Catacombs – Elzra Corp – Review

Theme and What is it?

*Note* Copy of the game provided by the publisher for review purposes.

Dark forces have appeared in the kingdom. The threat of attack is coming from all sides. Villagers cower in fear. Children cry for safety. The only hope is for a powerful group of heroes to undertake a quest. Can you and your friends fight your way through the levels of the dungeon, kill the monsters, face the dark lord, and flick him back to the dark hell that spawned them? We’ll find out in this dexterity, flicking based dungeon crawler.

Gameplay Mechanics

Catacombs is a one vs many game. One player runs the dungeon and monsters while up to four others run the heroes. This gives the game a nice back and forth. The weaker monsters get the benefit of perfect teamwork since they’re being run by one person. The heroes are more powerful but have to rely on their teammates unless they get overwhelmed.

Catacombs takes the basic mechanics of a typical dungeon crawler and adds a dexterity element with disk flicking. The flicking is what makes this game stand out. Monsters, heroes, spells, and weapons are all represented by wooden disks of varying sizes. Everything you do is wrapped up in flicking the disks. Moving, shooting, attacking, running away, and so on.

The dungeon crawl on top has all of the usual bells and whistles. There are different characters each with their own unique powers, abilities, and equipment. The barbarian hits hard and has a lot of health to soak up damage from being on the front line. The Elf has a bow for ranged shots. The wizard has a book of one use spells. This continues across the board with the rest.

As the heroes progress through the dungeon they face off against various monsters and other challenges. The dungeon is broken up with a couple of player friendly rooms; a shop, tavern, and temple. Combat rooms are populated from a deck of cards that gives the controlling player nice groups of thematic enemies to throw at the party. Some of the cards give them the freedom to choose the monsters and some cards spawn monsters specific to the end boss.

Players can buy gear cards. All the item cards added new powers and advantages to the players. Using the gold they received from killing monsters players may purchase some of these items and give themselves more choices on their turn. 

Initial Impressions

I was already familiar with Catacombs going into this review. I’d seen some reviews and watched a couple of game play videos over the years. That said I wasn’t prepared for actually getting to delve into the box. For some reason I wasn’t sure how big it would be and seeing it on the table was impressive.  The size of the components and the heft of the disks certainly upped my interests. 

Game Build Quality

For the most part the components are good. The disks are nice and chunky and have a good feel when flicking. The maps are nice and big with a solid thickness. The cards are a bit lack luster. I wish they were thicker, they felt so delicate I was afraid of damaging them.

There are some walls in the game that you can set up around the board to prevent disks from hitting the floor. I understand their point at a store or convention, someplace crowded where you’re worried about losing them or bothering someone else. At home I just found them tedious. Plus, while trying to put the plastic stands on the corners I could feel the paper tearing away as they bent weird while I tried to put everything together. I wish there were a better way than this.

The instructions are nice and clear. Everything is explained well and laid out in nice sections to keep everything organized. There are lots of examples and pictures to keep you clear on what’s going on.

The images on the disks are from stickers you have to put on yourself. While it never bothers me, I can see where some folks would hate this. Fortunately, the game comes with a well-crafted design sheet that shows how everything is put together.

Artistic Direction

The art is bright and colorful, but it’s a little too simplistic for my tastes. I get that part of that is clarity since the images on the cards and player boards have to match the ones on the disks so the simpler the image the easier it is to pick out at a glance. Still, I think it could have done with a slightly more detailed look to it. It doesn’t put me off the game but it is a factor.

Fun Factor

This is an odd duck. On the one hand you have the tactics of watching your gear, deciding when to use your resources, and what to buy at the shops. This gives you the deep thought of a dungeon crawler. You also have the strategy of which hero goes in what order. Do you have the elf move up and fire first because they’ll have a clear shot but might get in the way of one of the other characters or do you have the barbarian go first so he can get in and break up the monsters but might get stuck between terrain preventing the rest of the team from being able to hit something. How tactical you want to get here is going to define some of the fun you have.

However, all of that goes out the window when the barbarian ricochets off the elf, slams into a pillar, misses every monster on the board, and comes to a stop directly in front of the boss. You will have those silly fun moments where you don’t flick the disk hard enough and fall short or hit too hard and disrupt the entire board negating the rest of the teams turn. 

Age Range & Weight

As for weight, I think this is a pretty light weight game. Yes, you could really go full on tactics and strategy for the dungeon crawl portions of the game. However, I think that really puts too much effort into a game with way too much randomness. Sure you can know what item is the best for which character but the shop may not have the one weapon you want. There’s no guarantee that you’ll see the one monster, room, or effect you want. This is really a fly by the seat of your pants game…at least to me it is.

Conclusions

To paraphrase a commercial from my childhood.

“Hey, you got your flicking game on my dungeon crawler.”

“Hey, you got your dungeon crawler on my flicking game.”

The original point of those lines was to say two great things that are great together. Great may be a bit strong a word here. I would use very good though. This game feels like it shouldn’t work as well as it does but you can sit at a table and laugh about the stuff you’re doing as you play. I had fun here.

The two aspects of the game fit well. The dungeon crawl aspect of this game you can take as seriously as you like. The flicking portion of the game is where it gets a bit silly. No matter how well you plan something is going to go wrong at some point. That sort of becomes the mission statement for this game. If you can be silly and serious at the same time, I think you’ll enjoy this. The story above about the barbarian ricocheting off the elf happened to me and I laughed.

There are a couple of things that won’t sit well with everyone. There’s no campaign mode. Although, I’m not sure it needs one. Also the rules say that the person playing the monsters shouldn’t be trying to win. It treats them more as the Game Master for a traditional pen and paper Role-Play Game in that they’re trying to give everyone else the spotlight. I honestly don’t feel the need to play that way. I think the monster player could go for the win and not offset the game too much.

In the end it’s a good game with a bunch of fun stories to tell. Some of those stories will be about the time the elf bounced an arrow off three orcs killing them all. Sometimes it will be about how the thief did a hit and run and bounced off a pillar and ended up where they started. I recommend trying this game out. At the very least you’ll have an interesting story to tell.