The (Board) Gamer’s Guide to Supply Management Part IV: Castle Panic

Some games are so fiendishly clever, so devilishly difficult, the players must join forces and fight against the very game itself
… because, in the end, we will either all win, or we will all be sitting on the couch of shame.

I’m euphoric to continue this one-of-a-kind summer series that will help you whether you are just interested in finding out about this new and exciting career opportunity, or ready to take your Supply Management career to the next level. Not only is it more fun than watching the defragmentation bar in Windows 95 on a 386 with 4 MB of RAM and an almost full 1 GB hard drive (which boots up in a day and a half), but when you can grasp a lot of the basic concepts by playing the right mix of strategic (and sometimes tactical) board games with your friends, it’s two blasts and a half!

While we still have to tackle the economic games (like Puerto Rico) at some point, we’re going to make use of the fact that, thanks to unprecedented generosity of Wil Wheaton (@wilw) and Geek & Sundry, we have another fantastic TableTop episode where Wil Wheaton introduces us to the game. Until we run out, we are going to take advantage of the priceless gifts that Mr. Wheaton has granted us with this series.

Wil Wheaton gives us a very succinct introduction to Castle Panic, a classic castle defence game (of which there are thousands on the internet and at least dozens for your iPhone) turned into an exceptionally well crafted team-based board game:

The board is divided into three areas called arcs. There’s a blue arc, a green arc, and a red arc. Each arc is further divided into three zones that are targetable by archers, knights, and swordsmen. … The bad guys are trolls, orcs, and goblins. They’re coming out of the forest, advancing towards our castle, trying to ruin our lives. Every turn, the active player will draw cards and then trade a card with another player so that they’re in a position to fight the bad guy most effectively. This is how we work together. We have to get useful cards to the active player so they can target one of the guys coming in to knock down one of our castle walls. After all that happens, the bad guys will advance towards the castle and then we will do the entire thing all over again. … If the bad guys come in and knock down all of our towers, we lose the game. If we manage to defeat all the bad guys, even if there is only one tower left standing, then we win the game.

In TableTop Episode 6, we learn that Castle Panic teaches cooperation, not co-opetition, in the face of almost insurmountable risks as a result of unexpected disasters. Think of goblins as environmental disasters, orcs as socio-technological failings, and trolls as geopolitical-economic crisis that could smash your supply chain into pieces if not properly addressed. And just like in reality, depending on what the risk is, and where it is, only a certain type of mitigation can be brought to bear. An environmental disaster that destroys a production plant and wipes out a source of supply can only be countered by finding a new source of supply, which, in supply chains, may often mean trading with your competition who has locked up excess supply but needs something else that you have more immediate access to. Similarly, in Castle Panic, staying alive often means trading archers, knights, swordsman, heroes, and even barbarians with other players to insure you have the resources you need to take out the immediate threats.

Just like each monster begins with a different number of hit points in castle panic, each disaster has a different degree of severity and requires and may require multiple actions to resolve. If a geopolitical uprising or economic sanction all of a sudden makes your suppliers in Vietnam inaccessible, whom you were depending on for raw materials and production, you will have to find a new source of raw material supply and a new manufacturing partner.

In Castle Panic, just like in your supply chain, the risks, and the disasters they represent, keep coming. At the end of very turn, players must draw 2 tokens from the monster pile (until all 49 are exhausted). These may be run of the mill goblins, trolls, and orcs or they may be special tokens that move monsters around the board; advance them closer to the castle you have to protect (such as the Orc warlord or Troll Mage); force you to draw additional monsters (including the Goblin King); kill your defenders (by way of plagues), or that unleash a giant boulder that, while having the benefit of squashing all monsters in its path, doesn’t stop until one of your walls or towers are destroyed. (The same way that a new piece of legislation, a trade barrier, or other unexpected turn of events can cut off a market for your organization.)

Furthermore, in Castle Panic, just like in your supply chain, your resources are limited. Players draw to replenish their 5-card hand at the beginning of their turn, and once those resources are spent, they are not replenished until the beginning of their next term (just like your budget is only replenished once a year). While most cards take the form of defenders (archers, knights, swordsmen, barbarians, and heroes), some are special cards that will allow a player to draw 2 extra cards, rebuild a wall (with brick and mortar), slow monsters down (with tar), drive monsters back (into the forest), or even scavenge the discard pile and reuse an already played card.

It’s a great team-building game, and one you should play internally with your cross-functional teams to get them thinking strategically and to help them understand that you stand together, or you fall together. Because, just like in real life supply chains,

we will live together, or die alone — in Castle Panic.