Catacombs: A dexterity dungeon crawl pitting four heroes against the evil Catacomb Lord, a struggle deep in the darkness for survival…and the banishment of evil! Drawn from the nearby town, called to defend their people, four heroes prepare to meet the overwhelming hordes, to face the unending tide, to delve deep into….the Catacombs!
Several months ago, I watched a video of a Dice Tower gaming marathon which featured the game Catacombs. This game appeared so entertaining to me, that I wished to have it…unfortunately it proved immensely difficult to procure. However, approximately five months ago, I attended Dice Tower Con (highly recommended by the way– great time, loads of board games, loved it to death!) and had the opportunity to play Catacombs with some friends! It was a great game– one of my favorites of the entire convention. Catacombs is a one versus all game, with one player assuming the role of the Catacomb Lord who controls all the forces of evil, while one to four players take on the roles of the heroes. In the base game you are given six choices of protagonists, as well as four choices of final-boss Catacomb Lords. Heroes range from your mundane fantastical standbyes of Wizard and Barbarian, to the more unique Skeleton Explorer and….Chicken Champion.
Catacombs is played in a number of rooms, each one presenting new challenges to the heroes, who face ever-increasing foes and quickly dwindling health. After fighting their way through every few rooms, they encounter special areas such as the tavern, the healer, or the merchant. In these rooms they are able to purchase items, receive healing, or gamble for greater riches. They are much needed places of respite, for they are not able to stay long before needing to move on.
So, what happens when the heroes enter a room? A room card is flipped over, and the player playing the Catacomb Lord examines the card to determine which forces of evil will be present in the room. Sometimes the cards will specify exact monster types and numbers, while other times they give a wildcard to indicate that you should substitute the specific Catacomb Lord’s minions into the fight. Lastly, it is possible for the card to give freedom to the player playing the Catacomb Lord, instructing only what level of monster to place, giving the Catacomb Lord a choice in how many and which exact monster to place!
Once the Catacomb Lord has decided upon the monsters, they will take the corresponding wooden discs (complete with fancy artwork stickers!) and place them on the room board of his choice, which comes complete with large obstacles placed in specified cut-out areas. Half of the board is assigned as a monster set-up area, and opposite that half of the board, a small slice of the far side of the board is assigned to the hero set-up, where the heroes will place their own wooden discs to mark where they start. Heroes always get to go first, likely because the game creators knew that evil Catacomb Lords would tear the poor heroes apart if they went first!
What does a hero do when they take their turn, then? Each hero has a shot sequence, and most of the time it consists of a single shot– a melee shot, which deals one damage to any monster discs it hits directly. Sometimes, heroes are able to use abilities or spells to allow them to make a different type of shot– ranged shots let you flick a smaller wooden arrow disc towards a monster, allowing you to stay in place; fireballs send a large orange disc zooming into the enemies; ice shots send a freezing white disc into a monster, and will then be placed overtop the monster until someone knocks it off, thawing it out! A few characters, such as the Rogue, have access to a Rush shot in their basic shot sequence– this allows them to flick their token once, but no damage will be dealt, even if it hits a monster, effectively allowing them to reposition without losing the opportunity for damage.
Most of the low-level monsters are killed in one hit, but a few have two or more hit points. Monsters themselves, divided into several families (magical beasts, undead, vermin, firey, and uh….I guess the green guys are all…orcs?), each have their own shot sequence. The viper can either run up and poison a hero with a melee shot, or they can hang back and spit venom at range! Skeletons are immune to arrow shots but must run up and smack the heroes to deal damage, while the flame wraith can throw fireballs at its foes! There is an incredible deal of variety available, including monsters that summon other monsters, monsters that heal when they damage heroes, and special mini-boss level four monsters which heroes may encounter only once or twice per game.
While were talking about the monsters, I’d like to bring up my absolute favorite component in this game. Mind you, every monster is represented on the board by a wooden disc, colored to match the monster’s family, and sized to represent the space that monster would take up. However one monster, one genius, fantastic monster, bucks this trend….and that is the gelatinous cube.
Since my first time playing Catacombs in July, I have now managed to obtain a copy of the game for my own use, and have played a second game. Both times I have played, I have filled the role of the Catacomb Lord (perhaps because I enjoy providing challenges for others? After all, I do enjoy GMing oh so much…). Both times, I have had a ton of fun playing this game! Especially because no one I’ve played with is amazing at flicking wooden discs, which means that sometimes we leave our hero or monster token in the completely *wrong* place, miles away from where we wanted it to be– ready for someone else to pounce upon it! The positioning and the ways of attacking in this game really makes it an immersive dungeon-crawler for me– undead monsters can make stunning shots, fire monsters throw fireball tokens, archers flick out small arrow discs, and gelatinous cubes rust away a player’s equipment!
When I played Catacombs at Dice Tower Con, it had included with it the Cavern of Soloth expansion– which doubled the number of heroes and catacomb lords available, as well as added in several new monsters, new rooms, and new items! I don’t believe that the expansion is a 100% necessary addition to your game of Catacombs, but all the same I was happy to pay the extra money to get it, adding more variety and replayability to my game.
To sum up: I have found this game immensely satisfying to play, even with low-skilled flickers (myself included). I will be keeping Catacombs in my collection for the foreseeable future, and looking for opportunities to bring it out and play it when I can!