Boy, neighbors sure can be a nuisance! If you think that loud next-door parties, keeping up with the Jones’, and pesky neighborhood covenants are frustrating today, just be glad you didn’t live in the Middle Ages. I mean, you’d think the average nobleman would be happy with his intimidating parapets, piles of treasure, and a well-stocked moat of man-eating eels. But oh, no! Instead, every Lord in the subdivision has to go and send his hired thugs to take your gold. Can you defend hearth and home while sneaking over and swiping some extra coin for yourself? Your sanity will be pushed to the limits in this mad-cap, free-for all!
How it Works
So much for “Chivalry!” The goal of Castle Dash is to steal three treasures. In addition to earning victory, it also helps compensate for others taking your own gold; the prevention of which I suppose is an ancillary objective. Each round, you’ll battle on three sides of your castle – against the opponent to your right, your left, and straight across. But rather than thinking in terms of attacking or defending, it’s essentially all simultaneous. Succeed in a battle and you gain a nice advantage on that front or reap rewards. Fail and, well…
Each player begins the game with 11 soldiers and a cozy castle. The castle boards are laid out next to each other in – depending on the number of players – a triangle, square, pentagon, or hexagon. You must also give one soldier each to your three neighbors as a hostage. For 3 and 5 player games, a central castle is placed in the middle of your little polygon of fortresses to serve as everyone’s “neighbor across the street.” Think of the central castle as the AI – and it is decidedly un-neutral, relentlessly sending soldiers against you turn after turn after turn. At the start, and beginning of each subsequent round, everyone receives two cannonballs which cannot be carried over to the next round – use ‘em or lose ‘em. Also to begin each round, a number of cards are available to claim that grant special abilities for a turn.
Those rounds proceed in a smooth, three-part process. First, each player takes turns allocating one or more soldier(s) on either a card or to a battle. Only one soldier is required to claim a card, which can give you a nice benefit, but then that soldier is not available to fight that round. To place soldiers in a battle, you simply put any number from 1 and 6 in between you and the neighbor you wish to fight. The catch with battle plans is that once you’ve assigned soldiers to a particular battle, you cannot place anymore there later that same turn. So, if your neighbor has already allotted soldiers to that battle, you know what you’re up against. If not, he/she can try outmatching you.
Once everyone has issued their marching orders, combat commences. Beginning with the start player, all battles are resolved individually. Before fighting, you can try to soften up your adversary with artillery. Cannonballs give you a chance to kill an opposing soldier by rolling a number on a d6 equal to or less than the total enemy strength. This can be affected by cards, if you have them. After preliminary bombardments, both antagonists in the fray may play any number of additional cards which they claimed earlier. Both then roll a d4 and add the result to their number of soldiers, modified by any cards played. The player with the highest total wins and may place a number of soldiers equal to the difference in strength on the other’s castle wall. The central castle automatically sends 2 or 3 soldiers against everyone, but never claims cards nor uses cannonballs. It can steal your treasure, though.
Once all of the dust and steel and blood have settled, everyone looks to see if they’ve breached any walls. If you have three or more soldiers on your neighbor’s ramparts, you may either steal one of his/her treasures or rescue your man being held hostage in the dungeons. Then your victorious soldiers return to fight another day. If only one or two men are parked upon your foe’s parapets, they must stay there until reinforcements arrive. The first player to capture three treasures wins, unless some poor sap goes completely from prince to pauper, in which case the game ends and the player with the most total gold wins. The central castle may triumph, too, and then everyone loses. In case of a tie, you could always have a joust, but I’d recommend dice instead of lances, as they’re not as pointy.
Once More unto the Breach?
To give you an idea of its madness (and perhaps showing my age), I would compare playing Castle Dash to the Monty Python scene of King Arthur yelling, “Run away, run away!” as his knights assault the castle of the French taunters under a harrowing barrage of poultry, fowl, and cattle, with Sir Lancelot hacking away at the stone walls with his broadsword in the background, while the French captain slaps his helmet and mouths raspberries after the fleeing kanigguts! In other words, “Tis silly.” But fun.
Though the game is zany and chaotic, there are certainly some tactical decisions that you must consider. These add a light amount of depth. First and foremost is the decision of when to commit to a battle. Do you place soldiers first and give your opponent the opportunity to one-up you? Or should you wait and try to outmatch the enemy after seeing what strength he/she commits? Plus it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to implement a delaying tactic in every battle; so you must choose which front will give you the best advantage in waiting. Bluffing will be involved.
When allocating soldiers, there’s also an ironic dichotomy in planning on total victory or minimal defeat. At first, any sort of win may seem advantageous. However, if you only succeed at putting 1 or 2 men upon your enemy’s walls, those soldiers are out of action – and of no help at all in subsequent turns – until you’re able to press your victory further with the magic number 3. So it can be in your best interests to overwhelm the enemy in one bold strike, or not at all. Conversely, you may be able to tie up your opponent’s soldiers by actually conceding him/her a minor success in the same manner.
The cards also provide an interesting, two-punch dilemma. First is the decision of whether or not to claim one. Bonuses include extra cannonballs, extra men, increased firepower, better defense against artillery, and the ability to add or remove soldiers from castle walls. These are attractive and can often prove the difference between victory and defeat, but it also ties up a soldier that could be manning the shield wall in an important skirmish. Additionally even with the best of cards, if you use one at an inopportune time or your opponent can counteract its effect with another, then the benefits can be diminished, or neutralized altogether.
Despite these choices, a hefty dose of chance will decide the fate of numerous battles, much to your chagrin or delight. The die rolls for cannonballs and additional troops can really swing the initial dynamics of a battle. This lack of control can be countered by “bringing the house” in terms of soldiers and card modifiers, but will be of little consolation for those that like to strategically diversify their resources. Then again, diversification is a hit or miss strategy in this title. Roll high, and it can work. Roll low, and you’ll gain a whole lot of nothing.
For what it is, I think the randomness in Castle Dash is not only acceptable, but quite appropriate for the game’s mood. Now, there are a couple of quirky aspects. First, the hostage soldier seems irrelevant. For such a quick game, there’s really no benefit to passing up a treasure (one third of the way to victory) when you successfully breach a castle wall as opposed to rescuing your captive comrade. Second, while the center castle works mechanically to address the “no neighbor across the street” problem in 3 and 5 player games, it reduces a bit of the bluffing and tension. Also, battles with multiple cards involved can get fiddly in calculating strength. It could be a bit repetitive, so you probably won’t want to play several games in a row. And while I’ve not played a 6-player game, I’m not sure what more it’d offer over the 4-player format (my recommendation) other than added game length. You still only deal with your neighbors to the left, to the right, and straight across.
The components are quite nice for a small, independent publisher. The only bland aspect are the soldier pawns, which are very generic and lightweight. The treasure and cannonball tokens are basic and unassuming, but functional and durable. The stock quality for the boards and cards is sturdy and the artwork is pleasant. The rules are clear and concise. 5th Street thankfully provides little baggies for everything.
Castle Dash is a fast-paced and frantic showdown of brinksmanship, bluffing, and pushing your luck. It is quick, but not quite a filler. As such, it offers some light, strategic choices which are generously influenced by luck. Oftentimes, the winner is the best manager of chaos. Because of that, this will not be for everyone. But at half an hour, I’d find it difficult for even the most hardcore (or prudish) strategy gamers to quibble with it. In short, Castle Dash is a simple and funny romp that should prove a fun experience for families and gamers alike.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank 5th Street Games for providing a review copy of Castle Dash.