Earlier this month, Aron West of Elzra Games (formerly Sands of Time Games) was visiting Portland for XOXO Fest, and brought a prototype of the new Catacombs to show off. Catacombs is a fantastic dungeon crawl game that uses flicking disks instead of rolling dice, and was my 2011 Game of the Year. (You can see my original review here.)
In April this year, Elzra Games successfully funded a new edition of Catacombs with brand-new artwork by Kwanchai Moriya. One of my only complaints about the original Catacombs was, in fact, the artwork, so I was thrilled to see the game getting a makeover (and, clearly, so were a lot of other backers). West showed me that the game has been updated in other ways as well, with an eye to making the gameplay more streamlined and easier to pick up without a lot of special rules and exceptions.
We met up at Guardian Games, my friendly neighborhood game store, and West showed me new card artwork and some of Moriya’s concept art, and walked me through some of the differences in this third edition of Catacombs.
One big change is to the player boards. In the original, each hero has its own player board with a health track and abilities. They weren’t all a consistent design and, as West pointed out, each time they introduced a new hero, they had to create a new board as well. The new hero boards show a castle scene, and there are spaces for various cards.
The heroes are now made of cards: one has the portrait, along with the name and race of the hero. The accompanying card shows your abilities: the types of attacks you can make, along with additional starting equipment. There are slots for starting equipment and additional items you may purchase, as well as a slot for “Poisoned” cards, and one for allies, which are new. The health tracker on the left goes up to 15, though your starting health will be shown on your character card. The health tracker on the right is for allies.
Likewise, the board for the catacombs lord has also been streamlined. There’s a card with the portrait and one showing the types of shots, plus a third card that shows what board and which monsters you’ll use. The bottom half of the board is where you’ll place the various monster cards that are in play.
One of the major rules changes is to the monster abilities. In the original, there were some different types of attacks (melee vs. ranged, for instance, or a stun shot that made you lose a turn), and some monsters had additional abilities. In this new version, nearly everything is done in terms of shot type. There are different types of shots that are indicated by icon and color, so now you’ll be able to glance at a reference chart and find out how to resolve attacks. Also, because they’re done as shot types, it’s easier to allow for a hero to gain a weapon with the same shot type as a monster.
The icons have various colors and I asked West about color-blindness since there were some icons that were identical except for color. He explained that he’s actually color blind himself, and that the colors selected are ones that should be easily distinguishable for even color blind players. (There are some that have additional markings, too.)
Another new feature is the monster level indicator, at the top right of each monster card. This gives the relative difficulty of the monster, from 1 to 4. It goes along with the generic room cards, another new feature. The original game had cards that were very specific: use this board, and put these specific monsters in it. But that meant every time an expansion introduced new monsters, you’d have another set of cards with all of those monsters included. And if you wanted to use combinations of old and new monsters, there would need to be cards including both. The generic room card instead has a difficulty rating, and then indicates how many monsters of what levels to include, and the catacombs lord player is able to customize the rooms as desired.
There’s a new type of monster now: the Antients. They are huge, powerful creatures that cannot be killed, and can be summoned onto the board through various means. Once they’re on the board, however, they can be controlled by the hero players and the catacombs lord player, making them dangerous and somewhat unpredictable.
The new location cards look great, too, depicting little scenes. Rather than having a lot of text on the cards themselves, the explanations for each will be included in the rules. This way, future expansions may even introduce new rules for existing locations depending on the scenario.
I can’t say enough how much I like the new artwork. Moriya has done a great job—the heroes and monsters are cute, but with just enough creepy thrown in. I feel like they’re more kid-friendly and also more generally accessible than the original drawings.
The artwork on the boards is great, too, with lots of little details. The boards are quite a bit bigger than the original, which will be nice for gameplay. West also mentioned that there’s a cardboard “wall” that will go around the board to prevent disks from escaping too far, which happens often when things really get intense.
Overall, I think the new edition of Catacombs will be a vast improvement over the original, and I’m looking forward to breaking it out when it arrives. West is still hoping to make the November delivery date, so keep your fingers crossed!