I've read a lot of reviews and forum posts discussing the balancing (or lack thereof) in Catacombs as its biggest weakness. The common wisdom is that the Overseer has an advantage over the heroes and consequently, the person in that role should either play "nice" (that sucks for anyone who wants to play competitively, including hero players) or adjust the rules to give the heroes a few advantages. My experience with Flick 'Em Up taught me that I seem to have a bit of a natural skill for flicking wooden junk around a table. It's a super useful talent, and will definitely look good on my resume. For Catacombs, it means that I'm rarely the Overseer because I don't want to start with a game-given advantage. I've still won every game I've played though (including the couple of times that I was the Overseer). So, I thought I'd eliminate the "skill" variable and have a game all by myself where I will record way more detail than anybody should care to read (hence the cheeky title).
As with nearly every game of Catacombs I play with other people, I'm going to randomize as much of the initial set-up as possible. This includes the selection of heroes, spells (if the wizard is selected), the Catacomb Lord, and the rooms. The rooms will be in the level-order (0, 1, S, 1, 1, S, 2, S, L), where 'S' is a special, rest room, and 'L' is the Catacomb Lord's lair. I will not know specifically which rooms were selected until the heroes reach them.
Monsters will be randomly drawn from the respective level set if a monster meter icon appears on a room card. Playmats will be selected in whichever order they come out of the box from the last time I played. Both sides will be played before moving to the next room except in the case of the lair which will be specifically selected based on what is shown on the Catacomb Lord's Setup card.
Finally, I'm playing with the 3rd edition reprint which includes the refactored poison deck, updated "Feathers of Fury" (with a melee shot), Roosan's Teleport promo(?), and a slightly modified sequence for Hmotha (melee > zombie > critical melee). I don't have any expansions (yet-- still waiting for Soloth to arrive), or Elani's promo ability card.
Heroes will be starting with 5G each.
Magic Gate (x2)
Drain Energy (x2)
[That's a pretty damn good spell set!]
Room 1: Oakenhearth Hall (Campfire mat)
Randomly-selected level 1 monster: Fire Spirit
Randomly-selected level 2 monster: Skeleton Archer
- Heroes open with Roosan's Feathers of Fury. Roosan had a shot to the Fire Spirit, but the flick was a tiny bit too weak so he came a little short. Roosan used the following rush shots to position the monsters, but is left in the danger zone.
- Fire Spirit hit Roosan with her Transform shot, positioning herself between Roosan and the Skeleton Archer. The archer hit Elani with a stun shot.
- Roosan un-stunned Elani, and the team finished off the room. Elani got the final hit for the extra gold.
Room 2: The Barracks (Altar mat)
- Heroes open with Varesh's fireball ability. There's a clear shot at the Troll, but it's pretty far away... miss!
- Time for Feathers of Fury. Oof. Roosan had a clear shot at the Pit Viper and an Orc, but I totally whiffed it. Unbelievable.
- The three remaining Orcs laid into Marorg with missiles. The Pit Viper is in a good position to hit Marorg, but his immunity to poison makes that less appealing. Instead, the Viper goes for a tougher shot towards Roosan and hits. Roosan takes a poison card (3).
- The Pit Viper is out, but the Troll has made effective use of its Regen shot.
- Roosan and Varesh were all set to double-team the troll, but Roosan left himself in the way, and Varesh's melee missed by a hair.
- Finally, the Troll is down. Elani took the kill, too.
Status Update (saving game...)
Roosan: 5HP, 5G, one poison card (3)
Varesh: 8HP, 5G, (no spells used yet)
Elani: 9HP, 17G
Marorg: 4HP, 8G
At this point, my girlfriend wanted to play, so I reset, leaving most of what I had laid out as it was. I took the Overseer role and wiped out everyone except for Marorg by the third battle room, and finished Marorg off in the fourth battle room.
I set up the game later exactly as it was except, of course, for the rooms that had not yet been uncovered (because I don't know what they were).
