Friday 31 October 2014

Review - Ghost Castle (a.k.a Which Witch?)

Ghost Castle

Ghost Castle
Published by MB Games
Designed by Marvin Glass
For 2-4 ghosts and goblins, aged 6-12 years

Ghost Castle box
Those kids on the box are having a great time.

Sometimes in life, you are presented with a very narrow window of opportunity.

Sometimes, that window is so narrow, you're really only going to be able to take advantage of it if you are Tooms from The X-Files.

Sometimes, that window is so incredibly narrow, you wonder if it is really a window at all, or just a crack in the plasterboard, or maybe one of those squiggly lines you sometimes get in the corner of your eye.

Take, for example, the game of Ghost Castle (or Which Witch? if you ain't from round these here parts), a roll-and-move horror-themed board game with an age range so focused it could burn a hole through the box: 6 to 12 years.

I'm not sure why MB Games felt the need to make the age range so specific. It really doesn't need to be. Sure, the game has a spooky theme and small parts (most noticeably a glow in the dark plastic skull), but my three year old daughter loves this game. And sure, it is effectively a skill-free game of luck with nothing to keep older children particularly interested, but I still enjoy watching the misfortunes that befall my character as I move around the haunted castle as long as my daughter is there to enjoy those misfortunes with me.

So, yeah... I'm taking a sledgehammer to this window and busting it right open to allow all the ghosts and goblins to spill out. This is a family game.

Age restrictions be damned.

Having said all that, what is Ghost Castle actually about, and is it any good?

Ghost Castle board game
The board in all its glorious gloriousness.

Well, I was first introduced to this game when I was a wee lad, and it immediately gripped my imagination like a skeletal hand and refused to let go. It charts the misadventures of a group of young children who foolishly seek refuge in a haunted castle. Over the course of the game, they move around the gloriously illustrated, three-dimensional board, seeking to close the coffin at the top of the tower to lay the malevolent spirit to rest.

It is a great idea for a game, made greater still, of course, by that three-dimensional board loaded with awesome traps.

On each turn, players roll the dice to move along a fixed path. They then spin the spinner. They may get frozen with fear (in which case they get a groovy fear mask that clips over the top of the playing piece and they cannot move again until spinning a foot result on the spinner), or they may get to drop the spooky skull into the coffin at the top of the castle, activating one of four traps.

Ghost Castle frightened child
You've got something on your face, Dude.

In the first part of the board, there is a suit of armour with a battleaxe, and if the skull lands here, the axe falls, squashing anyone who is about to enter the castle.

In the second part of the board, there is a wobbly floor. If the skull lands here, players get shaken off their feet.

In the third section, there is a magic mirror behind a hanging skeleton. If the skull lands here, anyone in front of the mirror teleports through to the other side. Anyone already on the other side gets booted up the bum by the skeleton.

In the fourth section, there is a long staircase. If the skull lands here, it bounces down the stairs knocking everyone over.

In each case, falling foul of a trap sends you back along the path to a designated checkpoint. Just like in an old-school platform video game.

It's all very silly, and great fun.

And frustrating.

Ghost Castle pawns
Mom! We found something in the garden!

You see, there is absolutely nothing you can do to avoid any of those tricks and traps. You roll and hope, spin and hope.

And you lose hope.

Games can be brutally quick, or agonisingly slow. There is no way to tell.

Honestly, as games go, it really isn't very good.

But it is so cool.

When I was a child, I spent hours playing this game, studying the fantastic artwork in each of the four zones.

At the start of the game, you are outside, in a haunted forest. There is a stream trickling into the distance beneath a baleful moon. The trees have faces. Wolves howl. Bats flutter.

Ghost Castle board
Have I ever told you trees creep me out?

So the children run, terrified, entering the haunted hallway beyond the portcullis, where ghosts swirl like mist, and the corridor seems to go on forever.

Ghost Castle board
That isn't Casper.

If they make it through there, they descend into the store room, where vampire bats swoop and chitter among the shelves of rotting books and poisons.

Ghost Castle board
I like big bats, and I can't deny.

Then finally, they reach the basement with the staircase leading to the roof. Here, giant rats gnaw on bones, and a phantasmal hand gropes in the dark.

Ghost Castle board
Dem bones.

The art is creative, inventive, spooky, and an absolute joy.

It is just a shame it is tagged on a basic roll-and-move game, because the theme, and those skull-activated traps, deserve better.

Ghost Castle spinner
It looks like a spiders web!

As it happens, Ghost Castle is not the only game to make use of the haunted, three-dimensional, trap-filled board. There are at least a couple of Scooby Doo games that work on the same principle, and Waddingtons made a nice Goosebumps game called Terror in the Graveyard; but they aren't quite the same.

Possibly because I never got to play them in that oh-so-narrow window of opportunity when I was an impressionable young child aged 6 to 12.

Possibly because I never got to play them when I sat in my darkening bedroom, rolled dice, and wished that the phantasmal hand reaching out of the crack in my plasterboard wall was nothing more than a squiggly line in the peripheral of my vision.


  1. Boy, did I love this game as a kid. My younger brother got it for Christmas one year (he must have been about 6 or 7; I would have been 11 or 12), and we played it a lot, for years, until the moving pieces (like the skeleton) no longer slotted properly in the board. No idea what happened to our copy though; probably still in my parent's loft somewhere!

    Great overview though; it's true, the dull roll & move mechanic is -almost- forgiven with the great 3D board and beautiful artwork.

    1. Look at that: You guys were exactly in the 6-12 range. Maybe MB knew what they were doing after all.

      You will notice in the photographs here that my copy is degrading quite badly. All the doorway arches are ripped, the battleaxe is glued together, and the hanging skeleton barely stays on.

      "Loved," I think they call it.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  2. Great game. In Italy it's called "Brivido" that means "Fear". It's always been one of my favourites and it's so spooky! The artwork is amazing! I wish I still had that game and that's why I bought it again on Ebay recently, this time in English!

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting. I quite like the name "Brivido."

  3. Just dug out a copy I picked up in a thrift shop about ten years ago for 50p and played it with my twelve year old who absolutely loved it. I'd bought it for nostalgia at the time and didn't imagine it would appeal to an X-Box loving kid as much as it did tonight. No idea what happened to my original copy which my brother and I used to play endlessly when we were in the right age bracket (!) but I do recall it largely being held together with sellotape as it had had so much hammer. Really wonderful to play it again. The artwork is truly awesome and that novelty glow in the dark skull still works after you charge it under a lamp. I enjoyed the fact its based completely on chance too as things can change in an instant which gives it a kind of equity when there's a forty year old playing a twelve! Nice one MB :)

    1. I recently played it with my daughter and some of my friends in celebration of Halloween. It's a really fun game.

      Kids seem to love it, probably because it's instantly accessible, with a good theme and some clever "traps." And as you say: everybody has the same chance of winning.


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