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Ghost Castle is a game from Buffalo Games & Puzzles where 2-4 players compete to get their team of ghost hunters out of the house first. On their turn, players will roll the die and move one of their two ghost hunters along the board. However, if they roll a ghost, they must face the wrath of Sir Spooksalot. There’s a ghost at the top of the castle containing a metal ball; after you press the button and release the ball, it will fall and trigger one of four different traps. Any ghost hunter in the danger zone for that trap must move backwards until they reach a safe space. The player who gets both of their ghost hunters out of the house first wins.

The Ghost Castle Box

The Ghost Castle box
The Ghost Castle box

The box is great. Not only does everything fit in reasonably well, it’s actually a part of the game board. The downside is that this is a game with a lot of assembly required. It’s also a 3-dimensional board, and you’re expected to get up and move around as you play. You also have to make sure your assembly is solid, otherwise the ball will get stuck and not set off traps properly.

The Ghost Castle box open next to the rulebook which is open the the section "Putting the Game Back in the Box"
It even comes with instructions for getting everything back in!
The game, mid-assembly
The game, mid-assembly

The designs of the player characters are mostly pretty good, but two are tasteless Romani stereotypes. The particular stereotype of Romani people as fortune tellers, who are often portrayed as swindlers at best and sinister at worst, has appeared across horror media for decades and continues to negatively affect the Romani people to this day. To learn more about the Romani people and why these stereotypes are harmful, I recommend the study Romani Realities in the United States: Breaking the Silence, Challenging the Stereotypes.

Thoughts

Ghost Castle is primarily targeted at children, and it seems like a great way to keep them entertained. The assembly could make for a small activity itself, and the simple rules with quick turn cycles keep players engaged. The fact that the board is 3D and encourages players to get up and move around is perfect for kids. Because each player is meant to control 2 characters, you could easily house-rule to expand the player count up to 8. The “gotcha!” nature of the ghost means no guaranteed victories; someone could always be set back by a trap or get stuck at the exit. This is a bit of a double-edged sword: players stay engaged because they could always make a last-minute comeback, but players who were in the lead but suddenly lost might feel a bit salty. Kids especially might get pretty upset by that.

Many of the details that make Ghost Castle a good game for children also give it decent potential to be a good party game. There was a unanimous consensus among the rest of my adult playgroup that this game would be great if you added alcohol and turned it into some kind of drinking game. However, if your party crowd is used to playing meatier board games, the game’s simplicity can be a flaw rather than a feature. You may want to consider house rules to add extra complexity.

The end of the game is frustrating. You must roll exactly to land on the escape space; if you roll over the number of spaces you need you do nothing. And keep in mind, you have to do that twice. This can create some fun extra tension where it still feels like anybody’s game even if someone made it to the end first, but it often feels like it drags the game out a bit too much.

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Ghost Castle Verdict

Ghost Castle takes a bit of effort to get going due to assembly requirements, and the rules are a bit basic, but with the right people and the right atmosphere it can be a great time. I give Ghost Castle 3.5 out of 5 cthulhus. You can check it out at the Amazon link below, but remember that we are an Amazon Affiliate and if you purchase anything using the links provided we will receive some $ back. 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

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Let’s! Revolution! @ PAX: Minesweeping Madness

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Continuing with video games I got to try out at PAX East, I was delighted to demo Let’s! Revolution! the debut game by developer and publisher BUCK. BUCK has historically been an animation and design studio, notably having worked on Into the Spiderverse and Love, Death, & Robots. Let’s! Revolution! marks their first foray into the world of video game development. I found this so interesting, I spoke to the Creative Director for Let’s! Revolution! on his career and how BUCK navigated that transition (find it here).

Let’s! Revolution! is a roguelike puzzle game inspired by the classic game Minesweeper. In it, you play as one of six heroes fighting their way along the dangerous roads to the capital city. Once there, you can defeat the tyrannical king and save the kingdom from his reign. Released in July of 2023, the game has been met with high praise. Unsurprisingly, this includes the game’s artistic and musical direction (by the team at Antfood), which is both stylistic and beautiful.

Watch the console reveal trailer here for a taste of the delightful animation and music:

I had the opportunity to play a 20 minute demo of Let’s! Revolution! on the PAX East show floor. I played alongside the Creative Director and other people who worked on the game. It’s important to note that this wasn’t long enough to get a feel for all the characters or the replayability of the game. But, it was definitely long enough to be enchanted by the game and the passion of the people who made it. 

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The core mechanics are inspired by Minesweeper. The player must use the power of deduction to uncover procedurally generated maze pathways to the exit. However, enemies are hidden along the way and can defeat the player before they reach their goal. Each character has their own special abilities that can help. Items and general abilities can also be bought or discovered to make your hero more powerful. All of these are limited in some way either by energy (your action currency) or limited uses per run.

A screenshot of gameplay from Let’s! Revolution!

From what I played, the gameplay is relatively simple with a mix of chance and strategy. I liked the cozy atmosphere, especially when combined with the ‘high stakes’ mechanics associated with Minesweeper. The UI was easy to understand and interact with while still being cohesive with the storytelling. And of course, the character design is exquisite and narratively driven, with many of the characters presenting as queer. 

Having released on consoles earlier this month (April 2024), Let’s! Revolution! is even easier to access than ever. Let’s! Revolution! is a perfect game for those who love cozy roguelites and beautiful (queer) aesthetics. I definitely recommend it for fans of roguelites looking to try something fresh. Look for it anywhere you game!

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)


Check out my other PAX posts here!

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Interview with Creative Director Michael Highland: Let’s! Revolution! @ PAX

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Another game I had the chance to play at PAX East was, Let’s! Revolution!, a Minesweeper-inspired roguelite puzzle game by animation (and now game) studio, BUCK. I talk more about the game itself in another post. Here, I wanted to highlight the conversation I had with Michael Highland, the Creative Director for Let’s! Revolution! and his journey through video game development.


