Dungeons and Dragons is a true behemoth of tabletop gaming, and these days it’s also pretty much a high fantasy life simulator. Sure you can negotiate caverns full of monsters but you could spend almost as long negotiating prices at the local magic weapons emporium. That’s great, and I do love playing D&D, but sometimes you just want to set up some minis and kill monsters! There are games that do this in a very D&D kind of way. Gloomhaven springs to mind, so does Descent: Legends Of The Dark. Both these games are excellent and handle combat in different ways, but ultimately they’re essentially similar concepts with key differentiators that mean you have an excuse for buying both! But what if you like the theme but want something completely different? Well in that case do I have the game for you. Catacombs is different, Catacombs is special, and I guarantee you’ve not played anything quite like it before.
For the uninitiated, Catacombs is what’s known as a dungeon crawler: a game where you play adventurers working through different levels of a dungeon (or cave system, or castle) and fighting monsters. The monsters might be controlled by an app (as in Mansions Of Madness) or by another player (such as in Descent: Journeys In The Dark). In the case of Catacombs, the monsters are controlled by a player, and they have to be because of the game’s gimmick… everyone (including the monsters) are discs controlled by flicking around the board.
So how does that work? Well, the players in charge of the adventurers start by flicking their characters into position so that they can use one of their abilities. Perhaps they might want to make a melee attack (flicking the character at an enemy), a ranged attack (flicking an arrow token at an enemy) or cast a spell (you’ll never guess how that works, but it involves flicking!) Once all the characters have taken their turns (always four, no matter how many players are involved) then the player running the monsters can take their turn and do something similar. So far, so simple. But (perhaps obviously) there’s a twist.
The twist in this case is an incredibly clever method of taking disc flicking and making it a remarkably deep experience full of strategy and tactics and stories that you’ll be sharing with your friends long after the game has finished. So, what is it? Easy. Every single character and monster has a mixture of different abilities, different numbers of hit points and different equipment.
So the wizard may have fewer hit points but he has a whole stack of spells to use. So he can freeze a monster in place or spam fire bolts across the map. Perhaps he can teleport to a different edge of the map and suddenly he’s behind the enemy and completely negating any cover they might be behind.
Alternately, the chicken (yes, one of the heroes is a chicken) has a special move (called Feathers Of Fury, isn’t that wonderful?!) that allows it to advance, attack and then retreat all in the same turn where normally you’d just do one move. The elf can move and shoot several times in a round instead of just moving and melee attacking. And they all have the option to buy equipment that will give them extra abilities or attacks or all sorts of other little bonuses such as healing (and healing will definitely be needed!)
In opposition, every monster has their own set of quirks to make the adventurers’ lives more difficult (and shorter). One might spit poison, which doesn’t kill immediately but once it’s built up to a certain level will simply kill outright. Another monster might be able to throw multiple fireballs at different enemies, while a third can actually swallow people! (That’s tricky to come back from).
This asymmetry means that there are a lot of surprises for both sides, as different characters do different things leading to several “they do what?!” moments throughout the game. It also means that it can be tricky to gauge how well the two sides are doing. Over the first few rounds, the players are expected to get through and the “dungeon keeper” is simply looking to knock a few hit points off each player. It’s as the rounds progress towards the final confrontation that the tension mounts and it becomes easier to see who’s winning and who is going to struggle to get through the all important last round.
So, is Catacombs worth buying? Yes, of course it is. It’s not expensive, but the components are really nice quality and the rules and ideas behind it are incredibly clever. You don’t even need to be good at flicking discs to enjoy this game as half the fun comes from laughing at flicks going wrong (sometimes horribly, in one of our games my friend flicked so hard that she managed to lift the disc over the board’s card surround and off the table!) although flicks going unexpectedly right is a lot of fun too. The rules mean that there is enough variety to stop the essential mechanics getting stale and the different monsters available mean there’s plenty of replayability; especially when you factor in the opportunity to have different people playing the bad guy.
All in all, I love this game and the biggest problem with it is that it’s not always available due to the makers clearly underestimating its popularity. Fortunately, if you can’t get hold of the main game, then Catacombs Conquest is much easier to get and is a good starting point. Once you do have the base game though, a couple of expansions mean that there is even more scope for replaying this over and over and over. As for me, we’ll I’ll be taking my copy to my friends’ house on Sunday afternoon and am hoping to make a couple more converts to Catacombs.
That concludes our thoughts on Catacombs. Do you agree? Let us know your thoughts and tag us on social media @zatugames. To buy Catacombs today click here!