Room 3: Althea the Healer
Normally, I'd be disappointed to get Althea so early, but some of the heroes are in pretty rough shape. Keeping in mind that the wizard has a heal spell, I'll bring Marorg up to 6HP, Roosan to his max, and leave Elani at 9HP-- she'll be fine. Hopefully.
Room 4: Chagnar's Lair (Mausoleum mat)
Incidentally, this was the room that I finished Krista off in. Let's hope it goes better for the heroes this time.
- Varesh starts this off with an obligatory Heal spell on Marorg. Good thing, too, because I suspect Marorg is going to take a few hits in this room for the sake of absorbing poison cards from the rats.
- The rats haven't landed any hits, but the Crypt Spider managed to stun both Roosan and Elani. It's not lookin' too good.
- With both Elani and Marorg now stunned (Roosan teleported away last turn), Varesh opts to stay relatively out of harms way by using his Teleport Hero spell on Elani. Though, not before Marorg retreats for Varesh to cure his stun status with a quick rush. Roosan is targeting the 1HP Minotaur and rat sitting side-by-side for a double kill. Unfortunately, the Minotaur's girth saves the Rat, leaving Roosan in a precarious position.
- The first of the two remaining rats takes a bite out of Roosan, dealing another 3-point poison card. The Crypt Spider adjusts its position slightly so that its first stun shot can both disable Roosan, and knock him around the obstacle enough for the second rat to get a shot in. The Crypt Spider's second stun shot launches half-way across the board and nails Varesh. The only good to come out of this for the heroes is the second rat fails its attempt on Roosan's life.
- Marorg returns the favour to Varesh, curing his stun status to let him get a Giant Fireball spell out towards the Crypt Spider. Elani jumped out of the teleport, stomping on a rat (gross) and taking the Crypt Spider down to 1HP. Meanwhile, Roosan got the flip out of there.
- Elani makes a run towards Marorg to un-stun him, with a follow-up ready to un-stun Varesh. The first shot is a bit of a whiff and doesn't reach Marorg, but the second one does. Only then does Elani (... me) realize that Marorg wasn't stunned at all. Oops. That sucks. At least Marorg is able to finish off the Crypt Spider.
- The rat makes a feeble attempt at Elani, which leads immediately to its death (at Elani's hands).
That was a rough one. And there's still one more room before the heroes get a rest.
Room 5: Forbidden Ossuary (Throne Room mat)
At a glance, this doesn't look too bad (with the Skeleton Warriors and Zombies), but I know Cerberus can wreck havok. I don't have a lot of experience with the Swordmaster Ghoul, but I imagine he'll get a few hits in before the heroes can take him out. Mercifully, there's no poison enemies here.
- Elani comes flying out with a direct melee hit on the Cerberus, then retreats to safety. Roosan's Feathers of Fury take out the Cerberus, but the flee attempt clumsily leaves him vulnerable. Varesh scrambles through his spellbook, certain that he had a much-needed "Heal All", but his memory has failed him. Instead, he uses his Fireball ability for a Hail Mary towards a distant Zombie... But instead, Marorg takes the hit in the back of the head. Good thing there's no friendly fire.
- The Swordmaster Ghoul makes his move with devastating results, hitting Roosan, Elani, and then Marorg. None of the minions moves are successful.
- The heroes hit back with a carefully-planned four-hit strike against the Ghoul. Varesh narrowly misses the third hit, taking out a nearby Zombie instead. Roosan could go in to take the third hit instead, but that would allow the Ghoul to make full use of his chain melee with ease. Instead, Roosan teleports away.
- Roosan helps finish off the Ghoul, Varesh uses a Cure Poison spell on Roosan, and Elani takes out the final monster, a Skeleton Warrior. Elani has 1HP remaining. Fingers are crossed for a Tavern and some lucky draws.
Room 6: Izchak the Merchant
The heroes combined gold collected is 47, so hopefully Izchak has some good stuff (healing potions!) for them.
Berserker Battle Axe
Helm of Rage
Berserker Battle Axe
Well, it looks like I brought the wrong heroes along. I can't use more than half of this stuff!
