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Michael J
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Sometimes you are in the mood for a good dungeon crawl. Nothing else will do. Just monsters, traps, treasures, spells, items, and a good dose of bravery. You search, and come across Descent. That's a great dungeon crawl, if you have 7 hours. You look further, and come across Runebound. Slightly shorter, but not a dungeon crawl, and still 4+ hours if not rushed through. But it has ITEMS, and you are in the mood to collect items. But it's not quite what you want right now. You want it dark. You want claustrophobia. You want to recruit a party, and go kick some a**. And then you want to go back to the inn and lay your loot down on the table and shine the gold with your own spit and blood.

And then you come across TOMB, a game that I can sum up in 3 words. MONSTERS. TREASURE. FUN.

Objective
In Tomb, you are trying to score the most XP's out of all the adventuring parties. To do this, you and your party must enter the tomb, conquer the traps and monsters, and grab all the loot. All parties are trying to crack the same crypts as you are, trying to best the traps and monsters at the same time, and get to the treasure. Sounds simple?

Components
Like many of you, I'm a sucker for pretty colors and presentation. And when I laid out the dungeon map, and unrolled the completely unnecessary and gratuitous poster containing all of the characters in the game, then punched out the character tokens, and looked at the top few monsters and trap pictures, I was breath taken. Now HERE is a game I got my money's worth out of the box. This box was HEAVY. Artwork and theme count for a lot in my book. When you want players to suspend their disbelief and immerse themselves in a far off land, or a dungeon, you have to do your job on the production side. And I think Tomb succeeds here. There are no square cubes or meeples - just artwork oozing in style on every component. My only gripes are that the party markers are too similar, and not stylish (something easily fixable with miniatures), they are too big for the squares they are standing in, and the blue and green dice are too similar in color. But I can overlook anything, if the game play is right. And even then, these things are minor to me. The board looks great. The cards are incredibly detailed and could be collectable items in themselves, and the character tokens are second to none. Did I say I cared about the size of the party markers?

Game play
Sure, the game play sounds simple. You fight monsters, collect the treasure, and then fight some more. But this simplicity overlooks a highly compelling mix of strategy and tactics.

First, PLAYERS seed the dungeon before the game starts. Each player looks at the card, and then puts that card in a crypt. This gives players hidden information that other players don't know. Did you draw the toughest monster in the game? Put it in the closest crypt, and don't forget where you put it, and then laugh when the other parties come across it at the outset. Draw a fabulous treasure? Put it right by you, and hope that no one covers it with something wicked. And when a player puts another card on top of yours, maybe it's another treasure, and the crypt is worth a lot if you can get to it. Or maybe your prized possession is now being guarded by something you would rather avoid. Do you risk running right to it and facing the unknown card? I think the dungeon seeding is nothing short of brilliant. It lets players be the DM a little bit at a time, and adds a tactical feel to the beginning of the game, something that could have easily been done with a random card distribution that would have increased the luck factor. And oh how funny is it when after 2 hours, you completely forgot where you put the mighty sword you drew. Guess wrong, and you might go into the worst crypt in the game. The seeding ruleset is plain fun, and turns a normally uneventful card draw into a strategic mini-game. But, for those who don't like the slower-paced dungeon seeding, you can easily just use random distribution. Either way, you get it to your liking.

After seeding the dungeon, players take turns recruiting a party, and equipping them. Recruiting characters is a little tedious at first because there are so many to choose from, but it is still fun, and forces you to make some critical choices early. Personally, I love managing multiple characters. There is something fun about equipping them, trading equipment between them, and managing a party that makes for a more fun adventure than just having one character alone. Sometimes, I don't want to play as just a fighter. I want to fight, AND do magic. This made Diablo a hard game for me to play, despite it's popularity. I don't want to play a game twice just to experience all facets of it. With Tomb, I can get the full range of character choices at the outset! Yipee! I also think that Tomb succeeds in allowing your characters to interact. Your characters have powers that can help other characters (for example, "other characters in your party get +1 to attack roles"), and these small interactions make it feel as though your party is working together, and dependant on one another. Sure enough, in my first game, my fighter had a shield that gave him +1 HP's for each other character in the party. When he suffered 6 points of damage and had one left, he was dependent on the other characters staying alive. I had my cleric heal him for a point to ease the burden too. This is the definition of character interaction. You can almost hear them yelling at each other during a battle, "Heal me NOW for darn sake! I need your healing spell before the next round!" and then the reply "NO. I can make this shot. Rogue gave me extra attack skill, and I am going to take the shot now. I can do it! I'll heal you next turn!". And then, after the inevitable failure, "Damn, you fool! Now we're all going to die with your stupidity"... You get the point.

