Catacombs Cubes (Catacombes Cubes)
- Designer: Ken Valles
- Publisher: Elzra
- Players: 1-4
- Age: 14+
- Time: 30-60 minutes
- Played with review copy provided by Elzra
Catacombs Cubes is a new game which is set in the universe of Cimathue (from Catacombs). In this game, players strive to complete buildings found on their blueprints – the end goal being the completion of construction in the Village of Stormtryne.
There is a Planning board which is placed in the center of the table. Around the edge is a score track. Below this is where the Village tiles can be found – these show different buildings which can by built. Then, at the bottom, you’ll find a Palace tile and an area for the players to jointly build this particular Palace. There is a secondary score track in the center of the Planning board where players track their contributions to the particular palace. Finally, the town hall tile is placed on the table – it serves as the starting point for all building in the Village. There is a Quarry board, which is also set aside, to be used later.
Each player also gets their own Player board. There are areas here to keep track of your different building pieces as well as your coins. At the right hand side of the player board, you’ll find the starting resources that you get. At the start of the game, each player is dealt a Residence tile which is kept face up next to the player board.
The game is played in a number of rounds until the Village is complete – in a 4p game, it is at the completion of a 4×5 grid. At the start of the round, the current Foreman (start player) rolls the 8 dice and then arranges them in pairs by color. These pairs are then transferred onto the Quarry board with each colored set being placed in a different column. Once the four pairs have been transferred over, the Foreman has the choice to switch the positions of any two dice.
Play then starts with the player to the left of the Foreman, and the active player has two choices on their turn: 1) Draft a Quarry column, or 2) Build a Village/Residence. During their turn, the player may also optionally spend some of their coins to get additional actions. If a Quarry column is chosen, the player gets any Quarry resources shown on the dice. If there are any actions seen on those dice, the player gets to take these as well. One of the more useful actions here is the Chisel action which allows you to “chisel” a bit off of a larger Quarry piece to give yourself any smaller piece. If the player chooses to build a tile, he pays the resources as shown on that tile and then the left most available Quarry offer is discarded.
Another possible action is the Build Palace action; you add the shown piece (possibly wild) to the Palace structure on the main board; and then you move your Palace scoremarker up a number of spaces equal to the cubes added to the palace structure. As you move up the Palace scoretrack, you may gain single black cubes or victory points.
When building a Village/residence tile, you have to use quarry resources to exactly replicate the image seen on the tile; it is also shown schematically with a series of numbers. There are three possible choices seen on the Planning board.
The Quarry resources used to build the building are returned to the supply EXCEPT for the single black obsidian pieces which remain on the player’s board. The player gains VPs as printed on the tile as well as any bonus icons which are shown on it (Gain obsidian, add to the Palace or Gain a wild quarry resource). The completed tile is then flipped over to its other side, and placed in the grid so that it is orthogonally adjacent to at least one other tile AND placed in a way that it does not exceed the maximum size allowed for the grid (which is confusingly only mentioned at the very end of the rules). Also, it should be remembered that all tiles must be placed in the same orientation. Finally, look at the connector triangles on the edge of the tile, if you match the colored connector to a previously placed tile, you gain 2 red coins, 2 blue coins, 2 silver coins, 2 black obsidian resources, or 2 yellow coins for that pair. If the triangles do NOT match, you choose either of the rewards of the mismatched set. Every set of connectors that is completed will give a reward when placing a tile.
The game ends at the end of a round when the grid is complete. Any buildings finished after the grid is complete are not placed on the table. The player scores the VPs noted on the tile, but they will not collect any connector bonuses. There is a bit of bonus scoring; players compare the numbers of each color coin left at the end of the game. The player with the most/2nd/3rd most coins in each color (red, blue, silver) score 5/3/1 points. The player with the most points wins.
My impressions on the game
Catacombs Cubes has eyecatching artwork, and I was drawn to the game because I really liked its predecessor, Catacombs. The games share a mythological background, but in reality, that’s about the only thing they have in common. The elder game is a flicking game where players cooperatively work to save their town from monsters in the catacombs under the city. In this game, players competitively work to build buildings of that same village, Stormtryne.
The game itself is pretty simple once you get a hang of the rules. The rounds can move by fairly quickly as you really only choose a Quarry offer or build something. When you don’t have enough to build, you just get to add more building blocks to your player board. Once you have enough bits, you can spend your time between actions looking at the available Village tiles (and your own Residence tile) to see if you can actually build something.
I like the way that the Quarry Foreman gets to set the initial offers, but then this power is balanced out by the fact that the Foreman has the last possible choice in the round. The other players still have the chance to use coins on their turns to bribe the Foreman and re-arrange the offers as well. In the end, there isn’t too much to think about as the colored pairs have to stick together and then only one switch is allowed; so this isn’t overly AP-prone. The other method to allocate resources seems to be much worse in this regard, but we haven’t played this way yet, so I can’t comment more on it.
In my first games, I didn’t realize the value of building to the palaces, but I now know that it is a great way to score some VPs and, perhaps more importantly, a nice way to get a steady supply of the obsidian pieces. While the obsidian pieces are only one cube in volume, they can be quite useful to have around as they stick around after building tiles.
Rules are a little clunky at times. There are some areas which are un-necessarily convoluted. IMHO, it would have been easier just to say “choose a starting player randomly” than devote a quarter of a page to assign numerical values to the sides of an orange die, then to just have a roll-off. Also, there are a bunch of different options included in the rules. Players must choose (and agree upon) which side of the player boards to use, whether to roll dice to make Quarry offers versus using tokens, whether to use Passive or Competitive Resource rules for removing columns from the quarry board, etc. While I think it is admirable to provide all these different options; I really wish a single set of rules had been provided with a separate section for the possible changes. Having all these different options being provided in the body of the rulebook makes it super hard to grok the game at first. It also brings up the real possibility that two groups may never actually play the same version of the game, and that has always been a personal pet peeve of mine. I would prefer much more clarity in what the “standard” way is to play a game. Finally, the organization of the rules is maddening. Certain facts, such as the end game condition as well as the maximum allowed size of the building tile grid, are only made known on the final page of the rules! Sure, there is an index included to help you find the most important terms, but really, a Euro-game shouldn’t need an index – at least not IMHO.
Everything in the game works, but between the rules issues and the pedestrian play, it hasn’t been one that was quickly requested to come back to the table. I really like the concept of drafting construction bits and using them to build the different tiles, but in practice, this game just didn’t really capture the imagination of anyone in our group. I think I’d still be happy to play it again, but it’s not a game that I’m likely to suggest. Though it shares the backstory of Catacombs, it is a very different animal, and I think it will not be a crowd favorite here as Catacombs is. We will definitely be awaiting the next flicking game in this series (Catacombs Monster Pit)!