Army of Dorkness: A Castle Dash Review

When Phil Kilcrease, founder of start-up game publishers 5th Street Games, first approached me about reviewing the relatively unassuming Castle Dash, I was a little hesitant. It’s not that I wasn’t interested, but I already had a long list of titles waiting patiently on my game table, all shiny and huge. However, it soon became apparent that the game was going to jump to the front of that list when Monkey238 saw the adorable cartoon soldiers adorning the cards and told me, in no uncertain terms, that we needed that game, and needed it now. Like a loving husband, I complied.

At first glance, my initial hesitation seemed founded. The game came packaged in an old plastic VHS tape box and I couldn’t help but wonder if 5th Street Games had bought a palette of old Dorf on Golf videos and spent hours plucking the tapes out of said holders. Inside, things didn’t seem much better: one ziplog bag full of various colored winks, six different colors of crystal vase beads that were probably picked up at Michael’s at $2 for a bag of 500, and a set of very shiny game cards greeted us. Still, the illustrations continued to charm us, so five of us soldiered on past the homespun components on that first night and found that you truly can’t judge a game by its cover. Or crappy VHS box.

The basic gameplay of Castle Dash is fairly easy and straightforward. Each player starts with a certain number of soldiers (the little vase beads) which may be used each round to claim Armory cards (that give the owner a temporary ability or boost before or during battle) and/or fight battles to the left, right, and, sometimes – depending on number of players – front of their castles. These battles are waged against your neighbors in an effort to get three little soldiers up on their castle walls so they can break through and rescue a prisoner (thereby growing your little army) or steal a coin. Whichever player first secures three coins other than their own wins the game!

He chose... poorly.

The battle mechanic is pretty nifty. The active player chooses which battle (left, right or, sometimes, center) in which to engage. The battling players then secretly choose how many cannonballs to devote to the battle; two are given to every player at the beginning of each round, and once they are used, they’re gone. Balls are revealed simultaneously, and then players take turns rolling a six-sided die as many times as the number of balls devoted. If a player rolls equal to or less than the number of the opponent’s soldiers in the battle, then one of their soldiers is removed and sent back home to their castle to sulk.

Then, the real fighting begins. Each player rolls a four-sided die and adds the total on that die to the number of their remaining soldiers in the battle to get a battle tally. The winner is the player with the highest battle tally. That player gets to place a number of men equal to the difference in the players’ two battle tallies on the opponent’s wall.

Big balls. And lots of 'em.

The often-maddening choice of whether to defend your castle’s walls or go on the offensive each round is one of the magical elements in Castle Dash. This choice is made even more maddening when the Armory cards are added into the mix. These cards are dealt randomly each round and can give claiming players deliciously mischievous things such as Spies that automatically climb on top of an opponent’s wall, more cannonballs to fling about, and the cutest (and deadliest) little Cavalry that allows a player to roll a six-sided die in battle. Players don’t have to claim an Armory card – they can opt to devote their precious soldiers to battles, instead – but more often than not, players will want to claim Armory cards if only to be on the defensive and prevent a face full of Heavy Cannon that round (never fun).

Castle Dash is designed to accommodate as few as three players, but it really shines with five or six. There is a fair amount of diplomacy by necessity in these larger affairs; since players are only ever involved with their immediate neighbors, sometimes temporary cease fires come about in order to better allocate oft-dwindling soldiers to take down leaders threatening to run away with the game.

Overall, Castle Dash provides a deceptively rich gaming experience, especially for the simplicity of its rules and parts. This little gem makes for a great freshman effort from 5th Street Games, and may prove to be a solid coin in their coffers for quite awhile to come.

 

Oh, the toys... the wonderful, wonderful toys.

Gameplay/ReplayComponents & ThemeFun
I’ve covered most of the unique aspects of gameplay above, but I must stress that balancing offense and defense in the face of attrition is the real heart of the game. The law of diminishing returns is constantly in full effect, as soldiers who successfully climb up on opponent’s walls must remain there until their cohorts help them break through. This often creates the need for bold decisions as choosing the right battle, and the right soldier mix, is crucial. Did I mention that the game comes in a video cassette box? So there’s that. Honestly, however, it makes total sense from a publishing perspective; the boxes are the perfect size to hold the game and they can probably be bought for dirt cheap. The other components - glass beads and winks - are typical and unremarkable game fare, but they are perfectly acceptable markers once they’re on the table. A deluxe version of this game with large player mats, cardboard cannonball and coin tokens, and little soldier meeples would give most games from larger publishers a real run for their money. The real home run that makes up for component quality is theme - and completely adorable art. Castle Dash just oozes charm, and everyone who has taken one look at the game instantly wants to play it.The lighthearted theme combined with constant player interaction - and the fact that many players can, and will, make constant ball jokes each round as the cannons start firing - makes Castle Dash an absolute blast to play, as long as you keep it far away from any grumpy grognards.
Overall score: 14 out of 18 - A Blu-ray experience in a VHS box. Don’t just rent it - buy it.

Castle Dash is a game for 3 to 6 little soldiers, ages 8 and up, by Trevor Clifford for 5th Street Games. It retails for $25 on the 5th Street Games site, or you can ask your FLGS about grabbing a few copies for you and the store.

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Comments
5 Responses to “Army of Dorkness: A Castle Dash Review”
  1. Phil says:

    Thanks for the review, Chris.

    The box issue will be resolved with the next printing in a couple of weeks. It was an interesting idea, but an actual cardboard box will be better.

    Best regards,
    Phil

  2. Shadoglare says:

    It does sound like it could be a fun game – but $25? That seems really overpriced.

  3. Paul Owen says:

    I was very skeptical when I read that it comes in a VHS cassette box, but the more of your review I read, the more engaging this game sounds – especially as a family game. I love the offense-defense conundrum. I’ve seen it in a number of games – even serious wargames like Midway. (Do I send fighters to escort my dive bombers, or keep them back to defend my carriers?) I think this one goes on the list!

  4. Stephen Avery says:

    Despite it being sturdy and pratical, the VHS box is the death knell to a game being considered worthwhile (I told John CLowdus the same thing about his awesome game Omen.) However that aside this game looks fun with just the right combination of risk management and variety. How many upgrade cards are there? I would think you’d need at least 30 to keep the interesting.

    P.S. Castle Smash would have been a better name…

    Steve”CastleSmasher”Avery

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