When I discovered Sub Terra I jumped at the chance to get my hands on a review copy. A co-op survival game, in which players have 64 tiles and a deck of hazard cards to explore the depths of a caving system and reach the exit alive. Please note that this is a bad cave of ‘The Descent’ variety where anything that could go wrong will, and mysterious horrors lurk in the darkness.
I thought it looked like a fantastic game from the start; it has a well written and crystal clear rule book, awesome graphic design and vivid artwork. But as I’ve discovered many times in the past, a great looking package can cover a multitude of sins, but I am pleased to say that this is not the case for Sub Terra. I found the game to be fun, exciting and even when played on the ‘normal’ mode it was difficult to beat. Let me just give you a brief overview: (please note- all images taken are from a prototype copy of the game.)
This is pretty straightforward- you choose your difficulty level prior to setting up the game, meaning that you play with a different number of cards and remove certain card types from your game. It plays 1-6 and depending on number of players in your game you control one or two characters such as Bodyguard, Medic or Diver, and each has a characteristic and ability that will help you along the way.
On your turn you may take two actions, and a third if you choose to ‘exert’ yourself (after which you must roll a skill check to see if you successfully exerted yourself without taking any health damage). Actions include revealing and placing a tile, revealing a tile and moving straight onto it and running. You can traverse the tiles in different ways, and some of these can take 2/2 actions. Depending on the tile type you may require a character with a certain skill, e.g.- if it’s a ledge tile you will need a player with a rope to get in there first. All tiles must be pieced together legally through their exits and entrances.
After actions are taken a hazard card is revealed to see what the next cave related catastrophe will be. This may be flooding, gas, a tremor or a cave-in, which will result in making tiles difficult to traverse and mean working with your team to utilise the characters abilities.
Horrors are an exciting part of the hazard deck. When these are spawned on the corresponding tiles they edge close to their victims during every turn. Players on the same tile as a horror will automatically become a casualty.
Health, casualties and end of game
When you lose health you can spend 2/2 actions to gain one back or heal another player. When you lose all health you become unconscious and can longer heal yourself, and you will need another player to come to your aid. The game end is triggered when you draw the ‘out of time’ card or the exit tile is revealed. From this point onwards your aim is to end on the exit tile alive. Skill checks are rolled every turn thereafter and a failed roll means automatically losing consciousness.
What I’ve given you in a very bare bones overview, but hopefully that gives you the feel of the game. In terms of theme it couldn’t be any more my cup of tea but the game itself is fabulous. If you can imagine Carcasonne’s scary older sibling then you’re halfway there. What I appreciated the most is how it becomes apparent as more tiles are placed and hazards are drawn that it isn’t simply a case of moving around and ‘doing things’. You have to band together, very much in-keeping with the theme, to use your abilities and figure out where you’re heading. Once the cave expands and the less tiles you can legally place, the more difficult it is to maneuver, especially when characters start losing precious health and falling unconscious. If the exit tile is drawn and players are scattered there’s a strong possibility that you’re going to become unconscious before you get to the exit. So a fair amount of strategy is needed here.
I’ve tried to think of anything remotely negative to point out, but i’ve struggled to do so. As in most games, it can start off a little slow. On a couple of occasions in the early rounds the hazard cards weren’t needed as such, as there wasn’t any corresponding tiles on the table at the time. However, not only does it pick up really quickly, it also depends on what difficulty level you’re playing at. I am really looking forward to further plays, getting stuck in and figuring out how to beat it.
The Kickstarter launch is a mere few days away on January 10th. I was very impressed with the quality of the prototype so I am imagining that the final version with stretch goals will be mint. I’m in the dark (pardon the pun) as to what the Kickstarter holds and I’m very much looking forward to it myself.