On the 31st May 2017, Themeborne – then only a year or so old – launched a Kickstarter for the tabletop game, Escape the Dark Castle. The game itself is for 1-4 players – handy if no one else is around – and takes around thirty minutes to play.

When I checked out the  Kickstarter, I loved the look of the game, as the artwork was reminisce of the artwork from so many old RPG magazines or Fighting Fantasy type books of the time. As a child I’d read through my brother’s gaming magazines, loving the artwork and plots inside, without a clue about game mechanics, and it was the feel of the game that drew me in.

When the game arrived, like so many other Kickstarters, it got placed on a shelf ready for use whenever the need of a quick game arises, and as it happened, it wasn’t too long after.

The box and contents

The box itself is sturdy and well presented, and features a great piece of cover art that sets the tone of the game, while the rear of the box shows the contents and gives a brief description of what it’s about.

Opening the box for the first time was a surprise, as there is a lot of stuff inside. I hadn’t paid much attention to the Kickstarter as I usually pledge, forget I’ve pledged, and remember when the money comes out the account and I can’t afford to eat. Inside contains the cards and dice necessary to play the game, a super thin rulebook – this is something I am eternally thankful for – a pad, and a pack of four pencils to mark down the player’s health, bonuses, or any debilitating effects they may be suffering from.

The game

The game claims to take two minutes to set up, and it does, unless you get distracted looking at the cards and thinking back to similar artwork in the 80s with a strange fondness.

Each player chooses one of the characters; Abbot, Cook, Millar, Smith, Tailor, Tanner, each of whom has been locked up in the Dark Castle and must now try to escape. The character sheets show the stats for Cunning (the eye), Might (the fist) and Wisdom (the start), and each comes with a white die specific to that character. One of the things about the original Kickstarter that I REALLY wanted but couldn’t afford, was that you could pay to have yourself as a character, though I think ‘Admin’ might have been a let down when it comes to escaping castles – unless filing and database administration gives time off for good behaviour.

To set up the castle, 15 randomly selected chapter cards are placed down, with a random boss placed at the bottom, and the introduction card placed at the top.

Each player then makes a note of their starting health – which is determined by the number of players – and the escape begins. There’s an introduction card I’ve not shown (as I wouldn’t want to ruin the initial set up of the game) that allows each player to pick the top card from the Items deck – some items shown below- and with that the game begins.

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The scoff in the cookhouse was exceptional.

Players then decide who will turn over the chapter card. This sounds easy enough, until you find that the chapter cards often have a nasty surprise lurking which happens to the player that turned it over. This can be anything from being captured by a torturer to being hit by falling rubble. It’s a dangerous game turning the cards over, and if any player dies, then the game is over, you all need to survive. Careful planning is the aim of the game. There are good or mellow things that happen turning the cards over, but the Dark in Dark Castle isn’t to do with illumination.

When a card is turned over, and someone is about to try and smite you, you’ll end up with a set up similar to below (though the character cards will be in front of the players. The card has a piece of funky artwork, then explains what is happening and how it affects the characters, in this case, by stopping blocks and doubles during the forthcoming scrap – thanks cultists…

The dice beneath the chapter card show what the characters need to role in order to defeat the cultists. The two lefthand black die show the same image as the card, with the remaining three being from the little ‘head and shoulders’ icon next to them on the card, which means that each player roles a black die, and they are added to the chapter card’s ‘wounds’ so to speak. Wounds are removed by the players getting the same symbols with a role of their character die. Below it’d probably be best for the Miller or Abbot to go first/second as they are more likely to get Wisdom or Cunning, and so on. The little number on the bottom right of the card shows how many damage the cultists do if they hit you.

Item use and order of play are important in these fights, and you have to work our the best way to defeat the enemies without being nobbled. The fight goes on with the players attacking and defending until the enemies are dead, or one of the characters has died – Game over, man!

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A combat is about to begin

Once the combat is over, the group of players can draw one item card to take with them, and then choose who is turning over the next chapter card. Once the fifteenth chapter card is turned over and resolved, this is it, only one hurdle stands in your way…

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What lies beneath the final door?

Any one of a number of tough ‘end of level boss’ type enemies could be behind that door, and it could all go horribly wrong at a moment’s notice. Can you defeat them and Escape the Dark Castle?

We had a good few games of this one night after spending most of the evening playing Age of Sigmar. When the battles ended we had about an hour or so to kill before everyone wanted to head home, so cracked open Escape the Dark Castle. Around two and half hours later we finished playing when we realised the time and everyone was half asleep.

Next time, we’re adding the Cult of the Death Knight expansion.

Overall

We really liked it, enough that I’ve bid on the second Kickstarter for the expansions and collector’s box. Any game that can be picked up new and played within minutes is fine with me, and if the game makes people laugh and have fun, then it’s done its job well.

If you’re looking for a quick, enjoyable game that brings laughs – often at other’s misfortune – sudden surprises and bouts of chapter card misery you can’t go wrong with Escape the Dark Castle, it’s great fun.

Their new Kickstarter for Escape the Dark Castle: The Legend Grows is live now for expansions and add ons, so if you feel inclined, it might be a good way for you to get the game, though obviously, the choice is yours.

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