Friday, July 2, 2010

First Look at Catacombs


Box components, and the baddie for this particular game, a Gorgon

A company called Sands of Time Games has put out this fun little gem of a boardgame. It's a dungeoneering gig called Catacombs, and I gotta tell you, it was quite fun. Duck Sauce and I sat down for a quick play-through right after opening up his copy and having not read the rules beforehand. Sure it was a tad slow out of the gate, but we were rolling in no time, err, flicking. That's the catch, Catacombs adds the dexterity element to the dungeon genre.

A dungeon room during a clash between the heroes and monsters

The box comes with a ton of little wooden discs, you've got to affix your own stickers, and each represents the heroes, the monsters, spells, and the like. Some discs are smaller than others, and in the dexterity portion of the game, it matters. A tiny little disc, like an arrow or a magic missile has a greater chance of missing than, say, a large diameter monster where your aim doesn't have to be exact. And that's the thing, you're flicking these little discs across the game boards (which represent different dungeon rooms) and when they hit the targets, that's your damage. Depending on how you look at it, this is a great (or hopeless) drinking game! A flick is a move, unless you make contact with the enemy, then it's melee.

The four heroes are pretty archetypal for the fantasy genre; a wizard, a barbarian, a thief, and an elf. Each character has their own specialty, and access to specific items. The barbarian can go 'berserk', which means they can "flick" four times in a row, if your aim is good, or the enemies grouped too close, you can take out multiple opponents in one turn. The elf has a bow, which gives her ranged attacks in addition to her melee. Twice per room she can put a smaller disc within an inch of her token and flick it as an arrow. The wizard gets access to a spell card deck with some very handy utilities, you have to ration them though, they're limited. Spell effects let you launch your own discs as offense, put a large disc on the board as a shield, summon a skeleton to fight alongside you, heal, etc. The thief ended up being my favorite, she can move first, then move/melee/flick immediately afterwards. The monsters have their own abilities, like freezing a character for a turn, missile attacks of their own, and other traits that come into play. Zombies, for instance, will go inert for a turn after they attack (feeding).

The dungeon itself is laid out randomly with a deck of cards. As each card is revealed, you place that tile down with the appointed monsters, then duke it out. After you clear a room you flip the next card. Dungeon cards are 'leveled' as you progress, with the critters getting harder the deeper you delve. Compound that with decreasing hero health, and it starts to get tricky. Twice in the dungeon you get access to a shopkeeper and a healer. You get gold from killing monster, and spend said gold on services. The endgame is to kill the main villain selected from a handful at the end of the dungeon, so your gold is pointless if you don't spend it.

Above you can see the items I bought; a poisoned dagger (cause two wounds with one 'flick'), an invisibility cloak (take token off the board, then place it anywhere you want the next turn), and an enchanted bow (move first then still fire an arrow). These items are character specific, the first two were for the thief, the last for the elf, and the cards are picked randomly from a larger deck. I got pretty lucky with the invisibility cloak/poisoned dagger combo.

The boss fight

The mechanics are dead easy, and the fun factor is very high. There's no fluff but what you make of it, given the right players you could come up with a narrative batrep that rivals even the staunchest of fantasy games. The dexterity element really is important, it's the whole game, but there was so much other stuff going on it's role is somewhat downplayed. If you can't flick a wooden disc across a boardgame surface however, this might not be the game for you.

It is the game for people looking for a nice diversion accessible by all players from hardcore veteran to non-gamers over for the holidays. It's a fun game for the kids too, it's not too complicated and the flicking keeps you in the action every turn. It's going to cost you somewhere in the neighborhood of forty bucks, but it's replay value alone should make it worthwhile. It's also wide open for a plethora of expansions in new dungeon tiles, new heroes, new villains, and the like. Maybe even a Storm Giant disc that's two inches in diameter?


  1. Thanks for the review!

    This game looks fun for young and old. How well would it play with just two players?


  2. Nice overview. A coworker of mine gave me a similarly positive review. Sounds like a good one to buy.

  3. @Eli: This would be a great two player game, one person controls the dungeon, the other controls the party of adventurers.

    @Mike: For sure, this game was a lot of fun. We've played it now with up to five players and it holds it own as well with six as it does with two. $50 bucks might be a tad steep, but you do get a lot of quality components. Plus, there's a fair amount of replay value in there.