Castle Panic Review

Castle Panic game in play

A simple cooperative game that I people recommended to me is Castle Panic.

Castle Panic is like a tower defense video game - swarms of evil monsters are coming at your castle, and your job is to stay alive. (Yes, killing them is nice, but for all that is good, just stay alive, man!!!) Each turn, you start by drawing up to your hand limit. Next, discard a card (if you want) and draw a new one (if you discarded one); and then you can trade a card with another (willing) player. Now - smash the enemy!!! You can play as many cards from your hand as you would like (normally as many as possible). Primarily, this is done by playing cards that match the color and circle that an opponent is in, which inflicts a point of damage per card played (the map is built with four rings surrounded by a forest - each ring except the center one has corresponding cards in the draw deck). Finally, the bad guys do stuff - first they all move closer to your castle, and then you draw two more of them from the pile. This continues, again and again. Until the game is over - because you have either died off by allowing all of your castle towers to be destroyed, or because you have stayed alive through all of the swarms of (pile of) enemies, and have managed to kill off all of them.

The first thing that I liked about Castle Panic is that it is very simple. It's easy to learn, and also incredibly easy to teach. What's more, the game flows well and is fairly intuitive once you have learned it. This allows it to be played by just about anybody - friends that don't like "complicated" games, kids (probably starting at around 8 - though I made that number up, because I don't have children, so I really have no idea), or anyone else.  Unfortunately, the simplicity of the game comes at a cost - and the replayability suffers.

Castle Panic - now time to panic
My castle is never unscathed
The next thing that I like about Castle Panic is that it feels intense. The main thing that I heard when I asked people about this game is that "it's a bit too easy." Of the games that I have played, I never felt like I ran away with a game. Sure, I thought that at various times throughout my first game, but then the monster draw pile decided to smite my arrogance by having me draw 9 tiles on one turn! (We drew a "Draw 4 monster tiles," and the Boss that forces you to draw 3 monster tiles on the same turn. I will admit this probably isn't the normal situation, but I'd guess that other people encounter it periodically.) Even in the games I won, I felt like I was close to being annihilated, as I always had at least half of my towers destroyed.  So, I think that the people who think Castle Panic is too easy really enjoy playing masochistic games like Forbidden Island on the "you start off the game drowning" difficulty.  (Oh, there's also a variant of Castle Panic where you start the game without castle walls.  I feel that everyone who thinks the game is too easy should play with this variant and then tell me if it solves their problem.)

However, though I liked Castle Panic, I had a few cons. First off, it's somewhat disappointing that there is no difference between players. For example, you have no "roles" like in Pandemic. Really, the only difference between playing with one player versus playing with six will be how often it is your turn, and how many cards you can draw and trade. This simplicity keeps the game from having as much replayability as I would like.

The next con that I had was that it was too difficult to kill a monster that made it into your castle. Specifically, there is one card in the deck that lets you kill a monster in this situation. One! Yes, if you are playing well, it doesn't become much of an issue. Yes, monsters do lose a hitpoint each time they destroy a wall or a tower (I hadn't told you that part), so they will slowly die either way. But, there is only one card that allows you to kill a monster that makes it's way into your castle.  One!!!

Finally, I thought that the "Giant Boulder" was a bit too random. Essentially, this monster tile simulates the enemies massing together to roll a giant boulder at your castle. The boulder will destroy everything in it's path (even other monsters), and will only stop once it destroys a wall or tower. This really seems to be one of the main ways that walls and towers are destroyed (there are four Giant Boulders in the game). So, whereas I see the need for these tiles in play balancing terms, I still wish that it were a bit less random than "hey, you drew a tile and so now something is going to instantly blow up."

Overall, I give Castle Panic an 8.0/10. It's fun and easy to play - definitely worth a look. However, the game feels too similar from one play to the next for me to envision myself wearing out a copy.  Yet, it's good enough that I will occasionally pull it out and give it another game.

Want more opinions?  Check out Play Board Game's Castle Panic Review or Board Game Family's review of Castle Panic. Alternately, if you want to read about other cooperative games, you might also check out Reiner Knizia's Lord of the Rings, Shadows Over Camelot, and Sentinels of the Multiverse.

I would like to thank Fireside Games for providing me with a review copy of Castle Panic.


  1. Castle Panic was our first co-op game, and the intensity really appeals to the kids (both the 11- and the 15-year-old). It works well in a mix of kids and adults, too.

    You're right about how tough it is to kill a monster in the castle. You really have to keep track of where the Barbarian card is once it turns up. I seem to remember another card (Scavenge, perhaps) that can retrieve a card of your choice from the discard pile. So once you've got the Barbarian and have played it to kill a monster in the castle, the Scavenge card can pull it back into play for a second use.

    The one down-side we find is that if there's a control freak in the group, you really have to establish "rules of conduct" about what you can do on somebody else's turn. Otherwise, the control freak is playing solitaire, and everyone else are just puppets.

    Thanks for a nice write-up.

  2. Yeah, I know what you're saying about the "control freak." We normally refer to that person as the "bossy player." That is unfortunately a con in most co-op games; and that is one of the reasons that I like games like the Lord of the Rings Card Game - it's co-op, but with hidden information, which makes it harder for a player to be as bossy.