Full disclosure: A review copy of Disastles was provided by the Disastles team.
After doing enough Kickstarter previews, it’s always fun to get to try a game that’s actually in fulfillment. Disastles hit Kickstarter a while ago, and it’s been going out to backers, now. I’m a sucker for games about castles (but not about medieval times in general, but definitely about Medieval Times, the restaurant), so I naturally jumped at the opportunity to check this one out. I was somewhat surprised by the tiny box, but let’s see how big the game inside is.
In Disastles, players take on the role of Scavengers, looking to find fortune and build a castle that can protect it out in the Worlds of Old! It’s all very spacey. Unfortunately, you’re not alone out there. It would be bad enough if you had to deal with other annoying scavengers, but there’s a reason why these Worlds of Old have been ruined and abandoned, and those reasons are still up and active! Can you accumulate wealth without running afoul of some major disasters? Or will the only thing you manage to find be a catastrophe?
Not much to do, setup-wise. Every player gets a Throne Room and places it generic-side up:
There are special sides to them, but that’s an alternate game mode and I’m not gonna cover it in this review since I’m focusing on the base game. Set aside the Catastrophes:
Similarly, another alternate game mode. For the standard game, you’ll want the Disasters, instead:
Remove the top 15 or so cards of the deck:
And shuffle 6 (or more, if you want to hurt yourself and everyone else) into the remaining cards (the bigger pile). Put the pile you removed back on top; this gives you a bit of a starting buffer. You can modify that buffer, too, if you want; it’s really all up to you. Give a player the “I get to go first!” starting player card, so that you know who that person is. Flip the top five cards of the deck face-up into the center and you should be ready to get started!
So, a game of Disastles takes place over a series of rounds, ending after the final Disaster (which means if you’re as bad of a shuffler as I am, the game might end pretty quickly!). Players will build up their castles to mitigate these Disasters or die trying; either one works, honestly.
On your turn, you may do one of two things:
Take a Card
For this one, you may take any card from the Store Row and add it to any place in your castle, following connection rules.
These rules effectively state that you must match a circular “connection point” on one card with another. These can be slightly weird, but you cannot rotate a card before it’s placed. You cannot put a connection point against a blank wall, though.
Some connection points have symbols on them. Matching them boosts the strength of that card and protects your castle against Disasters. You also need to match those to activate some room effects. These are marked by golden connection points. The text of a card only becomes active once all of its golden connection points are linked up to other rooms (or a Generator of some kind is used). Helpfully, the Throne Room’s connection points are considered wild, so they’ll count for any and all connection points attached to it (even golden ones).
Take an Action
This one’s a bit simpler to explain, so we’ll talk about it second. You may take one of several actions:
- Move an outer room: You can move any room that is only connected to one room (called an outer room by the game) to any other available space on the board, following normal placement rules. This is a useful way to change connections if you’re worried about a Disaster.
- Swap two rooms: This works similarly to moving, but you must swap two rooms anywhere in your castle. Again, placement rules apply for both rooms, so do what you’re supposed to.
- Take a Room Action: Some rooms are “Action Rooms”, which means they provide you an action that you can use in this phase. You may take any one of those actions, unless otherwise stated.
You can also pass, if you want. Either way, once every player has taken a turn, discard all the cards still in the shop and pass the Starting Player card to the left. Now, refill the shop, as well, flipping five new cards.
Whenever a Disaster is revealed (either by being drawn by a player, revealed when the shop is restocked, or discarded by a card action), it activates! Well, the first one does. If you draw more, shuffle them back into the deck and draw again. If you draw more again, activate them after the first one. You can only get so lucky.
Disasters deal damage to every player, usually depending on how many Disasters have previously been drawn (represented by an X). Sometimes it’ll have just a number, which is a flat amount of damage. I hear the Catastrophes even have effects …
Anyways, Disaster damage can be blocked by connections. Each Disaster deals damage of a type, and for every complete connection of that type in your castle, you reduce that damage by 1.
For every point of damage you can’t block, you must remove a room from your castle. It can be any room you’d like, provided you do not split your castle into more than one distinct unit. If you’re truly unlucky and you somehow have to discard your Throne Room, you immediately lose the game. After the Disaster is dealt with, it is removed from the game; draw a new card to replace the Disaster.
End of Game
As mentioned previously, the game ends when all of the Disasters have been drawn. It can end sooner if all but one player is eliminated, in which case, the surviving player wins, but generally it ends after the last Disaster. To determine the winner, check each players’ active Treasures. The player with the most wins!
Player Count Differences
The major ones are the ones that come with any sort of game with some light take-that; it’s totally possible to have dogpiling at higher player counts. Amusingly, one of the reasons I prefer lower player counts isn’t that, it’s that you tend to get better cards and can build up better combinations of castles at lower player counts, since you’re only ever getting your first or second choice (worst-case) at two players. I’d argue that there’s no real advantage to having additional players in the game, unless they end up making themselves the blunt instrument that you can use against your hated rivals. Up to you, really. If you value high-chaos games and believe you can make anything work even in the worst circumstances, then I’d definitely recommend you take Disastles on at higher player counts. Me, I prefer order to entropy, so I’ll probably stick at the lower end of the spectrum.
- Connections are key. They’re how you stay afloat when presented with Disasters, and if you don’t have enough you’re going to keep taking more and more damage. Try to head that off before you get eliminated via overwhelming catastrophe. Sometimes this means prioritizing rooms that will keep you alive over rooms with cool abilities, especially rooms that provide double value for connections or reduce Disaster damage.
- It’s worth prioritizing breadth over depth. Similarly, you don’t want to go all-in on one connection type. It will help you a bit early-game, but later on you want to have a diverse set of rooms and connections to weather any Disasters that get thrown your way. If you don’t, you should expect to lose a fair number of rooms before the game ends.
