Sunday, June 14, 2009

Game Expansion Review - Cutthroat Caverns Expansions

I was torn on just how to write reviews of the three expansions available for Cutthroat Caverns. On the one hand, they are three separate products, and so three different reviews would make sense. On the other hand, there's not really enough meat on each expansion for me to write more than a few paragraphs, which means that I would end up writing three different, really short reviews, and thus take up a whole week of updates with articles that were just me trying to pad the reviews like a twelfth-grader trying to beef up a term paper. So I decided to just write one review about all three, and that way I can still review two more games. Then you don't have to skip a bunch if you don't really give a crap about Cutthroat Caverns.

Plus I'm lazy, and this kills three birds with one stone.

If you haven't read the review of Cutthroat Caverns, you can check it out here. If you have played Cutthroat Caverns and didn't really like it, then you can do two things - first, you can have a doctor check your blood work, because you may be missing your fun gene. Second, you can skip this review and catch up on your webcomics. Who knows what crazy hijinks Gabe is up to now?

So now that you're caught up (and still reading), we'll start with Deeper and Darker, the first expansion for Cutthroat Caverns. As you know, the original game has six different characters players can pretend to be, but they're really all the same except for the picture on the health tracker card. Deeper and Darker includes character abilities, which are total game-breakers that you can use once per game. These powers are super-powerful, often able to swing the battle in your favor, and if used properly can totally steal the big point monsters. Use them wrong, of course, and they're wasted, but then you only have yourself to blame.

Plus Deeper and Darker comes with a bunch of new monsters. My favorite new monster is the Obsidian Gate, because it's not really a monster as much as it is a proxy that lets you throw in an all new encounter. You can make your own, or you can use one of the new encounters you can download from the Smirk and Dagger website.

The other new monsters are also pretty darn cool. There's a Hydra, and you have to kill all the individual heads. Ashtongue the Cruel is a big mean dragon who spits flame all over everybody and takes forever to kill. You've got the Psy-Pod, a psychic monster who predicts which attacks will miss. Plus there's the best non-combat challenge ever, the Ogre's Challenge, where everybody plays a high-stakes game of blackjack to either get tons of prestige or take one hell of a beating.

Relics and Ruins is the second expansion, and on top of a bunch of new monsters, it adds relic cards and events. At the end of every encounter, you draw an event card, which might change the rules for the fight or let some players draw relics. The relics are cool treasures that can really give you a boost as you play - and these are especially cool because the art on these cards is actually photographs of actual things that got actually made. That's actually pretty damned cool - and you can even buy these sweet-ass little widgets. They would be perfect accessories for your Ren Faire costumes. You could even pretend they were magic, and had the incredible ability to make you talk in a horrible accent that sounds like you just fell out of a bad 80s sword-and-sorcery movie.

The new monsters are great. The vampyre is really cool, with the ability to turn players into evil minions who turn on their allies - but then just like in Lost Boys, if you can kill the main vamp, the others all get better. The other encounters are also really original and cool, but my favorite is the wereboar. Every time you get hit, you get a special card, which you only look at when the game ends. If one of you flips the card and sees 'you are a wereboar', then the game continues, and everyone has to kill the wereboar before he kills everyone else. Awesome.

These expansions build on each other like a kid playing with a box of Legos, so that each expansion has more stuff than the one before, and adds stuff from the previous expansions. The third expansion, Tombs and Tomes, has what is arguably the most interesting new concept - the module. Now, instead of facing a bunch of random monsters in a tromp through a virtual dungeon that's really just a back-stabby card game, you've got a book that tells you a story, tells why you're in the dungeon, and connects all the encounters. More than ever before, Cutthroat Caverns actually starts to resemble a roleplaying game. Encounters tend to make a little more sense, and a sense of context adds a frame to the game.

Now, I'll step out here and throw up a big caution sign. Don't jump into the modules in Tombs and Tomes if you're not prepared to spend some time at the table. The story element that gets added in is really cool, but it is going to take a lot longer to finish the game now. Plus if you're only playing for the card game where you get all tricky and hose your buddies, this is going to weigh down the game like a bag full of sand on an olympic swimmer. You'll only enjoy the adventure modules if you really want to get a more 'immersive' RPG experience. If you want the game to haul ass and cut to the chase, you should avoid the adventure modules - they'll just piss you off.

But you should still totally get Tombs and Tomes. The new monsters, encounters and relics are thoroughly bad-ass. Ashkara runs around the table stabbing the crap out of everybody. Ragnarok is probably going to kill someone, but then the guy who kills Ragnarok can bring back all the party members who get killed. And what is probably the most difficult and exciting bad guy of all time closes out the game with his ability to turn fallen comrades into undead enemies - as soon as you battle past his skeletal horde.

If you don't really like Cutthroat Caverns, the expansions are not going to suddenly make you change your mind. They don't fix anything that was broken - but then, I don't think anything was broken, so there's nothing to fix. Instead they just add more to a game that was a hell of a lot of fun in the first place, and give you enough replay value that you could roll this sucker onto the table once a week for a year and not see the same game twice.


Every expansion adds a new mechanic, and builds on stuff from previous releases
New encounters, events, relics, player abilities, and more
Everything adds to the game, and you can cherry-pick through to build the game you want to play

The modules are the only possible downside - they can add a lot of time, and if you don't care about the story, they're really pointless.

As noted previously, Dogstar Games carries all the stuff for Cutthroat Caverns. You can get it here, cheap, with free shipping:


Jim said...

Nice review, as always.

Do the expansions (but not the module) have to be used in the same order they were released? As in, can I use the second expansion if I don't the first expansion?

Matt Drake said...

Absolutely. If you just want the relics, and not the player abilities, you can just get expansion 2. If you just want the module, you can just get 3.

And so on. None of them require purchase of any of the others.

rockhero said...

Nice review, & the 1st Comment & Reply were helpful!

However, you should delete all the spam comments afterwards.

Matt Drake said...

Thanks for the heads-up, hero. I had no idea that much spam was over here. It took two hours to kill it all.