Quick Look: My First Castle Panic
Designer: Justin De Witt
Artists: Cam Kendell
Publisher: Fireside Games
Year Published: 2019
No. of Players: 1-4
Playing Time: 20 minutes
The other morning, when my wife and I were woken up to our four-year-old telling us to “Come look what I did!” In tandem, my wife and I uttered a quiet, “Oh boy.” Those with toddlers know that anything they’re excited about that early in the morning is usually never a good thing. At least, not for you, the sleep-deprived parents. He led us to the dining room table and pointed to what he had done. We were speechless.
There, on the table, was the box for My First Castle Panic. And it was open. And the pieces? Well, the board was laid out as it should be, the castle and wall were constructed, and he was in the process of dealing out the cards to us so we could play. It was set up so well that I have to assume he also read the rule book. I mean, can his memory really be that good?
Considering the only things he can read are his name and the words “Star Wars” (which is more recognizing the logo more than actual reading..), I must conclude that he remembered from previous plays how to set up.
And that’s one of the reasons why I love My First Castle Panic.
There are other reasons to love the game. As an adult, it’s super easy. Obviously—this game is designed for four-year-olds! But to them, it’s learning. It’s learning how to follow setup instructions. It’s learning how to follow rules. It’s learning how to work together and ask for help. But you know what? It’s fun. To these kids, it’s a game that’s on their level that they can do all by themselves and enjoy.
In fact, while we were playing that morning, my boy got excited when he defeated a goblin and said, smiling, “I love My First Castle Panic!”
And that is why I love it, too.
Setup is so simple, even a four-year-old can do it!
Place the board on the table, give everyone one (1) card, build the wall and castle (by putting the tower/legs in the slots), take the three goblins with a star on them and place them on the first three spaces, and you’re ready to roll!
I mentioned that my four-year-old did this. Well, that’s mostly true. When we sat down to play, he took the deck and started dealing cards. As in, he would have dealt out the entire deck had I not stopped him. Just one card, buddy. But it had been a couple weeks since we had last played, yet he still remembered the process. Making setup simple for a child is so important for a game directed at their age group. There are a lot of kid games out there that require adult setup (and supervision!), but My First Castle Panic is easy to set up, and easy to remember, too.
For those familiar with the original Castle Panic, the gameplay is similar…yet different. Instead of being threatened on all sides by monsters, My First Castle Panic simply has a lone road leading up to the castle. Just like the original, the areas are colored, however in this version, they alternate shapes as well as colors. Red Triangle, Green Circle, Blue Square…that kind of thing. And instead of Archers and Swordsmen, the cards have matching symbols and colors.
First, the active player draws a card. Then, you play a card. Of course, there needs to be a monster on a space that matches the card you wish to play. So, if there’s a monster on thee Red Square space, you would need a card with thee matching shape and color in order to defeat that monster and send it packing to the dungeon.
But what if you don’t have a matching card? This is where the cooperative stuff takes place. Instead of playing a card from your own hand, you can ask a fellow player for help (assuming they have a card that works). You can show each other your cards, talk about what you should do, and otherwise work as a team. If the monster is defeated (i.e. the card symbol matches the space symbol), the monster is removed from the game and put in the box dungeon.
|The card with the blue circle is able to capture the monster on the space with the blue circle. Easy peasy!
After one card has been played (or help asked for), the monsters move one space toward the castle. Then, a new monster is drawn and placed at the starting space. The game ends in victory for all players when they defeat all the monsters (including any on the path). However, if the castle is destroyed (by monsters moving into the castle wall and then into the castle after that), the players lose together.
