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Review: Castle Panic Engines of War Expansion

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Castel Panic EOW: Box

Hmm. The monsters have been up to something out there in the woods beyond your castle, but you haven’t been able to figure out their nefarious plans. Until now. When they come out with new, scary friends and all new war toys, including a siege tower, war wagon and battering ram, the mystery is solved. Plus, they’ve apparently invested in education because they’ve learned how to build encampments! Fortunately, you’ve got a really smart guy on your team, too: The engineer. He can build new traps, barricades, pits, catapults and ballistas (which are like catapults for pointy projectiles). The battle to defend the castle is on again, the monsters are getting smarter, and you need everything the engineer can crank out to defend your castle. (Can we ask again whose idea it was to build a castle in the middle of a monster-infested forest? And kick him out?) 

How It Plays

Engines of War is an expansion for the cooperative game Castle Panic. Since we’ve already reviewed Castle Panic, I won’t go into detail about how to play the base game as you can read our earlier review if you need a refresher. Note that this expansion can also be played with any or all of the other Castle Panic expansions and the rulebook offers instructions for incorporating other expansions. For the purpose of this review, however, I’m only going to talk about Engines of War on its own.

Engines of War adds several new pieces and options to the base game. The biggest additions are the resource deck and the engineer. Used together, these allow you to build new weapons like traps and catapults. To use the engineer, you must first assign him a task by placing the task tile above the engineer so that the item you want to build faces the engineer. To complete the task and build the equipment, players must play the required resource cards on to the engineer tile. When all of the resources have been collected, the task is complete and the object is built and immediately put into play.

Note that you cannot change a task once it has been started. You can cancel the task, but doing so means you must discard any already-played resource cards and start over.

Castel Panic EOW: Keep Token
The Keep token and one side of the task tile.

The smaller items you can build are called Field Equipment and include traps, barricades, and pits. These have various minor effects on the monsters such as dealing one point of damage or driving them back into the woods.

The larger build items are called Castle Equipment and include catapults and ballistas. These deal heavier damage to the monsters and you can target specific monsters with them. Firing these items requires players to discard cards that match the targeted monsters’ space. The ballista damages not only the targeted monster, but also monsters behind him. The catapult deals three points of damage in the target space, allocated however the player wishes if there is more than one monster in the space. The engineer and resource deck are also used to build castle walls, instead of using the castle deck as you did in the base game.

You can also use the engineer to rebuild the Keep, should it be destroyed. The Keep is a new tall tower token that is already built at the beginning of the game, but which can be destroyed by the monsters, just like any of the other castle towers and walls. Since you need the Keep in order to build the catapult and ballista (they fire from the top of the Keep), you want to keep it form getting destroyed in the first place, or rebuild it as fast as you can.

Of course, since the heroes get new toys, the monsters do, too. It’s only fair. There are three new monsters: The Breathtaker prevents players from trading cards, the Goblin Saboteur sacrifices himself to destroy your fortifications, and the Shaman heals wounded monsters.

Castel Panic EOW: Engineer
The Engineer tile

They also get a battering ram, a war wagon, and a siege tower. These create various problems for the heroes to solve and obstacles to be removed. These weapons can be damaged and destroyed by the heroes, just like the monsters. Note that these weapons are “crewed” by a team of monsters. Any damage dealt applies to the weapon, first, until it is destroyed and then to the monster crew. You have to destroy the weapon first, then work on the monsters left behind!

Finally, the monsters get encampments, which change how they enter the game. Encampments basically give newly drawn monsters a more advantageous starting position than they would otherwise receive. The heroes can damage and destroy these fortifications, as well. Monsters also get a couple of new effect tokens which, when in play, give them greater numbers and faster movement.

The goal of the game remains the same: Defeat all the monsters and have at least one castle tower still standing. Note that the new Keep does not count as a tower for purposes of determining victory.

Does This Engine Hum, or Cough and Sputter?

I’ll just come right out and say it: Engines of War (EOW) offers everything I like in an expansion, and really nothing that I don’t. So what makes a great expansion for me? One that offers a little bit more of everything good about the game without changing the basic rules too much. (For example, an expansion that offers more cards for a card-based game, thus increasing replayability.) Or, one which adds a great new mechanism or decision point but, again, without overwhelming players with new rules or drastically altering the feel/gameplay of the base game.