- I don’t rotate much, but it can be pretty handy. It’s just a nice way to be able to use a room for a new purpose.
- Swapping rooms is fun, but it can disastrously affect your opponents. If you swap a room such that none of the connections are properly preserved, you can set them up for an incredible fall when a Disaster rolls around. They’re gonna hate you for it, but this game has a bit of take-that, so, that’s not terribly surprising, to be perfectly honest.
- Don’t forget to actually score points. This is the one that I always mess up, which is kind of funny since it’s a core part of the game. It’s super easy to get distracted by connections or rooms with fun abilities or the art or the references, so you need to make sure you focus up and actually get some rooms that will score you points, so that if you manage to survive to the end of the game you actually have a shot of winning! Note that this doesn’t apply if you are positive that every player but you will get eliminated, but that may not be super likely, so I wouldn’t recommend relying on it?
- Link effects activate when connected, regardless of whether it helps or hurts you. Be mindful of that; there’s definitely a timing aspect to Link effects. Also remember that if you unlink and relink a room, the effect activates again, which may be worth looking into if you want to revolve a strategy around a specific card’s effect.
- The game is going to grief players plenty; you may not need to spend a lot of time attacking other people. You may just come off as a jerk, or worse yet, Lelouch yourself and help the other players set aside their disagreements and focus on ruining you.
- If you feel like you must attack other people, prioritize breaking down major connections if possible. If you can break their most valuable connections, the game will do the rest of the work for you. It’s cruel, but, it’s also efficient, so I appreciate it.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Fun theme. I mean, who doesn’t want to build a space castle and defend against all the worst people in space? It’s pretty much what I want to do all the time, and now I can.
- I do enjoy building things in games. This one is particularly fun because you can get all sorts of silly building combinations and strange futuristic space castles, here. It’s Castles of Space King Ludwig, but without all the aggressive analysis paralysis, which is a nice trade.
- If you want to go deep with this game, there’s a lot of content here. I mention it a bit in the Mehs just from a reviewer perspective, but there is truly a ton of content, which can be nice.
- Pretty simple to learn. The nice thing about the game as it currently exists is that there really aren’t that many complex things to it beyond the cards; the flow of the game is just pull one card and add it to your castle every turn. You can increase the complexity, but you can do so gently, if that’s what you want to do, and it’s nice that the game gives you that option.
- Very portable. It’s a tiny box with tiny cards; you can pretty much take it anywhere you want.
- I appreciate that most of the conflict is against an external force. It does minimize the dogpiling because most players correctly remember that the Disasters will progressively mess you up really badly if you think you can just avoid them. It makes the game feel like a many vs. one game, even if it really isn’t, and I appreciate that.
- It does that Kickstarter thing. It’s not really a complaint, but Kickstarter games tend to add a lot of extra content that makes it hard to evaluate, usually by way of a bunch of extra game modes. It’s fine, generally, and I suppose I’d be annoyed if they packaged it into expansions, maybe, but it can be overwhelming for new players as they try to sift through a lot of content to figure out what the streamlined core is. I think AEGIS did a particularly aggressive job of this but compensated for it by bundling things into packs that were numbered so you’d know what you should move on to once you finished the first pack. Personally, I find that approach most helpful.
- Bit of a space hog. That’s the problem with long-form card games; even the tiniest cards can take up a lot of table space if you’re not careful. You may need to give every player a wide berth.
- Player elimination is always a bummer. We had two people get knocked out pretty early on in a tough first game, which wasn’t great. They ended up playing another game. It makes me glad I have quick two-player games like Maskmen or 7th Night.
- The small cards make it hard to figure out what your opponents’ cards do, so you might get some nasty surprises. I think that’s mostly an aesthetic / portability choice, but yeah, it can be almost impossible to remember what your opponent has taken and they’re usually far enough away from you that you have no hope of trying to surreptitiously read it, so you might as well just own it and ask if they have any cards that can mess you up really badly, I suppose? I wouldn’t, but you can. This is exacerbated further by how much space each player needs for their castle, but what can you do. My best recommendation is to keep an eye on the shop and try to remember who takes what, as best as you can. Your mileage may vary on the success of that endeavor, though.
- Definitely a “the poor get poorer” situation. If you take a ton of damage from a Disaster, you’re usually ill-equipped for the next one, so you take more damage, and so on. If you’re hit too early in the game, it can be next to impossible to recover without being eliminated. It might be nice to have something for players who take more than a set amount of damage to help them catch back up without devaluing the defensive aspects of the game.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, I like Disastles! Like I said, it reminds me of Mad King Ludwig, but with cards instead of fun pieces. That’s a tiny bit of a bummer, but, as a counterpoint, it also takes maybe 30% of the time to play, so, that’s also a bonus. Disastles doesn’t have much in the way of analysis paralysis, I think, unless you’re playing with someone who wants to test every configuration of every card with every card in their tableau, and, uh, tell that person to stop. The nice thing that this game adds that I like is the presence of an external threat that players have to deal with periodically; it focuses players on a force that isn’t other players, and so you spend more time when learning the game building yourself up instead of tearing other people down. The potential for those teardowns is still very much there, yes, but you can somewhat avoid it by just increasing the game’s difficulty. I’m not altogether unconvinced that the game would be smoothed out a bit if you handled the Disasters like Pandemic’s Epidemics and just somewhat evenly distributed them into the deck, but they chose not to go that route and to just have them very much randomly distributed. To each their own. Add in some whimsical space art and you’ve got yourself a fun little game, in my opinion, and a pleasant Kickstarter success. If you’re looking for that kind of tableau-building action with a bit of player interaction, Disastles might be right up your alley! I’ve enjoyed the game and am glad that I got a chance to try it.