Elani buys the Healing Salve, and the heroes pay 2G to see what else Izchak has... it's... another Healing Salve! Great! Varesh should take this one. Another 2G reveals a Raven Familiar, which Varesh also takes. Two more gold pieces reveals the enchanted bow. Marorg is eyeing it, but let's see one more additional item first. The Bee Familiar is presented, and Marorg takes it, as well as the bow. If the last room is an Inn, the heroes would be throwing away 12G at this point, and that's ignoring whatever gold they earn in the next room. So they pay to see a couple more items. The Spirit Familiar and Cloak of Invisibility are revealed. Elani takes the cloak and the heroes say goodbye to Izchak.
Room 7: Krhlot (Root Cellar mat)
I've got a baaad feeling about this.
- Varesh sends his raven out launch a Drain Energy spell. But it's dark, and the raven smashes into a wall. Dazed, it still gets the shot off, hitting a Zombie. Whoopdee-doo. Elani heals up. Roosan's Feathers of Fury sends him towards the clumps of minions around each Giant Scorpion. Only a Zombie is taken out, but Roosan makes it back to safety.
- A Giant Scorption rushes up and lands a heavy blow on Marorg. A Zombie can be seen off to the side, munching on Varesh's avian ally. The rest of the monsters stuffle around into position in the back of the room.
- Varesh launches his second Drain Energy shot at one of the Giant Scorpions. Elani goes for the kill (and the gold, of course), but whiffs it. Marorg takes over and finishes the Giant Scorpion. Roosan vanishes into the space between spaces with his Teleport ability.
- The second Giant Scorpion rushes ahead, knocking Marorg to the side and jabs Elani with its stinger. She has 2HP left. A Troll springs from the back of the room and crashes into an unsuspecting Marorg.
- Together, Varesh and Elani destroy the final Giant Scorpion while Marorg and Roosan kill a Troll. The Bee familiar puts itself in between a Zombie and the heroes.
- Marorg uses the Enchanted Bow to kill the Zombie protecting the final Troll, and deal one point of damage to the Troll. Too bad it wasn't Oleira wielding it, because that critical shot would have been useful.
- The Troll gets one last Regen melee in on Marorg before Roosan and Elani finish it off.
The heroes desperately need good luck to get the Tavern, and good luck once they get there.
Room 8: Amaranth Inn
"Well, it was nice knowing ya", the heroes say to each other before inviting (the randomly-selected ally) Oleira on a totally-not-suicidal mission to defeat Hmotha. She drunkenly spills all but a single arrow from her quiver, and optimistically follows that strangely-handsome rooster and his companions off to wherever it was they said they were going.
The heroes leave a 21G tip for the inn. They don't expect they'll be needing it.
Room 9: Hmotha's Lair
If you thought I was being dramatic, let me update you on the hero team's status:
Roosan: 3HP, one poison card (3)
Varesh: 6HP, 4 spells remaining, one Healing Salve, and the Raven familiar
Elani: 2HP, Cloak of Invisibility
Marorg: 2HP, Enchanted Bow (which he insists on not handing to Oleira), and the Bee familiar
Oleira (ally): 4HP, one Elven Arrow
It's not totally hopeless, but it's going to be tough for the heroes. A focused attack on Hmotha will be essential for victory.
Hmotha is planted at the very back of the room, surrounded by his Skeleton Warriors to protect him from teleport attacks. The Ghouls and Skeleton Archers are ready to defend the oncoming invasion. Who are the real bad guys here?
- Varesh gulps down his Healing Salve, and his Raven positions itself for the next turn. Roosan's Feathers of Fury gets him right next to Hmotha's phalanx of Skeleton Warriors. He tries to brute force towards Hmotha, but manages only to kill two of the skeletons. Hmotha is unscathed. Elani uses her cloak to teleport away. Oleira moves perfectly into a seemingly-perfect position with the Bee familiar between her and on of the Ghouls.