The characters are completely different. There are tons of them, and each has a different feel. Some characters help the rest of the party, some characters are characters you want to send in charging, others you can use, but better hold back. As you get a combination, your party takes a life all its own, and it's easy to become attached to it right away. When you lose your first character, it's almost sad.

After recruiting your party, you can spend time looking for equipment and spells. And here is the rub. While you are spending time recruiting characters and looking for spells, other parties may be entering the dungeon, gathering loot from the first dungeons. Inevitably, SOMEBODY put a valuable treasure right at the front, and now they are grabbing it for themselves, while you are deciding which bow to use at the Inn. So there is tension right at the outset of the game. There are LIMITED chances to gain XP's in the game (XP's are only available on the cards players seed the dungeon with), and while you buy things, others are getting ahead of you. So you are constantly faced with the choice to leave now or try for one more good item draw. It's a decision that will likely cost you the game.

And oh are there a lot of items. Items give you skills, powers, spells, and more. Each alters rules and makes your party different than before. You will rarely play two parties that work the same twice. Eventually, you may have your favorite combinations, but they are not easy to achieve since other players are trying to do the same as you. Personally, I can NEVER have enough items, and item expansions are probably already planned. I can't wait for them.

So now you go into the dungeon. You are cursing yourself because two other parties have already scored good treasure, and you didn't find anything that exciting in the Inn. But you have played this before, and you know that some monsters are just impossible without additional weapons and spells, and you HAD to buy new items, DIDN'T YOU? Maybe, but these kinds of decisions make up every turn in this game. Spend a turn healing? Spend a turn walking? It's all up to you, but your opponents are trying to get more than you, and may even cast spells to slow you down.

But back to the dungeon - you walk to a crypt, perhaps one you seeded with a good treasure, and step inside... Immediately, you find out there is a trap there. You don't know what kind of trap, but know only that two of your characters may attempt to disarm it. You roll, did you make it? The trap card tells you NO. One of your characters suffers 3 damage. You pick the weaker of the two, the one with no items, and he dies. And here is where more strategy comes into play. You can try to get through crypts first, but the traps are HARD to get passed. So do you let other parties brave the traps, and have first crack at the treasure? Or do you let them go in to a crypt first, defeat a trap, kill a monster or two for you, and then go raid the crypt after they've fled? Or maybe you lurk outside with your rogue, and have him pickpocket treasure from the raiding party...

Your push on, only to find two monsters in the crypt. You cast a spell to allow one of your characters to charge and attack first. Your cleric backs him up with a +2 red attack mace, and the monster is heavily wounded. But he attacks back, and steals one of your characters' items. You chose your fighter to defend, and he loses his sword. Your thief tries a pitiful attack, and is rebuffed. The turn is over. Do you go for more? You've already cleared the trap (paying for it with a character's life), and maybe you killed a monster. Leave now, and other parties are waiting outside to take the last monster on and get the lucrative treasure. Push on, and it may cost you more characters. But the rewards may be worth it. So you decide to fight, lose another character, and get to the treasure. Yay, TREASURE!

Of course, for me, treasure is where it's at. If the treasure is boring, the dungeon is boring. Have no fear, Tomb succeeds here too. There are a lot of treasures, and lots of special abilities to collect. By the time you learn them all, add-on decks will be ready with more. Finding new treasure is always exciting!

And then the next decision. Do you immediately bank the treasure XP's? Or do you equip the treasure and USE it? If you equip the treasure, it gives you benefits, but it can be stolen by thieves, or lost entirely if the character is killed. Once equipped, you must bring the treasure back out of the dungeon before getting another opportunity to bank the points again. But since each turn is crucial, you can't win the game by going back to the inn too many times, as it might cost you 3-5 turns to return to the inn and work your way back into the dungeon, enough time for other parties to clear out 3 crypts behind you. And some treasure is just too powerful to use just for points - it might turn you into the fearsome warrior you need. You are constantly faced with these kinds of decisions, score the points, or use the items. It has a push your luck kind of feel, because each item makes you stronger, but remains vulnerable if your character is killed. This is the definition of crucial decision making.

