- For ages 10 and up
- For 1 to 6 players
- Approximately 60 minutes to complete
- Active Listening & Communication
- Counting & Math
- Logical & Critical Decision Making
- Strategy & Tactics
- Risk vs. Reward
- Visuospatial Skills
- Cooperative & Team Play
- Hand/Resource Management
- Child – Moderate
- Adult – Easy
Theme & Narrative:
- Protect the castle!
- Gamer Geek approved!
- Parent Geek approved!
- Child Geek approved!
Humanist, Sufi, and Humanitarian, Abhijit Naskar said in his book of collected poetry, Yarasistan: My Wounds, My Crown, “Either live or don’t, there is no playing safe.” In this game, you don’t have time to play it safe. You and your fellow players must work together to keep a tide of hungry monsters outside your castle gates. To do so, you must command your army and strategically manage the horde of creatures outside your walls while tactically adjusting your targets each round. This is not an easy game to win, but it’s an easy game to love.
Castle Panic: Big Box, designed by Justin De Witt and published by Fireside Games, is comprised of all the components found in the original Castle Panic game. Which isn’t surprising. What is essential – and most worthy to call attention to – is what this “big box” contains beyond the obvious. In addition to the base game, Castle Panic: Big Box includes The Wizard’s Tower, The Dark Titan, Engines of War, and Crowns and Quests. All of which are expansions to the base Castle Panic game. The “big box” also contains 13 promotional items that can be included with the game per the player’s interest. The “big box” is a massive box with handy re-packing instructions. Illustrations by artists Justin Chan, Anthony Cournoyer, Justin De Witt, Javier Guzman, Maggie Ivy, Tad Lambert, and Brittany Pezzillo contribute to the game’s theme and further strengthen its narrative brilliantly.
A Quick Introduction to My Experience with Castle Panic
Oddly enough, I have reviewed Dead Panic (a zombie survival-themed version of Castle Panic) and My First Castle Panic (which is meant to be a Chidl Geek-friendly version and introduction to the giant game), but have never actually reviewed Castle Panic. The reason for this is apparent to me. I tend not to review games I purchase for myself. From my perspective, I can’t be objective, especially when it comes to something I spend my own money on.
I purchased the original Castle Panic at Gen Con in 2009 directly from the Fireside Games booth, believe it or not. I had a lot more hair and free time back then. I fell in love with the game after only one play during a game demo. My money was very well spent as I continued to play the game not only at Gen Con but immediately with my children and friends upon my return, and I continue to play it today. To say my original game of Castle Panic is showing its age is a terrible misrepresentation of the state in which this game is in. It has survived a small fire (that is a fascinating story, by the way), apple juice spills (from the kids), beer spills (from the adults), and even a puppy attack. It’s still very playable, if not somewhat suspect, regarding component quality. A few cards and, most certainly, the board have been taped back together.
This brings me to this big box version, which I did not pay for and feels weird to describe in full. It’s just too big. I will, instead, summarize the gameplay and the expansions, encouraging everyone to go out and play this game. That’s right, even before this review ends, I’m telling you this game is a winner.
Oh, such a winner…
What’s in the “Big” Box?
The “Big Box” contains the core Castle Panic game. Everything you need to play with your friends and race against time to save your castle is ready to go. I strongly recommend you play the core game several times, testing the different difficulty levels before going deeper into the box’s contents.
When you are ready to expand the core game, the big box has your back! Packed inside are no less than four expansions. Four! All of which can be played together with the base game, including with all the other expansions simultaneously!
- The Wizard’s Tower: This expansion introduces a Wizard tower and a helpful wizard that provides magic. Unfortunately, new monsters are also introduced, keeping the game balanced.
- The Dark Titan: This expansion introduces even more monsters, Monster tokens that help the players, and a new way to play with the cards that banish them (remove them) from the game.
- Engines of War: This expansion introduces siege engines that monsters and humans use to wage battle.
- Crowns and Quests: This expansion changes the game a great deal, introducing quests that must be completed in addition to saving the Castle. It’s a great way to change how your fellow gamers evaluate threats and focus on shifting goals.
Castle Panic in a Nutshell
Castle Panic, at its core, is a cooperative tower defense game. Players are working to keep the center of the board – the castle – intact from an ongoing invasion of goblins, orcs, and other unsavory monsters. At the players’ disposal are various warriors and structures meant to stop the invading hoard – at least slow them down – hoping to save the castle. On that point, there are four different ways to do so.
- Cooperative: The traditional way to play Castle Panic. Everyone is working together, trading cards, talking a lot at the table and focused on surviving the onslaught as a group. Players either win as a group or lose as a group.
- Master Slayer: This changes the game to a semi-cooperative adventure. Everyone still loses if the castle falls, but there is only one winner in the game. Victory goes to the player with the most points earned from monsters slain.
- Overlord: In both the cooperative and “Master Slayer” game variants, the monsters are controlled by pulled tokens and set paths. In “Overlord,” a player takes on the role of the Master of Monsters and plays them intelligently with the single goal of toppling the castle.
- Solitaire: Don’t have any friends available to play? No problem! Protect the castle independently with only a few rule changes but much additional stress! You have to maintain all the borders and manage the threats in the field. Expect a real challenge.
In addition to the different ways to play, you can adjust the game’s difficulty.
- Less Panic: This is the game on “easy mode,” but you can still quickly lose the game if you don’t work together and manage the threat of an ever-advancing army.
- A Little More to a Lot More Panic: If you and your friends find the game difficult too easy, there are several options to ramp up the monster threat. Hero discretion is advised.
