With great mobile titles like Fieldrunners and the ubiquitous and addictive Plants vs. Zombies, tower defense games—in which the player or players defend a location from hostile forces using various weapons and technologies powered by regenerating resources—were a very big thing in video games for quite some time. The mechanics in these games are inherently simple, which makes them easy to learn and able to expand in complexity without, so to speak, reinventing the wheel. This means that they adapt well to board games, and one game in particular—Castle Panic—takes everything great about the best tower defense video game and translates it to a deceptively simple, endlessly enjoyable tabletop experience.
They have a troll
Designed by Justin DeWitt and published by Fireside games, Castle Panic can support up to six players. This makes it great for a large-scale gaming club, but it works best with four players; any more than that anad it becomes more difficult and slower.
Setup is quick and simple, with only a bit of organizing and very little book-keeping necessary. Almost all resources are shared among the players, and no one has individual pieces or statistics to keep track of (except for victory points, which are optional).
The scenario is very simple: an army of orcs, trolls, and goblins are attacking the castle, and the players must deploy soldiers to defeat them before their defenses become overwhelmed. There are six towers in the castle, each protected by a wall. Surrounding these towers are three concentric circles—labeled Swordsman, Knight, and Archer—and the entire game board is divided into three different zones, identified by a color; thus, there are nine different target areas on the game board, plus the actual target area itself.
Players begin the game with five cards each, and they may discard a card and draw a new one, then trade one card to another player during their turn. They then play cards to attack the monsters charging the castle. Attacking a monster requires playing a card that matches up with the zone they are currently occupying. For example, if a player has a Red Knight card, they may play it to attack a monster that is in the target area for the Knight in the red zone.
Some monsters are stronger than others and require multiple attacks to be taken down, but participants can play as many cards as they want during a turn—they’ll always begin the next turn with five cards. Special cards allow players to push monsters back, instantly defeat a monster with a single attack, attack a monster anywhere on the board, or make the castle walls stronger.
Making the castle walls strong—among several other defensive strategies—is paramount. At the end of each turn, every monster on the board moves closer to the castle and new ones are spawned. Some special monsters even have extra abilities that cause others to regain their strength or come even closer. And if characters make it to the castle, they crash through a defensive wall, exposing the tower behind it. If a monster crashes into a tower, it’s lost. At any moment, a boulder could come crashing down, crushing monsters in its path but also taking down walls and towers. There are ways to build new walls but not new towers, and there are only two cards that allow players to attack a monster inside castle walls. Once a player loses all six towers, it’s game over! Whoever defeats all the monsters—more than 40 in all—and keeps even one tower standing is the winner.
Stand together or fall apart
This may be the most cooperative and team-oriented game I’ve ever played. Communication among players is absolutely necessary, and while each player earns victory points for the monsters slain, chasing after the highest score could cost a team—and therefore, the player—the game. Working together is the only way to succeed; setting up trades that will put the next player in rotation in an advantageous position, damaging a monster instead of defeating a weaker one, and letting someone else be the hero are strategies required of everyone. No one single player is in charge, either; if anyone tries to be the boss and push their will on everyone else, the game is done.
Castle Panic’s inherent simplicity makes it easily modified; in fact, the rule book is full of suggestions for easier or more advanced play, so it can be tailored to all age and interest groups. Not only is it great for your patrons, but think about using it during professional development days to get staff communicating and developing a team problem-solving mind-set!
Castle Panic is a fast-paced, fun game that reinforces team-building and communication skills. It’s easy to learn, has lots of character, and can be used to bridge generations. No one has to feel left out, since everyone wins or loses as a team. There’s no reason a library should be without this fantastic title.
Next time, we’ll make GlaDOS happy and take a look at a game that uses science (if you don’t know who GlaDOS is, play Portal). Until then, keep telling yourself—just one more level!