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Subject: Claustrophobia First Impressions rss

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Ian Peters-Campbell
United States
Santa Cruz
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The Box
I knew it would happen someday. If I kept playing and reviewing games, eventually I would find myself reviewing a game with a good box. Claustrophobia's got a great box. The material's a little thin, but is serviceable. More importantly though, the box has a really great insert. It's got wells to organize all the pieces nicely, and the board tiles fit snugly over those wells, holding everything in place. In addition, the box is not deep for the sake of being deep. It's long and wide, and full of heavy components, but significantly shallower than many boxes these days. My only slight concern is that this box might not do well on the bottom of a big stack given the relative thinness of the cardboard, but I can easily mitigate that risk.
Grade: A-

The Components
Wow. They're really, really great. Big, thick, beautifully illustrated board tiles that will easily do double duty in your RPG campaigns and look really nice on the table. Pre-painted miniatures (at roughly the quality of MageKnight or the like) that have real character, and look great on the nice looking board.

Other components include some cards that are nicely illustrated and made from perfectly reasonable materials, a goodly number of dice, and a number of high quality counters that serve to mark various things in the game. I think it's worth noting that while there are plenty of counters to do their jobs in the game, there are by no means an overwhelming number. I am somewhat compulsive about game organization, and there are few enough that I have no problem dumping them all together in one of the insert wells.

The last components of note are the little plastic trays that hold the heroes' character sheets. These are made of light plastic and are nothing fancy, but stack nicely and are very serviceable for holding the cardboard character sheets. I'm a little concerned that with the tight fit of the sheets and the thinness of the plastic that these may eventually tear, but it's not a huge worry.

All in all, the components are amazing. I'll enjoy these for years to come in many contexts.
Grade: A

Setup
To start a game you generally lay out a tile or two, and shuffle the remaining stack of tiles. You place a few miniatures on a starting tile, slot a few character sheets into their plastic holders, and dig a few equipment/ability cards out of some reasonably small decks. The whole thing takes less time than reading the scenario, and is pretty pain free. The only part of setup that might take some time is shuffling the tiles, just because they're big and thick. It's probably worth making sure that your playing surface is free of grit, as it would be a shame to scratch up the faces of the face-down tiles.

Tear down is even faster. Stack the cards, dump components into their wells, stack board tiles on top of the wells, throw in the rulebook and close the box. I'll be shocked if it ever takes more than two minutes to put this game away, which is great.

All in all, setup and tear down is really pain-free. Shuffling the board tiles is a really small price to pay for the beauty and thickness of said tiles, and nothing else in the process is even remotely onerous.
Grade: A+

Rules
The rulebook is beautiful, and about 20 pages. Half of the length is devoted to scenarios, and half of what's left is big, colorful examples and illustrations. I would be surprised if all the real rules of this game didn't fit onto a single page in the style of something like Here I Stand. The illustrations are really nice, the examples are helpful, and the scenarios are laid out pretty well.

The only problem is that this means there's one page of rules spread out on 10+ pages. Our first time out with the game we actually found it pretty difficult to answer rules questions, just because things were spread out and often not where we first thought to look. I imagine that if I sit down and read through the rules a couple of times and play some more games everything will be very clear (the system really is very straightforward) but we definitely had some slowdowns in our first game as we looked around for rules.

Overall the rules are decent but not great. I'd like some more clarity and better organization. I think it would be worth making a reference sheet for new players, just so they could grok it all quickly.
Grade: B-

Gameplay
The gameplay is turn based and alternates between the human and demon player. On his turn the human player rolls some dice, and assigns those dice to his characters. Each character has 6 stat lines, with different attack, defense, and move values. Which die you assign to the character determines his stats for the next turn, and may also activate certain special abilities that the character has.

The human player then activates each of his characters, moving and attacking with them. Attacking means rolling dice equal to the attack score, and any die equal or greater to the defender's defense score is a hit. Movement is by tile, and if a model moves off an unexplored section ofthe map a new tile is drawn and placed by the demon player.

