I’ll admit, I haven’t been playing nearly as many boardgames as I’d like these days; after storing up an entire wardrobe full of games for a rainy day, we’ve been in a situation for about two or three years where someone’s always working nights and/or weekends. Plus the little one is only now getting to an age (7) where she can play a lot of games. Unless we wanted to limit our game selection a lot, games had to happen after bed.
But I did want to mention a board game that’s worked really well for our family, and which is a lot of fun in general. ‘Castle Panic’ is by Fireside Games, and is a cooperative game (there’s actually a clever competitive scoring mechanism, which I’ll get to in a moment, but we generally don’t use it because of the aforementioned seven-year old) where you take the role of defenders of the Castle from a horde of monsters. Each turn, you play cards from your hand to hit monsters, and each turn, you are required by the rules to place and move monsters. Players are allowed to trade cards, which is important as each card can only hit the monsters in a specific part of the board, and each monster takes a certain number of hits to kill. (You rotate the piece to show its current hit point total. Some monsters, called “boss monsters”, have special abilities when played.) When and if the monsters get to the center, they destroy first your Castle Walls (which are replaceable) and then your Towers (which are not.) If you can wipe out the entire horde before they destroy all your Towers, you all win! If not, you all lose.
The competitive bit, which is as I say quite clever even though we don’t use it, is that only the player who scores the last hit gets credit for the monster. If the Castle survives, you total up the hit points of the monsters you kill, and the winner is the one with the most points. But if everybody loses, nobody gets the points, on account of it doesn’t really matter who made the most kills if you’re all murdered by a vicious horde of orcs, trolls and goblins. So the trick is to find ways to avoid helping players in ways that would actually benefit their score, while still helping them enough to avoid gruesome death at the hands of the monsters.
The nice thing about a cooperative game, especially when you’re playing with a child, is that it takes advantage of the natural friendships that you already (presumably) have with the other players. With everyone working together against an honestly pretty brutal monster placement system (at least once a game, you will draw the monster tokens in a way that makes you genuinely feel what it’s like to be at Helm’s Deep before the Riders of Rohan showed up), there’s a strong feeling of teamwork and camaraderie that builds up quick. Plus, if you have a player who’s not quite in tune with the strategy in the game (like, say, a seven-year old) the game allows you to show each other cards, trade cards, and offer advice.
The expansion, ‘The Wizard’s Tower’, opens up the horde with a lot of creatures with new powers (flying monsters, super-boss monsters, and fast moving cavalry), but levels the playing field a bit with a Wizard’s Tower that grants you access to a second deck of cards with more powerful attacks and special defensive cards. The new super-bosses are game-breakingly tough at times, but there’s nothing quite like the feeling of taking out a Dragon with a Hammer of Light.
It’s a fun game, best for an atmosphere of non-intense play (which I feel is honestly the best way to play any game, but that’s just me…) and you can be pretty loose about the “10 and up” age requirement. I’m definitely looking forward to another expansion.