How did you become involved in video game development?

I studied digital media design in college; this was before there were many programs dedicated to game development. After graduating, I self-published a mobile game called Hipster City Cycle with friends. Over the next few years, I slowly got more freelance work as a game designer, and eventually landed a full-time role at thatgamecompany working on the follow-up to their 2012 GOTY Journey. I worked my way up there and was eventually the Lead Designer on Sky: Children of the Light. Working at thatgamecompany opened a lot of doors professionally. I eventually wound up at BUCK, where I saw the opportunity to help establish a new game studio within a very vibrant existing creative culture.

What has been the most challenging aspect of the development process?

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Each studio has its own unique issues based on the people involved. There are commonalities like the need to fight feature creep and building consensus around ideas early in the process when all you have is an abstract grey box prototype to react to. At BUCK the biggest challenge has been channeling the abundance of creative energy and talent into a shippable product. There’s a ton of enthusiasm for games within the company, and without clear product-centric goals (who is the target audience, what platform are we releasing on, what’s the marketing strategy), projects have the tendency to spiral out of scope. Another challenge has been building credibility with publishers. BUCK has an amazing pedigree for animation and design, maybe the best in the world, but when we initially pitched ideas to publishers, they all said the same thing: looks great, but until you’ve shipped a game, you’re too high-risk. That’s what led to us self-publishing Let’s! Revolution! Now that we have a well-reviewed game out in the wild, I feel confident we’ll have more luck with publishers. 

BUCK primarily has its roots in animation, what led the decision to start branching into video game development?

It started with a general excitement about the medium and a desire among the staff to work on a game. Leadership at BUCK is all about providing the staff with exciting creative opportunities, and getting to work on a game, is, for some, a creative dream come true. And putting BUCK content out in the world is a point of pride and a boost to morale. From a business perspective, the fact we can staff out game projects with the top animation and design talent in the world is a huge advantage. We’re already starting to see new opportunities for the service side of the business based on the success of Let’s! Revolution! 

The art, unsurprisingly, is delightful. What were some of the priorities during the character design process and how did those influence the final hero designs?

Our Art Director Emily Suvanvej really led the charge on the look of the game. There are obvious influences like Studio Ghibli, Moebius, and Steven Universe. My shared goal with Emily was to make something together that reflected the diversity of the team’s artistic and lived experiences. The artists put so much love into the character designs and animation, it really shows. 

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Some of the primary game mechanics take inspiration from Minesweeper, what was the process like to create your own interpretation of those classic mechanics?

This article goes into depth on this topic. The TLDR is that we took a very iterative approach, at each stage trying to identify what was working about the prototype and lean into that. The initial game concept came together relatively quickly in part because our goal for this project was just to finish a game. We just focused on what was good and kept building on it. I wouldn’t say the final game is “perfect” – but we wound up with a much bigger and higher quality experience than I expected by not letting perfectionism get in the way of making good better. 

Is there anything else you would like to plug or that you think is important for people to know about Let’s! Revolution! or other upcoming projects?

The music and sound design for the game is stellar. We worked with a creative audio company called Antfood and they knocked it out of the park. The audio got an honorable mention from IGF, which I think is extra impressive because most of the other games were audio-centric titles with some unusual hook to the sound design. For the OST, Antfood reworked all of the music from the game into a continuous flow, like a concept album. It’s so good. I love working with them.

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Quest Master @ PAX: A Dungeon-Builder First Look

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Next in my journey of all the cool games I saw at PAX, Quest Master! Quest Master is a love letter to retro dungeon crawlers and level designers. Taking inspiration from both Mario Maker and the Legend of Zelda franchise, Quest Master promises the ability to play and design dungeons with a variety of enemies, traps, and puzzles. 

Check out the Quest Master game announcement here:

I was given a private 30-minute demo, where I got to try out some of the core features in a pre-beta version of Quest Master. This demo was led by one of the developers, Julian Creutz who shared some insight into the game design and user experience. My interview with Julian about Quest Master can be found here.

Quest Master has two main modes, playing dungeons and building them. I got to try out both, though I had a more comprehensive experience playing dungeons. While playing dungeons, the game mechanics were intuitive and simple. However, I was continuously surprised by the complexities offered by the puzzle and logic systems. For example, you can collect a boomerang which is incredibly easy to use. To solve one of the puzzles, I had to throw the boomerang through a torch (which I thought was just decorative) to catch the boomerang on fire and enable it to activate a gem. While the individual mechanics were basic, they combined into a sophisticated puzzle-solving experience.

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Immediately, I was eager to look under the hood and see how the dungeon building mode enables the puzzle solving as previously described. Once again, I was impressed with the sophistication of a system with such simple mechanics. The controls for building weren’t intuitive for me, though I also don’t use a controller for much of my gaming (like I was during the demo). Additionally, I could see how it would be really easy to get accustomed to as you build.

As it was a short demo, I wasn’t able to try any of the multiplayer features (i.e. co-op, online map sharing) so I can’t speak to the success of their implementation. As this is supposed to be a large part of the game, I’m wary of wholeheartedly suggesting Quest Master for those interested in the multiplayer experience. However, I was impressed with Quest Master’s modern take on retro dungeon crawlers like the Legend of Zelda games. The graphics and controls feel like much needed quality of life updates for a system taking inspiration from older classics. 

I recommend wishlisting Quest Master if you are a fan of old Legend of Zelda games or are looking for a fresh take on the dungeon builder genre. If Quest Master interests you, don’t forget to check out my conversation with Julian too!

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)


Check out my other PAX posts here!

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