Yep, more words here.
This is overtext. Man, what an awesome use of 100 geekgold! :)
Review of Cutthroat Caverns
Cutthroat Caverns (and it’s first expansion, Cutthroat Caverns: Deeper and Darker—to be reviewed at a later date), is the latest game from Smirk & Dagger, designed by owner Curt Covert. Three to six players represent an adventuring party acting together to defeat a series of encounters, but each player wants to lay the final blow and claim the prestige for the kill.
It’s tag-line is a great depiction of the game: Without teamwork…you’ll never survive. Without betrayal…you’ll never win.
-A deck of 94 attack/action/item cards. Cards are of good quality with a nice gloss and clear text/artwork; the actual thickness of the cardstock may be slightly lesser quality than a standard deck of cards, but they shuffle well and after three plays show little or no wear, so who knows?
-25 encounter cards. These are oversized cards, 5x3.5 inches, of the same glossy cardstock. The artwork on the cards is from a range of artists, and some is simply great.
-6 character cards. Again of the same cardstock, show artwork of one of the six characters, and have a life tracker, from 100 to zero, in increments of 10.
-6 initiative cards, conveniently labeled 1-6.
-Creature Life Tracker. On a sturdy cardboard/cardstock (approx. 1/16” thick) with glossy coating, used to keep track of which encounter number the players are currently on, as well as the creature’s life (400 down to zero, also known as dead). I expect this will last through many, many plays.
-8 glass beads. Six green, used to track each character’s life, and two yellow to track the monster’s life and the encounter number.
-A sheet of cardboard tokens. A fistful of tokens. These depict creatures use for certain encounters, or extra prestige. Of the same good-quality glossy cardboard as the Creature Life Tracker.
The box itself is pretty sturdy, not the same make but about on par with the Days of Wonder product boxes. The insert holds everything fairly nicely, though personally I would have wished the insets for the cards be a slight bit deeper—with some jostling the top few cards from the 94-card deck tend to come loose. A small bag was included to hold the tokens, which I find to fit nicely below the insert; to this end, the insert is easily removed—no struggling and definitely no cussing required to remove it.
About the cards:
There are two “decks” of cards to discuss here—the Encounter deck, consisting of 25 oversided cards, and the Attack/Action/Item card deck, consisting of 94 standard sized cards.
The 25 Encounter cards depict, appropriately, the encounters the party will face during the game. These have some excellent artwork depicting the creature/encounter being faced on the top half of the card along with the encounter’s name and Prestige value. Below the picture is text noting any special rules for the encounter. Along the bottom of the card is a small chart, which states the creature’s health depending on the number of players, as well as who and for how much damage it attacks on its turn (usually based on initiative).
Attack/Action/Item cards come in three types, and represent the actions, items, and attacks the player will have at their disposal during the encounter. Players have a hand of seven cards which will be composed of a random assortment (and hopefully a good mix) of each of these cards; before each encounter players are able to discard and redraw up to the full seven cards.
Unused cards can be carried into future encounters.
Item cards: Played immediately when drawn, item cards represent just that—items that will (hopefully) help you during encounters. They may heal you, increase your hand size, etc. Some of these items last only a certain number of rounds (such as the strength potion which doubles your attack cards’ power), these are labeled on each side—Corked, Round 1, Round 2, Discard— and are rotated as the rounds pass.
Action cards: They perform actions. Really, they do, but to be more specific, they allow you to do some out of the ordinary things, usually screwing with your opponents. They may force an opponent to heroically take damage from a monster for you, cause an opponent’s attacks to miss, exchange initiative with another player, or simply prevent them from taking an action during the round, among other things.
Attack cards: These are your mainstay, the cards that will allow you to damage and hopefully defeat an encounter; in general, these have an attack ranging from 0 to 100. Some perform special actions, such as adding 30 damage to your next Attack card (but doing no damage the round it is played), or allowing you to play two attacks immediately; others do damage and have an additional effect, such as allowing you to steal an item.
Like Item cards, Attack cards are also marked along the margins. In general, they have their base value, double the base, half the base, and zero—this allows you to keep simple track of the damage that an encounter has sustained simply by orienting and stacking the cards appropriately.
Lastly, some of the Attack cards have a small picture depicting one of the six characters along the doubled base value side. If you have this card in your hand, you may play it in the doubled value position, sort of a special attack for the character. Best of all, these cards may not be altered or otherwise messed with by your opponents’ Action cards.
Each player takes a character card and a glass bead, starting at 100 health. Currently which character is chosen has little affect on the game, though this changes with the first expansion. The Creature Life Tracker card is placed in the play area with its two yellow glass beads. Take Initiative cards equal to the number of players.
Nine of the 25 encounters are randomly selected and placed face-down in the playing area (alternatively players could simply choose which encounters they want to…encounter). Though the number of encounters may be increased during the game, in general these are the nine encounters that the party will face during the game. The game ends when all encounters have been defeated, and the surviving player with the most prestige is the winner.
Deal each player a hand of seven cards, then reveal the first Encounter card.
That’s it—overall, a fairly quick set-up.
Before each encounter, a player has the choice of activating Item cards, hopefully enabling a player to better use their Attack cards or to defend themselves. These cards are turned to the appropriate orientation to mark their use.
