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[Review] Castle Danger

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  • Tom Vasel
    I m not a huge abstract strategy fan, ever since I continually lost the game of checkers to my girlfriend when in college. Now that we re married, I can get
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 20 4:49 PM
      I'm not a huge abstract strategy fan, ever since I
      continually lost the game of checkers to my girlfriend when in
      college. Now that we're married, I can get her to play the Kosmos
      two-player series, so checkers never sees the light of day. I know
      that the Gipf project has produced some wonderful games, but I just
      don't have the same enthusiasm for abstract strategy games as I do
      with a game that has a theme. However, give one of these abstract
      games a theme, no matter how light, and suddenly I am more
      interested. Thus it was that when I prepared to play Castle Danger
      (Matt Worden Games, 2003 – Matt Worden), even though I knew it was
      an abstract strategy game, I didn't care because the pieces were
      cannons, wizards, etc.

      And after playing the game, was my dislike of abstract games
      mitigated by the theme? I actually enjoyed Castle Danger quite a
      bit, but felt constricted by the board, so that my options were
      limited. It was a good game, but those of us who played it felt
      like the winner was determined by a mistake by the loser, rather
      than good play by the winner.

      Setup of this two-player game is as follows: A small board
      is placed between the two players. Unlike many boards, the board is
      split into two grids, with a river running between them. Each grid
      is seven squares by four squares, and pieces from one side can never
      cross the river into the opponent's squares. Each player starts
      with a "King" and a "Wizard" piece, which are each placed behind a
      wall piece on the back row. A group of "fire" tokens in each
      player's color are placed near each player and the rest of the
      pieces are placed in a pile near the board (the pieces are neutral,
      since it's easy to see who controls each piece – because of that
      pesky river!). One player starts the game and then turns alternate
      between the players.

      The first phase of a turn consists of removing "fire" tokens
      of that player's color from the board, and "resetting" any cannon
      pieces that are in the "fired" mode. After that, a player
      calculates how many moves they have this turn. This is determined
      by how many Wizard pieces they have on the board – with each wizard
      giving three additional moves (to a base of three). The player may
      then add one piece to their "Portal" space on the board (the middle
      square of the back row). The pieces that can be added are as
      - Wizards: All these pieces are good for are for extra
      movement points. Of course, that can lead to huge advantages for
      the player who has more of them.
      - Builders: Builders can add or remove Wall pieces from the
      - Cannons: These are the only pieces that can assail the

      The next phase, probably the most important one, is the movement
      phase. The player then can use up their movement points in the
      following ways
      - Moving: Each piece can move orthogonically one square for
      one movement point. Several pieces can be moved this way, as long
      as they do not move more than the player's total movement points.
      - Firing: Each cannon can fire one shot. The cannon is
      moved to its "fired" position to show that it cannot shoot again
      this turn. The shot uses up one movement point for each square it
      passes through. Any piece hit by a shot is killed and removed from
      the board. Walls, however, block cannon shots, and if a shot
      encounters one, the wall is removed from the board. Anything that
      is hit by a shot (even a wall) is removed, and a fire marker is
      placed in that square (preventing movement into that square for one

      After using up their movement points, a player's turn is over, and
      play passes to the next player. If either player manages to kill
      the opponent's king with one of their cannons, they win the game!

      Some comments on the game…

      1.) Components: All the components are obviously homemade, as
      Matt Worden is self-producing his own game, so that must be taken
      into account. The board is small, colorful, and a laminated piece
      of paper attached to a thick board (much better than other
      independent publishers, I must say). The wall pieces are large
      wooden blocks, big enough that my kids would love to play with them,
      but functional for game purposes. The other pieces are smaller
      wooden blocks, with what looks like decals of a wizard hat, hammer,
      or cannon on them. I wish that the decals were on all six sides,
      but I suppose that would have driven up the price of the game. The
      fire pieces are star-shaped wooden bits painted blue or red (the two
      colors), and the kings are basically wooden pawns. Everything comes
      in plastic bags stored in a sturdy, but plain-looking box. The
      components are nothing to write home about, but are fine,
      considering the game is self-published.

      2.) Rules: The rules are very straightforward and painless to
      pick up. We found ourselves catching onto the stratagem of the game
      in a very short time, and only had to consult the rules once. The
      rules do have color illustrations and are nicely formatted.

      3.) Website and Computer game: Matt's website, www.mwgames.com,
      is very helpful, having a downloadable .pdf file of the rules for
      the game – but even better, a downloadable version of the game that
      one can play for free! This is an excellent way to see if one would
      be interested in purchasing the board game, as the computer game
      plays the exact same way. I am always pleased with publishers who
      publish demos and rulebooks on their sites, as I am usually rather
      leery of those who don't.

      4.) Strategy: There seems to be a couple different routes that
      players can take when attempting to win. One can build piles of
      wizards, hoping to accumulate enough movement points to do whatever
      they want. Or one can build a lot of cannons, hoping to blow their
      opponent into submission. Or one can build walls all over their
      side of the board, trying to make an impenetrable fortress. And of
      course, one can always try to do a happy medium of these three.
      Which is best? We haven't discovered that yet. But almost always
      our games have ended by the person who lost making a mistake
      (leaving their king in an easy to kill location, or such) rather
      than by superior strategy of the winner. Of course, this still
      makes for a satisfying win, just not AS satisfying. The board is
      small, and this seems to limit strategy quite a bit. I'm wondering
      if a larger board would have made the game more fun, giving pieces
      to move around. Right now, the game often gets a "crowded" feel.

      5.) Theme and Fun Factor: The game was fun, and we enjoyed it a
      lot. The theme fit fairly well (the cannons were great, but the
      wizards didn't seem to make a lot of sense). One part of the game
      that was NOT enjoyable, however, was the fact that the game can
      easily end in a stalemate. The rules recommend ending the game
      after twenty-five turns, and I heartily agree – as the board can get
      so crowded that nothing much is ever going to happen.

      If you like abstract strategy games, this is not a bad one to pick
      up, as the idea (shooting across the board as one another) is a good
      idea (from Chinese Chess, I believe) and makes for a fun, usually
      quick game. If you must have great components, a huge board, and
      win using superior strategy, then go elsewhere. But if you'd like a
      quick amusing game for two players, then this might be up your
      alley. But either way, go try the game out for yourself at the
      website! You have nothing to lose by doing that!

      Tom Vasel
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