Castle Assault was the biggest, and most pleasant, surprise for me at GenCon 2015. A 1–2 player battle card game meets tower defense mash-up, Castle Assault immediately exceeded my expectations and continues to entrench itself in my good graces as I rack up more and more plays.
Castle Assault’s most significant deviation from the standard card battle game is the board that the game is played on. The board is split into three lanes that run from one Castle to the other down its length. These three lanes are divided into a number of spaces that determine unit placement and movement, which means that spatial awareness and timing come to the forefront of Castle Assault.
Rather than the typical mechanic of simply placing cards on the table between players as immediate threats, Castle Assault requires units to move down a lane, step by step, in order to come in contact with, and damage, the enemy’s Castle. This means that careful planning and positioning become as important as which cards are played, as each player not only has to be considerate of which cards hit the board but also when they are played and which lane they are played in. These positioning and timing aspects really add a satisfying, crunchy layer of strategy to the game.
Castle Assault’s resource mechanic is another significant step up over the traditional system used in many card battle games. Instead of having cards specifically dedicated to producing resources, such as the Land cards in Magic: The Gathering, any and every card in Castle Assault can be played, face down, as a resource. While this mechanic isn’t unique to Castle Assault, it fits the game wonderfully and adds another strategic layer to the game.
Instead of worrying about having enough or too many resources, Castle Assault shifts resource production into a tactical decision. Players need to carefully consider which card can be sacrificed in order to become a resource to fuel their other cards. Discarding the lower cost and lower powered cards might seem like a good choice but can leave players exposed early in the game, while discarding only the more expensive cards can leave players without a big finisher in the mid to late game.
The disparate factions in Castle Assault are another of the game’s highlights. Six factions are included in the game box and each has its own play style, unique look and feel, and a Hero card that can be tailored to that faction’s strength. This does mean that players who choose to mix and match the cards from each faction wont necessarily get the synergy that a deck composed entirely of one faction will have, but there are some neutral faction cards included in the game that can be added to any of the factions to expand their tactical options. The pre-built factions also seem to be well balanced against one another, meaning that players, like myself, who just leave each faction deck together can set the game up, shuffle a faction deck, and begin playing very quickly.
Another excellent feature of Castle Assault is the solo campaign. The campaign is a series of 9 missions that progressively get more challenging and give the player the option to Level Up their Hero card by completing certain missions and certain difficult objectives. The story isn’t anything to write home about, but the solo play is great fun and is a great way to get a feel for the way each of the different decks play out. As Level Up objectives are completed, the player can choose a permanent ability, in the form of a sheet of stickers, to attach to their Hero and increase their power permanently. This means that, after leveling up all of the Heroes, each player’s copy of Castle Assault will be unique to them, based upon their choices. I absolutely adore this feature of Castle Assault and am keeping my fingers crossed that more solo content will be released for the game in the future.
A note on permanent stickers: The main draw of Castle Assault is the 2 player competitive game, but the solitaire campaign is excellent in its own right. Going for difficult objectives in order to Level Up and gain a new skill sticker is challenging and fun. Adding the stickers to the Hero cards in order to customize them and make them more powerful adds a neat flare to the game and makes each copy unique to the owner. Some board gamers are severely adverse to permanently altering their game components in this way, but in my opinion it is a fun and interesting option to have. I really like the idea that my copy will truly be my own personal copy once I’ve leveled each of the Hero cards up all of the way.
A note on play time: A hotly contested game of Castle Assault can last 30 – 45 minutes as players jockey for position and try to outwit and outguess their opponent. Castle Assault can also end in the blink of an eye if one player makes a brilliant move or, conversely, fails to anticipate their opponent properly. Castle Assault definitely rewards skillful play, and regardless of the game time, it’s tough to resist the lure of shuffling up the cards and playing immediately as soon as one game ends.
A note on “chrome”: The cards and art in Castle Assault are great. Each faction has a distinct look and feel and the layout of the cards is easy to read. The board is good quality although a few of the lines denoting the various sections of the board get a bit lost in the art on the board itself, but the spaces are big enough that it doesn’t negatively effect the game. The glass tokens and dice are rather generic but serve their purpose. The rulebook is laid out as a series of example turns, which is great for learning the game, but finding individual rules after the fact can be a chore, although this is really the only complaint that I have with the game.
I strongly recommend putting Castle Assault’s cards in sleeves, as they are slid up and down the board during play and that could eventually result in scuff marks on the backs of the cards.
The bottom line:
Quick, intuitive, stylish and fun, Castle Assault took me completely by surprise and has earned itself a permanent place in my board game collection. Each faction has a unique art style and play style. Using any card as a resource avoids the “mana-screw” issues that other card games can have and adds tactical depth, and the tower-defense style gameplay is unique and refreshing. In addition to the great two player game, the single player campaign is a ton of fun and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that MomentumVolsk releases not only new armies but also new solo content as well.
Get this game if:
You want to play a new spin on the battle card game genre.
You like battle card games like Magic: The Gathering but dislike the collectible aspect of those games.
You like games that allow you to permanently modify the game and make it “yours.”
You like games with asymmetrical factions.
Avoid this game if:
You prefer cooperative games.
You prefer Euro-style games about gaining victory points.
Castle Assault is an amazing card-game/board-game mashup. It is fun both solo and two player and the factions are varied enough to lend it a ton of replayability.