Easy-to-play RPG games like Gloomhaven have recently brought dungeon crawling out of the basement and onto the living room table. The idea that you can play a campaign without spending hours or days and eating twelve bags of Cheetos is a delightful thought for parents/former Dungeon Masters like myself. That’s where Escape the Dark Castle comes in.
This card-based game traps you and your friends – a miller, a tailor, an abbot, and a cook – in a deep dungeon. Suddenly the door opens and you’re free. You have fifteen turns – or rooms – until you face the final boss and escape.
The icons at the bottom of the card indicate the “HP” associated with the monster. In this case, the party has to roll black dice to set the remainder of the HP.The game includes a set of room cards, a few bosses, and a number of dice. Each player has a specially weighted die that reflects their skills and the monsters have black dice that the players have to match. When the miller rolls Wisdom, for example, that roll can cancel out the Wisdom die that acts as the monster’s hit points. Other rooms include traps, NPC interactions, and decisions for the entire party to make.Every room also contains an item card that adds a little power to your character or gives you HP. When anyone in the party dies, the game is over. To win you simply have to survive each room and beat the boss.
The game is easy enough for younger players – all they need to do is match the die and others can read the cards for them – but the best part of Escape the Dark Castle is that it takes about 30 minutes to complete. You can even play it alone, a sort of dungeon crawling solitaire that is rare in board games these days.
The game costs about $40 online – it comes from England – and the box is small and compact. The design hearkens back to the classic D&D games of yore with detailed line drawings that would look at home in a school notebook. Some of the cards are a little scary for younger players but most just feature snarling monsters or mysterious knights.I’ve found this game to be completely repayable and quite fun. The kids have enjoyed it multiple times already and I suspect it will take a while for us to get bored with the room permutations. At about $40 I can definitely see this as a fun addition to your games shelf – at least until you bit the bullet and buy a Dungeons & Dragons set.
Best For: Former DMs and their non-D&D playing friends.
Bottom Line: A fun, quick play for those who miss enchanted swords.
The game is available here. The box contains:
45 chapter cards
35 item cards
6 character cards
3 boss cards
1 start card
9 chapter dice
6 character dice