Monday, May 24, 2010

Board Games, Card Games and you

Thanks to Twitter, I now know Fantasy Flight has put their new trailer for the Horus Heresy up, which can be seen here.

Who knew we would live in an era where board game companies have trailers for their products? Let me state first and foremost that I have not received anything free from any games manufacturer. I think there's that law where you have to make that statement, right? Note to Fantasy Flight: I wouldn't be opposed if you did send me free stuff.

My friends Dom, Tony and Dustin often get together for a game night, where we pull out the board games and the various carbonated beverages and go to town. So, from time to time, I'll write up a review of some of my favorite games we've played, starting with one of my favorites: Cutthroat Caverns.

Cutthroat Caverns

Published By: Smirk and Dagger Games
Play Style: Co-operative Betrayal (My Favorite Kind!)
Number of Players: 3-6
Playing Time: 1 hr. 30 Min.
Final Grade: A

The tagline on this game pretty much sums it up: "Without teamwork, you'll never survive. Without betrayal, you'll never win."

You play as one of a group of adventurers that has worked together before, and you've established that who ever kills the most monsters gets the first pick of the loot. You enter into the dungeon, smash your way into the inner sanctum at the center, and there you find it, the Ultimate Artifact of Incredible Power. Whoever gets first pick of the treasure will control the artifact and live a life of unfathomable luxury and ease. But the nine monsters between you and the dungeon's exit might have something to say about that...

So, how does this game work? The basic object is to be the living character with most prestige at then end of the last encounter. That person will claim the Ultimate Artifact for himself. Note, however, the emphasis on "living". Now, you're a party, so you can't just go killing your other teammates. Instead you might play cards that: force the monsters to attack them instead of you, give the the wonderful opportunity to act as a human shield for you, or cause their attacks backfire so badly, they injure themselves.

You can do that all you want, but of course, the other characters pale in comparison to the monsters you'll encounter. As a clever design feature, the monsters are scaled in power in relation to how many people start the game. What does that mean? If you start with six players, and you get two friends killed in encounter 2, the seven remaining monsters are going to be "6 Players" tough, not "4 players" tough. They'll wail on you so hard your grandmomma will cry. So you have to keep the other players around to keep your own sweet self alive. That is, of course, until the end of the game, when you can merrily frag them to your heart's content.

In the basic set all the characters are essentially the same. Whether you're slinging spells, wielding a blade, or backstabbing a monster, you all do damage based on the cards you secretly set in front of you. These cards get revealed in the order of initiative (which is based on separate cards randomly drawn each round). As cards are revealed, they're placed on a stack and are resolved in order. If there is a damage result that equals or exceeds the monster's current hit points, then the person who did the killing blow earns prestige based on the monster's difficulty. Not knowing what cards your friends have, you have to guess at what kind of cards they'll play. If the monster survives, he generally attacks one or more players for varying amounts of damage.

But you knew it wouldn't be that simple. Once those damage cards are set, you can use action cards from your hand to screw with everything. With the right cards, you can change the initiative of the players mid-round, you can discard a person's attack before it's revealed, you can double or halve a person's attack value, or cause them to fall on their own sword. Of course, there are cards to counter all those counter-cards. The exception to all these? If your character plays an attack card with his portrait on it, that attack card is privileged, and no-one can mess with it.

Since all the characters are generic, what makes this game shine? Simply put, the encounters and monsters are all uniquely fiendish. Each encounter card is different, and each one can elicit groans from the players. From the goblin who has been cursed with an on again, off again invulnerability, to the trap rooms, to the Cursed Paladin who gains life equal to the damage he does, each is wonderfully deadly. Every expansion to the game ends up adding more encounters to the deck, adding even more replayability. The expansions also add character abilities and additional magic items, adding to the player's power as the dungeon gets more deadly.

The cards of of good quality, and the production value is high. The artwork is excellent, and reflects the game's morbid humor quite well. This game will go well with the competitive player who has a sense of the tongue in cheek. People have called it a "more serious version of Munchkin", but I think that's an inapt comparison. Munchkin, while funny, isn't really that great of a game, and isn't really replayable over and over. I think Cutthroat really shines in comparison by being a tighter game. Most of us have played games of Munchkin that have 5 expansions shoe-horned into it. You never end up seeing all the cards, so half the jokes become wasted. Cutthroat's deck is more manageable, and it has more depth to it's play. I would thing that Cutthroat is a small box that would make a fine addition to any gamer's closet.

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