Monday, February 10, 2014

Review: Castle Panic by Fireside Games

TLDR: Castle Panic is a cooperative, kid friendly (mother approved?) tower defense game that is perfect as either an evening-starter, an introduction for board-gaming neophytes, or just anyone who is interested in slayin' some nasties with friends.  Who doesn't love bonding over the bloodied corpse of a troll, ogre or goblin?

The Mechanics

"For the night is dark, and full of terrors." ... Wait, this isn't A Game of Thrones: The Board Game!  This is Castle Panic!

In Castle Panic, you and your compatriots are denizens of the titular castle during it's longest night (ever) as it is besieged by creatures of fantasy pouring forth from the forests that surround. It's going to take teamwork to survive, since no one player can take down all these bad guys by themselves.

Look upon my fortress ye mortals, and despair!
The board is set up with a castle situated in the center of three concentric circles and a ring of forest around the edge.  The castle has six sides and is made up of a ring of fortress walls, and six towers.  The walls are expendable (to an extent), but it's the towers that are your heart; lose all six and the game has won.  And the game is a sore winner, it totally sits there and mocks you the rest of the night.  So don't lose to the game.

Each of the three rings represents a distance at which you can attack the monsters that are marching towards your doorstep; they are labeled Archer, Knight and Swordsman, and these attacks come from cards that are dealt to each player.  On a player's turn, the player draws up to six cards from the deck of actions, trades with other players (which is where strategy part one comes in: knowing where certain cards need to be for certain turns to be most effective), and then plays as many cards from their hand as they can or want to.  Attacking cards are not only divvied up by distance, but also by color; a Green Archer can only attack a monster in the Green third of the board, in the Archer ring.  Of course, there are Hero cards that can attack at any distance, as well as other powers at your disposal.

Between player turns, as is common in the cooperative game genre, the Bad Stuff happens.  In Castle Panic's case, the Bad Stuff is more monsters emerging from the forest.  They are randomly drawn from whatever Bag of Holding you put the monster tokens in at the beginning of the game, and a die is rolled to determine what position they start at (1-6).  Monsters that were already on the board also move one ring closer to the castle.

As stated, losing all six towers means a lost game.  Conversely, if you survive the night and do away with all the baddies, even if you only have one remaining tower left, you win, and the peasants rejoice!

My Experience

Castle Panic is light, but fun, and from what I've experienced the random elements of the game (drawing random monsters, drawing random action cards, and randomly placing the monsters) do not "make-or-break" the game, as they do in other games.  This game comes down to strategic forward-thinking and planning, and communication.  The difficulty in the game can be adjusted up (by removing, say, Hero cards from the action deck) or down (by removing monsters), which is always a plus.  The game itself also provides neat step-by-step turn instructions for each player on the board, so no one should ever be at a loss of which to do.  Castle Panic is prone, as most cooperative games are, to Alpha Gamer problems, so as Wil Wheaton always says, "Don't Be A Dick."

Two more notes: Firstly, this game is very kid friendly.  There's never too much going on at one time, the game moves at the pace of the players, and the aspect of slaying monsters is very appealing.  There's no grotesquery in the game's art, and the colors are appropriately bold and vibrant.  Secondly, if the swords-and-boards fantasy aspect doesn't appeal to you, there was a sequel (of sorts) released last year that plays similarly called Dead Panic, that involves surviving an onslaught of zombies!

I whole-heartedly recommend Castle Panic to anyone who enjoys sword and shield, humans against orcs, medieval fantasy, cooperative games, or tower defense games.  I'm glad I own it, and it will get many plays from myself and my friends and loved ones!

John H. C. Staton is a software developer and missed last week travelling through the Frozen North. He'll make it up to you somehow.  He still has a website found at  It's still not a whole lot to look at.  He also tweets occasionally at @johnhcstaton though RunKeeper tends to tweet more often there than he does.

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