- The first Ghoul hits Roosan, and then backtracks to stun Marorg. The second uses its first shot to position itself, and its stun melee to kill Marorg and deal a point of damage to Oleira. At least, as an ally, Oleira can't be stunned. If the Bee familiar wasn't in the way, the second Ghoul would have been able to hit Roosan before hitting the other two, so good on him, I guess. Not that it matters much. One of the Skeleton Archers hits the other one to the front of the room where its able to land a stun missile on Roosan. A Skeleton Warrior hacks Oleira down to 2HP, and Hmotha summons a Skeleton Warrior which immediately hits Oleira.
- In what is probably the most important move of the heroes' journey, Elani comes back from the teleport right behind Hmotha and launches him into the open. Oleira attempts to prove her worth, and hits Hmotha with an Elven Arrow. Varesh prepares a spell and rushes over to Roosan to un-stun him, then fires the Magic Missile from the Raven's position, hitting Hmotha with both attacks. Hmotha is down to 4HP. No longer stunned, Roosan teleports away.
- A Skeleton Archer in the back of the room grazes Elani with a stun arrow. It's still enough to hurt (and stun) her, leaving her with just 1HP. The other Skeleton Archer hits Varesh, stunning him. One of the Ghouls hits Varesh twice, taking him down to 5HP. Nobody else has a good shot at Varesh, and Hmotha is starting to think about self-preservation. One of the Skeleton Warrios moves into a defensive position, and slays Elani on the way. Hmotha summons a Skeleton Warrior at Oleira, killing her as well.
- A tiny portion of an obstacle prevents the Raven from flying across the board to un-stun Varesh. Varesh has to rush over to him, and hope he lives to see another turn, although the odds that he will not simply be stunned again are virtually nil. There's no other choice, so that's what he does. Roosan comes out of teleport with one last hit on Hmotha.
- A Skeleton Warrior sticks his sword in Roosan, bidding him pitiful farewell. Another Skeleton Warrior hits both Varesh and his Raven (killing it). Varesh knows that it's hopeless, but he's still going to see this through. Varesh advances, pushing a Skeleton Archer out of the way and casts a Fireball spell at Hmotha, taking him down to just 2HP. The Bee familiar makes itself into a shield for Varesh.
- Hmotha's forces close in on Varesh. An arrow from the Skeleton Archer, a gut-punch from a Ghoul, a jab from a Skeleton Warrior, and one final blow from the second Ghoul. Varesh is dead.
The Overseer is victorious.
Well, that was fun. What did I get out of that? Hmm... well, the designers must be nuts as I imagine each of them has played more than a few games on their own for the sake of testing. It's interesting trying to be impartial to both sides, and it only got harder as the heroes' shabby condition and crummy luck (thanks a lot, Izchak!) made me feel bad for them. On each turn, I was 100% trying to play for the side I was controlling though.
As for balance, it felt pretty good this time around. There are a huge number of variables though, so a single test game can only tell me so much. I've learned not to underestimate the stun effect, but also not to give up. I went into the final room in horrendous shape, and nearly made it through. Also, poison can be quite scary indeed. My method of randomly selecting rooms (which only today did I realize is already described in the manual-- doh!) makes that particular effect a threat much less frequently than if the Overseer were choosing their own poison hell catacomb. Still, the effect can stack quickly, so watch out. Finally, getting the inn as your very last special room is a huuuge bummer. What a difference it would have made if I had the tavern or healer.
If anyone cared to read through all of that, well... you must be as crazy about Catacombs as I am. Why didn't I just record a video like a normal person? Good question. I thought about strapping my phone to my head to do just that, but my girlfriend was already giving me the look that says "playing that game all by yourself is so sad that I just might leave you forever", so I thought I'd best not push it.
Gaaaah! I just realized that I forgot to switch the play mat to Hmotha's "Campfire". Victory void! Re-do! Re-do! Re-do!
... Or maybe not. It's late.
The power of customization!
Lelouch vi Britannia commands you... All of you... To play more games!
Great write up. Had a lot of fun reading through this and could really see the action. Reminded me a lot of D&D, haha.
Very excited to be getting my copy in the next couple of weeks as a US backer. I'll probably play a game by myself, much like you, so I can get a feel for the game and its nuances. If I'm going to teach a game I make it a priority to have a game or two under my belt so things go smoothly.