Sub Terra, the original game has been on my wanted list for a very long time. We love co-op games in our house and Sub Terra seemed a nice mix of Pandemic-like asymmetrical powers and tile-laying exploration. Throw in some terror, a few traps, a smidge of combat and you have a rip-roaring box of fun. Well, I did not get round to playing or buying the original Sub Terra but luckily I have been presented with a review copy of the sequel. Welcome to Sub Terra II: Inferno’s Edge.
Find The Artifact & Try Not To Die!
The basic premise and gameplay of Sub Terra II are very similar to the first game, from what I know of the first game anyway. After a quick setup and some wrangling over what character to play as, you are plunged into the opening of what can only be described as the most accident-prone, horror-filled volcano of all time. It’s full of Guardians, traps, cave-ins and of course an ever-increasing risk of getting your bottom burned by lava. Lovely stuff.
Your task, in premise, is a simple one. Reveal all the tiles from the bag in a Carcassonne-esque manner, find the three keys, grab the artefact from the sanctum and boot it the hell out of there. Each player takes their turn using two action points. Basic actions like exploring tiles, moving, picking up items and fighting will cost you one point of your turn. Other actions, such as running three spaces and digging cave-ins cost two. Also, each character has a plethora of wild and helpful skills to get you out of whatever nasty hole you end up in.
Characters & Team Building
There are ten characters in the base box that vary between rogues, healers and combat-focused archetypes. Playing with a team that is spread over these different classes will benefit your team massively. You will need someone who can explore fast, someone who can fight and possibly someone who is defensive or can heal more effectively than regular players can. This way you have a nice balanced team that can hopefully overcome anything this pesky volcano throws at you.
After you have taken your actions you roll the hazard die, this die is death incarnate and will repeatedly annoy and frustrate the team, which I suppose, is its job after all. This die has a few possible outcomes from setting off traps, making your character stumble or even spawning and activating the Guardians. Guardians are defenders of the temple and want nothing more than to leave all your carcasses lifeless on the volcano floor.
I loved the tension of rolling the hazard die and that, tied to where you leave your explorer adds a certain push your luck to your adventure. Do you push further in but leave yourself on a collapsed tile? Do you leave yourself vulnerable to traps and take the risk? It's all fun and games until a Guardian bonks you on the noggin’. We have had several instances where a roll of the hazard die ended our game. There was one game where three of our four adventurers were on a possible collapse tile and we all stated “Well, that's unlikely to kill us all!” Wrong! We all died. Well, we will certainly learn from that mistake. Probably.
The Artifact & The Lava
As you are exploring you will uncover three tiles bearing a key. It’s a very good system that makes sure every delve into the volcano is different. Do you spit up and try and get to the key rooms fast or stay together so you can help each other when in danger? Once you have found these keys, you can pick them up and take them to the sanctum, where the artefact lies. The issue is that until you have revealed all tiles from the bag, you do not have enough information to locate said sanctum. At the point where you reveal all the tiles in the bag, you place the sanctum tile on the column furthest from the exit that has a tile on it. This makes sure it's not an easy task to get to the exit with the precious artefact unharmed.
As I stated earlier, every turn pushes the volcano closer and closer to an eruption and the hazard die gives you things to think about during your exploration. This is heightened once you retrieve the artefact though, you roll two hazard dice after your turn and the volcano tracker moves up twice. This is where the game gets very tense and everything ramps up massively. Once the volcano tracker hits the top, as soon as a player rolls the ‘fire’ symbol on a hazard die the volcano explodes. At this point, the sanctum tile gets turned over to show its lava side and the volcano starts to flood with white-hot lava.
Every tile has a lava side to show the volcano getting filled with lava. Every turn the lava flows into all connected tiles and adds a real pace to proceedings. You have the artefact to carry, the lava to run from and all the nasties the hazard dice throw at you, which you are now throwing two of every turn. Boy, it’s tense! There are so many things to think about, so many obstacles to overcome and with the heat of the lava constantly at your back, the second half of Sub Terra II is a wild ride indeed.
Tiles, Characters & Meeples
My thoughts on the Sub Terra II components are, on the whole, very positive. The tiles are very pretty, with shiny icons on them and the double-sided nature of them to show the lava flow is a brilliant touch. The tiles are of a nice size and thickness and have a nice weight and feel to them. The wooden meeples are of a standard fare, sometimes the Guardians fall over but that's nit-picking at best. The dice are chunky and weighty and also look unique. The only component I had any real issue with was the tile bag, it's a tad small for these large tiles. Don’t get me wrong, it works but I would have liked a larger bag to make getting the tiles in and out a bit easier. Sub Terra II, overall though, has lovely components that work as they should.
Everyone I have played Sub Terra II with has really enjoyed it. It's, at times, unfair and difficult but that is what I look for in a co-op game like this. It does have varying levels of difficulty and does scale well to different player counts, so you can adjust it to make it easier if you wish. This is a game that rewards planning and being able to react to certain atrocities that may get in your way. Sub Terra II has just the right amount of cooperation, you will need each other to survive and the game teaches you that very quickly.
This game has lovely, functional components that add to its theme and the rising sense of tension. I would just maybe get yourself a bigger tile bag. If you have a group of friends who like coop games, especially ones that require teamwork and can be quite difficult, I fully recommend Sun Terra II. Right, I'm off to die again by running blindly into a spike trap. Laters explorers!