So what’s all the fuss about?
Last year, I missed a Kickstarter for a little card based dungeon crawler called Escape the Dark Castle. There are a few of these type of games around, but what made this one so special?
It’s a game you can teach the player rules in a minute. It’s one of those rare games that will take less time to teach than it will to setup. And setup is primarily shuffling cards!
So for social gaming, this looked like a great option. Then as a solo game, rave reviews were coming up all over the net. This was a game I knew I had to play, and I wasn’t disappointed!
There are a lot of designers/publishers that seem to thing Dungeon Crawler means lots of things – usually minis. These can be appreciated, and I have a few that I do appreciate, but it’s simply not the case.
Gloomhaven is a game I know I am going to enjoy, but I only just received (and haven’t built) the organiser I know will help me get it to the table. I want to play the game, why don’t I get it to the table? 30-40 minute setup times that’s why.
Have a look at the contents of Escape the Dark Castle in comparison.
The game is just a bunch of cards, in every sense. The pencil and paper are just used to keep track of you hit points – even the equipment is just a card you hold onto! And now thanks to BGG user Mr Curtis, I have printed some health tracker panels that I will be using from now on instead. You can see these trackers here.
But what is the game? I can almost hear you screaming “Tell me about the game already!”. I haven’t been avoiding talking about the story, it’s just really thin. Each player is a wrongly convicted individual, and you need to escape. You escape by making it through the entire castle deck, one card at a time. But you need to beware – if one character dies, it’s game over. You need to all get out, all you all fail.
As I said – thin. It really doesn’t matter though, at its heart Escape the Dark Castle is just a ‘flip card, complete text, repeat’ game. It’s what makes it almost mindless fun.
The official trailer by the creators really convey the old school feel and set the mood really well.
I will take you through how to setup and play, and you will see what I mean by playing is the best way to learn about the game.
Character Creation is incredibly simple – pick a card. Character created. That’s it. Take the card and that characters six-sided die, and you are all set to go.
Each character has a different value for one of three skills – Wisdom (a star), Might (a fist), and Cunning (an eye). Each character has a different distribution of skills, but always 4 icons of one, 3 of another, and a single icon of the remaining skill.
Now, the quicker maths minds will realise that those numbers don’t add up to 6, so how does that work? Doubles, that are shown within a shield. Each die has two sides with a double and a shield, allowing you to block in combat and possibly increase your chances of passing a skill test.
How do you know which character to pick? Really go with your gut. You do want to try and balance your party, however if every character has only 1 wisdom icon each, it’s a good chance that a wisdom test will end your party.
Lastly, depending on the number of characters, note down their health points. 18 for two characters, 14 for three, and 12 for four characters. Keep this in mind even if you solo play – it’s characters you take in, not the number of players.
Create the Castle
First place all of the chapter dice (the black dice) off to one side. These will be used later.
Take the three boss cards (the ones with the wooden door backs) and shuffle them together. Randomly draw one card, and place it face down. This is the final boss of the game, the last card that must be faced.
Then shuffle the 45 chapter cards (the ones with the black backs). When shuffled, deal 15 face down on top of the boss card.
Now, place the entry card (with the castle on the back) on top of the pile. Your castle is now complete!
Before turning the first card and beginning the adventure, shuffle the item deck (the smaller deck of cards) and place them face down off to the side of the castle.
That’s it. The game is all setup and ready to go. During setup, I would have explained a couple of rules, so think of the next sections as being discussed while shuffling the decks.
Healing items are hard to come by in the Dark Castle. At the start of combat, which I will explain when combat begins, one character can choose to sit out to heal. Every round they are resting, they gain 1 health point. That character cannot be dealt damage during combat, but neither can they attack or use items. The character can rejoin combat after any round, but they can’t begin resting again until another chapter initiates combat.
Generally speaking, all actions happen simultaneously. When the card says to do something, all players decide and have effects applied at the same time. During combat, all players roll at the same time. The only difference is who turns the Chapter cards.
The group decides which player will flip the next chapter card. The player that turns the card reads the text, and any effect that describes You is describing the player that turned the card.
The only change in solo play is the player decides which character opened the door. Personally, I put a token on the character card I am treating as the active player. That makes it easier to keep track of who is who.
