Monday, January 31, 2011

Ready the Archers and Keep the Tar Hot! You'll Need Them in Castle Panic.

My sons go through streaks when they are absolutely mad about board games. Alas, their enthusiasm for pulling them off the shelf and setting them up changes suddenly into sullen disillusionment after the first move that places myself or their brother at even the slightest advantage toward eventual victory. Sometimes it's because one sent the Lego Minotaur in the other's direction and other times it's because one had their heart set on Illinois Avenue and the other is refusing to trade any of their property no matter how many railroads he is offered.

This puts quite a damper on things and everyone leaves the table holding grudges against one another. Except me. I remain at the table and put away the game, or often times, games, as well as all the pieces that end up strewn about.

Then, recently, I read Jonathan Liu's review of Castle Panic by Fireside Games on Wired magazine's Geek Dad blog.

As he notes, it isn't a new game, but the cooperative nature of it appealed to my desire to have my kids sit through a game together without either of them wanting to take the proverbial ball and go home. I figured that I would soon go online and try to purchase a copy of the game so that my sons could learn to sit at one place for more than five minutes without food being involved.

Then, on a fortuitous trip to Barnes & Noble, I discovered a copy sitting on a shelf in their game section. Within a few moments, I convinced my eldest son to ask his mother if it was okay for him to get it. When asked what I thought, I said it seemed pretty promising. With my manipulation, ahem...I mean, endorsement, my wife agreed and we took it home.

The premise is that you and your teammates occupy a castle, consisting of 6 towers contained within 6 walls and you must use your archers, knights and swordsmen to fend off attacking hoards of monsters who emerge from the surrounding forest.

The players need to work together, trading cards, predicting monster movements and solidifying their stronghold so that they can eradicate the goblins, orcs and trolls before all six of the towers are felled. The game starts inauspiciously enough with six monsters in the archer ring and as you wipe them off the board, you think it's going to be a piece of cake.

Ah, but you underestimated the panic in Castle Panic. Before you know it, instead of two new monsters leaping from the forest at the end of a turn, it becomes five. Then the trolls begin rolling giant boulders at your castle walls. The towers you were sure you could protect have been exposed and you are flanked by green-skinned beasts whose leaders push them forward and even replenish the hit points you took from them.

I certainly felt the tension in the room raise as my sons became very squirrely when an orc managed to enter our castle circle. They bounced up and down and had difficulty staying near the board. My youngest wanted to go hide under a blanket on the couch until it was his turn, forgetting that we needed him there to potentially trade weaponry with. In the end, on our first round, we managed to keep our castle intact. In fact, we've been able to do so every time we've payed thus far. It has never been easy, but it has always been fun.

This is a great game for the whole nerdy family. While the box suggests ages 10+, my sons are 8 and 6 and read well for their ages. They enjoy this game immensely. I haven't had to reduce the difficulty settings, which is very easy to do per the included instructions. I also haven't played the other optional versions of the game, one of which sees a player take control of the monster hoard lurking in the forest and dispatching them and he/she sees fit. I hope to some day when my sons are more adept at handling a little healthy competition. But for now, this game suits my family's needs quite nicely and, if you're looking for a fantasy-based, co-op game, it should suit yours as well.

Happy gaming and big thanks to Jonathan Liu of Geek Dad for his recommendation.

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