Welcome To The Castle Of Wandering Spirits
The base game of ‘Escape the Dark Castle’ has more than its fair share of fantastically frightening atmosphere, with a tense and unique experience guaranteed every time. Yet ‘The Scourge of the Undead Queen’ expansion can make a chill descend in any room; the Castle has been taken over by skeletal royalty, with a queen determined to hoard and punish the souls of the damned for eternity. For any party with the courage to overcome haunted passageways, being hunted by undead monsters, and resist the urge to flip the table when someone can’t open a portcullis for six rounds, they are eagerly awaited by one of the castle’s most unique bosses.
Also featured in the expansion are two new ‘Relic’ items, which add more complex strategies and riskier decisions for those who are tired of Rengorn’s Rune. For this series of tricky chapters, we can also call upon the help of 3 different companions, even if just for a short time.
Whether you have already conquered the castle and are looking for a fresh challenge, or if you could do with a companion to get your team over the line, there is something to excite all players in ‘The Scourge of the Undead Queen’
The Chapters Of The Undead Queen
As with the other expansions, this pack features a full castle of 15 brand-new chapter cards. These can be played in the out-of-the-box order, shuffled into any order, or be mixed in with other cards from the base game or expansion packs. If you want to put them back in the recommended order after shuffling, you can refer to the marking on the left side of each card, such as ‘DCUQ-CH08’ (Dark Castle Undead Queen – Chapter 8). If you have a few bad skill rolls, this castle can be even fiercer than most, with several interesting cards mixing up the format in fun ways.
The Undead Queen does not harvest all these souls by herself, with her resurrected King doing a lot of the dirty work on her behalf. While he initially doesn’t seem very threatening (dealing a single damage with few dice), he must be put back into the castle deck on top of the boss card after you defeat him; ‘you will encounter him again!’ This effectively creates a 16-chapter castle, and it isn’t like the cards around him will give you much respite. The Queen’s abode is littered with cards that require players to overcome obstacles, rather than enemies. By far the most frightening of these will haunt you and your teammates long after the game has ended, and it will make it so you never look upon a historic monument the same way again. I am of course discussing DCUQ-CH13, ‘The Portcullis of Doom’ (at least, that is what it should be called).
This fiend challenges two players, who must operate the complex portcullis gears by rolling their character dice. Each of these players must take an item card, face down, from the bottom of the deck, then roll their character dice. They then must cover the symbol on the card of the attribute they rolled with a chapter dice. Repeat this process until all the attributes are covered, but the players must not fall out of sync. If one player has covered more attributes than the other after they have both rolled, the player that is behind starts losing health. In a game where a couple of health points can be the difference between victory and defeat, getting stuck here (on one of the last cards in the castle) can be crushing.
Thankfully, there are characters who can be willing to take our place in scenarios like this, ones that can drift in and out of our journey through the castle. These are ‘Companions’.
At the start of the game, three companion event cards are shuffled into the item card deck, with each card triggering the appearance of a different companion. Each one has a unique character dice and acts like a bonus player, except the game does not end when they die/leave the party. This is good news, because companions rarely stick around for longer than a few chapters due to their low health or special characteristics. For example, ‘The Spirit of the First Prisoner’ has unlimited health (since she is ethereal), but can only take five actions before she fades away.
Each time you roll your companion’s die, they have a 1/6 chance of triggering their special ability. These abilities can end the current chapter or give your team a big boost, but your companion will not return. This can lead to some unfortunate instances wherein your companion can sacrifice themselves on their first action for no real reason, but the special ability counts as a double of your choice in non-combat situations.
When you are combining cards from multiple expansion packs (or attempting wild 20+ card castle variations), the companions can be an excellent way to give your team a better chance of winning. Make sure to shuffle that item deck well though, since I have experienced situations where no companions come up at all, or you must discard one because the event cards were far too close together (you can only have one companion at a time).
Along with companions, the Undead Queen also brings two new ancient relics to the chests and bags scattered around the castle. The first of these is the ‘Ritual Chalice’, a skull-shaped vessel with which prisoners sacrifice their health to save a struggling comrade. Players can sacrifice any amount of their own HP to give to another player, but only one person can drink from the chalice and gain the HP before the chalice, breaks? Loses its magic power? Either way, you must discard it after a single use, and it can only be used at the end of a chapter (since it would be difficult to perform a ritual whilst fighting a large insect made of bones). If one character has been particularly unlucky, this card provides a unique way to re-distribute health and restore order.
The other relic is, more complex. In fact, the ‘Crumbling Spell Book’ has so many actions and outcomes that the entire back of the rule book is dedicated to it. In short, the player holding it can choose to roll the spell book die instead of their character die at any time to ‘Manipulate’ the outcome of a challenge, ‘Revive’ (heal) other characters, or ‘Obliterate’ enemies in combat. Three sides of the dice give a positive outcome. One side gives an amazing outcome. One side causes you to lose one HP, and the dreaded skull will cause you to lose one HP AND the book will crumble to dust through your fingers.
Mathematically, it is advantageous to roll with the spell book frequently, since you get more positive outcomes than negative. In the castle, you will of course roll the skull the first time you attempt to use it. To balance out these two equally valid points of logic, I tend to only use the spell book if rolling without it would almost certainly lead to a negative outcome.
I have played quite a few games with this expansion, so I have a few tips on how best to defeat this castle and take advantage of the new cards:
Don’t save your companion up for too long by resting them, especially the Spirit, who does not benefit from doing so. This can take up a vital resting spot for a character who needs health; the companions are there to take the hits for you.
When climbing the wall of bone, place your mightiest characters at the bottom of the climbing order, so they can catch falling players who are struggling to roll might.
When fighting the Undead Queen, try to never leave her or any of her spirits unattended. If someone has two HP left, it is better to have them fight a spirit than rest them, since an unattended spirit will attack everyone.
‘The Scourge of the Undead Queen’ is an essential pick-up for fans of Escape the Dark Castle. The item cards increase the depth and excitement of drawing an item, with the chapter cards telling a supremely spooky new story. As always, the illustrations are beautiful, and the italic text immerses players into the unique ETDC experience. Can YOU defeat the Undead Queen and her army of tortured souls? If not, it’s probably the portcullis’ fault...
Note: The base game of ‘Escape the Dark Castle’ is required in order to play this expansion.