Monday, March 28, 2011

Castle Panic's Master Slayer, or Throwing the Baby Out with the Bath Water

I had always sort of disregarded the Master Slayer aspect of Castle Panic, thinking of it as something of a novelty in an otherwise straightforward cooperative game. I now see that it’s actually the entire point of the game. Defending the castle becomes secondary because everyone suddenly has no interest in helping each other, only in collecting orc and troll skulls. I’ve mentioned before that I find the game fun, but exceedingly easy. This seems to solve that issue since you are once again pitted against other people, rather than some sort of easily defeated game mechanic.

Playing with the Master Slayer (which is actually the way that the game should be played, the more cooperative game is an alternative to it) gives points to the players for killing monsters. Tougher monsters are worth more points. Makes sense. But the game is really structured so that players trade cards and help one another out by planning together. The cards are even played face up on the table, the game presents the illusion that we are all actually working together to save this castle. Which now seems sort of ridiculous since everyone is in constant competition, hell bent on killing the Troll Mage. The thing that makes it odd is that the game is very short sighted. If you offer me a card for a Blue Archer I know exactly what you are going to do with it. You are going to shoot the goblin in the blue zone. I don’t want to help you kill that goblin. I suppose if you offered me a Green Knight that I needed it would be, at best, a zero sum exchange as we both get something that we need. And what’s really the point of that? In a game like Settlers of Catan or Bohnanza trading is a big part of the game, but you don’t necessarily know the extent that you are helping your opponent and can always tell yourself that you are getting the better end of the trade. In Castle Panic the entire board and all of the player’s cards are on display.

The real catch comes with what is now the possible game endings; either one of the players wins or nobody does. That’s interesting. The game ceases to be cooperative. Sure, you could look at it as somewhat of a victory if you successfully defend the castle but one of your partners is the Master Slayer, but who feels that way? Who wants to sort of win, when someone else wins a little bit better? The last time that we played I fell behind pretty early on in the game. The cards I had just weren’t matching up to anything good, and the other players were racking up the kills. At that point it was really in my best interest to let the castle be destroyed so that we would all lose. It wasn’t coming from a point of bitterness, but why would I help someone beat me? Three of us played this afternoon and within a couple of turns the castle was in shambles, orcs and trolls having caused numerous breaches in our walls. No one was looking to trade anyone a brick so that they could be a new wall for it, we were too busy reloading our crossbows. It certainly becomes much more difficult to actually win.

Well, the Master Slayer has addressed what I found to be the biggest fault with Castle Panic. That is, that the game is too easy. I guess I was wrong in writing the game off so quickly and probably should have played the game the way that the designers had really intended it to be played.

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