Author – Rob Hebert (@nerdypapergames)
Where to Buy – https://nerdypapergames.itch.io/escape
Escape from Demon Castle Dracula (EFDCD) is just analog Castlevania, and I mean that in the best possible way. In it, you play an amnesiac searching through the titular castle as you deal with its denizens, traps, and the slow return of your memory. The game makes no attempt to hide its love of its source material and it’s a stunningly gorgeous homage to the Konami franchise.
But still…why should you put the effort into gathering your cards, candles, dice, etc. to play this game when you can go grab a copy of Castlevania and have a great time without all the setup?
Well…because it is fantastic. The rules the author implemented in order to translate Castlevania to a solo tabletop experience are wonderfully elegant and engaging. Play involves drawing a card which gives you a prompt/challenge to deal with before you can proceed. Though the prompts are absolutely saturated with flavor, this mechanic is such a standard thing for many solo games that it feels almost low-effort at this point regardless of how wonderfully written they are (and they are wonderfully written).
And if that’s all this game had to offer, I wouldn’t be so excited to gush about it in this review!
Beyond providing prompts, the cards you draw form the castle in front of you as you lay them face down in an order determined by the roll of a d6. This creates a wonderfully sprawling, twisting environment that changes with each playthrough and feels almost more like a boardgame at times (again, in a good way!). I’ve never played a solo game where the physical space matters so much. If you run into the edge of a table or are too close to another card, that results in a dead end. If you lay a card down and it touches the very edge of another card, now you’ve got a handy loop should you need to double-back.
I know it sounds simple but the best mechanics are exactly that: simple, easy to understand and implement, and evocative. In fact, I hope the author writes a system reference document for this game so that others can take the scaffolding of what he created and make more dungeon-building/exploring games using EFDCD’s mechanics. If Wretched and Alone can have hundreds of wonderful offshoots, there’s no reason we shouldn’t see a bounty of Escape from (Insert Thematic Location) games spreading throughout the hobby.
There’s so much more to this game that I just don’t have the space to write about due to my self-imposed limitations. The castle so is full of monsters, traps, helpful denizens, boss fights, useful items, etc. and is so highly lethal that I can see playing this game many times before coming close to exhausting what it has to offer. So grab your chain whip, your holy water, and a deck of cards and go create and explore the depths of Demon Castle Dracula. I promise it’ll be the most fun you’ll ever have being exsanguinated.
DISCLAIMER: I do not know anyone involved with this book, nor did I receive anything for free in exchange for this review. Also, since you seem to like shorter reviews, did you know we do one-minute reviews of non-solo games on YouTube? Come check them out and let us know if there’s any game out there you think we should review.