What's Eric Playing? #261: Professor Treasure’s Secret Sky Castle
Full disclosure: A review copy of Professor Treasure’s Secret Sky Castle was provided by Level 99 Games.
You ever get interested in a game just based on the art? For me, that was The Shipwreck Arcana (and Unearth, to be fair); both are games I picked up because I saw them and was like “daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaang”. I thought that was probably the limit to my casual audacity, and then I decided to do one better. I got interested in a game that I knew nothing about beyond the name: Professor Treasure’s Secret Sky Castle. It sounds … ridiculous, or like something straight out of an anime team-up heist movie. Naturally, ridiculous is on-brand, so here we are, taking a look at another Gen Con pickup.
There’s been a worldwide crisis! The devious Professor Treasure has lived up to his name and taken every treasure in the whole world, hiding them in his airborne castle which flies because, well, of course it does. You play as two competing teams of heroes seeking to “liberate” (read: steal and then sell probably) the treasures you can get from the villainous professor, provided you don’t get in each other’s way. Will you be able to make a break for it with the most valuable goods? Or was the real treasure just the castles you robbed along the way?
Oh man, setup for this game is easy. Here’s what you do. Shuffle up the tiles:
Place 12 in a 3 x 4 (three rows, four columns) grid arrangement:
Give each player 8 cards in their color:
Set aside the Skeleton Keys; hopefully you won’t need those! They’re made from Actual Bones.
That’s … kind of it. You’re ready to go!
So, we’re back on Action Programming (after Bad Maps!), and this time you’re treasure hunters trying to liberate items of value from the floating fortress of the evil Professor Treasure. He’s stolen all the world’s treasures! Like, not excusing it or anything, but does it really seem like he was given that many options? We don’t know why he stole the world’s treasures, but, to be fair, concentrating wealth like that does kind of stifle the economy, so, in you go.
The game is played in two phases: Roles and Castle. Let’s cover each in turn.
During the Roles Phase, you will enlist six of your best associates to break into Professor Treasure’s Secret Sky Castle to try and reclaim the valuable treasures held within. Each player should take all 8 of their Role Cards, shuffle them, and then place two off to the side, out of play.
Now, the Start Player will divide their roles into three sets of two, and the other player will divide their roles into two sets of three. You’ll play them as a set during the Castle Phase, so make sure you have your sets in good shape! It’s totally fine to just shuffle them up and do this part randomly in your first game until you have a good grip on how the roles work and interact.
Once both players have made their sets, play them!
There are some caveats, but you’ll each play one set at a time, following these rules:
Every role must be placed on an unoccupied tile unless otherwise stated.
No roles can stack on a tile unless otherwise stated. Even then, roles may only stack on a tile, not outside the Castle, so leave the Captain and the Thief alone.
Your roles will resolve in numerical order, again, unless otherwise stated. Try to keep that in mind while you’re placing them in the Castle.
Once you’ve done that, move on to the Castle Phase.
Now, it’s time to raid Professor Treasure’s Secret Sky Castle and liberate what’s been stolen! Or something.
In numerical order, players activate their various role cards. Cards may, on their turn, take a tile or thieve a tile (these are not the same thing). Some cards protect you from being thieved and others let you take a new tile if your tile is taken, but you’re primarily trying to collect tiles of three types:
Artifacts are just … valuable. When you collect one, it is worth one more than the previous artifact you took (but they only score at the end of the game). So essentially triangular scoring, with the first artifact being worth 1 point. That can escalate quickly.
Keys are used only for opening chests. You will earn nothing at the end of the game for these; it’s Professor Treasure’s Secret Sky Castle, not Professor Key’s Well-Hidden Locksmith Shop or something.
Chests are awesome! They’re worth exactly as many points as it says on the box. The problem is, chests are locked. Now, if you had something you could use to open it, well, then you’d be in business. The thing about that is, you might not have enough keys to open a chest. If you don’t, you do not have to take it. If you want to take it, though, take Skeleton Keys to make up the difference. People don’t love your spooky skeleton keys, but just one won’t hurt anyone. If you have enough keys to open the chest now, place the key tiles under the chest and keep the Skeleton Keys in view.
Note that if you can take a tile, you must take a tile (which is generally fine, except in the case of getting Skeleton Keys, which this doesn’t apply to anyways). I suppose it could hurt you if you ended up having to take a low-scoring chest and waste some keys, but that’s infrequent.
Once you’ve finished resolving the role cards, refill any open spaces in the Secret Sky Castle with tiles (remember; he stole all the world’s treasures; that’s a lot of treasures) and play the next round. The second player goes first, and the first player goes second, now. Play a third round, and then the game ends!
The winner is the player with the most points; remember scoring rules:
Artifacts: First is worth 1, each subsequent is worth +1 more than the last one. (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc.)
Keys: Worthless. (0 points)
Chests: Worth their stated value.
Skeleton Keys: First is worth 0, second is -1, each subsequent is worth 1 fewer point than the previous (0, -1, -2, -3). That can really add up; be careful.
PLAYER COUNT DIFFERENCES
Professor Treasure’s Secret Sky Castle is too fraught with peril for more than two groups to go in at a time.
Group your roles. I think there are some smart groupings. I generally have a “Reactive” set that I run when I’m second player (Thief, Explorer, Sentry) that lets me choose who to steal from, who to block until the very end, and who to protect. Play that second and force your opponent to scramble with their last two cards. In the same way, I kinda run Thief + Sentry when I’m first player (the attacc and protecc strategy).
