One of the most enduring setups for tabletop gaming is the dungeon crawl. There’s something about a small group of wizards, warriors, and rogues kicking up the door to a dangerous maze and hopefully walking out with gold-laden pockets that makes players come back to it in several different forms. Games like Dungeons & Dragons and Munchkin built cardboard empires on this simple premise and while it’s commonplace when a game does it in a fun and unique way, it really stands out. Such is the case with Catacombs from Elzra Games.
Catacombs was one of the first of a new generation of dexterity games that brought the genre into the current board game Golden Age. Dexterity games require a little bit of skill as players flick discs around a gaming space to accomplish their goals. These games are great choices for casual game nights because the discs will bounce, whiff and cause unintended consequences that will get the entire table to cheer, groan or maybe a little bit of both depending on the circumstances. These games also are a great fit at a board game cafe, because players often swear that a drink or two in their system improves their skill just like pool or darts.
Catacombs applies this to the dungeon exploration template. Up to four players choose characters and one play plays the Dungeon Master like Overseer that controls and shoots for all the monsters and hazards. The game comes with a few different boards with obstacles in the playing field. The quest is on as players try to make their way through different setups and storylines by flicking to move their character, take shots with arrows and spells and whittle down the massive forces of evil to win the game. Different character abilities allow the discs to offer different powers to line up fun trick shots or even to budge allies into position by hitting them.
This game is best played on a large table with plenty of room not just for the player mats and accessories but also for the ability to circle around the board and line up shots. Some of the best experiences in the game are the weird body contortions that occur to get that right angle. There’s also a challenging element of team play because a sweet shot for the elf might bounce a monster out of range for the elf. The obstacles add a great tactical element to each board as discs use them to seek cover but also to pull off unbelievable bank shots as the field evolves every turn. Expansions provide even more wrinkles to gameplay, such as new characters and riding flying wyverns without every really weighing down the experience.
The game also features a quirky sense of humor supported by its cartoon art style. When one of the starting characters is a chicken champion, that’s a big clue as to how serious the game is supposed to be. Catacombs is a great way to bring the dungeon crawl experience to friends who might balk at rolling up a Dungeons & Dragons character but still crave the chaos of fantasy combat. The most recent edition recently upgraded the boards to neoprene mats for smoother shots and easier setup, and the game is expanding into spin-offs like Catacombs and Castles (which turns the flicking into team based combat) or Catacombs Conquest (which offers a smaller, faster experience). For fantasy fans that want a fast, hilarious experience at the tip of their fingers, Catacombs is the way to go.
Dexterity is Not A Dump Stat
Images Credits: Elzra Games
Review copies provided by publisher.
Rob Wieland is an author, game designer (Star Wars RPG, Firefly RPG, Camelot Trigger) and professional nerd. who occasionally tweets and livestreams RPGs with the Theatre of the Mind Players while his meat body resides in scenic Milwaukee, WI.