Top 10 Board Games 2019 (That I actually played)

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My first list in over 18 months!

It has been far too long since I have done a list like this. Once thing I noticed when I compiled my list was the numebr of games I meant to review but didn’t get around to! So these lists have helped from a roadmap for a lot of reviews this year already 🙂

As you may have guessed from the title, this list is made up of games I actually played this year. I tried to also restrict it to games that were released in 2019, and no expansions. As I didn’t do a 2018 list I kind of fudged that rule a bit though as you will see.

Think I missed a great game? That is a possibility. It might also be on tomorrow’s list – Top 10 Games of 2019 I Wish I Played!

Any list like this is very subjective. Even without bending the rules a little bit for eiligability this year, I may have played a game you loved but it didn’t make the cut. That doesn’t mean I don’t like that game or think it’s bad – I just liked these games better. I would love to hear what games you think should be on this list!

All that said and done, let’s get on to my favourite games of 2019.

Number 10 – MegaCity: Oceania

MegaCity: Oceania is an exciting game. Not quite a dexterity game, not quite a city builder, but something in-between. And it is better for it.

Right off the bat, MegaCity: Oceania won’t be everyone’s first choice to play. It might not even be their second choice. But I can’t see many people that wouldn’t play it if it was in front of them.

Not into deep strategy games? Just have fun building your cities. Not the greatest at building blocks? Go for the ‘safe’ buildings and use location to your point advantage.

I played this right at the end of 2019, so it has the ‘fresh in my mind’ advantage. But while a review will be coming, if you get the chance to try MegaCity: Oceania, give it a go and enjoy a light but fun experience.

MegsCity Oceania

So I heard a lot this year that Pandemic: Rapid Response isn’t a ‘Pandemic’ game. That it’s theme was not there or too hard to immerse yourself in.

I don’t understand most of these arguments. These are all things I will cover in the full review later. For now, all I can say about Pandemic: Rapid Response is that is was a fun time on the table. I felt that the theme made sense for the gameplay, with certain leaps of logic that Pandemic already asks you to make in other games.

Was it perfect? Nope. But we did have a lot of fun, and that is what counts most of all.

Pandemic Rapid Response

Number 8 – That’s Pretty Clever

So I really got into That’s Pretty Clever last year, both physically and digitally. A tremendous mental puzzle that allowed you to zone out while playing, I really enjoyed playing this game.

My biggest complaint about it has nothing to do with the game at all. What was my gripe? I always played solo. You can play against other people, but I just never really found the time to start a group game. And the digital implementation is basically solo only, so there goes that idea.

For my full review, click here.

Thats Pretty Clever

Number 7 – Disney Villainous

Well, Villainous took me by surprise. I only got to play a few rounds with Alpal, but they were really, really fun.

There are usually two drawbacks to multiple themed card games. The first – learning curve. You have to learn all of the decks to know what works and what doesn’t. Secondly – mashing the ‘wrong’ cards together. Having Genie face-off against Snow White’s the Hunter doesn’t always work.

Prospero Hall took care of both issues with elegant simplicity – you pick a deck, and your opponents use your cards against you. You are even given tips on how to win/what to watch for on all of the other characters.

Is Disney Villainous a top tier competitive game? Of course not! But it is a quick and fun game that you can have new players getting into straight away, and that is always appreciated.

Disney Villainous

The first Roll Player ‘universe’ game I played, I was a little confused about Lockup when I first saw it. How could you take the dice placement of Roll Player and make it work as a bluffing worker allocation game?

The answer is you don’t. You let it be its own game within the world of Roll Player and enjoy.

Lockup was a game that I wouldn’t have seen for a while without Alpal’s influence, and I can imagine a lot of other gamers being in the same boat. If you get the chance, give Lockup a try – even if you didn’t like Roll Player. The game is entirely different and deserves to be judged on its own.

Lockup A Roll Player Tale

Ahh, Funko Pops. I have too many, and not enough. I will not let myself buy any Kingdom Hearts ones though. If I get just one, I will need to get the rest. And we already don’t have enough room!

Why am I going on about Funko Pops? Because now they have their own strategy game! Games? They have lots of things coming out!

The Funkoverse Strategy Game is no Memoir 44, Warhammer, or even Imperial Assault. It is very streamlined, quick to play, and with an expanding universe of characters and missions, here to stay. The only pack I am missing so far is The Golden Girls. I knew I had to try this when on the internet someone was complaining that Bea Arthur was the most overpowered character in the game.

