Game Review – Catacombs & Castles

IMG_5232

In an epic battle between light and dark, courageous castle defenders are battling mighty heroes from the catacomb team in defense of their land. Whatever side you fall on, you must flick your way to victory in Elzra Games newest game – Catacombs & Castles.

*A review copy of this game was provided to us by the publisher. 

Designer: Aron West
Artist: Kwanchai Moriya
Publisher: 
Elzra Games
Genre: Dexterity
Players: 2-8
Play Time: 30 minutes
Number of Logged Plays: 5

Buy it on Amazon via He said, She Said Games

Skip ahead to find out:
Game Overview
Game Play
What He Said
What She Said
Our Pros and Cons
The Verdict

Game Overview

Catacombs & Castles is a competitive dexterity game that has players teaming up to defeat one another. At the beginning of the game, players will split up into two teams, the catacomb team and castle team. Teams will then decide how many heroes they’ll control and what ability cards each hero will have for the game. Each hero has suggestions for ability cards that newer players should use, but you can choose any of the ability cards to use for your faction.

Once heroes are chosen, the number of life points each team has should be determined and if armor tokens are going to be used in the game. This allows players to either play a lengthier game by increasing the health pool or decreasing it for a shorter game. Lastly, teams will take turns placing each of the six obstacle pieces on the board. Once the obstacles are in place, the game is ready to begin. Players can utilize their heroes abilities and basic shots to attack the opposing team’s heroes. The first team to eliminate the opposing factions health tokens is declared the winner!

Game Play

Team Mode
In each round of Catacombs & Castles, teams will take turns performing a shot or sequence of shots with a hero. There are a wide variety of ranged attacks with special effects that players can use to snipe heroes across the map. Missiles, fireballs, and ice projectiles are basic shots that will deal one damage, but shots like the web/net can ensnare enemy hero to prevent them from taking actions. They can also get up close and personal with melee attacks, but they’ll have to be careful they don’t leave themselves too vulnerable to attacks.

IMG_5106Successfully attacking enemies give your team two benefits: reducing the enemy team’s health and gaining resources to power up your abilities. The abilities require one to two tokens before they can be executed, but they can inflict a lot of damage if used at the right time. Each ability card and standard shot cards will indicate their shot sequence that can be performed. The shot sequence will always be performed from left to right if there is an arrow between them. If a hero’s attack is successful, the enemy has the option of using an armor token, if available. Armor can only be used once or twice a game, depending on the game setup. Using an armor token will negate an attack completely, including damage and any additional effects.

The order heroes perform their actions is determined by the team each round. Each hero can only perform one action per round, and once all heroes have gone, the current round is over. The only exception to the rule above is if a hero uses a team action, which allows other heroes on the team to perform the ability’s action, even if they’ve already gone that turn. The first team to eliminate all of the opposing team’s health is the winner.

Boss Mode
In this mode, one player takes on the role of the boss and his minions while the rest of the players team up to be the heroes. All standard rules still apply in this mode except the boss player will get a set number of reinforcement tokens to respawn minions. The other major difference in this mode is that the players do not need to charge up their abilities, but they can only use them once a game. The heroes will win this mode if they can successfully take down the boss before losing all of their health.

He Said

IMG_4973I’ve had my eye on the Catacombs series for a while now and when I saw their new Catacombs & Castles on Kickstarter, I knew this was my chance to hop on board. The idea of a fantasy-themed dexterity game that has two factions of heroes competing against each other looked really appealing to me. One of the biggest things that made this game stand out among other dexterity games is the variety of ability cards players can use to customize their heroes every game, which you don’t see too often in similar games. The only other game we’ve played that had unique powers was Flipships, but that kind of flicking is pretty different from what you find in Catacombs & Castles.

IMG_5249There’s No I in Team
Each faction has a pool of ability cards they can choose to assign to the heroes. There aren’t any skills tied to specific heroes, so any hero can use any ability. This bit of customization was fun and can help mold what kind of strategy you want to go for. You could focus on strong team abilities that allow your team to put together burst attacks, which could swing the tide of battle in one turn. You could also focus on low-cost abilities that can be used more frequently to get the upper hand on opponents.

