Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Cave Evil

Plays: 2Px1.

The Game

Cave Evil is a squad-level combat game with an unusual theme. Players are necromancers summoning various monsters to form squads and fight for them. The battlefield is a network of tunnels, where three types of resources can be harvested - stone, gore and black fire. Resources are required to summon monsters. Sometimes wild monsters appear and may attack you. You can attack and recruit them too. You defeat your opponents by killing them in battle, or by conquering their home base. As the game progresses, there is a countdown towards the arrival of a super evil being. There are a few types, and they bring different effects to the game, possibly ending the game in yet another different way.

Some units can dig new tunnels, which will alter the game board, and also sometimes resources can be found. Monsters in the game are represented by cards. So are magic spells and equipment. Not all monsters can cast magic spells or use equipment though. Some monsters have unique abilities, printed on their cards.

The cards with red font are the placeholder cards for my squads. Players start with two squads, the necromancer's squad, and one other squad with a follower who can dig tunnels.

Combat is squad vs squad. Every monster has six combat stats arranged around a hex shape, with attacker and defender taking turns to pick a different stat to use. The numbers are added to a die roll (12-sided die, i.e. D12) and higher total wins. You need to win 2 out of 3 rolls to win the combat.

You start with a hand of cards, and every turn you draw a card. So you are somewhat limited by what you draw, and what random monsters appear near you that you can attempt to defeat and recruit. Necromancers, i.e. characters you play have different abilities and can lead to different strategies.

The artwork is a little disturbing and may cause nightmares if shown to children. The numbers along the hex behind each monster are their combat values.

The Play

Han and I did a 2-player game. I was luckier with my card draws and had pretty good monsters. Summoning them was a challenge though, because stronger monsters cost more resources to summon. I had one monster which simple gobbled up one smaller monster before every fight, which was handy.

The gameboard. The initial setup for our game was like this, a central chamber with six tunnels leading outwards to six different caves, and two of those were our bases. The little stand-up markers are our squads.

My necromancer. Handsome? It has big eyes. The game comes with a few for you to pick from, each being unique. Top left foot-bones icon is movement range. Hand-and-dagger is ability to weild tools. On the top right the 3 hooded figures mean this is a small sized monster. A squad may contain 3 small sized monsters, or 1 medium monster and 1 small monster, or 1 big monster by itself. The S-like icon means this monster can cast magical spells.

I expected big uncertainties, due to the use of a D12, but it turned out that the uncertainties were often small, because when we fought, the combat stats used had big gaps so only rather extreme die rolls would cause unexpected results. In fact some combats were deterministic because the strength differences were 12 or more.

At one point my monsters comfortably outnumbered Han's, and his monsters which were at the entrance to his lair were no match for mine if I wanted to barge in to conquer it and thus win the game. However I was cocky and became sloppy. His necromancer rushed towards mine, used his special ability to control one of my powerful squads, and then used it and all his available squads to swarm my necromancer. He killed me and won the game! Aarrgghh!!

The Thoughts

The most unique thing about Cave Evil is undoubtedly the dark and unnerving artwork. The theme is quite unusual. In comparison, Chaos in the Old World looks like a kumbaya-Euro. Gameplay-wise it actually feels like pretty standard fantasy fare, the squad based combat type. The ability to dig tunnels and collapse them is unique though, allowing the battle arena itself to change. There is a bit of luck in what cards you draw, but it is somewhat balanced by how better cards cost more to put in play anyway. This is an indie game, and components are so-so: paper game board and squad markers.

Box cover. It took me a while to realise there was writing on it. Those weird patterns on the top left are "CAVE EVIL".

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