Each player randomly selects an initiative card and turns it face up, then chooses the attack card they will play this round, placing it face-down next to their initiative card. Starting with Initiative 1, players reveal their Attack card, applying the damage to the creature while noting any special rules for the encounter. Play continues in this fashion until all attack cards have been revealed for the round or the monster is defeated.
Players are also able to play Action cards during their turn or when appropriate to aid themselves or their party, or as is more often the case, to outright screw with their party members. These cards, properly timed, can greatly enhance a player’s likelihood of dealing that all-important final blow. Of course, another player could always just use a “Cancel an Action card” action card…
If the creature has not been defeated, it attacks one or more players, based on the chart at the bottom of the Encounter card. Usually this is fairly straightforward, such as “Attacks Player 1 and 3 for 10 damage”—based on the players’ current initiative cards, or “Damages the player that caused the most damage this turn.”
If the creature has been defeated by eliminating it’s life points, the player that dealt the final blow takes the Encounter card, scoring the indicated Prestige for the kill. Players then discard and draw up to a full hand of seven, then reveal the next encounter.
This continues until all encounters have been defeated. Players then tally Prestige, and the survivor with the most Prestige is the winner.
What I find quite interesting about the encounters is that each is greatly different. Of course there are monsters that you just want to hit hard and kill, but some need to be more…skillfully attacked. Some monsters ignore damage cards that are too low or too high, repair themselves during the encounter, strike the character that did the most/least damage. One has little health and no attack, but causes damage and a handicap to the player that defeats it. Another causes players to become “lost,” effectively missing that round of combat (and losing their attack card for the turn). “Just hit the monster hard” is not often the best solution, particularly when that one opponent might be better off taking just a little more damage… Though new players always ask “Why would I want to do zero damage?” they quickly learn the value of keeping a creature just out of striking-distance—“Let’s play that zero and hope that others do enough damage that I can kill it next turn. Besides, it’s not hitting me this round…”
Another interesting bit—creatures don’t weaken as players are lost. In other words, if you start with six players, and two are killed early on, the surviving players will face the “6-player” version of the encounters for the rest of the game, complete with the larger health and attack frequency/power. It is thus in everyone’s best interest to keep the others alive for the majority of the game, as losing even one player early on could mean the eventual elimination of the party.
Replay value of this game appears high. Using only nine of the 25 encounters each game, and these randomly arranged each game, there will be good variety within several games—and not just a simple hack-n-slash through a dungeon. Also, your mode of play may change depending on your initiative order and the cards you have available. Lastly, future expansion will include new encounters to change up the game.
My negatives for the game are few. Firstly, I am slightly concerned about the longevity of the basic deck, though after several plays they do show little to no wear. Secondly, some parts of the game are “fiddly”—dealing or selecting initiative each round distracts from the game slightly, and orienting/moving the damage dealt (both the cards and glass bead) may lead to several hands reaching across the table at once, though designating players to each task may reduce this perceived hassle. Last, knowing that an expansion has been released with more in the wings, I am unsure how much more will fit into the basic box.
Overall I found this to be quite an interesting game, and others I have introduced to this game have been pleased as well. A bit of strategy—timing your Attack card power to match up with the initiative you’ve been dealt, will help in victory, but luck also plays a role—you hope you know what Attack cards your opponents have played, but you don’t know whether they’ll do enough damage to deal the last blow. Action cards help greatly; it’s a wonderful thing when the first player of the round just misses the kill, and you make the Initiative 2 player’s attacks miss, opening up your turn and the opportunity to steal that kill.
Beautiful and good quality components, cooperative but stab-in-the-back gameplay, a variety of encounters, and only $30 retail, I’d recommend picking this one up.
Thanks for an informative review. I'm not much of a fan of card games, but you've stimulated my interest in this one. It sounds like a nice experiential narrative develops as the game progresses--the kind of game you'll talk about over coffee the next day.
Would you say it's easy to teach verbally to people generally unaccustomed to such games, or is role-playing or strategy-gaming experience pretty necessary for accessing this one?
Yep, more words here.
This is overtext. Man, what an awesome use of 100 geekgold! :)
The first time I taught this to a group I explained the rules and we played a "practice encounter." It took about 5 minutes, and everyone picked it up quickly, including the one non-gamer in the group.
The general idea of the game is quite simple, but the complexity between teamwork and back-stabbing is where the game is. I'd say it's an easy game to learn, but interesting enough to keep a group engaged, whether gamers or not.
Thank-you for the review, easy to understand and informative. However I'm unhappy about an expansion being released at the same time as the base game. I strongly suspect that the designers developed the whole game, then split it up in order to make us pay several times for "one" product. Of course this isn't the only game/company to use this rather grubby tactic, but I feel it's one we should fight against.
- Last edited Fri Sep 21, 2007 2:32 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Fri Sep 21, 2007 7:22 am
I am a bit surprised i haven't heard more about this game. I played and bought it at gencon and it is a ball. Best game i played there next to last night on earth. With all the hype about the big box games like starcraft the little gems seemed to be the highlight.
Dear God in Heaven... this sounds exactly like what 90% of gamers where hoping for in Munchkin. I want this game SO bad. I think this probably fills a great gaming void in so many ways.
Dungeon crawl. Quick but with interesting decisions. Player interaction. Minimal set up. Replayability.
Man I want this so bad...
Thanks for the review!
- Last edited Fri Nov 16, 2007 7:55 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Fri Nov 16, 2007 7:35 pm