Theme and What is it?
Cutthroat Caverns: Death Incarnate is an expansion for the semi co-op dungeon crawler that has players take the role of adventurers delving a fantasy dungeon. With Cutthroat Caverns the main mechanic is that while you need the other players to survive the dungeon only one of you can end the dungeon with the most glory and the game. As the box for the base game says, “Without teamwork, you’ll never survive. Without betrayal, you’ll never win.” For this review I’m going to try and do this in almost two parts. The first part of a section will be about how this expansion matches up to previous ones and what new things it adds. The second part will be to talk about the things that are from previous expansions for players who haven’t used any of the others and may be considering this as their first one.
Cutthroat Caverns: Death Incarnate is an expansion and as such introduces some new mechanics while at the same time adding to some old ones. A couple of new features include the inclusion of keywords, a new type of encounter, and updating a creature type, the Incarnation. Returning ideas that are added to this expansion include the use of more events, relics, and quests as well as two purchasable adventures available from Drivethru RPG. (*Note* At the time of this review, neither adventure is available. They are going through final edits and should be up soon.*)
One of the first things of note in this expansion is a quality of life feature. Smirk & Dagger streamline the language. They introduce a lot of terms here that will be used to standardize the language of this and all expansions moving forward as well as all reprints of previous expansions. Players do damage through Attacks, Encounters do damage through Strikes, and a Wound is when a player successfully hits and deals at least 5 points of damage to an encounter.
One term they add that I find particularly useful is Finisher, an Encounter that is particularly dangerous and could potentially be used as the final encounter in a game. This is to give the final room of the dungeon a more dramatic feeling. They even have a mechanic for how to use this term to set up your dungeon deck. I like the addition because it answers a call I’ve seen from players in the past for a list of the more difficult encounters so they can adjust the deck for newer or more experienced players.
Another new term used here is Boss, there is only one boss in the new expansion. Though they are going to be more in the future. The Boss encounter is a particularly dangerous monster that if it appears midway through the dungeon deck it is immediately placed on the bottom of the deck. However, before placing it on the bottom it does something to the party before dropping down. In this instance, Death, forces the players to discard their hand and draw six new cards before dropping to the bottom of the deck.
Now something for both veteran and new players. There are relic cards in this set, which are a returning mechanic from a previous expansion but with a new bump. Relics are magic items that players can win under certain circumstances. Typically rewarded by events. The new set include themed relics for each of the incarnations and rules for rewarding each one to a player based on a win condition while fighting that specific monster. For example when fighting Famine players have their hand size reduced and must discard cards or sacrifice life points to play attack cards. If the player who scores the killing blow is still holding a card in hand, they get Famine’s relic, The Flail of Consumption. What makes this something for returning player’s is that they have included relics and rules for the incarnations from all previous expansions. Which builds a nice consistency for this style of encounter.
The game also includes Event cards, as mentioned before. Events give new modifiers to existing encounters, some are helpful to players; most are not. They add a new level of complexity to existing encounters but come with the added reward of the above mentioned relic cards. Mostly events are there to add more variety to the game by giving a new level of difficulty to players. This is an optional feature and doesn’t need to be used. It’s just a way to add challenge for those players who feel the need for it. There’s always going to be the guy who wants to Dark Souls the game.
Finally, there are quest cards. Quests are new ways of setting up the game to give the players even more challenge and a whole new set of win conditions. Everything from fighting building a dungeon around the horsemen of the apocalypse. The dungeon deck only holds four encounters but players start with fifty life points instead of their standard amount.
I’ve liked Cutthroat Caverns for a long time. So a new set that offers more of the same but with added twists was quite welcome. I was very intrigued by the relic rewards for the new monsters and anxious to get the game back to the table to try them out.
Game Build Quality
I could have cut and pasted my response to this category from the review of the base set…in fact. I like the quality of the components. Card quality is nice, though you will be shuffling quite a bit so sleeving them isn’t out of the question. Character boards are a nice thickness, and all of the tokens and chits are good quality.
However, there is a slight hiccup in the rules. A couple of things could have been explained better. How to use quests isn’t really laid out, but you can figure it out after a little reading. They’re essentially alternative ways to set up the game. Choose one and it tells you how to build the decks and what new victory condition you need to meet to win.
I’ve always liked the art in Cutthroat caverns and this set is no exception. Since they use different artists with varying styles there have been a few misses over the years. However, I think everything in this set is very thematic and stylized. One note I really appreciated, Smirk & Dagger worked with real world artisans to develop the various relics in the game. They also provide links to the various artisans so you can purchase either replicas of some the pieces or commission your own piece. The extra work shows and was quite good.
As with the base game, the fun here is the anticipation of betrayal. I like killing the monsters, getting the treasure, and facing the foes, but the real thrill of this game is knowing that one of us is going to throw the first punch. The tension of being slightly in the lead then accidently killing something worth a lot of points and painting a large target on your back or causing someone else to do it, can be quite exciting.
Age Range & Weight
If you are already playing the game then you know the base difficulty we’re dealing with. I would estimate that there is a bit of a complexity spike with the monsters in this expansion but not much of one. There are a couple that could be better explained. They include a FAQ in the rules for some of the creature but there were a few that maybe should have also had one. For the most part it was pretty easy to figure out. That said, if we played Time correctly, pray that he’s not the last creature in the dungeon.
Like all good expansions Death Incarnate is more of the same plus a little bit extra. If you enjoy the game and are already grabbing the other expansions then this is a no brainer get this one too. If you’re looking for your first expansion, maybe start with one of the others and come back to this since the difficulty ramps a bit. I liked a lot that was found here. Creatures work great, the new relics were fun, and I enjoyed the different set ups with the quest cards.
It is sad that you will need to keep the rules on hand to play with the new incarnation relics. While it is optional, it adds a nice bit of flavor to the encounters that I feel it’s worth doing. I enjoyed the extra challenge and temptation of getting the relic by completing the various challenges laid out there. Not all of which require being the one to defeat the encounter. Fear’s is awarded before the encounter even starts.
Some of the new creatures are pretty spectacular. I think Fate is my favorite. When Fate is flipped, you move ahead to the next encounter. However, you now have a tarot deck of twelve cards in play. When you play an attack card you may flip a card from the deck. Depending on the rotation of the card it could help or hurt you. By the end of the last room you need to have flipped on specific card from the deck. If that card hasn’t shown up, then you have to fight Fate and her stats are based on how many cards are still in the deck.
The event cards are all nicely themed to the relics they reward though none stands out to me. They were a bit overshadowed by the new monsters. Still a worthy addition. I can’t wait to shuffle them into my existing deck and play with them there.
Again a couple of the creatures could have been a little clearer. Some of the rules are slightly off kilter. However, the game is a ton of fun. Players can feel a bit picked on. In one particular game one player seemed to have the bad luck of staying in last place and slowly dying over the course of the game. It can happen. Fortunately, they had a good sense of humor about the entire affair and went out swinging. The game is random and these things can happen. If you go in aware of it and are ready for it, then you should be fine.
If you don’t mind some good natured take that and a bit of cooperation, then this may be the fun you’re looking for.