I’m honestly not sure what I was expecting when I set down to play Castle Panic. I had been told that it was a “simple” co-op game, but simple is really a relative term. For example, I think Forbidden Island is a simple co-op game. It has many of the same elements as Pandemic, but is much more stream lined. It’s simple. Castle Panic was far more simple then that, and with a lot more “random” thrown in. Now, I’m not saying this is a bad game. It’s solid. It has many elements of polish. However, there is no denying that this game is not designed for hard core gamers; it’s designed for children, or very casual gamers.
Castle Panic is a castle defense game. You must defend the castle against an onslaught of orcs, trolls, and goblins who stampede towards it from the forest, closing in on all sides. You defend against this with the aid of archers, knights, and swordsman, each who are designated to fight within certain areas of the castle, and at certain ranges. That may sound really complicated, but it was actually done very eloquently. The board is divided into three large pie pieces: blue, red, and green. These pie pieces are bisected by concentric rings, and each ring is designated for a given type of fighter card: Archer, Knight, and Swordsman. Whenever a monster enters one of the regions named for a fighter, that color and rank of fighter may attack them, should you have a card for them in your hand.
Your use and manipulation of the cards are the heart and soul of this game. Each player draws up to a hand of five cards on their turn. If they would like, they can discard one of them and redraw, that way it’s a little harder to get stuck with a really lousy hand. You may also trade one card each turn with one of the other players. Through this means of discarding and trading you can influence your ability and general readiness in regards to fighting the onslaught of monsters.
Combat is extremely simple. Every card you play against a monster does one point of damage. Each monster has between one and three hit points, and denoting how much damage they have taken simply requires a rotation of the piece. There is one card that will kill a monster on a single shot, Barbarian, but there is only one of him, so don’t get too cozy with that idea.
At the end of each players turn, two nasty things are going to happen. Firstly, each of the monsters are going to move one step closer to your castle, or if they are already outside your castle, they are going to breach your wall! Secondly, the player will flip over two tiles from a pool of tiles (kinda like the “bone yard” in a game of dominoes), to add more baddies to the board. Most likely the tile you flip will be a monster, in which case you roll a six sided die to determine where it starts out on the board. There are also other special tiles are in the mix.
Special tiles are a pain in the tookus. Some special tiles plague your troops, causing all of a particular type to die. Some make all the monsters rotate clockwise or counter clockwise. Some advance the monsters another space. Some force you to draw additional tiles. And then, there is the giant rolling boulders.
A giant rolling boulder is what did my game in. The boulder starts on one section of the board and rolls straight across, taking out everything in it’s path: monsters, walls, towers, you name it. The boulder smashes all! These nasty little devices insure that your castle will not end a game untouched. For our players, if the giant boulder had started rolling across in any other quadrant, we would have won! But nooooo… it had to start rolling in the only quadrant that still had a tower left!
In the end, we had fun. It was a silly co-op game. It wasn’t super challenging, but it still made us have to talk and work together. Anyone looking for a pandemic like experience though is going to be disappointed. That level of strategic thinking just simply isn’t required in this game. Whether you win or lose is as much about luck as anything else. This would make a great introduction game for non-gamers, or for little gamers to play with mom and dad. The box states this game is for 10+, but I can easily see a thoughtful 6 or 8 year old being perfectly capable of playing with mom and dad. This would also make a nice family game because you aren’t playing against your kids, you’re playing with your kids. For the most part it’s a group effort, so in the end, everyone gets to feel good about the victory.