Whenever you call something a “dexterity game,” there’s one last ambiguity to resolve: are we talking about flicking dexterity or stacking dexterity? For a number of years, Aron West, Ryan Amos, and Marc Kelsey’s Catacombs was the finest examples of the former, equal parts competitive and slapstick. Now West has teamed up with Ken Valles for Catacombs Cubes, which is all stacking and no flicking. But with plenty of excellent stacking games out there, how does it stack up?
I will never apologize for the crime of a good pun.
To this day, Catacombs remains my preferred way to flick wooden discs around a piece of cardboard. Where most dexterity games are blink-and-you’ll-miss-them affairs, Catacombs was smart enough to take its time, chewing its band of heroes down to the gristle over hours rather than minutes.
As you might expect, this was also the great weakness of Catacombs. For a flicking game, it tended to ramble. By the time it reached its final showdown, it had begun to resemble one of those twenty-part fantasy novel epics that are probably the linchpin strategy of a shadowy organization’s plot to discourage literacy.
Enter Catacombs & Castles. This time around, designer Aron West’s goal was to harness the mighty long-winded power of Catacombs, while compressing the experience into a single battle rather than an entire campaign.
At long last, the great gates that have obstructed your passage to Khrlot shudder open, axe-bitten oaken doors shrieking on their hinges. So stale is the air that the moisture of your mouth and nostrils is sucked dry in an instant. Beside you, Elani sighs noisily, flicking a glinting coin into the air and nabbing it just as quickly. Xoric runs his finger along the blade of his axe, testing its bite, and Varesh rummages through his spellbook, frowning deeply. Before you is the darkness of the final tomb obstructing your passage to Vasesak, the foul sorcerer of the catacombs beneath Stormtryne.
He will know your fury. You have vowed it.
One by one the braziers gutter to life. You are not alone down here — not that you expected to be. Long before you can make out their shifting outlines, you’re bombarded by a ghoulish cacophony, clacking pincers and the chattering jaws of Vasesak’s reanimated servants. To your side, Xoric tests his axe’s weight, giving it an exploratory swing through the air. Elani pockets her gold and licks her lips. Varesh begins muttering an incantation, flames licking at his fingertips.
And then you ram into the nearest skeleton with your forehead, bashing him to pieces, before rebounding off a pillar and smacking a troll onto his arse. “Good shot!” shouts Elani, following up your assault by smacking into the troll with her shoulder. You grumble a bit. After all, she just stole your kill.