Friday, 16 April 2010


Catacombs is a game with a very typical fantasy / dungeon crawl theme, but with a very unusual execution. It's a flicking game! Like Carrom (more common in Malaysia), Crokinole and Pitch Car. That's a combination of theme and mechanics I've never seen before.

The Game

There are two sides in the game, one side plays the 4 heroes (barbarian, wizard, elf and thief), the other plays the dungeon master. The heroes need to go through a number of rooms, defeating all monsters along the way, to eventually reach the final dungeon to face the boss. Defeat the boss, and you win the game. Get all your heroes killed, and the dungeon master wins. There are two stops along the way, one allows the heroes to buy equipment, the other allows the heroes to heal injuries. Each hero has different characteristics and abilities, e.g. the barbarian has the most life points, the elf can shoot arrows, the thief can move twice. All this is basically your stereotype dungeon crawl game. However the game mechanism is something completely unexpected.

All the heroes and monsters are discs of different sizes. Flick your hero disc to hit one or more monster discs, and you inflict melee damage to them. For ranged combat, arrows, or the wizard's fireballs, are represented by smaller discs, which you flick from a position within an inch of the hero. In a nutshell, you flick your discs to hit your opponent's discs. For the different types of rooms, there are different layouts of pillars, which are basically big immovable discs which block both heroes and monsters. These add some tactical consideration. You can hide behind pillars so that your enemy cannot take a direct shot at you. You can bounce yourself off pillars to hit an unsuspecting victim.

This is how a room looks like. Sorry for the blurry photo. The game was too fast-paced for me to take proper photos. The black discs are the pillars, and are fixed. Hero discs are white. You can see four of them on the board. Monster discs are in various colours. You can see one green and two greys on the board.

There are other details, e.g. the different characteristics of monsters, of the bosses, the magic spells of the wizard, the equipment. These are all quite thematic. The game comes with a few different bosses with different difficulties.

The Play

In the game that Han and I played, I played the heroes and him the dungeon master. I was quite conservative with my heroes and tried to save up the wizard's magic spells for the later rooms, and also the barbarian's rage ability (make 4 moves instead of 1). I think I played a bit too conservatively, which allowed Han to wear down my heroes slightly. I probably should have been more aggressive. What's most funny in our game was my elf, pretty lady though she was, was a hopeless with her bow. She (OK, I) probably missed 80% of her shots. What a waste. Give me ladykiller Legolas any time.

The elf is a hot chick. Her basic skill: in lieu of moving/melee-attacking, she can shoot an arrow. She has two shots per room. I bought an additional Magic Quiver for her, which was a 3rd arrow. Too bad she was a lousy shot.

My wizard was rather stingy with his spells. He got a full set of spell cards at game start, and every time a spell was cast, the card was discarded. In the later game I realised he had more spells than he could use, because some spells could only be used once per room. It took some injury for me to realise he wasn't going to last long enough to fully utilise his spells. I probably should have used his spells more generously, to help reduce injury to the party.

The wizard is the only male in the party, and the envy of all fantasy genre nerds, and Gandalf.

My thief bought one cool invisible cloak during the shopping stage. She could "disappear" instead of making a move, and then "reappear" anywhere on the next turn and then make a move. That was pretty handy.

The thief. Another hot chick. This game really looks like it's targeting teenage boys.

When my party reached the final dungeon, I realised the monsters there were much much tougher than in the previous rooms. The boss himself was tough to beat too, and this was supposed to be the easiest boss. I didn't need to kill all the monsters, unlike in earlier rooms. I just needed to kill the boss. However that's easier said than done, because the other monsters would of course protect the boss. Also they could inflict a lot of damage, so I couldn't just ignore them.

I did manage to kill off three of the 5 monsters, and even dealt some damage to the boss, but I couldn't complete my mission. My heroes were killed off one after another. It was quite a massacre.

The Thoughts

The fantasy and dungeon crawl setting sometimes does get old, but the idea of merging this with a dexterity mechanism is refreshing. The game is pretty simple and you can get started quite quickly. The various fantasy elements and rules add some thought to the flicking game - you will need to think a little about where to position your heroes / monsters, how to make use of the pillars in the room, how to make two (or even more) hits with a single flick. They all give some additional context to the flicking, making it more interesting.

The game is not very deep, but it is entertaining. The theme is applied quite well. In fact it feels more like a dungeon crawl game than a dexterity game to me. This should be played as a light-hearted game. If the players are too serious or too competitive, I imagine there can be many disputes about whether the arrow actually touched the targeted monster, or where exactly the hero went off the board (if not yet killed, the hero returns to the board at the same point where he/she left it). You'd almost need a referee, or a video replay.


wankongyew said...

Wow, I only recently heard about this game on another forum and it sounded interesting. Just to clarify: there's no actual ledge on the edge to prevent the pieces from flying off the edge? The board looks kind of small to me. I'd imagine that pieces would keep flying off all the time.

Hiew Chok Sien said...

nope, no ledge along the sides like in carrom. pieces do fall off the edges all the time. don't flick too hard!

you shouldn't sit down for this game, because you'll find that you often need to move around the table to find suitable spots to get a better shot. kind of like snooker.