is trading cards between castle defenders. The strategy is simple to grasp and, unfortunately, does not get much more complex which does not bode well for repeated plays of Castle Panic. Most of the moves are self evident. If there is a goblin in the Red Archer zone and one of the other players has a Red Archer, you should trade for it. You can only trade once per turn so it is important to prioritize and make sure that the trade you make is the best one available. Aside from that you should just kill anything that you can reach.
The oddest thing about Castle Panic is the Master Slayer. When a player defeats a monster they claim it’s monster token and at the end of the game players total these up and the one with the most points is given the title of Master Slayer. So, everyone wins but one player wins more than the others? That seems real weird to me and does not mesh all that well with the team dynamic. I suspect that the designers probably added this to increase the competition in what is generally a pretty easy game. But I’m not so sure about it.
The game components are simple and do the job. There is not much to the game. Castle Panic consists of some towers, some walls, monster tokens and a deck of cards. The art is just okay. I would like to have seen some variation amongst the creatures that are attacking. The orcs all look the same as one another, they must have some real military discipline going in on those woods to get the traditionally chaotic creatures to all agree to the same uniform. I do like the Boss monsters that lead the others. The best components are the actual walls and towers. They are on little stands and lend some depth to the board. They fall into the unnecessary but enhances the game category. The board is sort of bland and the one I have is a little crinkled around the edges. I would like to have seen maybe some enemy encampments, siege engines, or really anything else put on the board just as a meaningless detail. As it is it is just a big field with circles on it.
I think that the biggest issue I have with Castle Panic is that it seems to be pretty easy. Actually, it seems to be real easy. I’ve played the game about a half dozen times now and only once did I actually feel panicked, which I sort of assumed to be the signature emotion of the game. A cooperative game needs to be hard. It is one of the reasons why Pandemic is such a success, most of the time you are probably not going to win. It’s creates tension and drama and a nice feeling of accomplishment when you finally succeed. Same thing with Shadows Over Camelot. There are suggestions in the instructions about making the game harder, the most difficult of which is the version in which the castle starts with no walls, just the towers to defend. It was close, but we were able to defeat that one as well and I’m just not sure where we take the game from here. I’m not sure how much our game group will continue to go back to this game since we will keep winning. I don’t need the ego boost that comes with continued winning, I’d prefer the challenge that makes a great game.