When it comes to board games I have played a rather extensive list over the decades and among the growing legion of games crokinole remains at the top of my list in terms of favourite games.
While not exactly a board game, Dungeons & Dragons — at least the older version before the release of the watered-down, everyone is the same fifth edition – rates quite high on my favourite list as well.
So how it happened that I had missed out on Catacombs which released back in 2010 is something I simply have to hang my head in shame over.
Fortunately a third edition of the game released in 2015, and I have my hands on a copy of this beauty.
The reason I mentioned crokinole and D&D from the start is simply that Catacombs marries the two games.
Now it might seem an odd couple pairing, a finger flicking dexterity game such as crokinole merging with adventurers on a dungeon crawl, but designers Ryan Amos, Marc Kelsey and Aron West managed the union flawlessly.
The result is a game which I suspect will soon be bumping something off my top-100 list as it skyrockets into the top-25. I say soon because I generally give games some sober second-thought time before altering the long-term list.
But Catacombs really does hit a sweet spot for me.
I have always preferred games where skill wins out, and the luck factor with Catacombs comes down to the occasional card draw for treasure and the like.
As the game outlines; “players take control of four Heroes – represented by wooden discs – that must fight their way through a series of rooms filled with monsters controlled by the Overseer player. Battles are fought by skillfully flicking different types of wooden pieces across the game board. The board and obstacles are setup according to the instructions on a series of room cards.”
The meat of the game, however, is the skill to flick wooden disks in much the same vein as the aforementioned crokinole. This is a game you can actually practice to get better at.
If your barbarian wants to smite an orc with his sword you flick his disk into melee battle. Hit the orc and you do a point of damage.
If your elf wants to shoot an arrow, you flick a much smaller arrow disk to hit the target.
“Once all the heroes have completed their actions, the Overseer performs all the monster actions in retaliation. When all the monsters are dead, the Heroes collect their treasure and move on to the next room.
“Items to upgrade your hero can be purchased from the merchant if you get far enough into the dungeon.
“If the heroes have survived all the rooms, they will battle their most powerful opponent, one of the catacomb lords. The heroes win when the catacomb lord has been defeated.”
Having a number of big bad guys in the set means good variety from game-to-game, and that is critical to keeping the game fresh. With the various catacomb lords come some very neat critters to deal with from tiny wooden disks representing rats and beetles to a huge gelatinous cube that is essentially a child’s building block to flick around.
Once familiar with the game the overseer can customize what he puts in each room in terms of bad guys to up the challenge easily too.
The wooden disks all have stickers to apply which adds a Saturday morning cartoon look to things. Kwanchai Moriya, an artist, and illustrator based in Los Angeles, provides the art. “Receiving a BFA in Illustration from Art Center College of Design, and working steadily illustrating a variety of projects since he has a particular love for that space where art meets gaming,” noted his bio.
His renditions here might not be for everyone, but I think they work perfectly.
Catacombs provide a bag full of disks representing monsters ranging from rats to orcs to owlbears, some poisoning player character when hit, some doing greater damage, some turning into walls of fire. It captures the feel of D&D well.
There are multiple, reversible boards, each with spots to add columns which mean most shots have at least some cover to deal with. Again variety here is high. And you could easily design a board on a gaming mat and go that route too.
The suggested entry level run through is a tad too easy, but it does teach the game.
The rulebook is illustrated but could use a page explaining some things such as how some wizard spells work. We had to go online and find at least one answer on our first run through.
And you do need some room for this one. Players have to move around the table to get the best angles for shots and since it will play five, you need space around the table more than table size itself.
As to playing five, Catacombs would be smoothest with two players involved, works nicely for three, and declines a bit after that because of room and lack of things to do.
That all said, as a game of skill for two or three players, this one has tons to offer. A gem from the Canadian company Elzra Corp (www.catacombs )
Thanks to fellow gamers Trevor Lyons and Adam Daniels for their help in running through this game for review.