… Escape the Dark Castle

A preview copy of Escape the Dark Castle was provided by Themeborne Ltd..  We would like to thank Themeborne Ltd. for supporting our blog.  All thoughts, comments, and pictures herein are our own.

Escape the Dark Castle is a cooperative game for 1-4 players, playing in approximately 30-45 minutes.  Published by Themeborne Ltd. and designed by Alex Crispin, Thomas Pike, and James Shelton, and In this game players take on the role of escaped prisoners trying to make their way out of the dark castle in which they have been wrongfully imprisoned.  The style is definitely reminiscent of the choose your own adventure, dragon crawling of the 1980’s.  The game itself is fast and fun, and full of random events and battles.  Let me tell you more…

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Each player is represented by a die and character card, one of six included in the box, customized to their character.  The characters have different strengths represented by symbols on their respective die, wisdom, cunning, and might.  The character cards denote this with hash marks next to the symbol for each trait.  These hash marks also represent the number of times that symbol appears on their custom die.  This makes it very easy to balance out your team, especially in solo play.  Once characters are chosen it is time to build the deck of cards that will make up the castle itself.  Game play takes place over a series of turns that involve revealing chapter cards from a randomized deck.  The deck is built from the bottom up starting with a boss chosen randomly from the five included in the base game.  Set up continues by shuffling the remaining 53 chapter cards and randomly choosing 15 to place on top of the boss card.  Lastly add the, aptly named, start card to the top of the deck.  Shuffle and place the item cards into the play area, and add the nine black dice as well.  Set up is that easy, you are now ready to play.

Players start the game with varying hot points dependent on the number of player.  A solo game has the players beginning with 18 HP.  Since this is a cooperative game, it is all for one, and one for all.  Of one prisoner is caught, or killed, the whole party loses.  There are ways to prevent this from happening, from using items to heal to resting during battle to replenish HP.  Turn order is also important, as the person turning over the cards can become the target of the cards effects, for good and bad!  Make your choices wisely!  The castle deck draws its own pool of dice from the black dice, called chapter dice,  included in the game for combat situations.  Icons on the bottom right of the card show what dice must be placed beneath the card prior to combat.  People symbols represent wild dice, these are additional chapter dice that must be rolled equal to the number of players.  This helps to add to the randomness and replayability as well.  Once the chapter dice haven been set players take turns rolling their character dice trying to hit the monster.  Character die that match a chapter die remove it from that monster.  When all the chapter die have been removed the monster has been defeated.  Character die also contain two sides with a shield symbol.  When a player rolls this symbol they have successfully blocked the monster’s attack.  If no shields are rolled the player will suffer damage equal to the number on the bottom right hand side of the card, deducting this from their HP total.  Successful combat will earn the party one item from the item deck. Each player can only carry two items at one time, one for each hand, unless the item is two handed.  Once the monster, or event, has been defeated or completed, the next chapter card is turned.  Game play continues until the players are defeated or the final boss falls.

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How does it solo?  The short answer is, amazingly well!  It is recommended to play with two characters when playing solo.  Normally I balk at playing two handed, preferring to play true solo.  However, for this experience it was easy, intuitive, and helped balance out my plays so that I had a better chance at winning.  Speaking of winning, Escape the Dark Castle is not brutally hard, nor will you win every time, either.  I like how the story progresses almost seamlessly from one chapter card to the next, truly laying out a story for me.

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There has been a lot of complaint on social media about the art on the cards.  For me, this brings me back to a time when games focused more on mechanics and less on the artwork.  (Do I need to remind anyone of the infamous Mega Man cover art???)  This was not a deal breaker for me, I took it for what it was, a throwback experience, and for me, the artwork fell in line with that.  I’m glad this did not hold me back, I would have missed out on a great game experience.  With the big complaint out of the way, let me tell you about all the good stuff, and there is a lot of it!

The large chapter cards are plentiful and provide almost endless replayability.  It is nearly impossible to have the same experience twice.  The cards themselves also play out differently dependent on their dice pool, making encounters you have previously faced still new and exciting.  The items can give you the little bit that you need to get by at just the right time, and are plentiful as well, with 35 in the box. Playing Escape the Dark Castle truly felt like I was part of a living story, turning each new chapter card over, like turning the pages in a book, was so thematic and engrossing.  I wasn’t sure what was lurking around the next corner, or in this case, card.  I love the options some of the cards bring, and the unknowing, right up to which boss will be your final obstacle.  The components are well made, the cards are all linen finished.  The large cards are, well, large, and very easy to read.  The iconography is easy to understand, and remember.  There is no need for a reminder sheet here.  The dice are big and chunky, making the symbols easy to read.  Themeborne has even gone the extra mile and included a pad and a few small mini golf pencils to help track your HP.  How old school is that?  I truly felt like I had uncovered a lost game from my youth.  Even better yet, was that it was a game that was still fun today!  The best part of all is that there is virtually no end to what can still be done with Escape from the Dark Castle!

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Escape the Dark Castle already has one expansion that was launched with the base game,  Cult of the Death King.  This expansion adds 3 new characters and their die, 15 new chapter cards, 1 new boss, 3 new items, and a new cultist die.  Three more expansions have recently landed on Kickstarter, Scourge if the Undead Queen, Blight of the Plague Lord, and The Collector’s Box.  Each of these expansions adds new content, mechanics, and of course dice and cards!  There is no end to what Themeborne can do to add to Escape the Dark Castle.  I’m excited to see all the new content.  I have been watching the Kickstarter with great interest, anticipating it’s launch for some time now!

Overall Escape the Dark Castle has been a really good, light, fun game for me.  This is definitely something that you can use as a gateway game for friends and family that are not gamers.  The game scales well for any number of players, so it is perfect for 1-4.  I highly recommend adding this game to your solo library for those times when you need a fantasy fix, but don’t have endless hours to commit.  It’s also perfect for travelling.  If you think this might be a game for you, I encourage you to check out their Kickstarter here!

Thanks for joining me this week as I singlehandedly sought to escape the dark castle!  Join me next time, follow me on Twitter, and please, feel free to leave a comment below!

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