Many years ago, I find myself staying up later than normal every night to play Bloons TD 3. Tower defense games have always been fascinating to me as the simple mechanics of the gameplay along with the combination of progression and difficulty always piqued my interests in all the right ways. So how can you translate a tower defense game to a board game without taking away the feeling of progression and increasing difficulty? Well, Fireside Games did their best with Castle Panic. Castle Panic is not a perfect iteration of tower defense games, nor does it give me the exact same feeling as when I’m playing them, but it does a great job of translating tower defense feelings into a cooperative board game.
In Castle Panic, you’ve recently finished constructing a castle on a prime piece of land. Unfortunately, the castle is surrounded by terrible monsters like goblins, orcs, trolls, and worse. Those monstrous hordes want nothing more than to cause as much chaos as possible and charge into your land, destroy your castle, and leave it in ruins. Your job? Use all of the tools at your disposal to stop the monstrous hordes and protect your castle at all costs!
Castle Panic is for 1-6 players, takes approximately 1 hour to play, and is for ages 10 and older.
Set up for Castle Panic is as follows. Set the board in the center of the play area. Put the castle walls and towers into their plastic stands and place them in the center of the board. The castle towers go in a circle, one tower in each triangle, in the very center of the board. The castle walls go on the outer line of each center triangle. Take 3 Goblin tokens, 2 Orc tokens, and 1 Troll token from the Monster tokens and randomly place them in the Archer ring underneath each number. Only place one token underneath each number so that there is one Monster in each sector of the board. Make sure you place the tokens with the highest health total pointing toward the center of the board. This is the only time you will place Monsters in the Archer ring. All future Monster placements will be in the Forest. Shuffle the playing cards and deal a number of cards to each player based on the number of players. 1-2 players receive 6 cards, 3-5 receive 5, and 6 receives 4. Put the deck of remaining cards where all players can reach them. Take the remaining Monster tokens and either flip them facedown somewhere on the table and mix them up or place them in a bowl (I use a large coffee mug). Set the Fortify and Tar tokens nearby. It’s time to play Castle Panic!
The goal of Castle Panic is to kill all of the continually moving monsters that are attempting to destroy your castle. You’ll do this by trading and playing cards. It is a cooperative game, so make sure you keep your cards faceup where all the other players can see them. Every player’s turn follows the same sequence of play throughout.
On your turn, you will do the following six actions in order:
Discard & Draw (Optional)
The Draw Up phase is where you will draw cards until you have the maximum number allowed for the number of players. On your first turn, you’ll never have to draw cards as you’ll already have the maximum number allowed. However, on subsequent turns, you might have played some cards, so you’ll need to draw up to your maximum hand limit.
Discard & Draw (Optional)
This phase is an optional step you can take. Simply choose a card you have, discard it to the discard pile, and draw a new card to use. You can only do this once per turn and it is an entirely optional step. You do not have to discard if you so choose. The only exception to the rule of only doing it once is if you are playing this as a single player game. You may discard up to two cards if you’re playing by yourself.
This is also an optional step you can take. After the Discard & Draw phase, you can trade cards with other players to optimize your turn. This obviously can’t happen in a single player game since you’ll be the only player with cards. However, in a multiplayer game, you can trade cards with another player based on how many people are playing. In a 2-5 player game, you may only trade one card during this phase. In a 6 player game, you can trade up to 2 cards. Both players have to agree to the trade and you cannot just give cards to another player. It must be an agreed upon trade.
You play cards from your hand that can affect something on the board. We’ll discuss the cards later in this post, but you can play as many cards as you want from your hand and in any order you choose. Once you are out of cards to play (whether because you literally ran out of cards or because your cards can no longer be played based on the Monster locations on the board) this phase will end.
In this phase, you will move all Monsters on the board forward one ring. Any Monsters in the Forest will move to the Archer ring, any in the Archer ring will move to the Knight ring, and so forth. The only exception to this rule is if a Monster makes it into the castle ring. We’ll discuss this later.
After the Monsters have moved, you must now draw Monster tokens from the pile. Draw them one at a time as some of the tokens aren’t Monsters but have effects on them. If you draw a Monster, roll the six-sided die and place the Monster in the rolled number location on the board in the Forest ring. Once you have drawn both Monster tokens, your turn is over.
While those steps are the core center of the gameplay, I’d like to discuss some of the finer points of the cards you’re going to play, how to kill the Monsters, and how to win or lose the game.
The cards you may draw throughout the game have varying effects and abilities. Almost all of the cards correlate to the Monsters on the board. The standard cards are Archers, Knights, Swordsman, and Heroes. These cards will come in either green, red, or blue. You’ll notice from some of the above pictures that the board is sectioned into those three colors. If a Monster is sitting in the Green Archer ring, and you have a Green Archer in your hand, that means you can hit that Monster for 1 damage when you’re in the Play Cards phase. If there is a Monster in the Red Knight ring and you don’t have a Red Knight, you can’t hit that monster. The only exception to this rule is if you have a Any Color Knight or Hero. Any Color Knights (or Archers/Swordsman) can attack any color in the ring noted on the card. Heroes can attack any of the rings of one particular color. Regardless of the attacking type, your cards will only ever deal 1 damage to Monsters unless it says otherwise.