I usually go for Artifacts, but they can definitely be a tragedy of the commons-type situation. I usually get about 9 artifacts per game, mostly because my opponent(s) don’t really value them (because they’re not that valuable until you get 5+). If both players are going after them, that’s going to devalue them, so I usually let my opponent get a few nice chests and keys to distract them from my gambit. It works, sometimes.
Be careful about Skeleton Keys! I once drew 3 in one go because I wasn’t really paying attention and wanted to block my opponent gaining 10 points. In doing so, I lost 12 points, which is explicitly not worth it!!! I ended up gaining 2 points, net, but still; what a bad call.
Avoid the Thief. If you think a role is going to get Thieved, rather than letting them take a tile, try to take the tile they’re on with another role. That way, sure, you don’t get a tile, but you weren’t going to get one either way (and now your opponent doesn’t, either).
It’s nice to place a Lookout right next to a Scout. The Lookout’s tile can’t be swapped, so the Scout can’t take that one, in case they were thinking about it. That’s a bit mean, but it’s not Professor Treasure’s Secret Nice Castle. That would be ridiculous.
Use the Explorer. The Explorer’s entire schtick is locking one role down until the end of the round and preventing them doing anything, essentially. Plus, the Explorer can still take an adjacent tile, so even if someone tries to get around it by taking the tile you’re on, you can just pick up something else. I mean, every role is good in its own way, but the Explorer is super helpful when you’re trying to thwart your opponent’s plans.
PROS, MEHS, AND CONS
I mean, it’s literally called Professor Treasure’s Secret Sky Castle. How is that not the most fun board game name you’ve heard in a while? Like, actually. I literally looked into it on name alone. I was rewarded, yes, but like, it’s delightful. I just have trouble saying it sometimes, like Einstein: His Amazing Life and Incomparable Science.
It’s also a pretty great theme. This jerk has stolen every treasure in the world and hidden them in his floating castle, and we have to steal them back? Sure, I’m here for that. This game’s just absolutely delightful.
Nice component quality. It’s a really nice set of tiles (the corners could have been rounded, but that’s a nitty nitpick) that have a nice weight to them. The game has a nice table presence, as a result, because the tiles are nice and large. If we’re really getting into the weeds, it would have been nice if the artifacts had unique art (even if one was just a copy of Millennium Blades, an Actual Treasure) rather than being generic trophy-looking things. That took me out of it a bit, but I do appreciate the weight of the tiles.
Very easy to learn. I think it takes a few games to understand (see below), but I think the core concepts are easy to pick up. I can’t say I understand all the depth of the strategy yet, but I enjoy what I’ve seen of the game so far.
Plays pretty quickly. Once you get it down, you can bust out a game in 20 minutes or so, which is pretty nice. It seems like a decent travel game, since the only space you need is the Castle itself.
It feels expandable. I’d try an expansion for this! Add new tiles (maybe a new Artifact type) and alternate role options; maybe allow players to select their own role options and do some pre-game building or something? That’d raise the ceiling on learning the game even more, but it would allow you to experiment a fair bit, which sounds pretty cool. I’d even be interested in other Castle configurations and seeing how that changes the game, if at all. It seems like the sky’s the limit, for this one, pun intended.
Something something weird box shapes. It’s just a bit thicker than I expected, to be honest. I’m hoping it fits on my Small Box Shelf, but I haven’t actually looked into it, yet. I’ve kind of been living out of a game bag or two since Gen Con. I’ll reorganize my shelves after The Great Cull.
It’s gonna be a mean game. It’s sort of action programming and also worker placement? You’re going to be blocking and stealing from each other, and that might not be for everyone. I’m only putting it as a Meh as some people might find this is not their cup of tea.
It definitely benefits from a learning game. Learning how the roles interact is tough for new players, which can occasionally be frustrating. Thankfully, the game is short enough that it’s not always a huge deal. It’s just the same thing that I brought up for Fantastiqa Rival Realms; if a player has a really nasty experience because they didn’t get the game on their first play, it may lower the chances of them playing again. If you want to avoid that, give new players some time to grapple with the roles and talk a bit about how they interact, maybe on a sample board.
Calling the Thief something else would have alleviated a fair bit of rules confusion. Most new players conflate Take and Thieve, which makes using / countering the Thief kind of a problem for new players (to the point that I’ve started emphasizing the difference in my explanations). If you called it something such that the words were further apart, I wonder if that would make it easier for newer players to understand?
OVERALL: 8 / 10
I actually really enjoy Professor Treasure’s Secret Sky Castle. My main gripe with it is that an experienced player who understands the role interactions has a pretty nontrivial advantage over a new player, but, I mean, just get two other people to play it for a bit while you play something else and then they’ll be pretty up with it. It’s not quite as aggressive to learn as SPQF, for instance, but both games still need a learning game. Kind of makes me wish I did video content so I could just link to a slightly sped-up First Game of it so you could watch people play with strategies and stuff, but I don’t do video content so that’s kind of moot. Either way, it’s a light worker placement / action programming hybrid with a modular setup, which are all things that sound pretty fun to me, especially when you mix them together. If you like puzzling or have ever wanted to rob a Terrible Villain’s floating castle (which, I mean, who hasn’t), I’d recommend checking out Professor Treasure’s Secret Sky Castle! I’ve had a lot of fun playing it.