Castle Panic is a cooperative game in which you (and possibly some friends) work together to battle evil monsters who are trying to destroy your castle. Every turn, random monsters are drawn from a cup/bag. You use a die to determine where the monsters will be placed when they begin their assault. To battle the monsters, you deploy castle cards from your hand. You can discard or trade limited numbers of cards to battle the monsters more effectively.
The Castle Panic base game has been a big hit at social gatherings, even for people who don't play games very often. According to the box, the game is for 1-6 players, but the last time I experienced it in a group, four couples got together and each couple controlled one hand of cards. Before long, we were high-fiving each other every time a monster bit the dust and collectively groaning when a roll of the die determined that we had to place ANOTHER troll in the blue zone. One of the friends I played with bought her own copy of the game to play with her parents, who also loved it. Castle Panic definitely has potential as a staple on family game night, or as a fun gateway game for new board gamers.
Castle Panic is also finding a place in my life as a solo gamer. I love tower defense games, and Panic comes with a set of rules for solo players. Because it is a cooperative game, I can also play two-handed if I choose to, although I typically stick with the solo variant.
The base game by itself, however, is not going to satisfy the dedicated soloist (or group of regulars who play together). Although Castle Panic offers some fun challenges, it can feel a little too simple once you are familiar with all of the monsters and castle cards. There are a few things you can do with the base game to make it more challenging:
Draw Three Monsters Per Turn: This option puts more monsters on the board at once (you typically draw two per turn). The monster overload definitely increases the chances of you getting your butt kicked.
Towers Only, No Walls: When you build your "castle" at the start of the game, you typically put up six towers and six walls. If you lose all of your towers, you lose the game. If you start with zero walls, the odds of this happening go up quite a bit...
Allow Only One Discard Per Turn (Solo Only): In the solo game, you have no one to trade with. To compensate, you are allowed to discard up to two cards from your hand and draw replacements from the castle deck. Only allowing one discard leads to fewer options and tougher choices.
The truth is, though, that Castle Panic will eventually need some variety, no matter how much you love the base game. Purchasing an expansion is essential for your continued gaming pleasure.
Fortunately, Castle Panic has two expansions: The Wizard's Tower and The Dark Titan. So far, I have only played Wizard's Tower, although I own Dark Titan and will be testing it out in the near future.
In my opinion, Wizard's Tower is a must buy. It takes the base game and turns it into something more challenging and also a lot more fun. The premise of the expansion is that a friendly wizard has agreed to help you, in exchange for getting his own fancy wizard tower. As long as his tower is standing, you can benefit from his powers. When you discard castle cards from your hand, you can choose to draw from the regular castle deck or from the wizard's deck. The wizard's deck arms you with powerful spells that you use to battle the powerful and interesting monsters that also come with the expansion. Plus, it's possible to set monsters on fire. Who doesn't enjoy setting monsters on fire? (Alas, it is also possible for your castle walls and towers to catch fire, but we won't worry about that right now...)
Even though Wizard's Tower adds several new challenges and mechanics, including a boss monster with its own special movement patterns, the new rules blend seamlessly with the base game and they are very clearly explained. Actually, Castle Panic rulebooks in general are some of the clearest I have ever seen. It makes adding expansions a lot less intimidating, and it's easier and faster to get to the fun.
Once you have played Wizard's Tower, the original version of Castle Panic will seem simple and a little dull—I will probably never play the base game on its own again, except for the purpose of introducing new players. I also have high hopes for Dark Titan, and I will be updating you about it once I get a chance to test it out!