The Castle Review by David Lent
Mayfair Games’ The Castle is an old, 1980’s microgame. It’s a dungeon delve that can be played by 1 to 6 players either cooperatively or competitively. The goal is to rescue the princess from her cell by getting the keys to unlock her door. There are monsters and treasure in every room, but be careful what you pick up, because some of the treasure is actually traps and they are really deadly in this game. In the solitaire game, you win if you rescue the princess. When playing competitively, the player with the most points at the end of the game wins.
The Castle includes a map, ziplock bag, rulebook and 108 die cut counters. The map is very simple and shows all the rooms in the castle including the princess’s cell. There are six entrances players can choose from to enter. What I really like about the map is most of the necessary charts and tables are printed directly on it. You only have to use the rulebook to look up the details for spells, magic items and traps. The counters represent characters, monsters, NPC’s and treasure. Characters, monsters and NPC’s have the type and constitution written on them. The treasure consists of magic items, gold, curses and traps. All of the counters have very rudimentary artwork on them or in some cases no artwork at all! This is pretty common for these old games from the early 1980’s.
Setup for the castle is very simple. You place one monster and one treasure facedown in each room, except for the cell. In that room, you place the princess. The players then choose whether they will be playing cooperatively or competitively. In competitive games with 3 or more players, they can form teams. In the solitaire game I played, I used a team of 3 characters. There are three character classes players can choose from: fighter, cleric and wizard. Fighters have the most constitution (hit points) and can use the +1 sword if they find it. Clerics fight undead and witches with advantage and are not affected by curses. Wizards cast spells, but are poor melee fighters. The wizard’s have the usual spells, such as charm, fireball, teleport, etc. However, their most important spell is ESP. It allows them to examine the monster, treasure or both in a room before entering. As mentioned before, the traps in this game are really nasty and you need to avoid as many of them as possible or your party won’t survive long enough to rescue the princess.
There is quite a diverse cast of monsters in this game. They range from typical monsters such as goblins, slimes, trolls, various undead and giant insects to witches and NPC’s. The witches cast some nasty spells, so it’s good to use ESP to avoid them. Trolls can regenerate, so they are worth avoiding also. The NPC’s are dwarves and elves. They are worth victory points if you escort them out of the castle at the end of the game. I found they are more useful as additional members of your party. They are willing to fight any creature that does not have a higher constitution than them.
The most useful treasure in this game is the keys and the magic items. The princess’s cell can only be opened with an “A” key and a “B” key or two skeleton keys or an “A” key and skeleton key or a “B” key and a skeleton key. There are two other items that are essential for victory: the potion of healing and the medallion of ESP. The medallion will allow its wearer to use ESP each turn. Conversely, the items that harm you the most are the curses, poison vapor, spore and trap counters. The poison and spore counters harm every character in the room, while the trap only harms the character that examined it.
Sequence of play:
1) Each wizard may use ESP, heroism, speed or teleport. Characters may use medallions, potions or try to figure out how to operate the pistol
2) Party movement. All allied characters must move together.
3) Spell casting combat against monsters or enemy characters. Acid bottles or the pistol may fire in this round.
4) Melee rounds until all monsters or characters are dead
5) One brave party member may choose to examine the treasure in the room
Combat is very simple in this game. For spells, you roll on a table to see if the spell succeeds and then roll again to see what effect or damage it does. Some spells may harm the wizard if he rolls poorly. Melee is done in a series of rounds between one character and the enemy or monster. The character rolls a die and adds or subtracts modifiers and the results is the number of hits the enemy takes. If the total hits exceed the monsters constitution, it dies. The monster then fights back using the same number the character rolled and referencing the monsters combat results table on the map to see how much damage it did. This is the simplest combat system I’ve ever seen in a dungeon delve and it is very fast and fun.
I played this game solo, cooperatively and competitively. The solo and cooperative games were fantastic and really well balanced. In both those games, my party was down to just one character when the princess was finally rescued. In the competitive game, the princess was never rescued and the winner just exited the dungeon after the other player died. The monsters and traps are deadly enough that you don’t need to be fighting other characters. NPC’s are very useful in this game and it’s really difficult to win without them.
This game is not as detailed as some of the other dungeon delves I’ve played lately, such as Four Against Darkness or Deathmaze. However, it was just as much fun as those if not more so. The random setup each game ensures that no two games are alike and it was very refreshing to play a fantasy game where ESP is the most useful spell. I’m tired of charm and fireball being the game winning spells in games like D&D. Every game of The Castle I played was tough and down to the wire. If I were in the mood for a quick dungeon delve, I’d rather play this than most of today’s more sophisticated fantasy games. I love this old game and highly recommend it.
Watch the unboxing video below to see the components: