Though the basic game system of Castle Panic itself is very simple, defending the castle is most certainly not. As the monsters advance, steadily, towards the center of the board, there is a growing sense of unease as you frantically plan the best way to play your cards. This is where the cooperative elements come in. The rulebook advises players to keep their cards face up at all times, to aid in teamwork, and you can exchange one card to any other player once on your turn. This keeps the dialogue going, as you think about trading cards that are less useful at the moment to a friend, who can use them to great effectiveness later. Trading a swordsman away to the next player in return for a knight is just one illustration of the tremendous power that trading provides, if players are wise enough to work together and plan ahead.
You know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men? It's certainly true in Castle Panic too. Just when you and your friends think you've got it all worked out, one of the event counters might come up and wreck it all. Boss monsters are particularly difficult: the Goblin King brings three more monster tokens with him, and the Orc Warlord moves every other monster in his sector forward an extra space. Or, you might draw a plague of archers token, forcing players to discard all archer cards. In the blink of an eye, a warm, fuzzy feeling of security is replaced with a sense of... well, panic!
The co-op elements really make Castle Panic work well. There are a few variant rule sets that introduce competitive elements, such as a version where each player scores points for each monster slain, the victor being crowned as master slayer. Another interesting variant, which we've yet to try, allows one player to control the monsters. There are many educational elements in Castle Panic, too, that will make any parent happy. Kids can learn critical thinking, problem solving, and even basic math skills without even realizing it! Castle Panic is quite similar in feel to Pandemic, and has a more generally appealing theme that make it a good choice for gaming novices. Castle Panic is definitely worth playing for any fan of co-op.