Engines of War manages to do both. On the one hand, it offers a few more “little” things that simply add more variability and puzzles to solve. This is mostly on the monster side. Adding more monsters with new skills, giving the monsters some new weapons, adding in some new monster effects, and the encampments all make the monsters just a bit more challenging to defeat and less predictable in their behavior. Any cooperative game is a bit of a puzzle that must be solved and the new monster additions can be thought of as simply adding more “pieces” to the puzzle that is Castle Panic.

Castel Panic EOW: Resources
New resource cards.

On the other hand, the Engineer offers a whole new mechanism and way to play but the rules are so simple and intuitive, and fit so well into the base game, that it feels like he’s been part of the game all along.

Building weapons is as simple as deciding what you want to build, putting the engineer to work, and then collecting the required cards to build your item. But it’s not that simple, really. You now have two decks of cards from which to draw: The castle and resource decks. This gives you more control over your destiny than in the base game because you can draw from the resource deck if you want to build and from the castle deck if you have more need to defend. Or both if you want to split the difference. You aren’t just at the mercy of the whatever comes out of the castle deck. Nothing stinks more than getting a much of build cards when you really need something to slay a monster! 

Of course, with more control comes more decisions. Which cards do you need right now? What do your fellow players already have that you might be able to trade? If you draw and try to perform defense actions this turn, can your teammates complete the build you’ve started? Is that even the right build now, or should you start over with something else you need more? The engineer gives you not only new ways to defend your castle, but also new decisions to make in how and when to deploy his skills. (And, let’s not forget, building stuff is just fun.)

Castel Panic EOW: Monsters
Some of the new monsters, monster effects, and monster toys.

One of the “knocks” that Castle Panic takes in the gamer community is that it’s too simple and more of a kid’s game. All of the expansions have done a good job of changing this perception, but I find that Engines of War is one of the best.

This expansion on its own doesn’t transform Castle Panic into something akin to Eldritch Horror in terms of complexity. Castle Panic is never going to be that involved no matter how many expansions you throw at it. What is does do, however, is move the game from simple to slightly more challenging and puzzly. It gives players a bit more to do and think about without overwhelming them with options, fiddly rules, or new mechanisms.

Neither does it add significantly to the game time which is great as Castle Panic is a good game for kids, weeknights, and new gamers who aren’t interested in spending two hours at the table. The Engineer is really the only major change in the game and he’s so well-integrated that it’s really not a burden to use this expansion even with first-timers.

Castel Panic EOW: Aids
Handy-dandy player aids.

EOW is a good “bang for your buck” expansion. It’s not that pricey and you get a good amount of quality components and additions to the game. The whole thing increases the replayability of the game, so if you were finding Castle Panic getting tired with repeated plays, this is an inexpensive way to freshen it up.

Are there negatives? Sure, but they’re more a matter of taste than flaws with the expansion. First, if you didn’t like Castle Panic at all, this isn’t going to change your mind. It’s still the same game, only with a little more challenge.

Second, while it doesn’t overwhelm with new rules and fiddly components, there are some new things that must be managed and set up. If Castle Panic is already enough for you, then EOW may be too much. This only increases the more expansions you add. If you play with all three expansions, expect a lot more fiddliness and rules overhead. The EOW rulebook does a good job of explaining how to integrate with the other expansions, but it’s a lot to remember. 

Castel Panic EOW: Traps
Your new weapons and the other side of the engineer tile.

Third, some people like Castle Panic just as it is, or they find it the perfect level of difficulty. If this is you, then adding any expansion, even one as well-integrated as EOW, may be too much and ruin what you think is a fine game.

For those who like Castle Panic but find it to be too simple or not re-playable enough, EOW is a great addition. I’d even go so far as to recommend it as the first expansion people should buy once they decide to beef up the game. (I used to put Wizard’s Tower in this slot but I now feel that EOW is a much better “next step” or half-step up than Wizard’s Tower.) It’s a brilliant combination of a game-altering mechanism with a little more of the good stuff thrown in, all packed in an intuitive, easy to learn rules package.

iSlaytheDragon.com thanks Fireside Games for giving us a copy of Engines of War to review. 

  • 9.5
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Summary

Pros

Adds complexity/challenge to the base game, which many gamers find overly simple.
New elements increase replayability.
Not overly complicated; adds "more of the same."
Good bang for the buck.
Doesn't add significant time to the game.
The building aspect is fun and adds another puzzle to solve.

Cons

Adds a little more fiddliness and rules overhead, particularly when combined with prior expansions.
Extra complexity may not be desired by some groups.

9.5 E

I like games with tiles/modular boards that set up and play differently each time. I’m also one of “those people” who likes dice and revels in randomness.

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