I recently heard my five year-old son explain what Castle Panic is to one of his friends. “It’s Goblins! Trolls! Orcs! Attacking our castle!” Yep, that about sums it up. There’s no better way to get the family together when there’s a panic in the offering, working as a team to overcome any crisis and win the day.
It’s been out a few years now, but it’s time to re-visit Fireside Games’ Castle Panic and see why it still stands proud amongst its heavily armoured brethren.
Players have to co-operatively defend the castle walls and towers against waves of green-skinned ne’er do-wells, and survive with some masonry intact until they run out of reinforcements. The expansions add genuine difficulty and twists, such as dragons and golems, a powerful titan, traps, more defences and siege engines. All of these increase the literal sense of urgency and eventual panic as the tide of evil comes ever closer.
What?! Not a plastic miniature in sight! That’s right, pretty much everything is made of good, sturdy card. The board has the card walls and towers in the middle of a ring that denote the range of attack by Swordsmen, Archers and Knights, all divided into different colours. It’s small enough for most tables and to bring along on holiday. The playing cards, illustrating the brave defenders (eg. Red Archers, Blue Swordsmen, etc), are nicely drawn, as are the counters that represent the hordes emerging from the forest with mischief in mind. There’s also one die and that’s about it. Nice and simple.
Players each take their turn, with the monsters moving before the next player starts. A turn is split into phases. Firstly, a player draws up to six cards and then has the option to discard one and take a replacement. Then one card can be traded with another player (this becomes important as things progress!). Now is the time to play the cards in hand.
Each card represents a ‘hit’ on the area relevant to the colour and type (ie Green Knight) – one enemy in this area on the board can be targeted and he loses a hit point. Particular enemies are tougher than others, with more health. Some cards allow a player to build a barricade on a wall, preventing damage, or can combine mortar and stone cards to rebuild destroyed walls.
There are also elite cards, enabling bad guys to be killed outright with one blow. There really is a strong sense of co-operation and strategy involved in how enemies are targeted and attacked. As the invaders edge closer the literal sense of panic sets in.
The monsters are then each moved, one space at a time, ever closer to the castle. Whenever they move into a space occupied by a wall or tower, they take one damage point while the structure is removed, or destroyed. If all the towers are gone, it’s game, set and match to the green team!
At the end of the turn, two monster tokens are pulled (from a bag or cup) at random and the die rolled to see where they will be placed. There are zones 1-6. Sometimes a special enemy is drawn, who will affect gameplay (such as restoring enemies’ health), or a boulder will trundle out of the forest, squashing everything in its path and destroy a structure.
The cheering, groaning and sound effects (usually ‘squish’ or ‘thud’), amongst adult and child gamers alike when we played clearly stated Castle Panic would become a favourite. For adults it’s just pure out-and-out fun and the level of co-operation is astonishing, but for kids it’s fun and wonderment (well, it’s goblins and castles!), while sneakily teaching them how to think steps ahead and work as a team. Everybody either wins or loses and there are no players left out at any point. Each game is short enough to maintain the attention of younger players and it’s a good bet they will ask for another round!
A game doesn’t need to have hundreds of miniatures to be great, and Castle Panic demonstrates that often it’s the mechanics themselves that form the core of something you want to come back to time and again. For the Trekkies out there, Star Trek Panic is a fantastic adaptation worth checking out.
It’s not expensive, it’s fast-paced and it’s great fun for castle lords young and old. Highly recommended!
“Castle Panic still stands proud amongst its heavily armoured brethren.”
- Players: 1-6
- Age: 5+
- Playtime: 30+ minutes
- Setup Time: Quick
- Publisher: Fireside Games
Component Quality7.0 /10
Rules Quality7.5 /10
Value for Money8.0 /10
- Will appeal to all ages 5+
- Easy to learn
- Great sense of teamwork
- Fast and simple mechanics
- Good expansions
- Expansions needed to keep things fresh
- Cards and components can wear