Friends and fellow geeks, it’s been too long! I hope you have all had a wonderful holiday season thus far, and are spending your days like me – mostly passed out on the couch, wearing TARDIS-covered fleece pajamas, and watching the Harry Potter marathon on ABC Family. Where my Hufflepuffs at?
As a quick refresher, this is Geek of All Trades, my monthly contribution to +5 Charisma, where I talk about my recent (often poorly-executed or incredibly delayed) forays into new and geeky worlds. Here’s a quick look at my previous misadventures:
- GLaDOS totally owned me when I tried to make my brain understand Portal.
- I was “that girl” that started with the Star Wars prequels and didn’t see the original trilogy until I was 25. (I’m so sorry).
- I talked about how to go “stealth geek” in order to make your corporate cubicle feel like home.
- My new Dungeons and Dragons league taught me that when you’re a n00b, you must STFU before you can truly become a Dice Master.
This month, we’re exploring a geeky realm that holds a very dear place in my little Hobbit heart – board games. Honestly, I can’t believe I haven’t written about them before. You see, I like to think that I’m a grown woman – I have a marriage, a mortgage, a commute, and the lives of 3 pets to juggle. But instead of filling my social calendar with things like, “Grand Opening Gala at the Museum of Natural History” or “Double-date with the Johnsons next door,” my calendar is full of appointments like “Settlers of Catan at our place – become Lord of the Sheep.” My calendar is also dry-erase and sticks to my fridge like a five year-old’s, so that, too, is bringing down my “real age” factor. Whatever. Board games are great, and I have always loved to play them. There’s only one caveat – I hate losing.
For me, life is a contest, and board games are the building blocks to ultimate victory. I have tried my darndest to be one of those easy-going people who enjoys playing games “for fun,” but it goes against the very core of my being. Once, at the age of 5, I wept for 4 hours when my little sister won our church’s coloring contest and I didn’t. (For the record, I stand by the supremacy of my psychedelic school bus with teal wheels). When it comes to board games, you will never catch me day-dreaming or glancing back to the game gasping, “Oops! Is it my turn?” I am always ready. I was born ready.
When I come across a game that is especially difficult, I will not relent until I have stood up from my dining room table victorious. I don’t care if it’s 4 AM – we are playing another round of Munchkin, and I will beat you all to level 10. Recently, I’ve come across a whole slew of games that have given me some trouble, and over the next couple of months, I’ll talk about each of them. I’m kicking things off this month with a game whose very name pains me to write – Castle Panic.
Castle Panic is simple, in theory. It’s so simple, in fact, that the friend who introduced it to me seemed almost embarrassed to do so. He brought a few different games over, explained the premise of each of them, then kind of shrugged at Castle Panic and said, “Or we could play that – it’s pretty basic, but really fun.” Therein lies my fury, friends, because Castle Panic will make your soul cry.
The Castle Panic board is split into three color-coded quadrants – blue, red, and green. Each of those quadrants has three levels of defense – archer, knight, and swordsman. In the center of the board, you have 6 castle turrets, each with a defensive wall, and it’s your job to protect them from monsters that advance with each turn. That’s literally it. Even the illustration for the game is fairly simple, with the monster on the cover sort of reminiscent of an evil, glow-in-the-dark Pumbaa from The Lion King. The game is marked for ages 10 and up, but I’d never wish the brutality that is this game on a 10 year-old. Their tiny little egos aren’t prepared to handle the soul-crushing defeat that this game will undoubtedly rain upon them again and again. Why is it so hard? Well, let me explain.
When the game starts, there are 6 monsters on the board – 3 goblins, 2 orcs, and a troll. Before you can win the game, you and your team must defeat every monster on the board. Simple, right? False. Strap in, y’all, because your world is about to be rocked. In addition to defeating the monsters on the board, you must defeat ALL OF THE OTHER MONSTERS THAT ARE STILL IN THE BOX AT THE START OF THE GAME. There are 49 of them. FORTY-NINE. And oh, no biggie, you must draw at least 2 new monster tokens at the end of each player’s turn.
Some of them, the goblins, really are the child’s play that the game wants you to think they are – they only have 1 hit point, and you can kill them off quickly. Orcs have 2 hit points, and trolls have 3 – not fun by any means, but manageable. There are 4 Boss Monster tokens, and those ones hurt – they do things like heal all of the monsters that are currently on the board, or move them all one rung closer. You can also draw tokens that say things like “red monsters move 1,” and then the rest of your team will put on their Mr. Potato Head Angry Eyes and hate you openly. Obviously, before long, the “panic” element of Castle Panic becomes a very real thing.
There is hope. Very occasionally, someone on your team will draw a card with a title like “drive him back,” which can send one monster all the way back to the furthest rung of the board, or “missing,” which gives you the much-needed reprieve of not drawing any monsters that turn. During those times, it will probably be tempting to breathe a sigh of relief and congratulate your fellow players on your upcoming victory, but that would be a mistake, friends – a silly, silly mistake. Because Castle Panic is always waiting to crush your dreams.
Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, 5 friends (who may or may not be my friends) were playing an especially long game of Castle Panic. They’d spent hours trying to defend their last remaining castle turret, and at long last, all of the monsters on the board were dead, and there was only one monster token left in the box. The win was so close, they could taste it. The last player’s hand shook as he scooped the token from the box. He laid it face-down on the table, looked up at his friends, and exhaled a ragged breath. Then, like ripping off a band-aid, he flipped the token over. It read “giant boulder,” rolled over their last remaining castle turret, and ended the game they’d spent hours building in seconds. THEEEEE END.
So fun, right? Wrong! It’s enraging. This game is simple in every possible way – look, objective, and rules of play. How is it possible that a team of 5 intelligent adults could consistently fail at beating it? There was only one way out – we had to play until we won, just to prove that it could be done. I’m happy to report that, over the course of a weekend, my mighty little team and I played about 10 games of Castle Panic and won about 2 of them. It can be done. Victory is sweet. But it’ll probably take you a couple of tries – and maybe a couple of Xanax – to do it.
Join me next month as I rage out on another “unbeatable” game. Til then, happy gaming and Happy New Year.