Publisher: Toy Vault, Inc.
Year Published: 2008
Number of Players: 2 to 4
Play Time: 30 minutes
Set-up Time: About 5 minutes
Learning Curve: Low
Ages: 7 and up
Table Size: Small or Medium (depends on number of players)
Birthdays are a wonderful thing. It is around this time each year which I find myself surrounded by new board games to play, enjoy, and write about. This year, a family member saw fit to gift me with a board game — one of my favorite hobbies — themed around The Princess Bride — my favorite movie. In concept, at least, it is a match made in heaven; after all, isn’t it great to combine two things you love so dearly in to one, extra-amazing product? Well, the answer to that rhetorical question is more tricky than one might think.
The Princess Bride, being one of the most beloved stories of all time for many people, has a certain qualtiy standard attached to it. Die-hard fans — and there are many of us out there — expect only the best from any product which dare use the license. Does Storming the Castle, the Princess Bride Board Game, live up to the expectations or is it just a licensed hack? Well, as it turns out, that rhetorical question isn’t particularly easy to answer either.
For starters, Storming the Castle does a lot of things right; more than I would expect from a board game with a $25 MSRP. The art is nice, the game pieces are generally well-crafted, the movie references are plentiful, and the gameplay is fast and mostly fun. The first thing I noticed when picking up the box is that it is made of a sturdy cardboard stock with a nice, glossy image on the front. Inside, there is plenty of room (more room than necessary, actually) to fit all of the game’s pieces, which are almost all flat cards of some sort. The game’s action cards and tile cards come in handy zip-lock baggies (I absolutely love this) and the cards themselves are made of sturdy, textured card stock that seem like they will hold up for a very long time.
There is one larger flat cardboard piece that represents Prince Humperdink’s castle, which is placed at the center of the table (or other playing surface) and represents each player’s ultimate goal of the game. The first to reach the castle at the center of the board wins, but each player’s path to the castle is different. At the beginning of the game, each player draws between 5 and 10 Path cards (depending on the number of the players; more cards for fewer players). These path cards are drawn at random and then placed between the player and the castle in the order in which they were drawn. Each path card has its own set of challenges to enter, so players will need to manage a hand of Tactics cards if they’re going to be the first to reach the center.
Also at the beginning of the game, each player draws 5 Tactics cards. Tactics cards are further divided in to two flavors: Equipment and Actions. Equipment cards are required to enter certain Path spaces. For example, entering the Cliffs of Insanity space may require Rope, entering Miracle Max’s place may require a Noble Cause card or a 65 Silver Pieces card, and so forth. Action cards can be attacks to hinder your opponents, like Iocane Powder which moves someone back 2 spaces or The Six-Fingered Man which changes up to 3 of their Path cards, or they can be boons to help yourself, such as the Four White Horses which lets you enter any space without meeting the equipment requirement. Players can discard as many cards as they wish at the beginning of their turn and draw cards until they have 5 in their hand, after which point they are free to start using their actions.
Each player has 3 actions per turn. Actions can be spent to enter a Path card for which he holds the appropriate equipment, use an Action card, or discard one card to draw another from the Tactics deck. All used cards (including equipment used to enter a space) are discarded at the end of a player’s turn. The game ends when someone enters the Humperdink’s Castle space, but entering the castle can only be done during the very first action of a character’s turn, so if you reach the gates part way through a turn you have to stop and wait another round until you can enter the square. This gives other characters the opportunity to use action cards to prevent you from winning the game. The caveat is that a player holding the Four White Horses card may opt to use it to enter the castle at any point during his or her round; this is the game’s trump card.
Overall, the mechanics work well and the game is fun to play. It’s fairly fast-paced — we managed to play three 4-player games ina bout an hour and a half — and more or less had fun doing so. Unfortunately, there were some marked issues with a few aspects of the game.
Most notable of these issues is the Four White Horses card, which trumps the normal rule that a character cannot enter the castle after their first action. A player won with this card during the very first time we played the game, and we instantly noted that the trump card was exceedingly powerful. There are two of these cards in the deck, which means that both players can potentially have the card in a 2-player game (though a lucky player who holds both is almost sure to win) and up to half of the game’s players can hold them in a 4-player game (though holding both of them doesn’t guarantee your victory in this case). After some discussion, we decided that a good house-rule would be to remove this trump functionality from the card.
The other game play-specific issue we noticed with a four player game is that, without the Four White Horses card, it can be difficult to ensure your own victory as there are always 3 other players ahead of you who have the potential to stop you. What we observed over the course of several games is that the first person to reach the gates of the castle was the least likely to win, since other players would blow their actions preventing nearby players from achieving victory, and someone else would have the opportunity to come from behind after everyone has exhausted their options to defeat the other players before them.
To sum up: the victory mechanic is difficult to make work with or without the Four White Horses card. One player described the victory situation as “not being so much as ensuring your own victory, but choosing which other player you want to win”. That says it all perfectly.
That is the major gripe of the game, but unfortunately it doesn’t stop there. Though the game actually is fun to play, and it is well-designed from a production standpoint, there are a few issues with it other than just the victory requirement. Notably, the four cardboard stand-up figures which represent each player’s character are shoddily crafted; the character pieces don’t stand up properly and constantly fall over. We managed to fix this with some clever modifications involving a rubber band, but it is a sore spot in the production of an otherwise quality game.
The biggest complaint, however, is the fact that the theme of the game was literally pasted on to the top of a different game called “Temple of the Monkey”. That’s right, the game was not designed specifically to be a Princess Bride board game, and it shows. While we can forgive the fact that Path cards don’t show up in any order resembling the timeline of the story (since they are drawn at random) what we can’t forgive is the silly notion that you’re supposed to be rushing toHumperdink’s Castle to save Princess Buttercup, and yet one of the four characters available for play is none other than the Princess Buttercup herself. It’s hard to suspend disbelief of such an obvious disregard for the game’s “plot”. Even if you can forgive that circumstance, there are other cards that leave players scratching their heads, such as the ROUSs (Rodents of Unusual Size) card which, when played against another character, makes their next Path card require either a Noble Cause or 65 Silver Piece card to be played in addition to the Path’s normal requirements. Why does the ROUS require one of those two cards as opposed to, say, a sword? The world may never know.
These thematic gripes may seem minor at first, but when you consider that the game is supposed to resemble The Princess Bride and does so only in art style and with the use of a few names, it’s somewhat disappointing. I could have had just as much fun playing Temple of the Monkey but wouldn’t have felt quite as ripped off over the sacreligious use of the game’s license.
Overall, I wouldn’t say that Storming the Castle is a bad game. It’s a fun 30-minute romp for up to 4 players that can be set up and taken down easily, making it great for quick gaming fixes when time is of the essence. It was easy to learn, easy to set up and easy to play, but in the end wasn’t as satisfying as die-hard Princess Bride fans might hope for from a licensed game. The game’s low price point makes it a decent choice if you are in the market for a pick-up-and-play family game, but most self-identified “gamers” will want to stear clear from its simplicity and lack of solid end-game mechanic.