Just let that sink in – Bea Arthur is seen as stronger than Batman, Rick Sanchez, The Joker, or even Voldemort.

Whether in amusement or disbelief, you must be smiling about that. And that moment of silly suspension coupled with simplified tactics and Pops replacing minis makes Funkoverse a great experience.

Number 4 – Escape the Dark Castle

So this one may be seen as a cheat, as I have definitely played it before 2019. But 2019 is when I got the collectors big box and expansions. I also didn’t do a 2018 list. So, it’s on the list!

Escape the Dark Castle is a light narrative dungeon romp that is still fun to play. Similar to a Fighting Fantasy/Choose Your Own Adventure game with randomised ‘pages’, each run is different. And that is just with the original base cards!

For my full thoughts, you can check out my review here. For something a little different, you can listen to Alpal and I playing here 🙂

Escape The Dark Castle

Wolfgang Warsch seems to have come out of nowhere in the last couple of years. The Mind, That’s Pretty Clever, Twice as Clever, and now The Quacks of Quedlinburg. The man has yet to design a game I haven’t enjoyed.

Quacks of Quedlinburg is my favourite to date though. It contains a ‘rubber band’ catch up mechanic similar to Mario Kart. What is this? If you are behind, you are given some advantages to help you catch up to the leader, keeping it competitive. And it is implemented so seamlessly, it was a couple of games in before I realised how good it is.

Yes, there are some random elements. Push your luck is also a more significant part of the game than I usually give it credit for. I enjoy it so much, and we are yet to play an ‘advanced’ game.

If you have a mixed group of players and are looking from something different, play The Quacks of Quedlinburg.

The Quacks of Quedlinburg

Another game not released in 2019, but I have had a ball playing it through the year. Also, this would have been on my top games of 2018 list, but that didn’t happen! Replacing the mancala like movement strategies of the original board game with dice rolling sounds disastrous, but it works well.

I know plenty of players that love the idea of Istanbul but get frustrated at various aspects of the gameplay. For these people, the dice game works wonderfully. You get the same sense of tension and racing your opponents as you do with the board game but in a fraction of the time.

If you are new to gaming, Istanbul: The Dice Game is a fun introduction to an intense euro game with a natural learning curve. The tactics you learn in the dice game can carry to the board game quite easily, even if it doesn’t look like it at first.

If I want to play a game, Istanbul: The Dice Game is usually on the list of options. For more information, check out the review here.

Istanbul The Dice Game

Number 1 – Chronicles of Crime

Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective remade for the digital age. There are plenty of new deduction games out there, including Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game and Detective: City of Angels, both with their own twist.

Chronicles of Crime is probably the most accessible to play and works well in small sessions. Lucky Duck Games have outdone themselves with this setup.

The use of QR Codes makes reading easier to digest for most people. Instead of being faced with a wall of text, everything is in smaller bites. Plus you can actually interrogate people about items, something that is very difficult in the preprinted document format a la Consulting Detective/Legacy of Dragonholt.

The look on new players faces as they use their phones to actually examine a crime scene is priceless as well.

I am yet to make it through all of the original cases. I also have both expansions to look forward to. Chronicles of Crime is easily my choice for the best game of 2019, and I look forward to playing it through 2020 as well.

Chronicles of Crime

Honorable Mention

Deep Space D-6

I was really tempted to give Deep Space D-6 a spot on this list. A solo game only game that came out a few years ago, I still love to pull this out now and then.

Released in 2015, I only got my hands on it this year. By my bedning of the rulesfor thiis year, I could have found a way. The main reason I marked it off the list is that it is only solo, where as every other game on the list you can play with others.

All that said, for 2020 the follow up is now live on Kickstarter – Deep Space D-6: Armada. Check out my review of the original Deep Space D-6 here., then check out the Kickstarter here.

Deep Space D-6

What do you think? Is there a game you saw me talk about in Last Week’s Gaming that you think should be on this list?

Or even better, what were your Top 10 games of 2019? Let me know in the comments!

Until next time,


Last Week’s Gaming – January 14th, 2019

20190114 Escape the Dark Castle

Escape the Danger of Suprise Bowling in the Shadows. Also, Unusual Animals on the Frontiers, having a Tea Party.

This was a huge week for getting games to the table – so big, there are a couple I had to defer to this week!

Let’s get straight into it.

Planet Surprise

An Alpal special she has been holding onto for a little while, Planet Surprise is incredibly well named!  The premise is simple – each player is exploring a galaxy, and the player that finds the best planets overall wins.

