Review by Mark Jackson on a review copy provided by Fireside Games (5 plays)
Once upon a time, in a clearing in the midst of the monster-filled forest, there sat a castle with the less-than-tourist-ready name of Castle Panic. Of course, the nearby monsters were not happy one bit about the human interlopers & their big stone monstrosity that was messing with their property values & sight lines… so they decided to take care of the problem without resorting to real capital “E” evil. (In other words, lawyers.)
The monster population was more of a do-it-yourself kind of group – Bob Villa in reverse – and so they pelted the walls with giant boulders and sent goblins, orcs & trolls to assault the defenders.
Sadly, though, the human invaders proved to be difficult to eradicate. Every time they managed to knock most of the castle into ruins, they just built it back & dared the monsters to give it another try.
Just a few weeks ago, the monsters decided to get serious. They recruited a plethora of new creatures to their cause, as well as absconding with a trebuchet & the technology to make flaming boulders. Finally, by sacrificing their previous goblin army as dragon snacks, they managed to attract some really big brutes to fight on their side.
At the same time, though, the humans ramped up their defense system by building the local wizard a tower of his own & recruiting him to cast spells on the advancing horde.
The battle lines are set. The forest is teeming with beasties. The wizard’s tower hums with potential power. The game is on.
Here at the Jackson home, we’re big fans of cooperative games. Shari (my wife) and I have been playing Minion Hunter (a classic GDW co-op game set in the Dark America universe) for a long, long time… and we’ve recently taught our boys to join us at Knizia’s Lord of the Rings co-op game. Pandemic & Forbidden Island are also favorites.
So the addition of Castle Panic to my collection a year or so ago was welcome – it was easier to set up than most cooperative games, played quickly and was simple enough that my then-5-year-old could play with the rest of the family. The tile draw/dice roll to place monsters made for a random but very enjoyable cooperative experience.
We also began playing Castle Panic using the “overlord” rules, where one player takes on the role of the evil genius behind the castle attack while the other players try to thwart him. (One of the nice things about the game system is that it works quite well this way with only a few minor rules tweaks.)
So when The Wizard’s Tower showed up on our doorstep, we were predisposed to like a way to expand a well-loved game… and we were not disappointed. In fact, I think the expansion is better than I expected it to be – color me pleasantly surprised!
When “installing” the expansion into the game, you dump all of the Goblins (1 hit point monsters) and most of the Orcs (2 hit point monsters) & Trolls (3 hit point monsters) in favor of a wide variety of new monsters: Centaurs, Cyclops, Gargoyles, Golems, Ogres, etc. Many of those monsters have special powers – including invincibility at certain ranges and the power of flight!
Imps have also appeared… based on some monster powers and tokens in the bag, Imps are 1 hit point monsters that can appear in large groups, basically flooding the field of combat.
As well, some of our old “friends” are back with new capabilities – there are Climbing Trolls (who ignore walls) and Goblin Calvary (who move at double speed). There’s also a Trebuchet (which flings a Giant Boulder that hits flying creatures but misses those on the ground)… and then there’s…
If you need a soundtrack for this portion of my review, I strongly suggest humming “Burning Down the House” (by the Talking Heads) to yourself.
It turns out there are a lot of flammable items in the game: castle towers, castle walls, Flaming Boulders, the Phoenix… and pretty much every monster out there. (I love the smell of roasting Ogre in the morning.) Fire can damage the attackers… but it also makes your fortifications weaker (monsters attacking a wall or tower on fire don’t take a hit) – sometimes to the point of collapse. Fireside Games has thoughtfully provided a bunch of fire markers that slide onto the side of whatever object is currently engulfed in flame.
One of the niftiest additions to the game is the Mega-Boss concept. Six new very tough monsters can potentially enter the battle:
- the Basilisk (who causes players to lose cards & keeps them from drawing Wizard cards
- the Chimera (who breathes fire while spiraling toward the castle)
- the Dragon (who breathes fire & moves in random ways)
- the Hydra (who sprouts Imps every time you hit him)
- the Necromancer (who puts dead Monsters back into the draw bag)
- the Warlock (who is impervious to Wizard cards & moves in random ways)
All of them have 4 or 5 hits… which means they have special tokens for the playing field. They also have Harbinger tokens in the same shape as the rest of the monsters. When preparing to play you randomly draw 3 of the 6 Harbinger tokens and dump them into the bag – meaning each game you’ll be facing a slightly different crew of Mega-Bosses.
With all of that firepower coming in, the players need some kind of way to counteract the badness… and that’s where the Wizard’s Tower comes in to play. One of the regular towers from the base game is replaced with a taller (and cooler looking!) Wizard’s Tower – and as long as it’s still standing, players may use their “discard & draw” action to draw a card from the Wizard deck. This deck of 22 cards has a wide variety of high-powered actions that you can use to slow down or destroy the attackers.
There are 10 new cards for the Castle deck (with some nifty new powers) as well as some helpful reference cards.
And there’s a draw bag – with monster eyes. (I know, I know… it’s not that big of a deal – but it’s a really cute draw bag & I’m glad they stuck it in here.)
In My Ever-So-Humble Opinion
First, I’d like to say a big “thank you” to Fireside Games for creating an expansion that is actually worth the dollars you pay for it. (Yes, Fresco #7: The Scrolls, I see you grinning sheepishly in the corner.) This box is packed full of stuff that, with the exception of the draw bag (which I’ll once again mention I really like) is not just cosmetic fluff.
On the other hand, while Castle Panic with The Wizard’s Tower isn’t a complicated game by gamer standards, it’s definitely a bit more challenging to learn with a number of special rules. The icons on the monster tokens work well… once you’ve played 2-3 games… but there are a lot of small details to remember.
But since I’m playing mental ping pong writing this, I want to point out that my boys (ages 10 & 6) have done just fine with the expansion… which leads me to believe that this expansion will work best with at least one experienced player and/or gamer at the table to help the group work through the rules on the fly.
I’m personally taken by the art on the new tokens – there’s a lot more color here. In fact, the greater level of variety between the powers of the monsters & the visual look of the game is a big plus for the game system.
My only gripe is that we have found the game a bit too easy as outlined in the rules… and so have begun experimenting with adding 4 Mega-Bosses to the bag at the beginning of the game. Our first game played this way was a nail-biter!
If you enjoyed the original game but wanted more variety from game to game, this expansion will provide that by the cartload. I’m glad it’s a part of our collection!
Ratings Summary from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it!… Mark Jackson
I like it…
Not for me…