Monday, July 14, 2014

GJJG Game Reviews - Castle Panic - by Fireside Games

Castle Panic
Designer: Justin De Witt
Publisher: Fireside Games 
GJJG Game Reviews - Castle Panic - by Fireside Games
I received Castle Panic for Father's Day this year because my family has really enjoyed playing cooperative games and my sons love the idea of battling monsters.  So Castle Panic seemed to be right up our alley and we all couldn't wait to play it.  We have now played it several times, so it's time for a review.  My wife and I played with our boys, who are currently 4 (almost 5) and 7.5 years old.

Game Overview:
Castle Panic is a cooperative game by Fireside Games for 1-6 players where the players work together to battle against Goblins, Orcs, and Trolls that are attacking the castle walls and towers.  If you are interested in learning about the gameplay, I recommend checking out Table Top (  Age range is for Ages 10 and up and there is no play length listed.

Components & Packaging:
The game components are of slightly above average quality.  It was nice that none of the pieces had to be punched out before playing and everything is made of sturdy cardboard and nicely printed.  The walls and towers have to sit in plastic holders that could stand to grip the cardboard a little tighter, but they aren't excessively loose.  The graphics on the pieces and cards are very nice and all the text is easy to read.  I think the biggest drawback in this area is the packaging.  The box is fairly think cardboard and the inside is divided up into several sections by thin cardboard.  There is a section for the cards, a section for the monster tiles, and a smaller section for the other components (towers, die, etc.).  For now these sections are holding up OK, but I know that after a few years they'll start to warp or tear like the cardboard inserts on older games.  I was also disappointed that there was no draw bag or anything for the monster tiles.  I added a cheap satiny gift bag for the tokens and it works great.  A cheap draw bag would have been a great addition to the game's components.

Score: 5/10 x1

Rules & Setup:
The rules are pretty straight forward.  I didn't find anything in the rules that was overly complicated and they are broken up into sections so that it is easy to find basic rules, detailed rules, or a quick summary.  I found myself referencing the rules several times a game just to remember some minor details (like what each boss monster does), but most of that information is also printed on the game board.  Really, after reading the rules and understanding the basics of the game you shouldn't have to rely on them again, unless you want to play one of the slight variations.  Setup is also pretty easy.  After setting up the walls and towers, placing six starting monsters, and shuffling the cards, each player is dealt 4-6 cards depending on the number of players.  Setup takes about 5 minutes.

Score: 8/10 x2

The gameplay of Castle Panic is pretty easy to understand.  Each player's turn consists of 6 steps.  First, players draw back up to the number of starting cards for their hand.  Second, they have the option to discard one card from their hand and draw another one from the main deck.  Third, they can trade one card from their hand with one other player.  Fourth, players use the cards in their hand to attack monsters.  Some of the cards will tell them to do other things (like draw two more cards, scavenge the discard pile, etc.) and those can all be resolved in any order the player sees fit.  As monsters are killed each player takes them into their trophy collection.  Fifth, after a player resolves any or all of their cards the monsters still on the board all move forward one ring.  Finally, the player draws two more monster tokens and resolves them (some will be monsters, some will be other actions).

The game is very collaborative, especially in the first and second phases as players work together to figure out the best sequence of cards for the current player to use.  There will be a lot of discussion about what should be traded, and with whom, and what should be discarded.  However this part of the game can also get pretty tedious, especially for younger players that may not understand all the strategy behind discarding and trading.  My sons understand pretty straightforward trades (e.g. I'll give you my Blue Archer that can't attack anything for your Green Knight that can attack a Troll this turn), but more forward thinking trades (e.g. I'll give you my Mortar for your Blue Swordsman since your Blue Swordsman is useless to everyone now and there's a chance you might draw a Brick to build a wall on your next turn) tend to bore them since neither card will have an immediate action for them.  This is the part of the game where my sons' attention spans waned and they left the table to start battling each other since they couldn't battle monsters, especially when it wasn't their turn to do the trading.

