An RPG dungeon-crawler with no die, no game master, and only one treasure worth looting—possibly off the lifeless body of a fallen comrade. Cutthroat Caverns is as fun as it is, well, cutthroat.
You make your way through the skeleton-strewn pit of dark sediment, racing here and there dodging the Arc Mages’ lightning. An arrow finds its way into your hands, its notched end easily fitting the taut bowstring. Örn Hammerfist and the others haven’t caught up yet; you’ll get the killing blow, a critical hit, some might say. You jump onto a nearby perch, just as the Arc Mages turn their attention. Your eyes meet, just as you crouch into a stance and pull the arrow back.
Letting out a small grin, you let the arrow fly.
“’100’ attack, baby. Critical hit!” You flip the card for your friends to see.
“Not so fast!” says one of your supposed teammates. “I play ‘Critical Miss!’ You not only miss your attack, but suffer ‘10’ damage as well.”
The illusion is shattered as cards fall from your hand and onto the table: you’re sitting around a table with a group of friends. The traitor’s girlfriend, one of the newbies, scoops the win. Such is the sharp turn many a Cutthroat Caverns (mis)adventure can take, but it’s this “enemies on all sides” mentality that brings a richness to the table that I, as a relatively new gamer, have experienced little elsewhere. Sure, games like Munchkin and Cosmic Encounter utilize the formation and shattering of alliances so that players work their way up to whatever the goal might be, but of these two games I can only speak for the former, which someone one nicely put as “what tries to be, and fails miserably, like Cutthroat Caverns.” If this doesn’t sum up the game perfectly, I don’t know what does. Actually, I do, but more on that in a second.
Cutthroat Caverns is an LCG released in 2007 by Smirk & Dagger Games, with a grand total of five expansions and promotion cards. You and your cohorts are warriors who have stepped foot into the treacherous caverns, home to a Sacred Item of Unimaginable Marvel. While before you may have been friends, everything has changed now that the ultimate treasure is up for grabs. The only thing you have to worry about are the nine monsters standing in your way, and maybe even your teammates.
Scroll past the mountains of text for a summarized list of Likes and Dislikes.
You start the game with seven cards, and by placing a clear green bead over the ‘100’ on your character card’s LP. Flip over the first of nine Encounter monster cards that you’ve randomly selected from a deck of 26, and let the bloodbath begin. Upping the ‘wow’ factor of the game is the ability to choose between fighting the monster, and fighting your friends. However, you don’t want to make too many enemies too early in the game; as your forces become weaker and your LP dwindles, the monsters you face become stronger.
If this all sounds complicated, don’t fret. It’s best to think of Cutthroat Caverns as an RPG videogame, just easier. There’s no die involved, and not really a lot of tracking once you’re aware of what you can and can’t do during each step of each round, of each encounter. That being said, those who can’t adapt to the whole “if the card contradicts a rule, follow the card’s description” are going to have a really hard time. The good news is that of the group I played with, only one had any experience with videogames of this style of play—the other two had never played a game of this magnitude, let alone an RPG… and yet, by the fifth round we all seemed to be moving along quite quickly (much to my chagrin) and two of them ended up with the most kills of the game.
Keeping in mind that my experience with BG is somewhat limited (I can count the games I own on two hands), I’d have to say that the components with this base game are adequate enough for the purpose of the game. The card stock is wonderfully firm and sure to last, the character cards and tracking beads are a fun way to track your LP and that of the monster you’re encountering, the artwork on both are great, and the rulebook, although a little bit wordy in all the wrong places, is manageable as long as you’re willing to sit through a couple playthroughs to get down the rhythm. As for replay value, think of it this way: there are nine out of 26 possible monsters you can fight. Although the combinations are relatively infinite, we’re talking about the same 26 monster effects. Don’t get me wrong, these monsters kick ass; you’ll probably never have more fun dying, or feel more relief at winning. But I can see how the novelty might wear thin after a dozen or so plays. Luckily, the crap ton of expansions released over the last seven years seem to have helped in solving this, but I highly recommend checking out the Cutthroat Caverns base game first, just in case.