Don’t judge a book by its cover is a phrase we’ve grown up hearing all of our lives. But what if the same was to be said about the insides of something? That is what we have here, in this review of Escape the Dark Castle. A game with such hideous art it’s almost a work of art in itself! (laughs) I’ve had friends tell me this game sucked and to avoid it based on how bad it looked, which is why I made the opening of this review about how this game looks as opposed to how it plays. I DID avoid the game at first because of this, then bought it on a whim because a friend said it was actually fun, and she found the art to be a throwback to the terrible art of EARLY Dungeons & Dragons days. Which have a very special place in my heart. So with that information I went into this game, and boy, am I glad I did.
You play the role of a prisoner in a sinister dark castle and the object is to adventure through the castle, defeat the boss at the end of the pile of dungeon cards and win your freedom. You choose the role of your character and the different occupations of your role have varying skill traits that will help or hinder you in your adventure. Some examples of the character choices are tailor, blacksmith, baker, etc.. The expansions just released added a plethora of new classes and content and were part of a kickstarter that included all this extra content. The castle is randomly generated from a stack of cards before you start, and the adventure consists of 15 cards and your boss at the end. So given the amount of cards and content even before the expansions, replayability is almost endless. Each character class has a die associated with it, which you roll with a collection of other dice, and you roll these to accomplish tasks on each card to either pass each encounter or take damage, and you have a set amount of life points before you perish. A lot of extra content was added as part of the kickstarter, like character flaws, and I will leave those fun details for you to discover, without giving the whole game away. (laughs)
Each card in the game has an illustration and a ton flavor text, so immersion in this world is very satisfying. The art style is where many people found fault with this gem of the game. Its black and white pen and ink renders, done in a very loose, choppy style. Nothing comparable to say the art in current D&D books or Magic the Gathering cards. Compared to this, the art is pretty dreadful. Reminiscent of the early D&D books where the art was not very good either. But that is one of the parts of the game I found so charming, and it brought back fond memories of old D&D days of my youth. Gameplay is very simple and straightforward. You make your dice rolls or fail and take the damage. So it is a random dice chucker at heart. If you don’t like this type of game, it is definitely not for you. But if it is, there is almost an endless amount of entertainment and fun to be had here, as the possibilities for each adventure are almost endless.
Component quality is very high if you don’t mind the art style and presentation. I happen to love this about the game, so it’s a treasure for me, and I love it. My gaming group also loved the gameplay, found it very difficult and challenging and wanted to play game after game. So your enjoyment of the game will rely on your fondness for games of this variety, i.e. fantasy themed dice chuckers. I cant recommend this game enough. I love the throwback art style, the dice chucking, and the immersive and thematic flair this game offers. Give this game a chance, I don’t think you will be sorry you did.