Thought it would be a very appropriate start to this week's challenge to talk about my first impressions of the game I recently won right here on BGA: Catacombs!
I wrote previously on why I ended up getting Catacombs (it surprised even me) so I won't get into that here. I had been intending to write a proper review once I had had the chance to play it a couple more times but this is the perfect opportunity to give my first impressions after playing it once with my partner: so here we go!
(I only remembered to take a photo right towards the end of our game: the last two remaining heroes valiantly about to go down fighting against the overwhelming forces of the dungeon lord)
First off, it takes a while to prepare this game out of the box, there are must be somewhere in the region of a hundred small wooden disks (I should have counted) that each have one or two stickers to be stuck on. Fortunately I had a lazy evening to spare and happily spent a couple of hours sticking them all on sat in front of the TV: it was actually pretty fun as it made you look at and appreciate each individual piece of artwork in a way you might not if just presented with 100 pre-stickered discs. I was constantly pausing to look up what a Minotaur could do, or how the gelatinous cube (an amazing addition to the game) worked. Really built the excitement to play the game.
However, once that is done, when it came to actually setting up the game it was pretty swift even the first time: you pick your heroes and take there starting abilities/items (mostly just 2-3 cards except the wizard where you have to pick a whole heap of spells from a deck). The overseer (Dungeon master type player) chooses a bunch of scenarios and shops for the players to explore and who the big-bad will be (They could even just choose the first scenario and do the rest while the first game was playing out if you wanted to be efficient). Then you pick a board, put discs on and away you go. We played with the recommended beginner set of dungeons which seemed to give a good variety.
Each 'room' in the dungeon has the same objective: kill everything, so the variety really comes from the match up of heroes and monsters, and there are a bunch of both. 6 heroes (of which you chose 4) and dozens of monsters (usually 3-4 types in a given room), each with intuitive but different styles of play. The flicking makes every shot tense, there are very few givens (you'd be surprised how easy it is to mess up a seemingly easy shot) but also a nice variety of 'success' to be had: you generally do damage when you collide with an enemy disc, but you can also use these shot to try to reposition yourself and your enemies/allies ready for the next shot: it seems like there is a skill curve to be had but still plenty of fun if you are completely awful as the basics are pretty achievable (discs are big enough to hit and the map is small enough that you don't have to flick too far.
The arc of the game is pretty interesting, the heroes are unlikely to 'lose' any of the early missions, you're health does not automatically replenish between rooms (there are way to heal) so it is about killing the monsters as efficiently as possible so you go into the harder levels more prepared. While each hero has individual health allowing for theoretical player elimination, it is unlikely you will go from full health to zero in one or two rounds so you can easily go and hide if you feel at risk and play more cautiously until you get the chance to heal up. Similarly, it would be easy for an eliminated player to just join the overseers' team, especially before the final battle, without disrupting play, and I'm sure would create a lot of laughs. In our game, all four heroes made it to the final room with limited but okay health left (they spent a lot of gold on healing throughout).
Also, when players encounter safe rooms they get to either heal or acquire new items and abilities with the gold they have earned from monster slaying: these weapons and abilities are generally one use per room but very powerful and stop the game feeling repetitive. Suddenly you go from being a thief, to being a thief with a poisonous knife or an armadillo friend, which allowed some really fun narratives and jokes to come out (my partner could not understand the point of the elf's familiar and so would hilariously just flick it randomly, leading to the narrative that the familiar was just following the elf around without permission and the elf was sick of it!). I can imagine that this would become even more the case when each player was controlling a single character so would embody them even more so.
The game felt a little slanted in favour of me as the overseer, so I can imagine taking on a slightly more DM type role, trying to make the game engaging rather than trying to 'win'. But that could well be because my partner was very timid with her flicking and made a few fatal errors, it remains to be seen with future plays.
Overall though the flicking is great fun, it creates hilarious events when things go very wrong or surprisingly right (a single fireball 'accidentally' wiping out all my beautiful trolls before they had a chance to do anything). In a way that wouldn't happen in a more 'normal' board game. While, it turns out dexterity games are not my partner's cup of tea, she still enjoyed the game as a whole, and I cannot wait to get it to a table with a group of friends.