At the end of the day, I don’t think you can really go wrong with any abilities you choose because it’ll come down to how and when you use them that matters. We had one game that I thought I was going to win with a two life advantage, but my last attack put me out in the open and Mandee’s team took advantage of it with a team action. With all three members of her team landing a shot on my vulnerable hero, the game was over just like that.

There’s a good amount of variety with the kind of different shots you can do from ranged attacks, melee attacks, and melee/ranged attacks with special effects. This variety is awesome, but it does come with a little bit of a learning curve because of all the symbols used in the game. We’d frequently go back to the reference book to see what each symbol allowed us to do. The rulebook does a really good job of providing examples and descriptions of each type of shot though so the functionality of each shot is very clear.

Cool Like the Other Side of the Pillow
IMG_5048There’s always a pressure-filled moment in every dexterity game and all of them ultimately come down to how well you can actually aim. With the team aspect of the game, you’ll have half the table hoping you succeed while the other half hopes your hand slips and you barely nudge your hero. It’s really awesome when the table gets quiet watching you take your shot and erupts in cheers or boos when you land an impossible shot or accidentally ricochet into two enemies off of an obstacle. The pressure really ramps up when it’s a close game and one shot can be the difference between winning and losing at the end of the game.

I know this really can apply for basically any dexterity game, but I felt this kind of atmosphere was more prevalent in Catacombs & Castles, from my experiences with other dexterity games. It’s probably because most of the dexterity games we’ve played have either been a free-for-all or cooperative, which create different experiences.

Another thing that also really differentiates this game from other similar games is the different choices of shots you have available for you to use. A melee shot would be easier because the disc is a lot bigger than an arrow shot but you’ll leave yourself wide open to attack. Is it worth it to have a higher chance of doing damage or taking your chances and launching an arrow that is harder to hit with? I don’t think you really get as many options or things to think about in other dexterity games.

IMG_5102A Sticker for your Thoughts
When you first open up the game, you’ll notice the sticker sheet and then you’ll soon find the empty wooden disks that you’ll need to apply them to. You’ll want to keep in mind that you’re going to need to apply stickers to all of the pieces before you can really start playing because everything has a symbol. With that said, I actually didn’t mind stickering the pieces all that much because they came off the sheet pretty easily and stuck to the wooden pieces well. The stickers were good quality and we haven’t noticed any of them starting to come off of the wooden pieces in our plays. I’d suggest putting on a TV show and just powering through them and you’ll be done in no time.

The one thing we ran into was that the setup time can take a little bit of time with the setup of the wall pieces and sorting through all the wooden pieces to get the ones you need. Then sorting through the deck of cards to pull out the heroes and abilities you need takes a little bit of time as well. That’s kind of the price you pay for the level of variability that Catacombs & Castles provides.

It’s definitely the most complex dexterity game we’ve played with a fairly large rule book compared to other dexterity games. It’s a welcome change though because it does help make it unique. I know the sorting of the wooden pieces would greatly reduce the setup time and we have a table with an inset play area so we didn’t really have to use the provided wall pieces.

Final Thoughts
IMG_5247Overall, I enjoyed playing Catacombs & Castles at every player count we’ve tried (2, 3, 6) and it felt engaging throughout the game. There are strategic elements in this game that you can’t really find in other dexterity games, with hero ability cards and choices in different shots you can take. With so many options, there is a learning curve because everything is symbol based, so it’ll take a little bit of time and referencing the back of the rule book to see what some of the less common symbols mean. I think that’s a small issue compared to what you get in return.

So if you’re looking for a competitive team dexterity game, I’d highly recommend giving Catacombs & Castles a try. I know I’ll be pulling this game out when I’m in the mood for a dexterity game with a little more meat to it. And now that I have all of the symbols down, it’ll be that much easier to teach new people.

She Said

It seems like more and more dexterity games are being released, and each one manages to take a fairly unique perspective on this classic style of game. Because there have been so many coming out lately, it seems like we’ve been playing a lot of dexterity games. This style of game is usually only fun when you play with multiple people, but Catacombs & Castles by Elzra Games manages to be fun at ALL player counts. This is a huge deal for us since we end up playing quite a few games with just two players.