Played over 10 rounds, the mechanics are fairly simple.  In player order, the player decides what action to take, and then a planet on the card is scratched (like a lottery ticket).  A score will be revealed – positive and negative! – and after 10 rounds highest score wins.

An interesting diversion, but not a game easily found.

20190114 Planet Surprise
Never realised how much fun a bunch of scratchy tickets could be!

Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger

Alpal, Rabbit and I started playing this last year, but it fell to the wayside.

As a pre-games night warmup, Alpal and I are doing a turbo run through the game to see how we fare – no looping back to see what we missed!

This will be fun to knock out, and I really want to see how it ends overall.  Expect a full review in a few weeks – we are doing a chapter a week roughly, and I will probably replay it more cautiously before the final write up.

20190114 House of Danger
Playing through the first chapter, we are not doing as well on the psychic scale as the first run

Shadows: Amsterdam

Similar to Istanbul The Dice Game, Shadows: Amsterdam has all the makings of making it instantly into my top games of all time.

It’s a game that suits so many situations, and potentially different kinds of players.  While played in two teams, like Codenames it has that “Oooh that looks interesting, can I join?” that lets you instantly drop new players in.

Games of Shadows: Amsterdam rarely takes more than 15 minutes so far in my experience – if you haven’t had a chance to play it, please do!

20190114 Shadows Amsterdam
Such a fun little game, and easy to teach and play! Get your non-gaming friends in on the action.

Dinosaur Tea Party

Restoration Games continues their hot streak of tweaking old games and making them awesome again.

Technically, Dinosaur Tea Party is a reworking of a game called Whosit?, but that isn’t a game I am familiar with.  So description wise, it’s Guess Who? for up to 5 people.

Randomly assigned a character with specific traits, you are invited to a morning of High Tea – except no one knows who anyone is.  If you can correctly name a player after observing their traits, you are rewarded a sugar cube – first to three cubes wins.  Simple!

A lot of fun, and able to be played with a wide range of people.

20190114 Dinosaur Tea Party
For some reason I took the pic upside down... Oh well! If you want multiplayer Guess Who, here is Dinosaur Tea Party

Unusual Suspects

Keeping up the Guess Who? with a twist theme, Unusual Suspects hit the table this week.

One player is a clue giver sets up 12 pictures randomly selected from a fair sized deck of choices.  They then draw the culprit (random picture from within the layout), and the game begins.

The rest of the group draws 2 question cards and selects one to ask.  These are all fairly random, like “Is a coffee drinker?” or “Takes Public Transport?”, and the group must eliminate pictures based on the response.  If they eliminate the culprit, it’s an instant loss.  But if they eliminate everyone but the culprit, it’s a win!

It’s a game of stereotyping, but overall in a lighthearted way.  Lots of fun and joking was had with Unusual Suspects, and I suspect it will be pulled out a few more times over time.

20190114 Unusual Suspects
Unusual Suspects - or Stereotypes the game! Do you have the same impressions from just a picture?

Concept Kids: Animals

Concept is a great game, but to me, it is one you have to be in a certain mindset to play. Formalising Charades, clues can only be given by placing coloured blocks linking ‘Concepts’ on board.  And the answers can be very detailed – it’s not an easy game for younger players!

Enter Concept Kids – same theory, but simpler execution.  We played Animals, which focuses on guessing different types of animals. The core of the game was the same, but the clues are all slanted to identifying animals.

Yes, it’s aimed at kids game, but it was still a fun game to play with the five of us in a relaxed chatty atmosphere.

20190114 Concept Kids Animals
How many legs? Does it crawl or run? Clues aimed at the theme make this Concept easier for younger players

Bowling Solitaire

Bowling Solitaire is a game I can see myself getting addicted to.  Luckily it’s not only Alpal’s, but it’s a bonus game that comes in Elevenses for One!

The idea is pretty straightforward – set up the 10 pins, and ‘bowl’.  You can clear up to 3 pins at a time, done by adding up the value of the cards and matching the last digit to a number on your ‘ball’.

So in the picture, if one of the piles had a 6 on it, I could take out the two 3 cards on the second row – 3+3=6.  Or if I had a 5, I could take out the outside of the left hand side – 7+3+5=15, so the last digit is 5.

Once you can’t do this, that roll is over and you continue on in the frame.  Scoring is traditional ten pin bowling scoring, so 300 maximum.  But it’s a quick logic puzzle with a goal, and that’s what makes it a lot of fun!

