Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Friday 30 July 2021

Friday Filler: The Fighting Fantasy Co-op IV

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 was enhanced with the release of Escape the Dark Castle: Adventure Pack 1 – Cult of the Death Knight, the game’s first expansion. It added new threats, new potential escapees, and more. 

The replay value of Escape the Dark Castle is further enhanced with the completion of the Escape the Dark Castle: The Legend Grows… Kickstarter campaign. This produced two new expansions, Adventure Pack 2 – Scourge of the Undead Queen and Adventure Pack 3 – Blight of the Plague Lord as well as a big box into which to store them along with the core game. The first of these introduces a whole a new Boss, fifteen new chapters which the escapees must face before they successfully flee the Dark Castle, three new escapees, four new items to find and use in the process, four new ‘item’ cards you do not want to draw (but will anyway) and come into play, and a new mechanic. The new Boss is the Plague Lord, a foul spreader of contagion and sickness who wants more and more to fall victim to his pestilence. Disease has come to the Dark Castle, and left its mark, for instead of encountering the usual dangers on their flight from the depths of the castle, the escapees will find themselves crossing plague pits, gaol cells full of trapped plague victims, plague-ridden rat swarms, mobs bent on preventing the plague from spreading beyond the walls of the Dark Castle—and more. Time and time again, the escapees will be faced with situations in which they may well catch the plague, the disease running its course and reducing their health until ultimately, in a final encounter, they face the Plague Lord himself. To escape the Dark Castle, they must defeat him, but he can increase the effects of the plague upon the already infected and infect those lucky enough to have got this far without being infected! And then, even if they do defeat the Plague Lord, do the escapees really want to flee the Dark Castle knowing that they carry a plague that could kill everyone they love?

As with Adventure Pack 1 – Cult of the Death Knight, and Adventure Pack 2 – Scourge of the Undead Queen, the chapter cards in Adventure Pack 3 – Blight of the Plague Lord are initially designed to be played in order as they come packed, and pretty much out of the box. The new rules can be read through and understood in a few minutes, and a game begun very quickly. After that, this new deck can be replayed by shuffling the fifteen cards in random order and the players having their attempt to escape again. Then, after that, these new cards can be shuffled in with the chapter cards from the Dark Castle: The Game of Atmospheric AdventureAdventure Pack 1 – Cult of the Death Knight, and Adventure Pack 2 – Scourge of the Undead Queen, and the game played as normal.

The new mechanic which Adventure Pack 3 – Blight of the Plague Lord adds to Escape the Dark Castle is that of the Plague. When one of the four ‘Plague’ item cards are drawn or when instructed to on an Chapter card, the player rolls the new ‘Plague’ die. The faces of this die are marked with either two, three, or four splodgy Plague symbols, each indicating the number of Plague points an escapee gains, whether this is from simply being in the same location as Plague-victims, drawing an item riddled with the Plague, or even fighting someone or something infected with the Plague—including fellow escapees! Accrue enough points of Plague and the escapee sickens and weakens, losing Hit Points in the process. There are opportunities to gain some relief from the Plague in the form of an encounter with a Plague Doctor who will cure an escapee of his points of Plague, but in the main, unless an escapee is incredibly lucky and avoids the Plague all together or has all of his points of Plague cured by the Plague Doctor, once caught, the Plague is a downward spiral... In reducing his Hit Points, the Plague does not reduce his combat capabilities. Instead, it reduces his ability to withstand the negative effects of a fight. Consequently, Adventure Pack 3 – Blight of the Plague Lord tends towards, if not fewer fights, but slightly weaker opponents. So there is a certain balancing effect here, but this does not stop escaping the Dark Castle remains a challenge.

As with the previous expansions, Adventure Pack 3 – Blight of the Plague Lord adds three new escapees to play, these are the Butcher, the Fletcher, and the Shepperd, each with their character card and their own die. Each of these escapees are specialists, having maximum scores in their traits, either Cunning, Might, or Wisdom. They are not all that interesting in themselves, although each of their dice are. Some faces of their dice are marked with a ‘Split Double’, consisting of two different trait symbols. These can be applied to two different chapter dice belonging to an enemy, but not to two different enemies. This at least offers some flexibility in terms of a how an encounter might play out.

The new Item cards are divided between the Plague cards and the standard cards. The former force a player to roll the Plague die and increase his escapee’s Plague points. Others include Knapsack which enable an escapee to carry more items, but because some are in a knapsack, are not immediately accessible. The other items, the splintered spear, dented daggers, and frayed net all give an escapee an advantage in combat.

Physically, Adventure Pack 3 – Blight of the Plague Lord is as well produced as the core game. The Chapter, Boss, and Character (or escapee) 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.

At its most basic, Adventure Pack 3 – Blight of the Plague Lord adds a whole new story and more challenges which extends the life of Escape the Dark Castle and means that players will it bring back to the table on a regular basis. It really only adds the one mechanic, ‘Plague’, and then thoroughly injects and infects it into the Chapter cards for the expansion, the result being grim, often grinding battle of survival against something that the escapees cannot see, but can see the effects of. When combined with the artwork, it is horridly thematic, adding to and enforcing the ghastly situation that the escapees find themselves in. However the strong theme and its mechanically deleterious effects upon the escapees is likely to clash with those of the other expansions and actually make their harder to play through because the Plague is constantly reducing an escapee’s chances of survival and there is not necessarily the balance between the effects of the Plague and the loss of Hit Points present in those expansions as there is in Adventure Pack 3 – Blight of the Plague Lord.

Overall, Adventure Pack 3 – Blight of the Plague Lord adds an enjoyably grim and grimey story to Escape the Dark Castle: The Game of Atmospheric Adventure. So strong is its theme though, it is one perhaps best played as a standalone rather than mixed in with the other expansions.


Thenborne will be at UK Games Expo which will take place between July 30th and August 2nd, 2021 at Birmingham NEC. This is the world’s fourth largest gaming convention and the biggest in the United Kingdom.

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