As always with these reviews, I want to answer the question "Should I play Castle Panic with my kids?". Original review posted here: http://beyondsettlers.com/2014/05/15/playing-castle-panic-wi...
Just like King of Tokyo, Castle Panic fits right in my wheelhouse of games to play with my kids (4 and 5). It has:
Cooperative Play - We all win or all lose. Also, we play without the monster slayer rule and don't keep track of how many monsters each player slays.
Rules that can be modified without ruining play - We can remove a couple of pieces to adjust to their skill level.
Minimal reading required - They can pick the shapes and colors of various cards out no problem.
THE SHORT VERSION
The premise is simple. You're guarding a castle in a forest, protecting its walls from an ever increasing number of monsters. Slay the monsters, save the castle. It can be played in about 20-30 minutes, and can be shortened even more if you remove some of the monster pieces (we also sometimes remove the boulders or the "special" pieces that force you to remove cards or move monsters forwards). Very little reading is required (or none at all after you've played a few times and explained the couple of cards that might not be quite so obvious).
Unlike King of Tokyo which is based around dice rolling, Castle Panic relies on working together as a group (great for getting kids to cooperate) as well as luck of the draw on cards. These aspects help remove any potential of one person "losing the game" for everyone else, which is great.
The only downside I see to this game are the visual elements (pictures in the full review). Some children might be a little scared of the images of Orcs and Goblins. My 4 and 5 year old could care less, as they're more focused on the "good guys" (the humans on the cards).
THE LONG VERSION
Manipulating the Pieces
One of the advantage of a cooperative game is that you don't need to keep your cards hidden from other players. This is especially important when your other players have tiny hands. My 5 year old can hold four or five cards in her hands without too much trouble, but my son who is 4, isn't quite there yet. In Castle Panic you never have more than five cards, but it doesn't matter.
When we play we lay the cards out in front of us so we can all see who has what cards. This takes away one of the biggest drawbacks to a game with small children and one reason I love it so much.
Besides cards the only other piece that the kids manipulate on a regular basis is a single dice which is used for incoming monster placement. I let them roll the dice so they can determine where they new monsters are placed.
You can determine the role of most cards just by the imagery. It's easy for even my 4 year old to figure out which card is a Red Archer or Blue Swordsman. There are a couple cards such as the Barbarian or Drive Them Back which require a little help, but there are so few of those that it's not a burden on me to help explain them when they come up.
Castle Panic also excels in this area. There are no victory points, there is no health, there are no resources of any type. You simply have to be aware of where the monsters are on the board, and where your castles and walls are. Everything is out in the open so all the players can help keep everyone on the same page.
I will help guide my kids in some of their decision making processes. One thing that is sometimes difficult for them to understand is where monsters are going to fall on their turn. There are five rings on the board that indicate how close the monsters are to attacking. Each warrior card that you have can attack a certain ring (some special cards can attack multiple rings). While my 5 year old can figure this out, my 4 year old is just a bit young. He still has to be reminded that even though a monster is in the Archer ring now, he will want the Knight card because once it is his turn the monster will be in the Knight ring.
Once he has this element straight, though, everything else is easy to track because it's all on the board.
Each turn consists of six potential elements:
1) Draw up to the number of cards you are supposed to have in your hand. This varies by the number of people playing.
2) Discard and draw one card (optional).
3) Trade cards (optional).
4) Play cards.
5) Move monsters.
6) Draw two new monster tokens.
It's all very straight forward. Like I said in the previous section, planning for future turns is a bit much for my kids, so they need to be helped with that. Everything else is simple enough. It helps that these steps are printed on the four corners of the board (if your kids can read, of course).
There is one modification we make to this game. We remove a number of the monster tokens that aren't monsters. Some of the tokens are actions such as "Plague! Remove all Archers" or "Red Monsters Move 1" or "Move Monsters Counterclockwise". There are two reasons we remove these:
To Decrease Playtime - fewer tokens means short playtime since you play until either your castle towers are gone or you successfully defend your castle against all of the monsters.
Increased chances of winning - fewer unexpected moves of monsters means you can plan ahead accordingly for where monsters are going to be on other player turns.
Sometimes we will remove some action tokens (not all) and some monster tokens. This allows you to still decrease playtime while not completely removing the element of surprise of where pieces are going to be.
Depending on how old your children are, the imagery of the monsters might be a bit much. Included in the image below are the different types of monster tokens. They might be a little creepy for the younger crowd, but my kids (4 and 5) don't seem to be bothered by them. There is no blood and gore, just a bit of creep factor. There is no risqué imagery in the game at all.
As much as I would love to say there is an educational element to this game, there really isn't. The two small things I can look to are the cooperation and planning elements. Cooperation because it gets two siblings to work together to ultimately win together. Planning because as the monsters move forward you need to plan ahead on where the monsters will be on your turn.
The cooperation, simplicity, and fact that you have everything out in front of you with little to keep track of make this game one that we love bringing to the table. However, the downside of potentially offensive imagery with practically no educational value make it just recommended instead of highly recommended.
Thank you very much for this review, it is most informative. I've been on the fence for this game for a while, but chances are I'll pick it up now!
I got the game for Christmas this year and have played it 3 times so far with my 5 y/o and 7 y/o boys and they both love it and have been asking when can we play it again. I highly recommend it for a family game with small kids.