Welcome prisoner, to a new era of The Dark Castle. The Death Knight has risen to prominence, his dark cult bringing new danger to the castle, his deadly curses plaguing those who seek to escape... Cult of the Death Knight is an expansion pack for Escape the Dark Castle, introducing new rules and content to expand and deepen your adventures. Along with a new boss, chapters and curse cards, this pack introduces 3 new playable characters: the Bishop, Hunter, and Mason. The new prisoners are all specialists in one particular area: The Mason’s might knows no bounds, the Hunter can be counted on for cunning, and the Bishop is well-known for his wisdom.
3 New Characters & their Custom Dice - each a powerful specialist
15 New Chapter Cards – taking you to new areas of The Dark Castle
1 New Boss Card – the Death Knight himself, Lord of Decay
3 New Item Cards – Introducing Curses, terrible afflictions to thwart your progress
1 Custom Cultist Dice – Pray you won't need to roll it
- Players 1-4
- Play Time 20-45 Minutes
- Age 14+
Back in the 1980s I spent many happy hours getting lost in the worlds created by Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson in their Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. I had quite an impressive collection back then and still have fond memories of the time I spent hunting down the night prince Zanbar Bone in City Of Thieves, searching for the missing pieces of a magic warhammer in The Forest Of Doom or navigating the deadly dungeons of The Warlock Of Firetop Mountain - to name just a few.
I have to say that I regret not holding onto my collection of books, however, all is not lost because in 2017 I became aware of Escape The Dark Castle, a game which brought memories of my childhood adventures flooding back to me.
Escape The Dark Castle, to quote it’s creators, Themeborne, is a simple, co-operative fantasy game with a stylish design inspired by 80's fantasy nostalgia which is largely inspired by the TV programme Knightmare, the Fighting Fantasy gamebook series, Dungeons & Dragons and Hero Quest. A game inspired by my favourite childhood TV programme, my favourite childhood book series AND my favourite childhood board game? Upon realising that someone had created the game of my dreams I embarked on a real life quest to find myself a copy of Escape The Dark Castle, a quest that took me on a long journey down the perilous M6 motorway to visit the fabled UK Games Expo at the Birmingham NEC.
Unfortunately, I found out about Escape The Dark Castle too late to back the original Kickstarter campaign but since acquiring the base game at UKGE 2017 I have purchased all three expansions and the collectors box, so when Zatu Games asked me to write this review for the first expansion pack ‘Cult of the Death Knight’ I was more than happy to oblige!
The Cult of the Death Knight
Before I talk about the contents of this expansion pack, how to use it and my thoughts, allow me to set the scene of The Cult of the Death Knight with these words from the first page of the rule book:
“Welcome prisoner, to a new era of The Dark Castle. The Death Knight himself, legendary swordsman and the one they call ‘Lord Of Decay’, has risen to prominence. The weak and the mindless flock to his banner, twisted by his dark influence into powerful, feral fanatics. They say he sends curses to crawl into the souls of the weary. His goal? To bring the entire castle under his corrupting dominion. Beware the curses, prisoner. Beware the Death Knight”
The Cult of the Death Knight contains three character cards with matching dice, 15 chapter cards, one cult dice, five curse cards and one boss card. To use this expansion pack you must own a copy of the Escape The Dark Castle core set.
- Character Cards - The Mason, Hunter and Bishop. Unlike the characters in the base game these three are not balanced in terms of statistics, each character has one speciality skill and is weak in the other two areas. For example, the Mason has very high might and the lowest possible cunning and wisdom. These characters are a nice addition and I found that they worked really well together when recently playing a three-player game as each of us had a different speciality skill.
- Chapter Cards - Once again, Themeborne have done an incredible job with the artwork on these cards which is so evocative of 1980's role playing nostalgia. The new cards feature a mixture of enemies, encounters and dangerous scenarios, but this time with a new twist: Five of the enemies that you will face in this new adventure are members of the Cult of the Death Knight and have a cult marking on the bottom right of their cards. Cult members deal one extra point of damage during combat to any player who is under the effect of the Death Knights curse known as ‘Marked for death’. Trust me, you really do not want to be marked for death, if this happens you are in all kinds of trouble!
- Curse Cards - The five curse cards are shuffled into the deck of item cards, previously the item deck was safe and only contained rewards but now, every time a player draws a card from the deck they run the risk of becoming cursed. The five curse cards all have different effects but the worst by far is ‘Marked for death’. Players who have been marked don’t just take extra damage from cult members, they also lose the ability to rest during combat and worst of all, if their health falls below half of its starting level they begin to yield to the corrupting power of the cult and must replace their character dice with the cult dice.
- Cult Dice - The cult dice features two might, two wisdom and two cunning, each of these has a white and a black version on the dice. During combat a marked player who has started to yield to the cult rolls the cult dice, if it lands on one of the white sides the attack can be resolved as normal, however, if it lands on a black side, the cult dice, as rolled, is added to the row of dice beneath the chapter card in play and the marked player takes no further part in that particular combat. This continues in all future combat unless the player manages to get their health back to half its starting level or higher, the cult dice can then be switched for the character dice, but the player remains marked for death for the rest of the game.
- The Boss Card - The Death Knight, Lord of Decay, who boldly claims “My fighting skill is legend! You will not land a single blow." Well, when I first faced The Death Knight this was more or less the case. He has a unique combat ability that can make him a nightmare to deal with but as this is the final card in the pack that we are talking about I won’t reveal any further details about him, all I’ll say is that he is a worthy addition to the delightfully evil bosses contained in the core set.
Final Thoughts on Cult of the Death Knight
I very rarely purchase expansions for any type of game, but I loved Escape The Dark Castle so much that I ordered Cult of the Death Knight after only playing one game with the core set and certainly have not regretted that decision. The marked for death curse card certainly makes things challenging if you are unlucky enough to draw it, not to mention the other four curses, the details of which I’ll leave as a surprise for those who decide to add this expansion to their collection. I would suggest starting by playing with the new chapter cards a few times as a standalone adventure before mixing them into the deck of chapter cards included in the core set.
One of the great things about this and the other two expansions is that with every game you can include as much expansion content as you wish, you may for example choose to play with the new chapter cards but use characters from the core set and not include the curse cards, how much you include depends how much of a challenge you want. It’s clear that a lot of love and thought went into the making of all of the content for this game and I really appreciate the fact that Themeborne went the extra mile by including items that can really shake up the rules such as the curse cards and cult dice.
For anyone who enjoyed Escape The Dark Castle I’d say the purchase of this expansion is a no brainer! It won’t break the bank, it will add more variety and surprises to the original game and the more cards you add to the core set, the less chance you have of becoming over familiar with the chapter cards.
Having said that, keep in mind that there are only 15 new chapter cards in this pack so there is a limit to how much replay-ability this pack alone will add. I’m very excited to see what Themeborne do next with Escape The Dark Castle, especially as they claim on their website that future additions will take you beyond the castle itself.