Cooperative gaming is a great way to have a board game night without being at each other’s throats, and few games have the collective intensity of feeling the onslaught as Castle Panic from Fireside Games.
The board is a series of concentric circles divided into red, green, and blue thirds and six arcs. Monsters appear in the outer ring labeled forest and march toward the center, where the players’ castle is set up with walls and six towers. If the monsters reach the fortifications, they destroy them one at a time, whittling down the defenses. The game ends when the bowl of monster tokens is empty or the last of the castle crumbles, either to the elation or utter despair of the cooperative players.
Each player receives a turn consisting of six possible steps, and “Order of Play” cards help keep them straight. Players draw cards, have the chance to discard one in hopes of nabbing something better, and then have the option of trading a card with another player. Trading is where the real key to the game comes. If a troll is headed for the wall in a red ring and the player does not have any red, then the call goes out and everyone checks their hands in hopes of aiding the cause. After the trade, the player can play all the cards he or she has. Most of the cards are attacks on the hit points of the monsters, labeled in colors and in the concentric circles with Archer at the farthest, Knight in the middle, and Swordsman close to the castle, showing the range of their attacks. While there may be some argument that a knight should be able to operate within his bounds, theme-aside, the mechanic is solid. Other cards give players a chance to repair walls or act as wilds that can attack anywhere with special powers.
Steps five and six are dedicated to the monsters. First all existing monsters move forward, then two new monsters are drawn. Having the monsters take action each turn keeps up the pace of the game rather than having a “Game Master” turn at the end of the round. Boss monsters hold special powers, such as the Healer giving back hit points or moving the monsters toward the castle faster. Special tokens may also be drawn, causing a sudden onslaught of monsters or even a giant boulder to come out of the forest and really give the players something to panic about.
Built on a solid mechanic, Castle Panic comes with a slew of optional rules to spice up the game. Players may play individually (which is very difficult), face an opponent “Overlord” player who controls the monster placement, and ways to increase or decrease the intensity of the panic. Cooperative play makes the game and gives an opportunity for players to achieve a singular goal while still having an MVP for “most monsters slain.” Having more players is statistically an advantage as there is more opportunity to trade for the needed card. Besides, the more the merrier when the panic hits the fan!
The game is fairly simple in practice, but the complexity of layout to the rules makes for a twelve-page instruction manual. After overcoming the learning curve, however, Castle Panic comes naturally. Each card explains itself, and following the Order of Play is easy once memorized. Castle Panic is recommended for one to six players ages ten and up due to so much variation and takes about an hour to play. It is a great way to have a shorter congenial round at a game night, possibly before or after another game where players were anything but cooperative.