Misc. Thoughts
During the game, you get attached to your party, and your characters, and to their treasures. Your adventures are your own, and your characters survived them with you. It's a shame when you lose a character, especially if you decided not to bank a treasure and decided to use it instead (in which case it is lost when a character dies). Sometimes you can resurrect a character. But most often, you'll find yourself going back to the inn to get a new one. You get to recruit a new character, and have fun equipping him all over again. All parties are picking from the same recruits as you, so there is always some competition for the best ones. But for my taste, the new character, the equipping process, is a huge blast! Sometimes you finally recruit a character that can use the spell you've been hoarding. It's fun stuff, and you get to do it often, and with little downtime.

One nice touch that I like is the concept of returning to the inn, and banking treasure there. This gives you the feeling of sitting down at the bar, laying your loot on the table, and having a pint of ale. It's a successful expedition! When you finally put that sword in the vault, it's yours for good, and you can almost imagine going home with it after your gaming session is over.

An important facet that I would be wrong for not mentioning is that EACH players gets to play CM in this game (called the Crypt Master - CM). The game mechanic cleverly weaves this facet into gameplay. First, you get to try to take out your opponents' characters, and secondly, sometimes the CM gets benefits for his own party (for example, a CM can add characters from his OWN party to the battle, and even STEAL your characters). Playing CM is fun, and you can even try to cajole the raiding party into doing something stupid. "Naw, you guys can probably handle this trap with your wizard. It looks easy..." And watch your opponent's scowl when it turns out that his whole party is killed by the failed attempt. Few games get players to let their inner DM out equally in this way, and I think it's a nice mechanic.

A last factor that I really like in this game is that there is no true death. Death means more time at the inn to recruit and equip, but that's all. Too much time in the inn will probably cost you the game, but it's nice to know you can keep going, starting over if necessary.

Conclusion
I just like this game. It has some rules shortcomings, but this is to be expected with so many card interactions. This game satisfies the dungeon crawler in me, gives me more of the treasure that I like, and lets me make critical choices at all phases of the game. The fact that it can be played solo is a huge plus, but it's a fun trip into the dungeon with 1 or 3 or 5. I'm glad I didn't learn about this game a year ago, or I would have been pining for it ever since. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss. But for the rest of you, reading about this now, you can go get this game today! My FLGS had 3 copies!

I give this a 9/10.

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Board Game Junkies
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Now eagerly checking my fedex tracking number on the order containing this game!
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A. B. West
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Beech Grove
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Yep. Still love this one!
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Dan Conley
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Just got my copy and can't wait to give it a go!
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Jerry Hawthorne
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Bought it at Gencon and it is one of my favorite games. Just plain fun.
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Alex Martinez
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I saw this game this weekend and wondered if it was worth buying. I already own a couple of dungeon crawlers, but this one definitely sounds unique enough to be worth buying. So thanks for the review.

One question: Do you think it plays well with only 2 players? That's usually all I get.
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Michael J
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KingCroc wrote:
I saw this game this weekend and wondered if it was worth buying. I already own a couple of dungeon crawlers, but this one definitely sounds unique enough to be worth buying. So thanks for the review.

One question: Do you think it plays well with only 2 players? That's usually all I get.


Yes, I think it would work well with 2 players. There are a lot of interactions between parties, so there would be a lot of "take this" and "take that". You'll be stealing characters, stealing treasures, and going head to head the whole game, both as party leaders and as DM's against each other. 3-4 seems to be the sweetspot, but because the game is fun, plays quickly, it is almost a can't miss for fans of dungeon crawls.

Mike
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Jerry Hawthorne
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2 players is fun and fast paced.
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Scott Roberts
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Great review! What is the playing time on the game? You mentioned 3 hours in the review. Is it normal to go that long?
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Michael J
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scottandkimr wrote:
Great review! What is the playing time on the game? You mentioned 3 hours in the review. Is it normal to go that long?


It can go fairly long with 4 players or more. But I've changed it to "2 hours" just to reflect the average! Personally, after 3 hours, I'd be lucky to remember where I put anything!
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Bart Vandermeulen
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Herent
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Good review :thumbsup:
I can feel the enthusiasm all over the place.
Eventhough it's a fairly long wall of text, it never bored.
And it's kinda rubbing off.
I've been looking for an RPG/dungeon crawler; but HQ is hard to find, in Descent the mobs seem to be way too fragile, many other appear to last over 5-6 hours.
Tomb might just be the one that fits me.
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Chemist .
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Two players is lots of fun. My girlfriend and I played two games, and it took us four and a half hours! No downtime, we were both in every battle, and our second game counted 24 killed characters! Our board just happened to be loaded with very powerful monsters!
 
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