Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Ryan Amos & Marc Kelsey &
Aron West


No. of Players:
2 - 5



Classic fantasy games always feature a good deal of dice rolling, and so games like Talisman, The New Dungeon and many others have chosen dice rolling as the main engine for determining the outcome of almost every player action. Even role-playing games with their much broader storytelling approach refer to dice rolling when it comes to determining the outcomes of combat and skill checks, and so the many-sided cubes have become inseparably connected with fantasy gaming.

In the year 2011 Dungeon Fighter from Italian publisher CRANIO CREATIONS has enhanced the classic playing experience by hilarious, almost artistic dice-rolling variants which challenge the players to roll their dice using almost every part of their body, and even though you need to be a fan of dexterity games to enjoy this to the full extend, the Dungeon Fighter series can be commended for its new approach to a well-known thematic setting. However, quite unknown to the fantasy gaming audience due to low circulation numbers, was preceded in 2010 by a fantasy game named Catacombs which also is fully anchored in the category of dexterity games. Coming from Canadian publisher ELZRA CORP., the game is true to its name since it challenges a group of daring adventurers to take up battle against an evil Catacomb Lord, but unlike many of its predecessors Catacombs does not contain a single dice! (well, apart from one Gelatinous Cube)

A dungeon crawler without dice - how on earth (or below it) is this going to function?

Well, in case of Catacombs the heroes do not crawl through the dungeon, but they actually have found a more elegant way of movement - they will slide! Indeed, all heroes and monsters plus their archery missiles and spells all a represented by stickered wooden disks of varying sizes, and when the hero players start exploring a new dungeon room an assortment of monsters will be placed into the room by the Overseer player who is in charge of the Catacomb Lord's minions. Opposite to the monsters the heroes will be placed together with their familiars, and taking turns the heroes and the Overseer now will move their playing pieces by means of snipping, trying to touch opposing playing pieces in order to inflict some damage.

However, this type of a direct melee attack only is the most basic way to take action against opposing playing pieces, and so both the heroes and the denizens of the dungeon may employ their skills and equipment to shoot smaller missile and spell disks at the opposing teams. Depending on the items or abilities used, these shots may cause a wide range of effects, ranging from direct damage to stunning or freezing a creature in place. As an advantage, using such a shot means that the player can keep his character playing pieces out of melee combat, and so some members of the opposing forces will try to harass each other out of the distance as long as possible. However, as might be guessed this only is a sound tactical approach for some heroes and monsters like the Elf or a Skeleton Archer, and so other heroes/monsters like the Barbarian or a Swordmaster Ghoul will prefer to shorten the distance to their opponents, initiating melee battle to bring their better battle skills to bear.

This kind of "snipping battle" is the centerpiece of the whole playing experience offered by Catacombs, and so it's no wonder that quite a wide range of special effects and disks are at the player's disposal. To make things more interesting and to give both heroes and monsters some character traits, both heroes and monsters often do not have just a single shot for movement or other attack types, but instead they often are allowed to employ a shot sequence, made up from a combinations of movement, attack, spellcasting and archery shots. The stronger the monster (or the better the hero's equipment), the longer the shot sequence, and so a level 1 Orc with his one attack shot greatly differs from a level 3 Fire demon with its 3 Fireball shots or a level 4 Venomous Spider with two movement and two melee attack shots in just one sequence. Another special shot type are defensive shots which may be used by some characters, representing a shield attack which is aimed at pushing an attacker away. Once the shield disk has been used, it will be returned next to its owning character, offering some protection from attacking characters and incoming missiles.

Catacombs certainly is no static game where everybody remains seated around a gaming table, watching the events unfold. Instead, all players constantly move about, with the hero players discussing the best way to deal with the Overseer's monsters. Moving around the table is necessary to get the best aim and angle for moving the playing pieces, and to ensure good playability and to keep the playing pieces from flying all around the room the game also includes a barrier wall which is set up around the board. Another nice extra are some obstacle disks which are put into holes of the gameboard, making it more difficult to get a straight shot and often causing some interesting rebounds.

At the beginning of each adventurer's or Dungeon Lord's careers stands a period of learning, and as you can imaging it takes some time to get used to snipping the different sizes of disks on a comparatively small gameboard. Players need to get used to the feeling and weight of each disk, and so especially newcomers may make some quite awkward shots when they make a wrong estimation of the power needed for a certain snip. At this point is is up to the players to decide how seriously they should take the game, because some lenience will make the game much more enjoyable especially for beginners. On the other hand, player skills will progress quite fast, and so you will quickly see some fabulous shots, using obstacles and other disks to make some rather skillful actions.

Even though this snipping battle is the central element of the game, Catacombs is far more than a fantasy version of Carrom with monsters and magic. The creativity of the game's designers Ryan Amos, Marc Kelsey and Aron West becomes perceptible when you look at the way how the combat mechanism has been embedded into the whole gameplay, since Catacombs actually comes up with some other elements of a classic fantasy game. So, during setup preparations a number of room cards will be drawn by the Overseer, and these room cards are used to determine the heroes' route to the Catacombs Lord and the monsters they will have to face in each room. In addition, there are some special locations like a trader, a healer or an alehouse (all underground) which they may visit along the way, and at these locations they can spend gold which they have gathered from slaying monsters. A good choice of items, familiars, spells and skills completes the playing experience, but even though the basic rulebook has a considerable volume (23 pages) the game operates rather smoothly once the iconography has been understood by the players.

From my perspective a new release of Catacombs has been overdue for years, and now the new 3rd edition of the game does not only allow a broader audience to enjoy the game, but in addition the game also profits from a completely new set of colourful artwork which suits its light spirit much better than the darker illustrations of the previous editions. With these elements coming together, I have been quite unhappy when I discovered that I had missed the Kickstarter campaign for the 3rd edition of Catacombs, but now I am glad that the game finally is available!

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Copyright & copy; 2015 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany