I’ve long been a fan of Justin De Witt’s *Panic games. I first played Castle Panic back in the early 2010s and really enjoyed it. That enjoyment was eclipsed by Star Trek Panic, which we had a ton of fun with. Now that my kids are starting to finally reach the age where games with them are actually interesting (please no more memory games), I’m still always on the lookout for new experiences with them. While they are too young for Castle Panic, Fireside Games has now addressed that with My First Castle Panic.
To make Castle Panic more kid-friendly, Fireside has distilled the essence of the original down to a quick-playing game that’s accessible to kids even as young as 4. Is it fun? Let’s find out.
My First Castle Panic is a cooperative game where the players are trying to stop the monsters from smashing up their castle. Each player starts the game with a single face-up card and three monsters waiting for them along the path to the castle. Every card can capture a monster from a space that matches the shape and color of its icon. So the hero card with the green triangle can capture the monster on the green triangle space on the board. There are also a few hero cards that function like wild cards because they have all symbols or all colors; these give the players a bit more flexibility.
On a player’s turn, they first must draw a card and then can either play a card from their own hand or ask another player to help by playing one of their cards. Captured monsters are sent back to the game box, cleverly illustrated as a dungeon. Then all remaining monsters on the board advance one space. Finally, a new monster is spawned at the end of the track.
Most monsters have no abilities, but some do. There are three monster powers that you will encounter: the monster will jump to the front of the line; the monster will push all monsters forward one space; the monster will push all monsters and also spawn another monster. If a monster ever reaches the castle wall, the wall is destroyed. If a monster then reaches the castle, the castle itself destroyed and the players lose. If all the monsters are captured, the players win.
My kids are just about to hit 5 years old, so I feel like they are in the sweet spot for this game. They can easily recognize shapes and colors, and there is no reading involved. The hardest thing for them to grasp was the special abilities of the monsters (and strategy), but the iconographic is pretty clear, and after a few games I didn’t have to help them with that anymore.
My usual barometer for kids games is whether I am bored to tears playing, and do my kids ask to play again after the game is over? And I can happily say that My First Castle Panic passed both those tests with flying colors. While the game will never hit my gaming table on game night, it’s still entertaining for me to play with my kids. I try to hang back and let them decide on strategies, deciding which monster is the best one to capture with a card.
Of course, that plan backfired a little when I tried to capture a monster that wasn’t the closest to the castle. My daughter promptly told me that no, we need to capture the monster closest to the castle and that I was going to do that. She grabbed my card and captured the monster. Turn over. I was testing them to see if they were understanding the strategy (pass!), however, I think I inadvertently taught my daughter how to quarterback a cooperative board game (oops).
So do my kids like it? They love it. We played three times in a row when we first played it and they have asked to play it numerous times since then. My son says it’s his favorite game, but he also says just about everything he is currently talking about is his favorite, so take that with a grain of salt. I do worry that my kids will age out of My First Castle Panic pretty quickly. The gameplay is perfect for their age now because it’s so simple, but I can easily see them growing bored of it as they gain more gaming experience. So this one will probably have low staying power, but it also carries a price tag $20-$25, so that’s not a huge deal.
My First Castle Panic was a home run at my kid’s gaming table. (AKA the coffee table). They love playing it and the ruleset is easy enough that they can understand how to play with minimal assistance from me. While I appreciated the rulebook giving options to make the game harder or easier, I do fear that they will age out of this one pretty quickly. But that’s ok, because OG Castle Panic is just around the corner for them.
As usual, I don’t give ratings for kids’ games, because your experience will greatly vary depending on the age and experience of your child. That being said, I have no questions about recommending My First Castle Panic for kids in the 4-5 age range.