IMG_4957Hit Me With Your Best Shot
Each player or team chooses a side – the Catacomb side or the Castle side. Depending on how many players you have, each person plays at least one character or more. These characters have a range of abilities and have either a melee or ranged attack.

This is one thing that differentiates Catacombs & Castles from other games – you can do ranged attacks. Often in dexterity games, a melee attack is your only option and it can put you at a disadvantage. Once you hit the opposing side’s disc(s), you’ll likely end up right in range for them to attack you next turn. If you are able to do an attack from a distance, that gives each player more of an advantage and implements far more strategy than is typical of a dexterity game.

Using ranged attacks becomes really important when you’re down to one or two health and you don’t want one character to be anywhere near the opposing side. It adds another element to the game that makes it more evenly balanced, even if one player is winning by a lot. But most games we played were super close because of this balance mechanic.

Play It Again Games
Along with the use of ranged and melee attacks, Catacombs & Castles also implements special abilities for each character. These abilities sometimes allow all heroes on one side to take an additional action or give one hero a boost of some sort. These abilities are powered by causing damage to the opposing team, giving you even more incentive to knock out your opponent as fast as possible.

In many games we played, using the special abilities is a must. One game, we waited too long to start using them, and we lost horribly to the person playing the boss. Some of the abilities are more powerful, but when you have multiple characters on your team, it all balances it out. In fact, we often found it fun to not always move as the same character when we played with six people. This meant that someone could use all the different abilities and stay constantly engaged, especially since the game uses community/team health and not individual character health.

These two things alone make this an incredibly replayable game, but then Catacombs & Castles takes it one step further by adding two different types of play – Boss Mode and Team Mode. We played both modes and enjoyed them both. With Team Mode, that plays well with any player count. With Boss Mode, it’s challenging to play with fewer players because the bosses are very powerful, but it’s still fun.

IMG_5239It’s a Woman’s World
Many dexterity games suffer from a having a weak theme. Oftentimes, it seems pasted on and not very relevant to the actions you take. That is not the case in Catacombs & Castles. Although the moves you’re taking are simple – flicking a wooden disc across a board – the game manages to tie this action into a strong theme with the special abilities and use of different types of attacks.

One thing I really appreciate in Catacombs & Castles is the use of heroes from both genders equally. In the lore of the game, a huntress is looking to find her companion and interacts with four matriarchs. It’s very obvious that the designer consciously thought of ways to incorporate more women in power into the game.

It’s so common for games to not include a female character, and if they do, the character is scantily clad and there’s usually only one or two. It seems like such a simple thing to add more female characters, especially because many women play board games, but so many games don’t do this. I’m always in search of games with strong female characters (that don’t rely on sex appeal) to play with my daughter when she’s older.

Final Thoughts
Overall, I really enjoyed my experience playing Catacombs & Castles. In an arguably over-saturated market of dexterity games, Catacombs & Castles manages to stick out with its unique gameplay, excellent replayability, and great theme. The components in the game are awesome too, with over 50 wooden discs and two sides to the board.

The only thing I’d like to see improved in the game is some sort of reference sheet (separate from the rulebook) of what all the symbols mean. We found ourselves passing the rule book back and forth to understand what each symbol meant. Having a handy reference card/sheet would deter this.

Although you may be hesitant about another dexterity game, I’d highly recommend Catacombs & Castles to someone looking to get into dexterity games. It ranks right up there with a few of my other favorite dexterity games and is quickly becoming my go-to when I’m in the mood for this type of game.

Pros and Cons

Pros:
– Great replayability
– Strong theme
– Plays quick
– Easy to learn
– Great components
– Unique gameplay for a dexterity game
– Use of melee and ranged attacks
– Plays well at all player counts
– Two different modes – Boss Mode and Team Mode

Cons:
– Could use a reference card for all symbols in the game
– Setup time can be long without proper organization

The Verdict

He gives this game out of 8 Catacomb Lords out of 10.

She gives this game 8 Castle Lords out of 10.

*A review copy of this game was provided to us by the publisher. 

BGG Page

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