Sunday, September 16, 2012

Dungeon Flicking - Catacombs Review

  • Designed by Ryan Amos, Marc Kelsey, and Aron West
  • Published by Sands of Time Games in 2010
  • For 2-5 players
  • Plays in 30-60 minutes (though I'll say 60-90 is more likely)

Catacombs is a dungeon crawl game, meaning heroes adventure through an area, defeating monsters and trying to survive, but instead of a lot of dice rolls and stat comparisons, the game is all about flicking pieces.  If your piece hits an enemy, you do a point of damage to it. This gives the game a lot of luck, a lot of cheering and some groans depending on how the flicks go.  It can sometimes take awhile to play, but a lot of different people have had a lot of fun with this game.

How I store things in the box
Note: has 2 expansions in it.
Catacombs has a lot of nice components.  All of the monsters and heroes are on solid wood disks.  There are also arrow pieces (smaller disks) and wooden cubes to track life points.  The only bad component in the game is the money.  The area to store money on heroes is circular, but the money cards are rectangular.  It's an odd design/production choice, but it still works ok.  The art is good, not great, but not horrible.  I have the first edition of the base game, so I can't really speak to the art in the 2nd edition.

The core mechanic is flicking.  One player plays all the bad guys, and then the rest play the heroes.  This keeps the game fast and fun for most people.  There are some disputes about whether or not a piece was hit, but they're all in good natured fun.  Once the players defeat every enemy in the room, they get to go to the next room.  Eventually the heroes reach the Catacomb Lord room, aka the Boss.  If they defeat the boss, they win.  If all the heroes die at any point, the overlord wins.

The 4 Heroes
The players controlling the heroes need to work together.  Each hero has their own abilities that players need to utilize in order to do well.  A good team of heroes can help each other, get good angles for one another, and have a good strategy to win.  Even if one person dominates the creation of said strategy, each player still has to carry it out, and those disks do weird things.  There can be some good natured taunting between the overlord and the puny heroes, so that keeps things fun. 

This is your fairly standard fantasy dungeon.  The heroes are a warrior, an elf, a thief, and a magician.  Enemies include skeletons, zombies, minotaurs, cerberus, and a dragon.  There's no real surprise with the theme, but it's well incorporated.

The 4 different Catacomb Lords
Learning Curve
Catacombs is a medium learning curve.  The rules are fairly straight forward, I can teach the game in under 5 minutes, but to make sure someone understands what they're trying to do, and to work well as a team takes time.  Also, the more you play, the better you get at making shots.

Why I like Catacombs
Simply put, I don't have any other game like this.  The combination of a dexterity element with a larger game is unique.   There's a great sense of teamwork, high-fives with great shots, hanging your head when you completely whiff on a key shot.  The game is forgiving and offers a lot of variety.

Why I don't like Catacombs
An Assortment of Minions.
The game does tend to take longer than you anticipate.  I've had two hour games which felt really long, but I've had 1.5 hour games that felt short.  I wish there was a campaign mode to the game, I think it would add a lot.

I've played Catacombs 14 times with several different people.  It's not something to play multiple times in a short timespan, but once a month or so has felt about right.  There's good variety in the base game, but the expansion adds a lot.

I really enjoy Catacombs.  I have a fun time as either the intrepid hero venturing forth to slay evil, or the dungeon master who's tired of these so called "heroes" coming into my house, killing my friends, and taking all my treasure.  Each hero has a very different style, and trying to figure out the best way to defeat a room, but also do so in a way that helps long term, is a challenge.  Of course, the game comes down to flicking, and somedays are better than others.  I give the game 2 thumbs up.  It may not be the best game ever, but it is a good game, and I can't ever see myself getting rid of it.

Will you like it?
One of the boards. You can see
the heroes lined up before the white line
and then all the enemies in the back.
There are 6 bumpers in play as well.
If you're looking for a game where you can laugh at yourself and others, where you don't mind moving around a bit, and where you want to see how good you are at flicking a disk, this is certainly worth a look.  This is not high strategy.  There's a some luck, but a lot of dexterity skill.  It's more fun if you have a group who will get into character, even a little.

What else is like Catacombs?
The first game that comes to mind is Ascending Empires.  The flicking stuff in the context of a bigger game is the same.  The theme and use of flicking are completely different though.  Ascending Empires also has a bit more strategy, as it is PvP, not a team game.
If you're looking for the dexterity element, check out Pitchcar, Bisikle, RoadZsters, and the classic, Crokinole.

Want to buy Catacombs and support BoBG?

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