20190114 Bowling Solitaire
20 cards and 15 minutes. Such a simple concept, but so much fun

Alien Frontiers

Alien Frontiers is a game lots of people have told me I would enjoy, but somehow got knocked down my on my ‘to play’ and even my ‘to buy’ lists. That changed this week, with Alpal happy to show me one of her favourite games!

Similar to Roll Player, Alien Frontiers is a simple logic puzzle involving luck in rolling the right dice. It has that ‘itch’ that’s perfect for my brain – a puzzle that can be solved, with all the information in front of you, but against other people.

In some ways, I think I will prefer Alien Frontiers multiplayer and Roll Player solo, but I need to get more games in of both before I can declare that is the final call.

20190114 Alien Frontiers
Another game that people have told me for years I would enjoy, Alien Frontiers has finally been played!

Escape the Dark Castle

I have spoken about Escape the Dark Castle before on the site – both in a review and a whole game with Alpal on Blatherings.

The expanded Kickstarter has been shipping, and Alpal was lucky enough to get her copy first. So naturally, we had to get a couple of games in!

We only played with the initial expanded content – more story openers, some new end bosses, some more items, and cards that end your story.

It was as fun as always, and we had a blast doing this again. Maybe in the near future, we can do another playthrough with 3 players to show off some of the changes!

20190114 Escape the Dark Castle
Once again, Alpal begins getting her pledges before I do! Escape the Dark Castle - always fun

What about you?  What have you been playing?  What are you keen to play?  Let me know!  Shout out on Facebook or @JohnHQLD me on Twitter!

Until tomorrow,


Last weeks gaming 10/09/2018

Hostage Negotiator Box Art

Board Gaming wise, it was Escape the Dark Express Negotiator with Dragons.

Last week’s games article has fallen victim to the IT gremlins, but it’s not going to stop me talking about them here!


I have gotten to play a bit of Downforce lately.  Partly because of bigger game groups, partly excitement at the (due to arrive today!) expansion Danger Circuit.

This was one of my first Restoration Games experiences, and it lives up to their guidelines of ‘Make Games Great’ and ‘Do Good Works’.

Downforce is a car racing game that has everyone in the running to win, making it a fun and quick game to play and teach, with different mechanics available to help streamline play.

Watch out for a review of Downforce soon 🙂

Downforce Danger Circuit Board

Colt Express

Remember those old heist movies?  Why remember them, when you can play them!

Colt Express is a simple but surprisingly deep program action game for up to 6 players.  Each player has a character with a special ability, and everyone is trying to rob the same train at the same time!

The goal is simple, end up with more loot than everyone else.  But watch out for that Sheriff, he will make your life hard.  Now I have a group familiar with the base game, a review will be coming after the expansions have had a play as well.

Colt Express Begins
Want to teach a fun action programming game? Colt Express will work for you! **Promotional mat not included. Blame Alpal for that awesome 🙂

Hostage Negotiator

When you want something a little heavy but solo, Hostage Negotiator is a great choice.  I have spoken about the app before, but I have big plans for the site and this game.

This week was just for me though, and Connor E. Ogden managed to beat me 3 out of 4.

My only real issue with Hostage Negotiator is the space required to play it. At home, it’s a great escape that tests your logic and pushes your luck.  Get ready for more on this game in the near future 🙂

Hostage Negotiator Abductor Pack 1 Connor
The expansions are the size of a TCG Booster Pack, but change the game immensly

Escape the Dark Castle

When I am working on a PC for more than 12 hours a day, coming home to a video game or screen sometimes doesn’t cut it.  I might want to play a game, but the thought of even sitting on the PS4 or the Switch shows me another screen, or needs more brain than I want to invest.

As reviewed and played on the site before, Escape the Dark Castle is a great solo or multiplayer escape game.  With setup being only shuffling some cards, I spent a good couple of hours trying to get through the final boss with only 2 characters (solo is just impossible!).

Still a challenge and a heap of fun, Escape the Dark Castle is still on the quick access shelf.

Escape the Dark Castle Ready to play
The castle ready to play, with spare cards off to the left. Beware the Tailor and the Cook!

Dragons Breath

Dragon’s Breath was a quick game Alpal showed me, and it’s a heap of fun.

As we discussed in the HABA Blatherings, HABA has a history of quick simple fun for everyone.  Classifying them as ‘Kid’s Games’ can be dangerous, as there are a lot of things aimed at younger children that I have no patience for.

HABA seems to find that magical sweet spot where a game is designed for young kids, but adults have just as much fun playing the games as well!

