Review: Have Fun Storming the Castle? Inconceivable!

Geek Culture

Storming the CastleStorming the CastleI really, really wanted to like the game Storming the Castle. I remember seeing The Princess Bride in the movie theater 23 years ago, and I must have seen it about a hundred times since then. I was prepared to forgive the game a lot if it at least managed to capture some of the whimsical fantasy of the movie.

Even by setting those forgiving standards, alas, I simply couldn’t like the game. Though replete with pictures from the film, which is great, the game includes only one quote from the film’s dialogue, which is insane. How can you go to the trouble of making a game out of a film with so many wonderfully quotable lines, and yet put only one quote — and a boring one at that — anywhere in the game? (In case you’re wondering, the quote is “What are our assets? I mean, if we only had a wheelbarrow, now that would be something.” I know, right? It’s not even a proper quote, since Inigo has a line in between the sentences!)

I might even have forgiven the game its near-complete lack of quotes if it had been fun to play, or if the game mechanics had any relationship to the story. First, each player chooses a character, one of Inigo, Fezzik, Westley or Buttercup. Yes, despite Buttercup being one of the two chief reasons for storming the castle in the first place, she’s one of the characters — Vizzini would have been a far better choice, despite his death in the film, because at least it would give the player the opportunity to say “Inconceivable!” when something bad happened to him.

Each player lays out a random series of “tiles” representing locations in the film; these tiles become that player’s path to the castle, a single larger tile in the center of the table that represents the goal. On the way, you need to play “tactic” cards, some of which are equipment that you need to have in order to enter certain tiles, and some of which are actions that you can use to either help you along your path or hinder another player on his. Since each player stays on his own path, there isn’t any interaction between the players except for the action cards, which isn’t a bad thing as a game mechanic but serves to distance the game even further from the story.

But wait, there’s more. On each turn, a player is allowed to discard as much of his hand of five cards as he wants, and then draw back up to five, and this doesn’t even count as one of the three actions that can be taken on the turn. This means that, with more than two players, you will inevitably go through the deck really quickly as players try to get the equipment they need or an action to prevent another player from winning. And, as though that weren’t annoying enough, the rules include some “specifics” that are intended to clarify how certain cards work. See what you think of this clarification (italics and ellipsis in the original text):

If a Dagger is used to enter a Cliff Top, the player may choose to return it to their hand (but is not required to do so). If it is used to leave a Cliff Top (skipping the next Path Tile), the Dagger is discarded. However…

If a player uses a Dagger to leave a Cliff Top and skip the next Path Tile, and they land on another Cliff Top, it counts only as using the Dagger to enter a Cliff Top, allowing the player to return the Dagger to their hand.

Crystal clear, right? And that’s only half of the section on the dagger. Add to that the fact that, unless you have a specific action card, you’re required to end your turn on the last tile before the castle and only enter (and consequently win) at the beginning of your next turn, thus giving all the other players the opportunity to unload their nastiest action cards against you. Coupled with the ability to replace as many cards as you want at the beginning of every turn, this has the effect of dragging the game on way more than necessary.

Wondering why Storming the Castle was so cumbersome and ill-fitted to its topic, I looked it up online and was unsurprised to find that it was originally designed as a game about, of all things, hang-gliding, and that the publisher simply chose to shoehorn the Princess Bride theme into it without the designer’s knowledge.

Wired: Each card has a well-reproduced picture from the movie. That’s about the only good thing I can think of to say about this game.

Tired: Everything else. Even the cardboard pieces representing the characters come apart if you pick them up.

Summary: Your time and money are better spent on something, almost anything, else. I received a free review copy from the awesome folks at ThinkGeek, and I still feel like I paid too much for it.

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