Tuesday 12 June 2012

Review - The Princess Bride: Storming the Castle

Recently, I have been reviewing games that are based on movies, so in the continuation of that theme, I thought I would reproduce a review for The Princess Bride: Storming the Castle, which I originalled pubished on BoardGameGeek back in 2009.

Before I go any further, I would like to point out that this is a negative review, and I feel bad about that. The game's designer, Aaron Watson, is a genuinely nice guy and I wish I could have been nicer about his game than I have been. It must be tough to read a negative review about your "baby," and even tougher if some douchbag reproduces the same negative review years later to bad-mouth the game all over again.

However, I am committed to gradually porting across all of my reviews from BoardGameGeek to this blog, and that includes the negative ones.

Sorry, Mr Watson.

The Princess Bride: Storming the Castle

The Princess Bride: Storming the Castle
Published by Toy Vault, Inc.
Designed by Aaron Watson
For 2-4 players, aged 8 to adult.

There are two questions you should never ask my wife...

Actually, that's not strictly true.

There are two questions you should never ask my wife unless the answer she is 100% guaranteed to give is the answer you want to hear.

1. What boardgame would you like to play?
2. What film would you like to watch?

The answer to question one will be Odin's Ravens. I love Odin's Ravens: I think it's an elegant, thoughtful game with a perfect balance of luck offset by clever forward planning. My wife loves it even more than I do, and it rates as her favourite game. I never turn down a game of Odin's Ravens (even if my wife does insist on using the raven pieces upside down because it makes them look like bunnies), but I don't want to play it all the time.

The answer to question two will be The Princess Bride. I love The Princess Bride. I love the book, and I love the film. It has the perfect balance of humour, adventure, and romance. My wife loves it even more than I do. She prefers Bram Stoker's Dracula, but you have to be in a certain kind of mood for that film, whereas The Princess Bride can be watched any time you feel like it.

Okay, okay, I think you can see where this is going: I saw a game that had mechanics similar to those found in my wife's favourite game, that was also based on one of her favourite movies. What was I supposed to do? I bought the damned thing for her.

Should have stuck with Odin's Ravens...

The Princess Bride: Storming the Castle box
The quality box.

So, what is this game?

The short answer: It's a shoddily made cash-in.

The slightly longer answer follows:

The Princess Bride: Storming the Castle The Card Game comes in a box about the same size as the Cave Troll / Drakon boxes (have I told you how much I love those games? Perhaps I can talk about them instead?) and on the cover of this stupidly oversized box it says "The game changes everytime you play." I should have known this game was going to suck. First of all, I'm pretty sure "everytime" isn't a word. Second of all, what kind of a tagline is that? "The game changes everytime you play." What does it mean? Even Snakes and Ladders changes every time you play, otherwise what would be the point?

(Okay, I do know what the tagline is getting at. The board is never the same, you have to change your "tactics" each time you play. But really, it just sounds silly.)

Inside this rather sturdy but poorly designed box there is a flimsy card insert which is an insult to card inserts the world over. This insert is so flimsy, the cards in the box had squashed it flat. The insert is entirely without function, and just increased my sense of uneasiness as my wife excitedly opened the box. This was beginning to look like a very poorly-produced game.

The Princess Bride: Storming the Castle box insert
The quality insert.

But maybe the cards would be good...

Maybe not.

There are three different types of card, each with a screen grab from the film. There is one large castle card, representing the card you are journeying towards, 54 path tiles, and 54 tactic cards (split into actions and equipment). All of the cards have a linen finish that obviously caused problems at the print yard, because a good two thirds of the cards have streaks and flakes where the print has not adhered correctly. This makes the cards ugly, but not unusable. (It's the rules that make the ugly cards unusable, but I'll get to that in a minute.)

The Princess Bride: Storming the Castle sample card
The quality cards.

The game also comes with four playing pieces. These are nasty cardboard stand-ups which fall apart every time you try to move them, making them a real pain to use. Thematically, they also make little sense, as the characters are Inigo, Westley, Fezzik, and... Princess Buttercup. Hold on, why is Buttercup storming the castle? Surely the guys are storming the castle to rescue her? Surely there's been some kind of misunderstanding here, especially as each player is trying to prevent the others from getting to the castle rather than helping each other like they did in the film.

(By the way, I should note that this game was rethemed. It wasn't originally a Princess Bride game, so this is not the fault of the game designer. Doesn't stop it being rubbish though.)

