Pity the poor inhabitants of Castle Panic. Not content with facing only Trolls, Orcs and Goblins they have also tested their resolve against Hydra’s, Dragons, Necromancers and a host of other things that go bump in the night.
As the dust of battle settles and the crackle of magic fades, the Castle looks forward to a period of well-earned rest.
But there is a stirring in the void; an ancient terror pressing against the constraints of its domain. Dark magic is afoot! Well-armed and well-trained monsters are seen in the lands surrounding the castle and whispers tell of the return of The Dark Titan: Agnarok.
The Castle begins preparing for war again. New defences are developed and messengers sent seeking aid. News of the coming battle also brings a new hero to the castle gates, one not content with fighting from behind walls….
Monsters, monsters everywhere…
The Dark Titan (designed by Justin De Witt) is the second expansion set to Castle Panic. Following on from and fully compatible with The Wizards Tower, it introduces several new mechanics and a variety of new monsters. The most significant feature is Agnarok, The Dark Titan himself. A fearsome new eight-point monster, he is resistant to instant kill effects and much non-hit card damage.
Players can chip away at Agnarok's impressive health total. Wound the Titan sufficiently, however, and its token is flipped over and all players lose a card. To finally be destroyed he must take two or more wounds in a single turn. Once he is finally defeated his body returns to the void rather than a player’s trophy collection.
A new monster type, the Herald, acts as a timer for Agnarok. A Herald drawn from the bag is placed, not on the board, but on the Agnarok character card. Once three heralds are drawn Agnarok himself is placed on the board, hurling boulders and banishing cards.
Aside from the Titan and his heralds, there is a handful of new monsters ranging from the tweak on the familiar Elite Trolls, Goblins and Orcs to the explosive Boom Troll and hand limiting Dark Sorceress. There are also Plagues and Wither. New effect tokens that can remove your best cards if they appear at the wrong time.
The range of monsters and effects add up to a bad day at the office for the defenders of Castle Panic. However, The Dark Titan is not all one sided. New additions to the Castle deck include Boiling Oil and Barrage, both very useful at the right time. More significantly, however, are the new character, The Cavalier, and the Support Tokens.
The Cavalier allows the defenders to come from behind the castle walls to take the fight to the monsters. Moving around the board, The Cavalier, mops up lower point value monsters before valiantly charging to certain death at the hands of a more powerful enemy.
The Support tokens are reinforcements hiding amongst the monster tokens. Starting in the forest these reinforcements move slowly but surely towards the castle. If they reach the castle, they can provide a much needed bolster for the castle walls, the cards in hand or damage dealt that turn.
A Mixed Bag
Castle Panic is a great, family focused, co-operative tower defence game. However, especially for groups of more experienced gamers', it suffers over time and with repeated plays due to a lack of variety in its monsters and the simplicity of its rules.
The first expansion, The Wizards Tower, fixed this issue. Containing a swathe of new monsters and mechanics, The Wizard’s Tower turned Castle Panic into something approaching a ‘gamers game’. This new complexity, however, took Castle Panic away from its roots as a family game.
The Dark Titan represents a half-way house. It ups the challenge of Castle Panic considerably without changing the basics very much. Providing longevity for families that have outgrown the base game while minimising the risk of alienating younger or newer players. At this, The Dark Titan succeeds very well.
Five Agnarok character cards are included in this expansion. Each representing a progressively more challenging version of the Dark Titan, from the relatively gentle to the ferociously difficult. He also provides a strong new focus to the game and a thoroughly enjoyable anticipatory element. A Sauron-esque character that looms large over the board. You know he is coming yet will he, won’t he appear this turn? If players draw the character difficulty card without revealing it they could be in for a quite the challenge when he does.
Or not. And here’s the thing about Castle Panic: The Dark Titan; as good as the central character is, the remainder of the new components tend to amplify the weakest element of the base game: it's sheer randomness.
When the new effect tokens come into play, their influence ranges from game changing to anti-climactic. A green plague when there is a concentration of monsters in the green spaces and the next player has a strong hand can snatch victory away. The same token when the monsters are cluttering the blue spaces, or no player has green hit cards is a non-event.
The new Elite monsters simply avoid damage at the roll of a die feels like a missed opportunity every time they appear on the board. The Boom Troll is better. A monster that can cause havoc if it reaches the castle walls, however, knowing this makes it a hit card magnet. Its explosive effect can even be turned into a useful defence, if the cards, and monsters, play out right.
Casting a spell on the defenders, the Dark Sorceress reduces the hand size permitted to players. This restriction can be devastating with multiple monster tokens in play, or not much of anything if there is a calm before the storm. It all depends on the order in which tokens are drawn.
This random draw also renders any strategy to take advantage of the benefits the new defences provide futile.
The Cavalier and Support tokens are both interesting ideas that appear to offer an increase in the ability to organise your defence across multiple turns. However, after a few plays these suffer from the same issue as the new monsters: very helpful at times, utterly useless at others. Very fragile once on the board and as likely to appear with no monsters in sight as they are when needed, these feel like an added complication rather than a help much of the time. A fact not improved by the absence of player aids summarising the rules for the new components.
Joy and Frustration
It's possible, of course, to argue that this randomness is all part of the joy of Castle Panic. It is not a serious strategy game. Instead it is light-hearted and fun and without the random elements maybe some of what makes it great would be lost. From that point of view, The Dark Titan works brilliantly and adds a tremendous amount of fun to an already fun game.
However, there is a part of me that can see the arrival of Agnarok coming and wants to plan for it. The part of me that wants to put together a killer combo of hit cards and effects to play at just the right time three turns from now. That part of me comes away frustrated at spending the whole game reacting to events rather than planning for them.
Final Thoughts on The Dark Titan
Castle Panic: The Dark Titan is a small expansion that ups the ante where needed while still allowing a gradual increase in challenge. Overall, it’s an interesting proposition that brings out the best, and the worst, in the base game. By no means essential and yet, once added, it’s unlikely you’ll ever play Castle Panic without it.