Escape the Dark Castle: The Game of Atmospheric Adventure brought the brutality of the Fighting Fantasy solo adventure books of the eighties to co-operative game play for up to four players in which their characters begin imprisoned in a tyrant’s castle and must work together to win their freedom. Published by Themeborne, with its multiple encounters, traps, monsters, objects, and more as well as a different end of game boss every time, Escape the Dark Castle offered a high replay value, especially as a game never lasted longer than thirty minutes. That replay value is enhanced with the release of Escape the Dark Castle: Adventure Pack 1 – Cult of the Death Knight, the first expansion for Escape the Dark Castle. Originally funded by the same Kickstarter campaign as the core game, Escape the Dark Castle: Adventure Pack 1 – Cult of the Death Knight brings replay value to the core game with a new threat to the characters’ possible escape—both big and small, three new potential escapees, and more.
In Escape the Dark Castle: Adventure Pack 1 – Cult of the Death Knight, a new figure has risen to prominence. This is the Death Knight, a legendary swordsman to whose banner flock the weak, the mindless, and the fanatic. As the ‘Lord of Decay’, he works to dominate all of the castle, including its prisoners. He corrupts and he twists, but above all he sends out curses! This is the set-up for Escape the Dark Castle’s first adventure pack, a standalone expansion whose Cards can also be mixed in with those from the core game. It includes fifteen new Chapter Cards, three new Character Cards, three new Character Dice, a Cult Die, five new Item Cards—all of them curses, and of course, a new Boss Card in the form of the Dark Knight himself. He will be the final challenge to be faced and overcome if the prisoners are to escape the Dark Castle!
The three new characters—the Bishop, the Hunter, and the Mason—are specialists. They roll six Dice for their primary Traits, the Mason for his Might, the Hunter for his Cunning, and the Bishop for his Wisdom, but just the one Die for the other two traits. Each character also has his own Die, but the specialisation has several profound effects upon gameplay. Most obviously, challenges and situations which fall within each character’s own specialisation are going to be much easier than those that are not, but conversely, challenges and situations which fall outside of their specialisation are going to be very difficult. The judicious use of items—and particularly co-operation between the characters—are the key to both their survival and their potential escape more than ever. Consequently, the fortunes of the characters in their escape attempt are going to very much swing this way and that…
The five new Item Cards are all black and all black—front and back. These have dread effects in play. ‘Accelerated Decay’ forces items drawn in a Chapter to crumble and be removed from play; ‘Crippling Injury’ prevents a Character from carrying more than one Item or a two-handed Item; ‘Temporal Vortex’ sucks all Relics in play into a vortex and back into the Item deck; and ‘Restless Spirit’ prevents a Character from resting during combat. Lastly, ‘Marked for Death’ makes a Character the target of Cultist attacks and ripe for Cult recruitment. ‘Crippling Injury’, ‘Marked for Death’, and ‘Restless Spirit’ cannot be removed from play once drawn and stay with a Character until game’s end.
A Character who receives the ‘Marked for Death’ Curse Card is in a perilous situation and a potential threat to his fellow escapees. First, he suffers extra damage when fighting them; second, he cannot rest; and third, when his Hit Points falls below half, his player must roll the Cult Die instead of the Character Die. The Cult Die completely lacks the double symbols and the shield symbol of the Character Dice. Instead, it is only marked with single symbols on its six sides, but worse, three of those sides are marked in black. When one of these is rolled in combat, the Character has betrayed his fellow escapees as the Cult Die is added to the row of dice that the Characters must defeat on the Chapter Card! Further, the Character who rolled the Cult Die no longer participates in the fight, although he does not take any damage when he is hit. Once the combat is over, the Character who is ‘Marked for Death’ retrieves the Cult Die, ready for it to be rolled in the next combat. It is possible for a Character ‘Marked for Death’ to be healed back up to half of his Hit Points and so be able to use his Character Die once again, but should he suffer further damage he is still prone to falling into the cult’s clutches once again.
The ‘Marked for Death’ Curse is a very powerful card and once in play, will very likely seriously handicap the Characters in their escape attempt. Especially when the Cult Die replaces the Character Die of the affected Character as it also negates their potential effectiveness in combat as it limits the number of symbols they can roll. For the Bishop, the Hunter, and the Mason this is much more of a problem because as specialists, they also lose their focus.
Then there are the Chapter Cards which make up the Castle and the Characters’ escape route. This is a good mix of rooms and monsters, but to that mix are added cultists. There are only five of these—so the Death Knight’s cult is not all that big—but in conjunction with the ‘Marked for Death’ Cure Card, they are dangerous! Lastly, there is the Death Knight himself, the final encounter to be overcome before the Characters can escape. With his ability to block different symbols from round to round, he is a very difficult boss to defeat.
Physically, Escape the Dark Castle: Adventure Pack 1 – Cult of the Death Knight is as well produced as the core game. The Chapter, Boss, and Character Cards are large and really easy to read and understand. Each one is illustrated in Black and White, in a style which echoes that of the Fighting Fantasy series and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay last seen in the nineteen eighties.
When the Death Knight himself has been defeated a few times, then the replay value of this expansion can be increased by mixing it into the core game. That may actually make the encounters from this pack easier to deal with because although the same Item Deck will be used, not all of the Chapter Cards from Escape the Dark Castle: Adventure Pack 1 – Cult of the Death Knight will go into the fifteen cards that make up the Castle, so there is less likelihood of a Cultist being drawn and a Character being drawn into the Cult’s clutches. Overall, Escape the Dark Castle: Adventure Pack 1 – Cult of the Death Knight is as deadly and as dangerous and as difficult as it sounds. If you enjoyed Escape the Dark Castle and were looking for more of challenge, then Escape the Dark Castle: Adventure Pack 1 – Cult of the Death Knight would be your next choice.