January 8, 2019 Author: Lou Federico

Welcome back everyone!!! I hope you all had a great new year. And since Yours Truly has started off his new year by getting all caught up with his official Pint assignments, I finally have some time to write about a game I’ve had sitting on my desk for quite some time. So without further ado, let’s talk about Escape The Dark Castle.

To give new readers some context, let’s start here; anyone who has spent more than ten minutes in my presence will know 3 things about me almost immediately:

A) That I am an unabashed Queen fan, and that Freddie Mercury is the greatest frontman EVER (you can have a different opinion but you would be wrong

B) I am a hardcore video game player and I love Destiny with all my heart (shoutout to my clan The FUG Life!!!)

C) And most importantly, I LOVE Dungeons And Dragons, I have been playing D & D since I was about 10 years old and have never really stopped.

But longtime D & D players will also know that keeping a group together for a long period of time can be problematic at best. Life and real world responsibilities often get in the way, and you can spend more time searching for a gaming group than actually playing. So what can you do to scratch that itch when you aren’t Storming Strahd’s castle for the 300th time??? Well Nottingham, England based Developer Themeborne has one hell of an answer. Escape the Dark Castle aims to take the standard dungeon crawling mechanic, offload all the duties that a DM would handle onto a series of highly detailed and expertly balanced chapter cards, ratchet the tension up to eleven, and put team oriented gameplay front and center, and after having spent a significant amount of time with the game I can confidently say they have succeeded.

To start let’s take a brief look at how to play “Escape The Dark Castle” it is ridiculously simple to learn and to teach to your non gaming friends, here are the basics:

A) Randomly Select 15 chapter cards, one Boss card, and the Start card. Build the Dungeon by placing the Boss card face down on the table, and placing the chapter and Start Cards on top of it.

B) Select your character, and grab their corresponding die.

C) Flip over the start card, and get to escaping!!!

Alternatively if you are a visual learner, The “Beasts Of War” have made a rather comprehensive video showcasing the game. I gave it a watch, and have to say they did a fine job, check it out:

Opening up the box for the first time, the first thing that struck me was how gorgeous both the character and chapter cards are. The black and white color scheme not only harkens back to the earliest of D & D manuals (which is a very…VERY good thing), but they also do a surprisingly good job of setting the overall mood while serving as a tangible indicator of the absolutely brutal gameplay that is to follow. I very much recommend playing this game in low light, preferably with a fire roaring in the background to achieve full effect. (if you REALLY want to take it old school, I recommend throwing some Zeppelin on in the background as you play)

Speaking of brutal gameplay, it behooves me to tell you from the jump, that victory is ANYTHING but guaranteed. More than likely, you WILL die trying to escape, and if anyone in your party dies….well….Bill Paxton said it best: GAME OVER MAN!!! GAME OVER!!!. It almost feels at times as if the cards are actively working against you, much like an overly aggressive DM trying to TPK (Team Party Kill) the group. Which in this age of more forgiving mechanics is a refreshing change of pace. I love a good challenge, and this game is more than up to providing one.

So how can you possibly hope to survive with the odds stacked against you? Well this is where the meat of the strategy comes into play. Each character comes with their skills apportioned into one of three categories, Might, Cunning, or Wisdom, and each character specializes in one particular stat, for example, “The Smith” is Proficient in Might, Average in Wisdom, and Poor in Cunning, while “The Tailor” is the exact opposite, making for a nice set of complimentary characters. It is highly advisable that you construct a group that will cover each other’s shortcomings as a first step towards victory.

Secondly, while the game does not force you into any form of static initiative order, very often the player that enters a chapter first will suffer a higher than normal amount of damage or some sort of negative effect, so it will always be in the party’s best interest to make sure the lead player is being rotated, and that they are equipped with the proper items to help sustain them, which leads me into…..

Item management!!!!! Item management is PARAMOUNT!!!! I cannot stress this enough!!!! Each character can only carry two items (unless it is a two handed item) at a time, BUT… you have the ability to swap items freely between characters before or after each chapter, so making sure the correct item is always in the hands of the most effective player before flipping the next chapter card will serve you well. For example, let’s take a look at “The Decayed Blade” this sword allows you to re-roll a die (using the second roll) if you roll wisdom on your attack. Putting this weapon in the hands of “The Miller” wouldn’t make much sense as he is poor in that stat, which would mean your chances of procing the blades ability would be low. However, letting “The Abbott” wield it is far more effective, due to the fact that “The Abbott” is highly proficient in Wisdom. There are also various healing and damage mitigation items such as a loaf of Stale Bread which can be consumed to restore 2 H.P. or the “Rotten Shield” which reduces all incoming damage by 1 H.P. (to a minimum of 1 point). Items such as these, coupled with the games built in defense mechanic, (which allows a player to abstain from a combat round to regain 1 H.P.) are an absolute necessity if you hope to survive.

In the 2 dozen or so games that we played while testing, we only ever managed to escape twice!!!! Rarely has a game challenged us this much, and I LOVED IT!!!! A thesaurus doesn’t contain the proper adjectives to explain the tension that builds as you flip over each subsequent chapter card while watching your meager hit points melt away round after round, or the depressed resignation that settles upon you as you manage to claw your way to the final boss encounter with nothing more than a hit point and a dream, knowing full well that it’s over, but giving it your all anyway, just to fail miserably and have to start over. Hell…just MAKING IT to the boss encounter feels like a triumph. The game plays fast so you don’t have to worry about multiple attempts in a session, and after starting our first test session we easily wiled away 4 hours and about 8 games before coming up for air (a testament to the games design) but if all you find yourself with is a few minutes you can easily get a run or two in. If you are looking for a hardcore yet accessible dungeon crawler that the whole family can enjoy, which also harkens back the best of what D&D had to offer. Look no further than Escape The Dark Castle.

Until Next Time Everyone,

Be Good To Your Fellow Nerd,


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