The Princess Bride: Storming the Castle playing pieces
The quality playing pieces.

Now, where was I... Ugly cards, ugly playing pieces... Ah yes, ugly rules. One folded up piece of paper that looks like its been run off on a black and white photocopier. However, I did think the rules were (for the most part) well-written. The game is about as simple as it is possible for a game to get, so there was little chance this could be fouled up, but even so, credit where credit's due.

The rules only take up two of the four pages, the other two pages give extra explanation for some of the more complicated cards.

The Princess Bride: Storming the Castle rules
The quality rules.

As I've said, the game is nice and simple to learn. Each player lays out a series of path tiles, and this represents his or her route to the castle. Each tile represents a specific challenge to overcome. There are ten different types of location, all representing places from the movie such as Miracle Max's place or the Fire Swamp, and each type of tile has different entry requirements. You enter a tile by playing the correct type of tactic card. For example, to enter the Fire Swamp, you need to play a sword card.

On your turn, you get to do any combination of three actions: Playing action cards, moving forward on the path tiles (done by discarding the correct type of tactic card where possible), or drawing tactic cards.

You will notice that tactic cards are split into equipment and actions. That's because equipment is played to allow you to move along the path, but actions can be played to do other things. A lot of these things will slow down another player, so there is a strong "gotcha" element to the game which can really make a two-player game drag on. The problem is, there are plenty of action cards, and at the beginning of each turn you can discard as many cards as you want and draw again, so very rarely will a turn go by when you are not able to do something nasty to the other player. Of course, the same is true on your opponents turn, and you are set up for a revenge hit. In this situation, the winner of the game will come down to who is lucky enough to get the cards that are needed at the right time.

Oh yes... luck. This game is all about luck. There are no clever mechanics for saving up cards, and only a few cards that allow you to enter path tiles without needing the exact piece of equipment specified on that card. That means if you are sat by the sea needing a boat, your turn will begin by discarding a bunch of cards and then drawing back up to five. If you don't have a boat, you are stuck using your actions to draw more cards, or to play "gotcha" cards on someone else. Eventually you may get the boat you need, but then the other player will just play a card that moves you back on the path and you have to do the whole thing again.

The Princess Bride: Storming the Castle location cards
More of the quality cards.

This game just doesn't have the same level of style and elegance as Odin's Ravens, and the theme is so pasted on it doesn't do anything to make a poor game more fun. There are no tactics to speak of, and what you do on your turn is obvious based on what cards you were lucky enough to get. I never once felt like I had a choice of options and had to decide which would be better for me.

Even worse, the section of notes clarifying certain cards made me more confused than before I read them. The worst case example is the Ravine Floor tile which says:

"No entry requirement, only sword if entering from Fire Swamp."

I read that to mean you can move into the Ravine Floor for "free" unless you are currently on the Fire Swamp space, in which case you need to play a sword. However, the extra explanation in the rules says this:

"The Ravine Floor may only be entered normally if the player uses a sword AND is entering from the Fire Swamp. Otherwise, the player will have to use Four White Horses, use the sword from a cliff top, use a rope to enter the Fire Swamp on the other side of the Ravine Floor, or use the Six Fingered Man on themselves in order to remove the Ravine Floor."

Phew. Glad we got that cleared up!

I wish I could be more positive, but I'm afraid I can't. I really thought this might be a fun little filler with a theme that my wife would love; but at no point does it feel like you are doing anything remotely related to the events in the movie. The grainy images don't inspire me, and there is only one card in the whole deck that has a quote from the film - what a waste!

Anyway, I should sum up because I've gone on way too long. I don't like to post reviews that are entirely negative, so I'll try to give as much balance as I can.

The game is relatively simple to learn apart from some confusing extra rules, and it is branded with The Princess Bride, which counts for something. The cards are relatively sturdy and shuffle well, but the print quality is awful, and the rest of the pieces are shoddy. The game is driven by luck, and there are only limited options available at any one time. As a two-player game there seems to be little entertainment. I suspect it would be more fun when played as a four-player game (and in that respect it gets a point over Odin's Ravens which is strictly a two-player game). As a game that requires little thought it's okay, but it tends to run a little long to be a quick filler.

All told, a disappointment, and not a game I suspect we will play much, if at all.

As you wish? Not even close.

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