Castle Panic: A Love Letter
The last few years have been big ones for Castle Panic. For those who don’t know, Castle Panic is a 1-6 player cooperative board game that was originally released in 2009. Since its release fourteen years ago, it has spawned four expansions, with the latest, Crowns and Quests coming out in 2022. We’ve been talking about it literally since the beginning of The Family Gamers.
This week, we’re dedicating most of our website content to a game that has brought countless families to the table to play together, a game that has flummoxed moms, dads, brothers, and sisters in their quest to protect Castle Bravehold, and one of just a few a games that is synonymous with cooperative play. It even spawned a kids’ version.
Some of the writers at The Family Gamers have come together to write their own love letters to Castle Panic, and here they are:
Dear Castle Panic,
Man, where to begin. When I first picked you up, I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into. You’ve been part of my life for so long now it’s honestly hard for me to believe you’re only 14 years old. No matter, because age isn’t about the number.
You know, there’s something really neat about the process of working through a difficult time together, and I’ve always said that board games give us safe spaces to fail. Well, we failed. We failed a lot. You’re not the easiest game to beat, Mr. Panic. But then, I guess you’re not supposed to be. Listen, we’ve made it, too, but probably not as many times as we’ve leaned back in our chairs and looked at each other with the guilt of failing to save some unnamed kingdom, represented by six cardboard walls. I don’t even know how many people that means the Monsters killed, but seeing as you brought the kingdom AND the Monsters, I’m gonna put this one on you.
But you gave us lots of good things too. You gave us parents the opportunity to let our kids save the day, even manipulating the strings behind-the-scenes so they got the cooler Monster kills. Thanks for that, by the way. It’s a pretty fun feeling when your kids feel like a million bucks.
Less cool when random boulders roll through and smash the tower wall I just rebuilt. But I digress.
And then you brought your friends. Thalgar comes rolling in, but just like a Marvel superhero, the cool good guy brought in a whole slew of new baddies. Mega bosses? Come on, man. We’re just a little kingdom. Why do they even care??? And don’t get me started about Agranok.
Look. There’s been good, and there’s been bad, but overall, you’ve made a space on our table that our family gathered around like one of mom’s mac and cheese casseroles – the kind with the bread crumbs on top. For that, I can’t say thank you enough. If ever I’m asked to come up with a game that expresses familial love through the ruthless destruction of Goblins, Orcs, and Trolls, you’re my boo. Don’t ever stop bringing families together, because that’s the special sauce of board games, and you’ve got tons of it.
We had some great times together. We were playing together when my kids were little. I could display an open hand and talk through strategy with my kids. “I have a red swordsman, but these monsters won’t be in the swordsman ring until YOUR turn. Can you trade me a card that I can use now?”
It has been viscerally satisfying to kill off monsters and rebuild the walls. Shouts of “I got it!” always punctuated our gameplay together.
But I’ve moved on. Your little brother My First Castle Panic is more fun with little kids – no reading, simpler turns, and done in 15 minutes!
You still hold a place in my heart, but not necessarily on my shelves.
Dear Castle Panic,
Where do I begin? You were my son’s first board game gift. You helped introduce my younger children to board gaming. What looked like a light-hearted game about working together to defeat monsters would frequently turn into a frantic, hand-wringing, and nail-biting crescendo as everyone waited with bated breath to see if the boulder would send one of your last towers crashing to the ground or would it help take out that gaggle of monsters encroaching on your castle.
It’s easy enough for anyone of any age to grasp, but there’s an almost tactical nature to Castle Panic if you embrace it. There’s a tension of trying to optimize each and every turn while also setting up your teammates for success on their turn thanks to the card-trading system.
Sure, you can play Castle Panic to declare a winner at the end based on how much the monsters each player killed were worth, but for our family, we found that simply playing the game fully cooperatively worked best. It ensured everyone worked together for the common good. It’s goofy yet it delivers on tension later in the game as you hope to get that one card needed to stop a monster from tearing your castle to pieces or the dice roll goes your way so the boulder doesn’t finish you off.
Thanks for making such a fun experience that has something for everyone in our family!
Love Sonnet to Castle Panic
You were the first to teach me how to play
a cooperative game with my kids.
We had to work together to save the day
from archers and orcs on the circular grids.
We loved the thrill of drawing a new card,
and playing it to the board with care —
We cheered when a boulder came flying hard
and smashed a bunch of monsters in the air.
But then you changed when we got the expansion;
you added more rules and complications —
You lost your charm and your simple attraction
and we grew apart with frustrations.
Now you are no longer on our shelf,
But we’ll always remember you, Castle Panic, our first love.
Stay tuned to thefamilygamers.com this week for more about Castle Panic: Second Edition and the latest expansion, Crowns and Quests! If you’d like to hear from the designers, check out Episode 355 of The Family Gamers Podcast!