After the human player's turn, the demon player goes. First he rolls some dice and assigns them to a board, Kingsburg style, to get special abilities for the turn and generate threat points. He then spends threat to spawn new demons on tiles that lead into unexplored portions of the dungeon.

The demon player then activates each of his demons, moving and attacking with them. When a demon does damage to a human character the human gets a little peg next to one of his stat lines, meaning the human can no longer assign a die to that line, thus narrowing options. If a character ever has all 6 stat lines filled with pegs the character dies.

There's more to the game. Different tiles have special effects (some allow the demon to move between them through tunnels, others may have treasure for the humans, and some are infested with blood-sucking vines that cause characters to take extra damage when they are hit). Human characters and some demons have special abilities, and there is some equipment and some special event cards. Mostly though, it's very simple and quick.

It's easy to learn and to play, but there is definitely thought required and there are some agonizing decisions to be made: Do you send someone back to help the swarmed bodyguard when you are close to the exit, or do you let him fall behind and probably die, hoping that he'll hold off the hordes long enough for your other characters to escape? Do you assign that roll of '5' to your Redeemer so that he can choose the next tile to be played, or do you give it to one of your warriors who needs a high defense to stand a chance against the oncoming wave of demons, and risk a random tile draw?

It should be noted that this game has a lot of dice. It should also be noted that the dice system is so simple that pretty much anyone should be able to calculate combat odds in their head. There's definitely some luck here, and absolutely some luck in rolling the stat/threat dice, but I think the sheer quantity of dice makes each individual roll less likely to be a crazy, unlucky game swing and there is plenty of strategy that you can use to mitigate what bad dice you do roll.
Grade: A

Final Thoughts
I like this game, and I want to play more of it. It stores nicely, the rules will just get clearer over the next couple plays, the components are really nice. The gameplay is quick and tense and fun and feels like there are interesting decisions to be made. The thing is dripping with theme. There is definitely luck and a ton of dice, but with the sheer number of dice I have a hard time believing that results won't normalize over even a short game.

The game does take quite a bit of space to set up, and the rulebook could be better, it has a lot of dice, and the box cardboard is a little thin. If none of this turns you off then you should play it or buy it. None of that turns me off, and so I give it:
Final Grade: A
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Zev Neumark-Gaudet
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Very nice review to a great game!

I like reading concise and to the point articles.

I'm having fun with this also!

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Steven Packard
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Amen. Good review.

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Ian Peters-Campbell
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Thanks guys! I'm looking forward to playing more, I'm pretty excited about the game right now and definitely not regretting the purchase so far.
 
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Barry Kendall
United States
Lebanon
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Good review, Ian, and you sound like a man after my own heart in the matter of storage and component care.

After all, these games of ours will be heirlooms someday! I can just imagine the heirs of the estate gathering to fight over old Uncle Barry's rare and obscure boardgames . . . .

Seriously, well done. You're tempting me mightily; "Claustro" sounds considerably different from "Space Hulk" and even the usual dungeon-crawls.

My only hesitation has to do with replayability, not from the standpoint of board layout--obviously not a problem--but from the same "monotony" standpoint that afflicts Space Hulk. Do the "same old demons, same old milions" get stale after a bit? Or do scenarios mitigate this concern?
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Ian Peters-Campbell
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Hey Barry,

To be honest I haven't gotten much chance to play enough games yet for staleness to threaten to set in, so I am a little bit leery of giving you a definitive response. That said, there are several mechanics that I expect to mitigate monotony, including:

- the aforementioned scenarios
- variable powers for the human player's redeemer
- 6 or 7 different demons to use as the demon player (the little demons are always the same, but the big demon changes)
- Decks of cards with events/abilities/surprises for both sides
- Equipment for the humans, which effectively customizes them (such as a rifle that allows attacking adjacent tiles)
- Rules for building your own forces with both players bidding points for the human team and then building an army from the lower bid

That may or may not be enough to keep it fresh long-term, but it feels like probably as much variability as Space Hulk at least, and I've enjoyed playing that for a long time. Of course, YMMV
 
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