For those who grew up in the ‘80s, it’s odd to think of that decade of having its own distinctive style. But that distinctive and simple style is nowadays immediately recognisable to many; not just the faded VHS and faux-neon look, but a simpler, scrappy style common amongst fringe magazines and books. Rapid fire adventure game Escape the Dark Castle taps into this retro vibe to create something that feels as if it could have been 1985’s hot new thing.
The game is elegant in its simplicity. First, you pick a character - a Miller, a Cook, a Smith, etc. You’ve been imprisoned in the Dark Castle and you’re trying to escape. Each character has a bespoke dice and this reflects their strengths. The Smith does well in physical challenges so has lots of fist icons on their die. The Tailor isn’t that strong but is smarter and their die reflects this and so on.
Each round you draw a card called a ‘chapter’. You read out the encounter and roll dice to pass the test. Typically, this is a fight, but not always. You work together to defeat the encounter and move on, until you face ‘a boss monster’. Aesthetically, the whole thing looks great. A jet black box with a line art illustrations that look like they’ve come screaming out of some dark abyss of 1980’s style gothic fantasy. Big chunky dice. All the monsters are ghosts, demons, skeletons; proper old school nightmare fuel, the sort of thing aged moral guardians would make a fuss about. Cracking stuff. It’s quick to play as well, taking around 20 minutes to complete.
Escape the Dark Castle is a fun team game with a solid narrative and a proper look and feel. It’s so retro we can imagine the Stranger Things kids playing it, but that just makes us love it even more. Like all good games of this sort, it generates fun stories amongst players. For example, when playtesting we ran into an encounter that lead to some particularly hilarious mental images where one of our heroes kept foul of traps. In-jokes where swiftly formed; it’s that sort of game.
While the game is out now, you also may be interested to know that the expansions, as well as bespoke editions of the game, are currently on Kickstarter until July 2nd 2018. Find out more here.
ESCAPE THE DARK CASTLE / DESIGNERS: ALEX CRISPIN, THOMAS PIKE, JAMES SHELTON / ARTIST: ALEX CRISPIN / PUBLISHER: THEMEBORNE LTD / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW