GS TABLE GAMES: Review Castle Panic

One of the things I’m always on the look-out for is entry-level boardgames. Over the years i’ve come to appreciate games that you can explain the rules of in a few minutes, and play in a couple of hours, and on top of that I’ve also kept an eye out for games that aren’t too “gamey”.

Games that are accessible, that you don’t need to have played before to be competitive in, games that are simple to understand, if hard to fully master. One of these such games is the enormously fun Castle Panic.

The premise is simple. The players are the defenders of a Castle, which is under attack from hordes of Goblins and Orcs and Trolls. The castle sits in the middle of the circular playing area, and the hordes spawn in randomly selected arcs on the edges of the board, and steadily move inwards. If they reach a wall, they destroy it, although they can be rebuilt or reinforced. If they reach an inner tower, they destroy that, which can’t be rebuilt. Destroy all the towers, and the players lose. Each turn you pick, trade and play cards to kill incoming monsters, as well as letting new ones onto the board, and when all the monsters are dead, then the winner is the one with the most kills.

Of course, this is a cooperative game, so “winning” isn’t really what its about. It’s a got a steady pace for much of its playtime, and but the random nature of the spawns means that inevitably, at some point, you’ll not have the cards, or one arc is overpopulated, and it all starts to go wrong, and thats when the “panic” starts to set in. Then it becomes a game of putting your heads together, working through what you can and can’t do, and the game really comes to life.

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Castle Panic’s greatest strength is also only it’s one real weakness, and that is that for all the moments of panic it is perhaps not challenging enough. If you think of cooperative boardgames like Pandemic, its a constant race against escalating threat that often ends in defeat for the players. I’ve never seen anyone win Battlestar Galactica for the Colonials. Co-operative games are usually deservedly tough, which aids replayability and keeps players working together to defeat what is essentially a collection of brightly coloured bits of card. Castle Panic is fun, pacey and elegantly designed but not what I’d call hard.

What this does mean though is that it has a huge range of potential players. We played this with my 9-year-old niece who hardly ever plays any sort of boardgame and she loved it, picking it up in a couple of turns and talking about it for hours afterwards. I’ve played with the veteran gamers who likewise found it charming and interesting. Its a game you can take anywhere and play for fun, with almost anyone, and thats not actually an easy thing to acheive. I’ve also heard, anecdotally, that the Wizards Tower expansion adds depth and challenge to the core game, but I’ve not picked it up yet.

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In conclusion, Castle Panic is one of those games for everyone, rather than being a game “for gamers” or something so simple its uninteresting. . It’s co-operative nature means that kids and first-time players can be helped into it without being left to sink or swim, and it’s playtime is long enough to be interesting without letting the relatively simple gameplay mechanics feel repetitive. I really like it, and would certainly recommend it if you’re looking for something to hook non-gamers into the modern boardgaming scene.

Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Matt

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