Their attention quickly came back to the game for the really fun part of the turn, battling the monsters.  This is where my sons had the most fun, making battle sounds and acting out their cards attacking various monsters.  However, again, when it wasn't their turn to battle the monsters they were less interested in this.  Resolving the attacks happens pretty quickly and then it's over.  Moving the monsters forward takes just a second or two and then it's time to draw more monster tiles.  My boys had fun drawing and resolving the monsters and there was lots of groaning when we had to place 6 monsters (yes, some of the tiles require you to draw more tiles) all in the red zone.

Despite losing interest in parts of the game, especially between their turns, my sons really do seem to enjoy the game.  It's a little frustrating for the adults though because it's a constant battle to keep them focused and not running off battling their own imaginary trolls.  I think the game would be better with older players that can find the trading and discarding phases more interesting, however even with my two young sons we've won every game we've played.  And they weren't even all that close.  We might need to up the difficulty a bit (by starting with several walls missing or with dwindling resources, or something else), but in my opinion the game shouldn't be that easy to begin with.  The standard rules are pretty easy, so I don't think we'll ever be using one of the 'easier' options.  I have read that the Wizard's Tower expansion makes the game more difficult and interesting, but unfortunately the base game is just so-so.

Score: 5/10 x3

Yes, Castle Panic is different each time you play, but so far we haven't seen enough variation.  One game we played we got a lot of monsters at the beginning and most of the other types of tiles more toward the end.  Another game it was the opposite.  And both of those games we easily defeated al the monsters.  We have lost a couple of towers, but we've also played without losing any towers.  Only once or twice did we feel like there was any real tension in the game and it was pretty quickly resolved within a turn or two.  Again, it may be different if we up the difficulty level a bit, but I feel like the base game should be more varied and thus more challenging to compensate for the different monsters attacking.  After just a few plays I'm finding it a bit boring and it'll probably find a mostly permanent place on my shelf, to be pulled out only if/when the boys insist.  Hopefully I'll get a chance to try the game with the Wizard's Tower expansion and see if that makes a difference.

Score: 4/10 x1

General Fun:
Overall the game is fun, and I really want to like it more than I do.  My boys really enjoy it in spurts, but it seems to take about a half hour too long (our games have been lasting about an hour to 1:15), and is too easy to plan a defense.  As I have said, I am curious to see how the game plays with the Wizard's Tower expansion, and I may look to see if other people have created alternate rules (or maybe I'll try to come up with some of my own) to make the game more tense and exciting.  Yes, we've had fun playing it, but it also feels like it's missing something every time we play.   So I'm giving this a 6 for General Fun with the hopes that I'll be able to find a way to make the game better in the future.  I really want to like this game, so I'm hoping =)

Score: 6/10 x2

Overall Value:
Castle Panic retails at $35 and can be found for around $25 or even less online.  That's not too expensive for a game of this size, and that's probably why some of the packaging is a little on the cheaper side.  Overall the value of the game is just OK since $35 for a game that'll end up on the shelf and not played much is a bit much.  The Wizard's Tower expansion that is supposed to make the game much more interesting and challenging retails at $25 and can be found for around $20, but that makes the entire package$45-$60, which is quite a bit.  Unfortunately I can't give this great marks for value, but it's not a complete rip-off either.

Score: 4/10 x1

Final Thoughts:
I really want to like Castle Panic, I really do.  But it just doesn't cut it for me.  The rules are great and the setup is easy, the components are good, but the packaging is a bit flimsy and the gameplay, replayability, and general fun all fall short of what they could be.  Overall I think this would be a good game for kids that are old enough to maintain interest in the game's various turn phases, but not old enough to realize just how easy it is to accommodate the advancing monsters.  So I think the minimum age on the box of 10 is good for play without an adult (I see kids ages 10-14 playing this easily), but with an adult and a kid with a good attention span even a 4 year old can play.  But for adults the game will be just too simple and easy to beat using the standard rules.  Hopefully the expansions and maybe alternate rules can improve this.

Overall Score: 56/100

Getting ready to play Castle Panic!  (Yes, I have to move the monsters up one ring.)

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with his family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  A score of 1-10 (low-high) is given to each game in six categories: Components & Packaging, Rules & Setup, Gameplay, Replayability, Overall Value, and General Fun.  Rules & Setup and General Fun are weighted double and Gameplay is weighted triple.  Educational Games will have an additional category for Educational Value which will result in Gameplay being weighted double instead of triple.  Then the game is given a total score of x/100.

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