You are not a hero. But something terrible happened. And now you are locked up in a dark prison cell. Will there be torture? Are you left here to rot? When you see a small chance, you decide to take it and try to Escape the Dark Castle.
In the solo game, you manage two characters. Each only brings their strength, wit and wisdom - represented by one die having a combination of these traits on the sides. You may want to pair up a strong person with a cunning one for example, to be better prepared for the terrors ahead. And hope you'll wing it when it comes to being wise.
Every adventure has you flipping 15 chapter cards. They may contain an encounter, or a challenge. There may be a trap. You resolve them by rolling dice. Mechanically it's simply "match the enemy dice". But that's not what this game is about. It's about the mood it sets and the story it tells. The illustrations and writing are great.
Usually you need a few rounds to complete a chapter, losing health until you succeed. If you win a fight against an enemy, you'll get loot. A rusty sword perhaps, or a rotten apple. It may help you survive long enough to face the final boss. The fearsome fiend that put you in your cell.
And then you'll probably die. But most of the time you will have been caught or killed long before.
There are 45 chapter cards in the box, and three bosses, so you can set up three games before you have to reshuffle. They'll take 20 minutes each. Then there are three expansions, each adding a boss, 15 chapter cards and new mechanics. I especially enjoyed Scourge of the Undead Queen, that adds companions and a very dangerous spellbook. There's a collector's box that makes the game bigger than Gloomhaven, which I thought was very funny. It also contains extra bosses and cards that add a trait to your characters (while they are flaws, they can really help you out).
The best expansions, however, are two companion books. Tales from the Dark contains a horror folk story for every character, telling how they ended up in their dark cell, and introductions for each boss. When you lose a game, you can look up the fatal chapter card in The Death Book, which provides a fitting epilogue, making every adventure even more thematic.
The game is a lot of fun, and for someone who really dislikes narrative games, surprisingly immersive. A SF follow-up, Escape the Dark Sector, is being delivered to KS backers right now and is available for preorder on the Themeborne website. I did not back it, as I thought who needs two, but I keep coming back to The Dark Castle, so ehm, let's go looking for a playthrough. To postpone the inevitable.