My First Castle Panic certainly has the same feel as the regular Castle Panic, just with a more silly and kiddie feel to it. The rules are not complex, and it’s not hard to teach, although some coaching is certainly going to be useful at times. The thing about cooperative games like this is it’s not actually about winning. Sure, it’s a lot of fun for the kids when they win, but learning to win and lose together is a big life lesson that I’m a afraid many former children have forgotten. Instead of telling the kids what to do and when to do it, coach them. Ask them questions to get their brains working. Ask about what card(s) they have. Ask what spots the monsters are on, and if they have something they can play to stop the monster. Telling what to do will win you the game pretty much every time, but for me as a parent, the real fun in this game comes when I see the gears start turning in their heads, light-bulbs turning on, and smiles spreading across their face when they made a good play.
If we lose, that’s another lesson in itself. And if we win? Well, that’s just a perk.
Theme and Mechanics:
The theme is the same of the original Castle Panic—save the castle from invading monsters! It’s a great theme for kids (and adults!), and the bottom half of the box doubles as a dungeon, which they always have fun with when they defeat a monster and put the creature away to rot.
The mechanics encourage helping and asking for help, which is great. My four-year-old always wants to do things his way (I mean, who doesn’t?), but he’s quickly learning that if he doesn’t ask for help, things will go downhill fast. The mechanics do a lot to foster learning and growth. In particular (and according to the box), the game helps teach:
- Matching (colors and shapes)
- Strategic thinking
- Planning ahead
- Taking turns
As a board game reviewer, a rule book editor, and a gamer in general, I feel like I’m always learning from new games. Learning is a life-long pursuit, and it doesn’t stop when we get older. However, children are constantly learning (after all, life is so incredibly new to them!), and we can certainly take that and run with it. We’re always trying to give our kids “teaching moments” or help them succeed on their own, and to have a game that helps teach those same, important things is absolutely wonderful.
And, the mechanics are simple enough that even a child can do it.
Artwork and Components:
The art is fun and age appropriate. Instead of archers and swordsmen and knights, the cards show kids dressed as wizards and other medieval fantasy tropes, but instead of traditional weapons, they have nets and lassos and other contraptions. And the monsters are fun-looking as well, much like what you’d see in a cartoon. It’s great, because as much as I want my kids to grow up loving games (and learning from them!), I don’t want them to have nightmares after playing. So far, we’re 100% nightmare free!
- Teaches important and age-appropriate skills.
- Easy to set up—even a four-year-old can do it! (For the most part.)
- Fun art
- Dungeon box
- It’s not a roll-and-move!
For a game designed to be approachable by kids four years old and older, they did a fantastic job. My First Castle Panic sets out what it intended to do in a smooth, streamlined way, and I have nothing bad to say about it. My kids love it (even if one of them is two-and-a-half and is still figuring out life), and it’s not total drudgery to play as an adult, either.
Obviously, if I have a game night with friends my age, I won’t be taking this off the shelf to play. Rather, we’ll play the regular version. But for kids – and especially young kids – this game hits the target every time it shoots. It’s fast, fun, and full of opportunities to learn. It’s also a good way for adults to learn how to not be an alpha gamer when it comes to cooperative games (you know who I’m talking about..).
In the end, My First Castle Panic is a wonderful game for kids, and when my kid says, “I love this game,” I know he’s not just saying that so I’ll quote him in my review.
Players Who Like:
If you have young kids or grandkids and want to start getting them into gaming, I would heartily recommend My First Castle Panic. If you yourself are a fan of Castle Panic and other cooperative games…this one might be a wee bit too simple for you, but again, the kids dig it.
Check out My First Castle Panic on:
About the Author:
Benjamin Kocher hails from Canada but now lives in Kentucky with his wife and kids. He’s a certified copyeditor through UC San Diego’s Copyediting Extension program. He’s a freelance writer and editor, and covers everything from board game rule books to novels. An avid writer of science fiction and fantasy, it comes as no surprise that his favorite board games are those with rich, engaging themes. When he’s not writing or playing games, Benjamin loves to play ultimate Frisbee, watch and play rugby, and read the most epic fantasy books available. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminKocher and Instagram @Benjamin_Kocher, and read his board game-inspired fiction at BenjaminKocher.com.
Check out Benjamin’s reviews here.