This Escape the Dark Castle review was made after playing the game eight times.
What is Escape the Dark Castle?
Escape the Dark Castle is a cooperative adventure game in which you and your friends are wrongfully convicted prisoners who are trying to use skills and items to escape an evil castle. The game was designed by Alex Crispin, Thomas Pike, and James Shelton, and it is published by Themeborne.
Escape the Dark Castle Gameplay
At the start of each game of Escape the Dark Castle, each player will get a character and that character’s unique die. The characters have three traits – might, cunning, and wisdom – and they are all really good in one trait, pretty good in another, and terrible in one. Tanner, for example, has four wisdom icons, three cunning icons, and one might icon on her die (and her character card).
To make the castle deck, you’ll draw 15 of the 45 chapter cards and place them on top of a randomly drawn boss card (there are three bosses in the box). You’ll be going through the deck as if you were reading a book, turning over one page and dealing with whatever the game throws at you. The players decide who turns the page and that player might have some weaknesses during that part of the story.
As you move through the castle, you will have to deal with a bunch of different obstacles (chapter cards) that are in your way. Some of those obstacles will be nasty enemies, some will be traps, and others might not be too bad. Sometimes you’ll have multiple options to choose from for how you can approach an obstacle.
Many of the obstacles will have a list of trait icons that you will have to match with your character dice. Any time a round of fighting ends and there are still chapter dice remaining, characters will take damage based on the attack value found on the enemy’s card. The only way to avoid damage while in battle is to roll a shield on your die. You can also rest during a round, which means you can heal one health point and you won’t take any damage that round.
You would die pretty quickly in this game if you were only relying on your dice, which is why you need to get some item cards! Some items allow you to get special combat abilities and others allow you to heal. Any time your team draws new item cards, the group decides who gets the cards.
If you’re able to get through the entire castle deck and defeat the final boss, everyone wins! You’ll lose if anyone drops to zero health points.
- I’m a big fan of tough-yet-beatable co-ops and that is exactly what Escape the Dark Castle is. I’ve won two out of my eight games and just about all of them were nail-biters.
- I really like the look of this game. The black and white style and the artwork reminds me of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark book series I read when I was younger, but these images aren’t nightmare-inducing like those were.
- The text on each of the chapter cards really does help to get people into the theme. It’s great that it’s just enough text to describe what you’re approaching in the castle. It doesn’t take you away from the action for too long, but it does a good job of setting up the action.
- You’re not going to find too many games that are easier to teach than this one. That’s not hyperbole, either. You read the chapter cards and most of the time you’re just rolling your die and trying to match symbols. I taught this to two people who are brand new to gaming and they got it right away.
- The replay value here is pretty high. You only play with 15 of the 45 chapter cards so you never know what you’re going to be facing during the game.
- The quick play time is also a huge pro. I haven’t played too many other board or card games that tell this much of a story in such a short amount of time.
- I think I’ll be in the minority with this opinion, but I think the backs of the chapter cards should be white rather than black. I think that would make it look more like a book and the cards wouldn’t be as noticeably marked up after shuffling them a few times.
- I know that some people will like that the characters don’t have backstories so they can create their own, but I personally wish I knew why these people were stuck in this castle. I’m still able to get into the theme, but a little bit of info on each character would have elevated it to the next level for me.
- I do wish there were at least two more bosses in the base game.
Escape the Dark Castle is a very solid gateway game and I even think most experienced gamers would love to have it on their shelves as a quick and light filler game. The artwork and the writing help to set the light horror setting and with the right group of people you could easily turn this into a pretty good role playing experience.
I don’t know how long Escape the Dark Castle will stay in my collection, but I do know that I will always remember it as the first tabletop game that got my non-gaming brother to the table. He was more than happy to play it multiple times and afterwards asked me if there were any other games like this one. That makes it a true gateway game in my book.
It’s pretty impressive that this is the first game made by these designers and this publisher. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing their future projects.
Update: Also be sure to check out our review of Escape the Dark Sector, a slightly heavier game with very similar mechanisms and a sci-fi theme.