Managing the Panic
The Castle is in the center of the board, and radiating from it are rings. These rings represent the distance from the Castle and areas around the Castle. All the players, throughout the game, will do their very best to save the Castle from falling. This is done through intelligent card plays, cooperative discussion, and just a bit of luck.
On a player’s turn, they take five required and two optional steps, summarized here.
Step One: Draw Up
At the start of the game, each player is dealt a specific number of Castle cards based on the number of players. These cards are dealt face-up and remain face-up in front of the player. This is, after all, a cooperative game, and there is no time or need for secrets. At the start of the player’s turn, they will always draw as many Castle cards as needed to bring their hand up to full size.
Step Two: Discard and Draw One Card
As an optional step, the player may discard one of their Castle cards and draw a new one. Before taking this optional step, however, the player should look at all the visible cards. If there are no cards that could help them or their team, then discarding is the way to go.
Step Three: Trade Cards
As an optional step, the player may now trade cards with their fellow Castle defenders. This is always done in the open and with agreement with the person trading the cards with the active player.
Step Four: Play Cards
During this step of the game, the player may play as many of their cards as they like as long as doing so matches a target and the effect can be successfully resolved. At a minimum, a player will be attempting to do any of the following:
- Attack a monster by playing a Castle card that matches the monster type and the ring in which the monster is located. Each hit reduces the monster’s life by one, rotating its token. Eventually, the monster will be slain and removed from the game.
- Slowing a monster down or pushing it back is another good strategy if the player cannot damage and remove a monster. By doing so, the player pushes the monster away from the Castle, buying their team time.
- Building walls and other fortifications is another option the player should consider taking during their turn. Building and replacing previously destroyed walls helps fortify the Castle and keep those within safe from the monsters’ attack.
Step Five: Move Monsters
After the player has completed playing all the cards they can or want to during their turn, the surviving monsters get to take their turn. All monsters on the board move to the next ring, closer to the Castle.
Step Six: Draw Two Monsters
The last step during a player’s turn is to draw new Monster tokens. Each token is resolved one at a time. A token can be a monster, requiring the dice to be rolled, and the Monster token is placed according to the die roll result to the game board. A token could also be a Special Monster token that introduces a Boss Monster token or a token that causes all the monsters to move, players to lose cards, or even more monsters to show up!
Panic Control or Out of Control?
For the players to win, they must survive and beat all the Monster tokens. If they do so, and at least one Tower remains, they win the game!
Of course, at any time the Castle falls, the players lose the game.
To learn more about Castle Panic: Big Box, visit the game’s web page.
The Child Geeks were introduced and fell in love with Castle Panic immediately. Admittedly, we used the “less panic” option to ensure the game wasn’t running over the littlest of geeks, but that proved unnecessary as they all worked together to manage the threat of monsters. They didn’t win every game, but they enjoyed every game session. According to one Child Geek, “This is just like the video games I play on my phone but better because I get to play with my friends.” Another Child Geek reported, “I like this game a lot. I like it because even when it isn’t your turn, you can still help, and even when everything feels like you are about to lose, you can work together to win.” When the last monster was chased into the woods, the Child Geeks took a vote, and all greed that Castle Panic was a lot of fun.
The Parent Geeks agreed with the Child Geeks, finding the game to be not only a lot of fun with their family but a perfect time with their peers, too. As one Parent Geek put it, “This is a game I can play with my family on Friday and my friends on Saturday and have two very different games. I liked that, and I found all the expansions – especially the Wizard Tower – to be excellent additions to an already excellent game.” Another Parent Geek agreed, adding, “What this game does right is keeping the pressure on and injecting just enough randomness to keep you guessing. You can win the game, but you and your group have to be good players to do so.” When the day was done, and the Castle still stood, the Parent Geeks gave three cheers to Castle Panic.
The Gamer Geeks were very familiar with Castle Panic and its history. They dived in and relished playing the game like it was an old friend. One Gamer Geek said, “I completely forgot about this game until you surprised us and put it on the table. I have so many good memories of playing it with friends at my house and at local conventions. This was “the game” to play when it first came out, and everyone was talking about it. I am most pleased to be talking about it again.” Another Gamer Geek said, “I have heard of this game but thought it was a kid’s game. That is not the case! We played all the levels of difficulty and all the expansions. Wow, we were blown away. This is a great game and an even greater collection.” At long last, with the monsters defeated and the day won, the Gamer Geeks joined their fellow Child and Parent Geeks in cheering for this game they all loved.
Castle Panic is gritty and unforgiving. We loved it. The game has just enough luck and randomness to make you feel like you are in control, but only just a bit. Each player’s turn is significant, and every card, played or discarded, is worth holding on to. The game is solid, streamlined, and played well with all age groups and skill levels. What it does exceedingly well is keeping up the pressure but giving players enough time to maneuver. Yes, you might panic. But you’ll also see it coming.
It was a genuine joy to return to this game. The original has been on my shelf for years and years but seldom is introduced to a broad audience. This “big box” brought back a lot of big and happy memories for both my peers and myself. Even more extraordinary was introducing the game to a whole new generation of gamers and budding gaming enthusiasts. Despite being a game originally published in 2009, it came across as brand new and innovative—a true testament to the game’s excellent design.
Do seek this game out when time and opportunity allow. It’s a game that will challenge you and your friends to manage not only the threat on the board but the excitement at the table! Slap this one down as soon as possible to see if you win the day or if the monsters crawl all over you.
This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.