Sunday, July 15, 2012

Catacombs: The Game That Got Away (Then Returned)

Years ago I played Catacombs at my game group and thought it was amazing. When I got home, I immediately ordered a copy. I got some good plays in, but it soon found itself sitting on the shelf more often than I would I have liked. Between my dwindling attendance to the group and then moving, my number of gaming partners was pretty much reduced to my wife. While it was still a great game, I always liked it best with a full 5 players.

So I sold it (or traded it. I don't remember.) and that was that. It was a sad departing, but there were some other games I wanted to get that I was sure to play more. I never really thought much about it until recently when it started coming up on conversations. As soon as it got back in my head, I couldn't get it out. I finally had a good size gaming group and I felt that this time it would get the play it deserved.

Flick into the Dungeon
Catacombs has the standard dungeon crawling theme. A group of adventures descend into the darkest depths to kill hordes of monsters and collect treasure to buy some loot. The twist on this game, however, is that Catacombs is a dexterity, disc flicking game. To move and attack with their characters, players flick small wooden discs across the board. If the disc hits an enemy, then damage is dealt.

The Heroes
Up to four players take the role of the adventuring party. These characters follow the traditional fantasy classes of barbarian, wizard, thief and elf. Each of these characters has their own special abilities to help them on their journey. The barbarian has a special rage attack that allows time to activate four times in a row, although it leaves him exhausted afterwards. The thief earns additional gold for killing monsters and has access to a wide variety of special tools and tricks. The elf can fire arrow from a safe distance. Finally, the wizards has a spellbook at his disposal of fireballs, shields and skeleton warriors at his command. Together, these heroes descend into the darkest depths to vanquish an ancient evil.

Speaking of Evil
On the other side of the table, another player acts as the overlord. Controlling the wide variety of monsters in the game, his aim is to destroy the heroes and end their noble quest. The overlord begins the game by selecting one of four end-bosses from the Dragon, Sorcerer, Gorgon and Lich. Each of these monsters has their own special abilities, from summoning reinforcements or even turning the heroes to stone.

In addition, a deck of room cards is put together. Each of these rooms details a specific room type as well as the monsters that dwell within. These monsters include skeleton archers, the cerebus and the ever-favorite zombie. Killing these monsters earns the heroes gold which can be used at set points in the dungeon to buy items, heal the party or even resurrect fallen comrades.

The Ins and Outs
The game does have it faults, mainly in the production area. The character artwork is rough and looks unfinished while the background textures on the game board is too muddy and busy. The game did have a redesign in a recent reprinting, and while this improved the layout on the character and boss cards, the artwork, unfortunately remained the same.

Despite this, the gameplay is excellent. It is a light, quick-paced game that is great for a casual game night. The flicking mechanic provides a good balance of skill and randomness as you can never bee 100% sure where you disc will bounce of to. There are some good tactical decisions to be made in when the heroes should use their powers and how they should spend their money. I also appreciate that the dexterity-based gameplay keeps everyone on their feet as they move around the table to scout out their best shot.

Critical Hit
As I said before, I am a fan of this game. I am happy to once again have it in my collection and look forward to many monster-slaying, hero-maiming, disc-flicking games.

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