GTM #201 - Panic Through the Years: A Retrospective on the Panic Line
by Justin De Witt

This September marks seven years since the release of Castle Panic. Since that time, we’ve added three variations and two (soon to be three) expansions to what is now the Panic line. But, how did this series of games develop?

~ Setting the Cornerstone ~

In 2000, I played Settlers of Catan and rediscovered my long-forgotten love for board games. I couldn’t believe how tabletop games had changed while I had been playing video games. Talk about a misspent youth! After eating and breathing as many games as I could get my hands on, I looked for, but couldn’t find a game in which all the players work together. So, I set out to make a cooperative game. Several themes were considered, but having players defend a castle from a siege of monsters sounded like the most fun. That game would become Castle Panic (2009), the cornerstone of the Panic line. It’s an easy-to-learn, gateway game that introduces people to the hobby and was a surprise hit. The first print run sold out in 10 weeks!

~ Deepening the Play ~

We knew some players would want a deeper experience, so I began work on the first expansion. In 2009, we released The Wizard’s Tower, which is named for the new, larger tower that replaces one regular tower and allows players to draw from a deck of wizard cards with powerful spell effects. The Wizard’s Tower takes Castle Panic to a whole new level and incorporates more complex ideas like magic, flying monsters, Mega-boss monsters with lasting effects, fire, and more. The new choices and strategies it provides has fans describing it as a must-have.

~ Creating a Cinematic Feel ~

Fans were clamoring for more Castle Panic at that point and some were asking for a reskin with zombies. But a reskin didn’t make sense to me. If you have zombies in your game, they are going to affect play in a different way. A castle defense and the zombie apocalypse are not interchangeable, after all! In 2013, we released Dead Panic. Now, players are characters in the game, moving around the board, collecting items and weapons, and holding off a never-ending tide of undead. Guns run out of bullets, and players fight zombies hand-to-hand. If a player loses enough health, they don’t just die – they become zombies and actually switch sides, trying to defeat their former teammates! Players win by collecting three radio pieces from Survivors and calling for help, which summons a rescue van that players must reach alive. It’s an incredibly cinematic experience and truly stands apart from Castle Panic.

~ Backstabbing with Steve Jackson Games ~

Our next variation, Munchkin Panic, required licensing the Munchkin brand from Steve Jackson Games. This game turns the friendly, “all-for-one” gameplay of Castle Panic on its head with the “all-for-me” hilarity of Munchkin. At its core, Munchkin Panic takes the Master Slayer version of Castle Panic and turns it up to 11. Players no longer have to worry about defending that needy castle. It’s all about collecting monster carcasses and Treasure. Players choose characters with abilities based on the Munchkin Races and Classes and use Curse cards and Monster Enhancers against each other as they backstab for points. In true Munchkin form!

~ Darkening the Experience ~

In 2015, we returned to the story of Castle Panic by releasing The Dark Titan. This expansion awakens Agranok, an 8-point villain that attacks the castle with an army of new monsters. New mechanics, including banishing cards from the game and Elite monsters that dodge attacks, are added to the fun.  Players get new cards that bring greater flexibility and the Cavalier, a horse-mounted warrior that moves to intercept monsters anywhere on the board. The addition of Support Tokens finally meant that not everything in the pile of monsters was out to get you! These tokens are moved by the players and activate helpful bonuses if they can reach the castle. If…

~ Going Boldly with USAopoly ~

Star Trek Panic (released this year) was the result of a fantastic partnership with USAopoly for the 50th Anniversary of Star Trek. Every step in the process was a pleasure. One of the most fun moments was when we realized we could have a model of the U.S.S. Enterprise replace the castle. Mind. Blown. Creating combat rules for classic enemies like Klingons, Romulans, and Tholians was a thrill, and basing missions on the original episodes required lots of “research” (i.e., binge-watching the whole series). To capture the feel of the original show, we made the crew into playable characters with abilities. Players must complete five missions before the Enterprise is destroyed to win. USAopoly did a great job publishing Star Trek Panic, and it’s a real treat for Star Trek fans (i.e., everyone).

~ Building the Panic ~

On November 23rd of this year, we’ll be adding Engines of War, the third Castle Panic expansion to the line. Now players can use brick, mortar, rope, and wood in a simple economic system to build equipment that can be placed on a Castle Keep and traps that can be set in the path of the monsters. New threats, like the Shaman and Breathtaker, challenge the players, while siege engines give the monsters new ways to breach the castle walls.

And we’re not done yet! New expansions and variations are in the works and will continue to provide new and deeper experiences for fans of the original Castle Panic and for players looking for something familiar but unique.

Justin De Witt is the Chief Creative Officer and co-owner of Fireside Games with his wife and CEO, Anne-Marie De Witt. His previous designs include Castle Panic, The Wizard's Tower, Star Trek Panic, and Dastardly Dirigibles.