Catacombs (3rd Edition) (Boardgame)

Catacombs takes the basic idea of flicking wooden discs around a game board and transforms it into a competitive role playing game of players vs a game master. Played over a series of boards, players journey into a dungeon in hopes of becoming powerful enough to beat the final boss in the game. A fun mix of disc-flicking, tactics, and a fantasy theme create a very unique, and enjoyable, boardgame. The newest edition (with fancy new rubber playmats rather than cardboard) is currently finishing up a Kickstarter campaign.



Catacombs – 3rd Edition
Designer: Ryan Amos, Marc Kelsey, Aron West
Publisher: Elzra Corp.
Players: 2-5
Ages: 14+ (Easily played with 9+)
Time: 60-90 minutes
(review copy provided by publisher)


In Catacombs, one to four players take on the role of an adventurer journeying into the depths of a dungeon (a series of catacombs – for example.) Meanwhile, another player takes on the role of the Overseer and controls the dungeon denizens in an attempt to thwart the adventurers by wearing them down as they progress through a series of increasingly difficult levels. Upon reaching the final level, the end-boss of that particular game.

Play begins with the players choosing choosing their hero (out of six available) to use in the adventure and also choosing the Catacomb Lord for that game. The Catacomb Lords are played by the overseer and represent the end boss in the final stage of the game. However, each Catacomb Lord adds a bit of flavor to the game through a small effect on which monsters are encountered in the early part of the game.

The game begins by choosing a game board (complete with obstacles) to serve as the field of play. Players put discs representing their heroes on the board, while the Overseer places the monster discs on the board. On the hero’s turn players “move” their hero by flicking their tokens around the board. Colliding with another unit will cause damage to that unit (either reducing its health or eliminating it entirely – most often seen with the monsters.) Each hero has different powers, with many of them having a “range attack” which is simply another (smaller) disc that is shot from a location next to the hero disc. In this way, each hero moves and/or attacks on their turn, and then the Overseer takes a turn with all the remaining enemies.

Eliminating an enemy token grants rewards that can be used later in the game to improve one’s hero. In this way, as the players progress to new boards and new battles the Overseer is attempting to wear down the players’ resources (primarily their health) while the players are attempting to get stronger by defeating those same enemies. At set points in the game players have the option of spending some of those resources to equip their heroes with fun items (which either improve a hero’s abilities or possibly grant entirely new options.)

Play progresses until the final map which has a showdown between the Catacomb Lord and the heroes. While most enemies can be eliminated by one or two hits, the Catacomb Lord in its lair is much more powerful and the heroes must stay alive long enough to wear down and defeat the Catacomb Lord.

Layout of the new version with rubber play mats.


I’m typically not a fan of abstract games, although there are a few abstract disc-flicking games I enjoy – such as the classic Crokinole or lesser known PitchCar. However, the fantasy theme and the role-playing options (heroes slowly gaining in power as they defeat enemies and progress through the game) of Catacombs is a great attraction for me.

As a heroic player, I enjoy the challenge of trying to eliminate enemy pieces while simultaneously guarding my precious health for the long term. Do I play it safe and possibly do little or no damage, or do I make a risky play that may expose me to damage but could eliminate several enemies in one fell swoop. The cooperative nature of the heroes is another bonus. While the Overseer player does control all the “bad guys” there is camaraderie between the heroes as they meet and overcome challenges during the game.

Catacombs remains fresh and interesting through the large number of options chosen for each game. The game is always played with four heros (chosen from six possible options) and one (out of four) main villain (Catacomb Lord.) In addition, the progression through levels of the game (each level is a new play area complete with obstacles to set up and monster tokens to place) is randomized through a set of cards so even two games with the same heroes and villain may have a different progression.

One particular caveat, the game is, at its core, still a dexterity/flicking game. Players with little or no aim or ability will have a hard time playing. One hero player could be rather inept and still be carried by the rest of their team, but an Overseer with good skills can make quite a challenge for a group with weaker flicking abilities. However, careful choice of hero types and the selection of Catacomb Lord can help even things out.

Catacombs is a unique creature. It is a dexterity based game, but unlike most it has a strong thematic element. It is much longer than a typical dexterity game (lasting an hour or more) but this is offset by the ongoing story arc built up throughout the game. It is not a game I take out lightly, as it has the possibility to drag on or be simply frustrating for those players who just don’t enjoy dexterity based games. However, when the game does come out it makes an very entertaining evening, generating stories about events that are talked about long after the game has been put away.


Kid Factor
At a minimum, a player needs to be able to flick (with even minimal accuracy) small discs around on the board. There are bits to read to understand hero and monster abilities, but they can be easily explained to a new player. The age range (14+) is there for the safety issues of little wooden discs more than a true gauge of the requirements of the game. I would gladly play with game with a 9 year old. My only concern would lie with their ability to remained focused for the course of the 60-90 minute game.


Ending note: Catacombs 3rd Edition is still available, but those wanting a high-end experience can check out the kickstarter that features rubber play mats for the combat areas.  I find the cardboard ones a great value and sufficient for my needs, but I can see the attraction of a more regulated surface.

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