Nobody knew about it, but Haunted Castle is a game that has been around since the 1970s and, apparently, this makes it beyond any doubt the oldest game this column/garden will ever cover. Most probably one of the oddest too, as the Haunted Castle really isn't much of a video game. It's a board game.
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Before it was originally digitized as an MS-DOS program 12 years ago and according to its creator Elen Heart, it originally looked like this:
See the cards, models, dice and actual game board? Definitely a board game, then.
A board game that has for the first time become available to people who aren't the dev's children or friends, and running on modern Windows PCs - that is to say, available to us.
Besides being a unique kind of freebie, Haunted Castle also happens to be a really fun and easy to learn game that usually takes less than an hour to play. Each player chooses one of the six available characters and sets off to explore the titular castle turn-by-turn by either moving around or equipping an appropriate item. They can also make wise use of their unique special abilities. The first player to collect one of the two available treasures and escape the castle wins.
It's as simple as that really, but the more you play the more the game's depth and tactical choices will become apparent, and you'll appreciate Haunted Castle for the finely crafted thing that it is.
Just do keep in mind that despite being playable on a PC and thus not requiring you to find one of those rare, empty and suitable-for-analog-gaming surfaces, Haunted Castle is very much a board game and thus requires a friend or two to play along as no A.I. players are provided. On the plus side, you don't have to shuffle cards and it does all its randomizations by itself. Not that I'd mind buying a physical copy of the thing if it ever got made...