Dragon's Breath
Another great HABA game. Dragon's Breath is quick, simple, and most of all fun

Destiny 2 Forsaken

I ran around, shot some things, collected some things, in short – I played Destiny.

With the Forsaken release last week, jumping in to see the changes was always on the cards.

Destiny 2 has me in a weird place now.  If you like games like Call of Duty or Battlefield, it’s now probably more for you.  But for me and other ‘casuals’, the Forsaken moniker seemed to be well named.

Check out my Forsaken review here.

Destiny 2 Forsaken Riding with Cayde
A dream come true - but not for long.

Octopath Traveler

Just starting the second round of Chapters for my party, Octopath Traveler is a game I will be picking up and putting down for the foreseeable future.

I think I am starting to hit the ‘grind’ of the RPG, but I still want to make sure.  I think my primary party is starting to form, but another 10 or so hours will test this.

If you have a Switch and enjoy old-school turn-based RPGs, do yourself a favour and just grab the Octopath Traveler demo from the eShop.  If you fall in love with the game, the progress you made transfers to the full game – it’s well worth your time.

Octopath Traveler Sample Screen
Is it a beautiful example of where the 2.5D graphics could have gone? Is it pandering to the retro fanbase? Yes to both, and it's amazing for it

So that was my week – what have you been playing?  Let me know on Facebook or Twitter!

Until tomorrow,


Escape the Dark Castle is expanding on Kickstarter

Escape the Dark Castle Adventure Packs

New challenges await in the Dark Castle

So, I love Escape the Dark Castle.  That’s not a secret.  You can read my review here, or even better listen to myself and Alpal have a game on the Blatherings.

This amazingly fun and simple deck adventure does suffer what all deck adventures eventually suffer from – seeing all the cards.  Because of the random nature of Escape the Dark Castle, I never really thought of this as a huge negative, but you can’t deny it’s a factor.

So my eyes turned towards Themeborne’s website, specifically at Adventure Pack 1: Cult of the Death Knight.

Only one new boss, the Death Knight, so a little more variety in the mix.  But also new characters, new chapters, and new items.

The last especially had my interest, as Curses have been added to the mix.  Essentially ‘bad items’, it adds an extra layer to the gameplay.  Also in the mix is a new Cultist die, so another possibly mechanic is being added again.

Escape The Dark Castle Cult of the Death Knight Contents
New characters, a new boss, new 'bad' items - what could possibly go wrong?

All of this was opening the door to new gameplay possibilities, but to be honest I still haven’t really finished with the original box.  Yes, I have fought all three bosses now, and I am pretty sure I have seen all the chapter cards, but each game still feels fresh and fun.

So, I was wavering a bit on buying the expansion set now.  Exchange rates with the British Pound and Australian Dollars isn’t great, and I feel I still had more than a few games left in the original box.

Then I saw a new Kickstarter pop up.

Two new Adventure Packs are up now on Kickstarter, as well as the original games and a collectors box to keep everything in!

Scourge of the Undead Queen and Blight of the Plague Lord are the two packs, and add things in a similar vein to the original Adventure Pack.

Each has new characters, chapters, items and a boss card.  Each also has a unique special die for adventuring.  The Undead Queen adds an Item die used with relics, and the Plague Lord has a Plague die.  I think we can all imagine what that does.

Escape the Dark Castle Adventure Packs
Two new Adventure Packs are now being Kickstarted, and you have the chance to get the whole set including the base game or pick and mix!
Escape The Dark Castle Collectors Box
The semi secret expansion - The Collectors Box *Not final design

There is also a third sneaky expansion though – the Collectors Box itself.  This box not only keeps all of your game contents organised and sorted but contains fan made materials as well!

These include SIX new bosses, special abilities, two new starting locations, health trackers, an icon chart, and a ‘first player’ or ‘You’ card.  Also included are two ‘Epilogue’ cards, so the story will always have a narrative close.

All of these things sound great.  I already use an active player token and a health tracker board, but the extra start locations are a great idea!

There are also a number of different pledge levels and add-ons for all everybody that is interested in playing.  These include the all in top-level pledge of everything game related, down to the basic add-on manager access pledge.

Myself, I have the retail Escape the Dark Castle, so I am adding on the Kickstarter Exclusives and the first Adventure Pack, and backing the Level 5 Early Bird Giving me all the new stuff!

Speaking of Add-Ons, there are a lot.  Playmats, ambient music, sleeves, even stories – there is a heap to choose from!

