You can do two things in Essen. Well, you can do a lot more than two, but these two are pretty huge. You can either look at the shiny things that the bigger companies come out with, or you can look in the little corners and crevasses to find different, new and difficult to obtain games that you never heard of.
Partly thanks to my friend Michael Fox, that is what I did last year and that’s where I met Nate, one of the designers of Cave Evil.
Various things caught our eye. First of all was the amount of black in he game. The whole thing is black and white, with a few shades of grey thrown here and there to add some colour to the game. If you don’t know what I mean, please watch the unboxing video. It will make things perfectly clear.
We had a round of the game there and then. It was fun. A ton of fun! When I went back the following day to interview Nate for the podcast, he was kind enough to give me a review copy of the game. You could say this review is months overdue. You’re right, but considering that the game has been unavailable for a while and the reprint will probably happen in 2013, I am hoping that’ll give this review plenty of time to be read by everyone.
This review is not an in-depth one, though. I won’t be talking much about the rules or about the strategies that one can develop when playing this game. I will talk about the fun it is to play it for the first time with people I barely know.
So what is it all about?
You play as one of up to four evil necromancers who want to develop their cave of evilness and find their way to the throne hall before an even greater evil awakens who could wipe everything and everyone off with the subtlety of an A-bomb. It’s the type of thing you really hope will never happen. Except that, in this game, it probably will. And it is actually good fun!
By using your minions to excavate tunnels and pillage from the other players, you need to accumulate enough resources and power to stop the greater evil fro awakening and mercilessly destroying you.
For a game that’s been produced without the help of a big company or a Kickstarter project, this game is very, very impressive. Although the copy I have suffered from a printing mistake and the matt is too slippery for the cardboard pieces, there is so much in that box that a dodgy matt is not enough to spoil it.
The card that makes the hexagons that will form your cave is thick enough. Again, not something that will resist the ministrations of a young player for long, but then, this is not a game for young players, so that’s fine.
The components are good enough quality. They are not the greatest, but they do what they are supposed to and they have been well designed so there is little chance to mistake their meaning or misplace them. The cards are thick enough and, although they are not laminated, they remained clean after our first game.
The illustrations are just amazing. For starters there are tons and tons of very intricate and full of detail black and white illustrations with some of the weirdest and most hideous creatures you’re likely to find in any game. And they are just evil, both in their descriptions and in what they do. This are not orcs that will hurt you. These are swarms of maggots that will eat you alive, or astral bombs that will destroy everything around them. And I mean everything (including most of the possessions from one of my friend. Enough possessions to almost make him win the game until that moment. It was amazing!).
Now let me take a look at something about the cards that is truly fantastic. The way the graphic design and layout fits with the rules. In this game you fight. A lot. To fight, you have to choose what main ability you use. Those abilities are arranged around an hexagon that contains the creature. Combats happen in three rounds, so you have to use three abilities. So you choose one, as I mentioned earlier, and then, for the following rounds, you have to use the two abilities to the side of the main one.
I have no idea how they managed that in the more than 100 creatures the game comes with, but they all balance out very nicely. Not two abilities are the same. They are all weaker than the other and all creatures have a chance to kick another creatures’ ass. At least creatures of the same power level. Some of them are just scary in their power!
If you reach a certain point in the game, the big baddy awakens and, all of a sudden, you feel this urge to help each other to fight this thing, turning this game into a semi-cooperative experience. But it is a weird cooperative experience. It’s like joining forces with the person you hate in the company you work at, just to get rid of the rival who wants the promotion you’ve applied for. You know you are still enemies, but you can benefit from helping each other. A strange experience.
This game is excellent. It’s not perfect and some things do need reworking, but the game is solid as anything.
It has to be said that it needs a proper board. I can understand that the costs of producing a board for this game would have made it impossible to produce, or too expensive to make it enticing for anyone to buy. However, with a solid game and plenty of interest, I can imagine a Kickstarter campaign coming along in the not to distant future to re-release the game again and, this time, produce a truly lovely box.
The rules manual will probably drive you crazy. It certainly drove my friends (and me!) crazy trying to figure out everything. They could be reduced to half the number of pages and arranged in a way that will make everything a lot quicker. The quick-start rules are a great help, but they are not enough to get you started properly, and since they don’t really refer well to the main rules manual, there is no way to jump to the right page to get the information you need.
This also translates into a longer first game. We started play around 8pm and didn’t finish until past midnight. Having said that, the last few rounds were a lot quicker than the first ones, and set up the game took us a while. And also took us a lot of space. You’ll need a big table to play this game properly!
The length of the first play didn’t bother me at all, though. Mainly because I was having such a great time that a long game was more than welcome. Going to work with sleepy eyes and still grumbling about that Astral Bomb detonation was nicely matched with the smiles from all the back-stabetty action at the table. Not to mention that I got emails from my friends asking me when we’re playing next.
Apparently they want a rematch… it seems that being beaten mercilessly is good fun after all!
I like this game. A lot. Although it’s not a light game or one to play in a rush, it will grace y table often. If it had come out from a established company, because of the lack of proper board, average components and rules manual in need of re-jigging, I would give it 3 stars. However, the designers and publishers have done a pretty amazing job with the resources they have and without much external help, so their efforts should be taken into account. 4 stars for Cave Evil and may Astral Bombs fall upon you if you disagree!
You can find out more about Cave Evil and, if you are very, very, very lucky get a copy sometime in: http://www.cave-evil.com/
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