Castle Panic First Impressions

This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series Gamestorm 15

Castle Panic Box Art

Game Info

Publisher: Fireside Games

Year Published: 2009

Number of Players: 1 to 6

Play Time: 60 minutes

Set-up Time: 5 to 10 minutes

Learning Curve: Low

Ages: Rated 10 and up

Table Size: Medium

Introduction

Ever since I first saw Castle Panic on Wil Wheaton’s TableTop, I have had a hankering to give it a try. I love co-op games and fantasy themes, so this seemed like a great mixture of the two. Finally I got a chance to give it a test spin at this year’s annual Gamestorm convention, and I certainly was impressed.

Description

Courtesy of the Castle Panic page at BoardGameGeek:

The forest is filled with all sorts of Monsters. They watched and waited as you built your Castle and trained your soldiers, but now they’ve gathered their army and are marching out of the woods.

Can you work with your friends to defend your Castle against the horde, or will the Monsters tear down your Walls and destroy the precious Castle Towers? You will all win or lose together, but in the end only one player will be declared the Master Slayer!

Castle Panic is a cooperative, light strategy game for 1 to 6 players ages 10 and up.

Players must work together to defend their castle, in the center of the board, from monsters that attack out of the forest, at the edges of the board. Players trade cards, hit and slay monsters, and plan strategies together to keep their castle towers intact. The players either win or lose together, but only the player with the most victory points is declared the Master Slayer. Players must balance the survival of the group with their own desire to win.

The game includes:
1 Gameboard
1 Rulebook
49 Castle Cards
49 Monster Tokens ( see Token set )
6 Walls
6 Towers
1 Tar Token
2 Fortify Tokens
6 Order of Play Cards
12 Plastic Stands
1 Die

First Impressions

Castle Panic is a co-operative tower defense game for 1 to 6 players.  The premise is pretty simple: monsters are pouring out of the forest and attacking your castle. It’s up to you, the players, to defend the walls and ensure the safety of the castle by slaying all of the monsters.

Castle Panic plays like many other co-op board games: one player takes a turn, then draws “bad stuff happens” cards — in this case, monster cards. There are 49 monster cards in total, and players must slog through all of them before victory can be declared.

Monsters are placed on the Forest section of the board — the outermost ring. Each turn, monsters advance one section closer to the castle at the center. If they reach the castle they will either break down a wall, destroy a tower, or enter the castle where they can continue to destroy walls. Once all of the castle’s walls have been destroyed, the game is over and the players lose.

Each turn, players will draw and use cards that will either help them damage monsters or shore up the castle’s defenses. Players can use archers and swordsmen to damage monsters, but there’s a catch: archer and swordsmen cards can only be used to attack monsters in a section of the board they can reach.

For example, one of the board’s sections may only be reached by green archers, another by blue archers, another by blue swordsmen, etc. To attack a monster in a blue swordsmen section, you must have a blue swordsmen card (or one of a few special cards that ignores this rule). You may trade one card in your hand with one other player (in a 2 – 5 player game) and you may discard and draw a new card during each turn. After that, you need to play the cards you have and kill what monsters you’re able.

Each monster, meanwhile, has between 1 and 3 hit points. Monster tiles have hit point counters on each of their sides, making it easy to determine how many HP a monster has left. For example, if a troll has 3 hit points and takes one attack from a blue archer, you would simply turn his token so that the number 2 faces inward. He now has 2 hit points remaining and needs to sustain two more attacks before he is removed from the board.

Of course, the game wouldn’t be as exciting without special monsters that change things up a bit. There are a number of special monsters which, when drawn and placed in the Forest, perform special actions. One monster causes you to draw additional monsters, another heals every existing monster for one hit point, another might cause all monsters to advance one space, etc. These special monsters are randomly drawn with the rest of them, but they have an uncanny knack for showing up just when things are looking bad already.

It wouldn’t be fair to have special monster tokens without special player cards though. There are cards which give the players special actions beyond the typical attack actions. If you have both a Brick and a Mortar card, for example, you can rebuild a wall — useful when the monsters have destroyed a few sections and things are looking bad. The “Missing” card prevents any new monsters from being drawn at the end of your turn, and the Scavenge card lets you pull any card of your choice from the discard pile.

Overall, the balance of monster actions to player actions seems just right. There are plenty of times throughout the game when it seems like all hope is lost, but then a string of fortuitous events may occur that help the players pull back from the brink of destruction. It’s just the way a co-op game should be: fast-paced, exciting, and edge-of-your-seat. It may come down to just one or two actions being the difference between certain victory and utter defeat.

The one mechanic of Castle Panic that seems out of place is the Master Slayer rule. Players are encouraged to keep each of the monster tokens they defeat and tally them up at the end of the game. The person with the most defeated monsters is declared the Master Slayer and is the ultimate victor. It seems counter-intuitive to add this to a co-op game, since playing with a strategy to be the one who defeats the most monsters isn’t in the best interest of the group. When I played Castle Panic at Gamestorm our party ignored this rule, and I imagine it would only be used by groups who feel they need to have some competetive element to their games.

Overall, I had a great time with Castle Panic. It’s a fun co-op game that is suitable for a wide number of players, and it really does live up to the name “Panic.” I would recommend Castle Panic to anyone who enjoys a good cooperative game, and I look forward to getting a chance to play it again.

Accessibility

Castle Panic is a fun co-op game for a wide variety of players. That being said, there are a few things that need to be considered for ease of access.

In-game Text: There is some degree of in-game text and a need to look up some monster descriptions in the rulebook. It may be difficult for people with visual impairments or other reading issues. However, because Castle Panic is a co-operative game it may be possible to designate a sighted person to handle the reading.

Each of the cards in your own hand has fairly large text. It may be simple enough to read the cards with a magnifier, and the pictures may help reduce the need for reliance on reading if you’re able to see them.

Use of Color: Castle Panic relies on color for a few aspects of the game, notably which zones on the board you’re able to attack. If you have problems distinguishing colors, it may be difficult to tell which kind of archer or swordsmen you have in your hand. Since this is a co-op game there is no reason you can’t ask others for assistance in identifying your cards or the zones on the board, but it would have been helpful if the cards redundantly described which color they correspond to by using text to describe them as well. 

Fine Manipulation: You must constantly manage a hand of cards. Each player starts with 5 cards and draws up to 5 on the beginning of each turn. It is also necessary to trade cards between players. If necessary, you can use poker card holders or Scrabble stands to help you manage your hand.

During my play at Gamestorm I did not get a chance to inspect the monster tokens or wall sections. It seemed like they were fairly small and there are a lot of them to constantly move around the game board. If you’re not able to designate one person with strong motor skills to handle moving the pieces, this game may prove challenging.

Theme: Castle Panic is a fantasy game about slaying monsters. That being said, there are no graphic scenes of violence or cards that may prove objectionable to minors. This game should be suitable to families with children of all ages.

Rating

Series Navigation<< Gamestorm 15 Day Two: The Long HaulPirate’s Cove by Days of Wonder: First Impressions >>
4.5 / 5 stars     

About Jacob Wood

Jacob founded Accessible Games because he wants to spread the joy of gaming to everyone, including people with disabilities. He is visually impaired and knows what it's like to need to adapt, and he brings two decades of gaming experience to the table.
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