So if you have ever been interested in anything Escape the Dark Castle related, head over to the Kickstarter page now and check it out.  Back before June 3rd for Early Bird Pledges!

Until next time,


JohnHQLD Blatherings 008 – Playing Escape the Dark Castle with Alpal!

JohnHQLD's Blatherings Podcast

Can we Escape the Dark Castle?

And here is the Eighth Blatherings! They said we wouldn’t get this far, shows them!

Unfortunately recording away from home, sound experiments started again so there is some background noise and such. Also, due to some technical mishaps, I actually lost the recording of us just talking about games and such 🙁

But the recording of us enjoying Escape the Dark Castle survived just fine!

But what is Escape the Dark Castle I hear you ask?  Well, I am glad you asked.  As a special bonus, the review is also now on the site!

Have a great weekend everyone!


Escape the Dark Castle Review

Escape the Dark Castle
Escape the Dark Castle
Released 2017
Designer Alex Crispin
Publisher Themeborne (Website)
Players 1 – 4 (Great solo, play 2 characters!)
Playing Time 15-20 minutes
Category Hand Management
Push your luck
Dice Rolling
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

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.

Escape the Dark Castle Components
So simple, and so much fun! Great take anywhere adventure

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?

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.

Escape the Dark Castle Characters
The characters available in Escape the Dark Castle. Alpal really doesn't like the Abbot :p

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.

Escape the Dark Castle Ready to play
The castle ready to play, with spare cards off to the left. Beware the Tailor and the Cook!

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.

Turn Order

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.

Escape the Dark Castle Equipped and Ready to play
Equipped and ready to play! Now, the true adventure begins

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).

Escape the Dark Castle First Chapter Card
What will you do?

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.

Escape the Dark Castle First Combat Round
A lucky roll means the Tailor blocks, but the captain is still alive

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,


Get up to date with Brooklyn 99, E3 Hype Builds, and can you Escape?

Escape the Dark Castle Components

Want to know what happens in Brooklyn Nine-Nine without watching all 5 seasons?

Why would you want to do that?  But just in case you are one of those people, Vanity Fair has you covered by getting Sargeant Jeffords himself (but he says his name is Terry Crews?) to give you the five season recap.

This treads a fine line between spoiler and recap, especially the last season, but the beauty of Brooklyn Nine-Nine is you can normally see what’s coming, it’s how they get there that’s really hard to nail down.

Time is precious, I get that.  But make the time for Brooklyn Nine-Nine.  I regret waiting for the third season to give it a go.  There is probably more than a year before Season 6 comes out after being rescued shortly after being cancelled, it really is a lot of fun.

Watch the video recapping until now below:

E3 is coming

E3, or the Electronic Entertainment Expo, is coming.  This is like the Essen of Video Games, and it’s a smidge under 3 weeks away.

There is already a lot of leaks and news coming out, such as the Kingdom Hearts 3 info I am still drooling over (more soon), and the new Pokemon Switch games.

So for the next four weeks, there will be a lot of Video Game related snippets and ‘I need to find 100+hours to play x’ news coming your way.

You have been warned 😀

If you would like more/less Video Game news, let me know in the comments, or on the Facebook Page!

E3 2018
The show that launches a million preorders

Can we Escape the Dark Castle?

Kickstarter sleeper hit Escape the Dark Castle finally made it’s way into my clutches a couple of weeks ago, then firmly into Alpal’s hands 🙂

I have referred to my excitement of playing this a few times, and the short version is that it has lived up to expectations.

It’s probably going to take me a little while to review formally though, because it’s so simple and random it’s either gloss over what makes it fun, or write for hours explaining everything through a campaign.

And it’s the latter that got me thinking – what if we just recorded a game?  This week’s Blatherings will end with a not so surprising treat now that I am telling you – full playthrough of Escape the Dark Castle with myself and Alpal!

Escape the Dark Castle Components
So simple, and so much fun! Great take anywhere adventure

JohnHQLD Blatherings 007 – Some Upcoming Games And TV, And Changes Are Coming

JohnHQLD's Blatherings Podcast

Welcome to the seventh Blatherings!

This week in the Blatherings has me talking about some new purchases I can’t wait to play. These include Escape the Dark Castle, and Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective – Carlton House and Queen’s Park. Then I give my impressions on Destiny 2’s Season 3 expansion Warmind.

There are also more details on changes coming on the very next Blatherings!  I can’t wait for this to start happening.

Have a great weekend everyone!