This is how you damage the Monsters. Some Monsters, like Goblins, only have 1 health. So hitting them once will kill them and have them removed from the board. Others, like Orcs and Trolls, have 2 or more health. When you hit them with a card, you will rotate the Monster token from its current health to one lower. Remember how we set up the Monster tokens with the highest health total pointing toward the middle of the board at the beginning? When you damage a Monster, you will rotate the token so that the lower health now points toward the middle of the board. This is the easiest and best way to track their health throughout the game and one of my favorite game mechanics for something so simple.
When and if you destroy a Monster, put the Monster in front of you rather than off to the side. Even though it’s a cooperative game, the person who has slayed the most Monsters at the end of the game will become the Master Slayer! It’s basically a fun little title to also add a little competition into a cooperative game as well.
Several cards outside of your standard attack options will pop up from the deck. Some of those cards are not limited to but are Barbarian, Draw 2 Cards, Drive Him Back!, and Fortify Wall. Simply follow the instructions on those cards and immediately resolve their effects.
We already know of the Goblin, Orc, and Troll littering the Monster token pile, but there are a myriad of other tokens in there as well. There are four bosses that are placed like normal (roll the die and place them in the corresponding place) but will come with extra effects. As an example, the Healer has 2 health and once he’s placed on the board in a corresponding Forest area, all other Monsters currently on the board will be healed for 1 health. The Goblin King rallies the troops, so when he’s placed on the board, draw 3 more Monster tokens.
Other tokens also grant effects to the Monsters on the board. Some will have all Monsters in a certain color move forward one ring. Others will eliminate every Archer that every player has by making them discard them all to the discard pile. Some will cause Monsters to rotate clockwise or counter-clockwise to a different color/numbered section while remaining in the same ring. There’s also a giant boulder that will come flying out of the Forest and destroy everything in its path. Roll the die and send the boulder flying down that numbered section. Any Monster in that section will die, but the boulder won’t stop until it hits a castle wall or castle tower. It destroys that wall or tower and then crumbles.
Regardless of what token you draw, you will only ever draw two tokens during the Draw Monsters phase unless something like the Goblin King shows up that requires you to draw more.
When a Monster reaches a wall and it comes time for the Move Monsters phase, the Monster will run into the wall. When a Monster hits a castle wall, it will automatically destroy the wall and take 1 point of damage. If it kills the Monster, remove it from the board. If the Monster is still alive, simply rotate the Monster to the next health total. The Monster that survives does not move forward. Instead, he stays put and on subsequent turns if he is still alive, he will enter the Castle ring and destroy the castle tower. He takes 1 damage when destroying castle towers as well. Unlike the walls, Monsters will move into the space containing the tower rather than staying put. Once a Monster has moved into the Castle ring, any following Move Monsters phase will have the Monster token move clockwise through the center Castle ring. If he hits a tower, he takes 1 point of damage, and if the Monster is still alive, move it into the ring of the tower it just destroyed.
If more than 1 Monster moves into a Castle ring space, both Monsters occupy the same space, however only one takes damage for hitting the wall/tower (players get to choose which one takes the damage). Continue to move the pieces together throughout the inner ring.
Once a wall has been destroyed, it can be rebuilt by playing the two cards, Brick and Mortar, together on the same turn. This allows the building of one wall of the players’ choosing. However, if a tower is destroyed, there is no bringing it back. Also, any Monsters currently in the Castle ring can only be destroyed by a few select cards in the deck (I believe there are only 3) or the Giant Boulder token. Make sure to strategize and plan out turns to keep Monsters out of the Castle ring.
Ending the Game
If the players manage to defeat all 49 Monsters in the Monster token pile (this includes the original six played on the board during setup) and still has at least one Castle tower still standing, the players win! However, if all six towers are destroyed, regardless of how many Monsters you’ve killed, the players lose. During my several solo playthroughs of the game, I’ve had two situations occur where I killed the last Monster by having them run into my last tower. This means I lost the game.
Castle Panic is one of the simpler mechanical board games I own, but that doesn’t mean it is not an enjoyable game. In fact, I love the simplicity of the game in comparison to games like Pandemic or Forbidden Island. The game also comes with different styles of play that helps add some replayability to it. The Overlord game mode has one player play as the Monsters and introduces a different mechanic where the Overlord plays Monsters in certain parts of the board and tries to work against the other players. You can also choose to discard the Monsters when you slay them, simply choosing to play together and not worry about who slays the most Monsters in the game. You can also add varying rules to the game to make it easier or harder with stuff like each player claims a castle tower and when that tower is destroyed, the player can no longer play. You can remove a Brick and Mortar card every time you shuffle the playing cards making it harder to build walls once they’ve been destroyed. You can also start the game with no walls and only gain them by building them throughout the game.
It’s not the most refined game, nor will it satiate that itch to play an epic board game. It will, however, show you a side of board gaming that can be simple enough to teach even the greenest of board gamers. It’s a fantastic introductory game to board gaming that takes a fantasy theme and intertwines it with the Tower Defense games some of us have enjoyed over the years. It’s unforgiving at times, but what cooperative game isn’t? Want a night of relaxed gaming while showing off your true teamwork ability? Give Castle Panic a try and watch as your castles crumble around you and you’re sent into a panic on how best to defend your territory.