And now you’re ready to play!
That’s it – you really are ready to play!
Decide who the first player to turn a card will be and get them to turn the first card.
I don’t mind spoiling the first card, because it is always the same – this is your chance to get some random equipment! Equipment rules are simple – all items are considered one-handed unless the card says otherwise, and you have two hands. So, limit of two item cards at any one time.
There are very few weapons in the game, but a lot of various potions that allow rerolls or the like. There are even food items, but none of the food is not what I would call appetising.
When you are ready to turn the next card, or drawing new items, you can freely switch equipment with other characters. Items can be used at any time unless the text on a card states otherwise.
Now you are ready to play the proper game. Choose the next player to turn a card, which for this rules explanation happens to be…
Or does it?
I know this spoils a card, but it’s a great way to explain how the game works. The active player reads the italicised text out loud (have to set the mood after all).
So now the group can choose.
First up, Flee. This card can be finished instantly, but it will cost the active player 3 health points. Or there is the combat option. Combat will mean rolling your die, and any hits will cause 2 points of damage. You know the damage from the number in the bottom right.
If you want to fight, set out a might and wisdom chapter dice, and then roll a chapter die for each character (the third symbol).
The first round of combat begins. Each player rolls their die and compares the symbol rolled to the chapter die.
For each matching symbol, remove the corresponding symbol on the chapter die. If you rolled doubles, you can remove two dice. If the symbols don’t match, it is considered a miss.
If there are still chapter dice on the card, you are then attacked. If you rolled a shield (double), you block and take no damage. Otherwise, you take the damage in the bottom right corner.
This continues until the chapter foe is defeated, or a character falls. If the latter, it’s game over – all escape, or none do.
If you win, you get to draw an item card! Here, players can shuffle equipment and hand things around as desired, then decide who will turn the next card.
Winning the Game
Play continues until either a character dies, or all of the cards, including the boss card, is defeated. No side rules, no trigger conditions – just make it through the deck. You can’t get a simpler game than that!
A simple game – then why so popular?
Huge heavy storied adventures are a lot of fun, but not all of the time. There are times you want to spend a day playing an adventure, and there are times you just want to sit back and enjoy yourself.
I love role play games, and I generally end up being the storyteller. This is great, and I enjoy it, but it takes a lot of time preparing stories and adventures, not to mention the time involved in getting everyone ready and then able to play at the same time.
Escape the Dark Castle is a great gateway game for people that want to try roleplay. It’s true the game doesn’t leave that much choice to the player, but the groundwork is being laid. Escape the Dark Castle is essentially a learning sandbox, letting players get used to ‘what would my character do?’ decisions without being bogged down by rulesets.
This is a game that you can literally stop and chat between each chapter card without losing track of what is happening in the game. Because you only have to worry about the next card, this is a great game to socialise with as well.
There is also the simple fun factor. Movies like Deadpool aren’t popular for their amazing stories and multi-layered plots – they are popular because they are turn your brain off fun. Escape the Dark Castle is the same. You might enjoy heavier games, but sometimes you want a game that is over and done before you can set up the truly epic game.
That all sounds great, but how do I know what a game is really like?
Well, today dear reader, you are in luck. For today’s Blatherings is nothing less than a playthrough of Escape the Dark Castle with Alpal!
Check it out here.
Until next time,
Escape the Dark Castle
I love board games as a rule. When I am playing with people, I want to be there with them, socialising, enjoying each others company. Escape the Dark Castle is a game that helps encourage this.
Escape the Dark Castle is a great way to get a couple of people exploring a castle in a couple of minutes and is very simple to teach with a high “Let’s play again!” factor.
While I tend to prefer digital apps for solo play with less shuffling, setup and tear down, Escape the Dark Castle hits that perfect spot where I can pull out my phone, or set up a round of this. Escape the Dark Castle is winning that choice a lot at home, and probably more if I left it in my car.
It’s a simple game, so it’s not one you can play over and over immediately, but it’s a different filler game that is expanding, making it a highly recommended game from me.
- Simple to teach – can do it as you play
- Easy to learn, just follow card text
- It’s easy to pull people into a game just by playing a round solo
- It is very simple. For longevity, you will need the upcoming expansions
- Some people may not like the black and white old school art