Escape the Dark Castle: A Casual Dungeon Crawl Game with a Dark Atmosphere that Won't Let You Down

Escape the Dark Castle

A dungeon crawler for a casual audience, the Dark Castle is tough to escape and tougher to forget. Each play through will be different as the castle changes every time you play. Dive in and try to survive, if you dare!

Gameplay

Each player chooses a character and takes that character’s die. The castle is created by shuffling the chapter card deck and dealing fifteen cards from it into a new deck. You place one of the three boss cards at the bottom of the deck, place the chapter dice within reach, and the game begins.

Every die has three different symbols that it can roll: might, cunning, and wisdom. Character dice also have two sides which show doubles of a symbol. Each of the six characters is slightly different, with a different number of each symbol appearing on their die.

Each round, players choose which character will turn over the next card in the chapter deck. Some chapter cards will have things happen to the character drawing the card or have her roll her die, other cards will present the entire group with a choice, and many of them will contain enemies, some of which you can avoid or choose one of two ways to fight.

When combat is about to begin, you look at the symbols marked on the monster’s card. You take a chapter die for each symbol on the card, turn it to show that symbol, and then set it beneath the monster. Many monsters will also have you roll an additional chapter die for each player in the game, and set the results down beneath the card.

Combat is divided into two phases, attack and defend. During the attack phase, one player may choose to rest, which means they sit out until the next attack phase, do not take damage, and regain one health point. All players who aren’t resting roll their character die. If the result matches one of the chapter dice symbols beneath the monster, that chapter die is discarded. If you roll double, you can discard two die that match that symbol. Once all the monster’s dice are discarded, the monster is defeated and one item card is drawn. After each player has rolled their character die, it is the defend phase. If the monster is still alive, it deals the damage shown on its card to each player (unless a player rolled a double, in which case he is immune from the attack this round). A new round of combat then begins and continues until either the monster or a player is killed. If a player is killed, the game is over.

Each player can hold up to two items, which can be traded freely between chapter cards. These items can help you do things such as reroll in combat, heal hit points, or alter chapter dice.

If players survive through all fifteen chapter cards and defeat the boss, they escape the Dark Castle and win the game.

Escape the Dark Castle Components

Review

Escape the Dark Castle has a very unique atmosphere. The artwork is darker and the situations are more grim than many of your average dungeon crawlers. This gives the game its own feel and sets it apart. There’s also a really nice, wide variety of chapter cards, and it’s particularly fun when you draw one that leaves you with a tough choice.

The game does an excellent job of taking a dungeon crawl experience, simplifying the rules, shortening the game time, and turning out a great casual game. Players are always involved, and combat is short, fast, sweet, and uncomplicated. It serves both as a fun game in and of itself, and also a great introduction to the genre.

There’s a lot of luck in the game, from the dice rolls to which chapter cards make up the castle. But the game is the perfect length for all the luck packed into it, and having a random selection of chapter cards ensures that each game always feels like you are telling a new story and waiting to see what happens next.

The game comes with a pencil and pad for keeping track of hit points — which is the game's only flaw. It’s nice that components are kept simple (but very high quality: chapter cards are nice and large, and dice are chunky and fun to roll), but since hit points go up and down so much as you rest and take damage, it gets annoying to continually have to write a new number down.

If you’re looking for a casual dungeon crawl game, you should definitely check out Escape the Dark Castle. We had a ton of fun with it. After our first play through, we immediately started a second one — and you can’t say much better than that.

Pros: Great atmosphere, streamlined experience, combat is uncomplicated

Cons: Could use a neater system for tracking health

Disclosure: we received a complimentary review copy of this game.