Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Cutthroat Caverns

A few weeks ago, I was in a game store in Tacoma - not my usual stomping ground, but one that still feels familiar enough. Either way, I happened to spot Cutthroat Caverns - a game I've always meant to pick up but somehow never saw at a time in which I had money in my pocket.

For years, I'd stumble across the expansions at one store or another, but I never managed to find the base game.  Until now.

I've been a fan of Smirk & Dagger's games since the original Hex Hex, which went out of print and was replaced by Hex Hex XL. Curt Covert - the designer/owner/operator of Smirk & Dagger - demoed the game for me at one of my first GenCons, and he's a crazy-nice guy who loves all of the games he publishes.

And he has a knack for finding fun. I'm not always a fan of how he writes rules, but I'm always a fan of how those rules work in play.

So I had been curious about CC for a long time. And so I took the plunge - and I am very glad I did. See, I'm a huge fan of games that are semi-cooperative. That is "games where players have to work together to avoid a collective loss."  Sometimes, this is like Shadows Over Camelot, where there might be a traitor working against everyone.  This one, however, is more like Republic of Rome, where the Empire can fall if the players don't adequately defend it.

In Cutthroat Caverns, each player is dealt a hand of cards. These cards (for the most part) have damage numbers.

Turn order is randomized, and then players take turns dealing damage to monsters. The player who gets the killing blow in on a monster gains the prestige for having killed the monster.

After every player has resolved their cards, the monster gets to attack back and will deal damage to some or all of the players.

So it becomes a guessing and bluffing game. If I'm acting first and the monster only has a few hit points, do I play a high number to try to kill it? Or do I let someone else get the kill in hopes of snagging a more valuable monster next?

In addition to dealing damage, some of the player's cards do ... other things. You can double someone else's damage. You can cause other players to miss. You can avoid damage to yourself, and so on. There are also a handful of magic items (mostly potions) that can affect the numbers on peoples' cards.

The monsters themselves deal damage based on different criteria, and the monster's stats depend on the number of players who started the game - with six players, an Ogre is more dangerous than it is when there are only three. One monster deals damage to the player who dealt the most damage to it that round, for example.  One monster deals damage to the player who hit it first.

Some monsters can inflict other conditions on players, too. One monster, for example, causes a player to deal half damage against the next monster the party faces.

There isn't a lot of healing in the game, so the 100 hit points you start with need to last you a good long while.

Once the party fights through a number of monsters depending on the number of players, the game ends and the player with the most prestige wins.

It's simple, but - as the title suggests - cutthroat. And evil.

And there are expansions, each of which throws a new twist (or twists) into the game. I own them, but I haven't gotten them to the table, yet.  Maybe tonight (although I desperately want to try Metal Adventures, and I have a hunch I'll be playing more Nations: The Dice Game).

I'll let you know.

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