A Brutalizing Evening with Tomb

August 04, 2013

I've been wanting to do board game reviews for a while now, ideally in some sort of video format, since videos seem to much more easily digestible than giant walls of text. Unfortunately, at some point I had to face the fact that I am much better at writing giant walls of text than I am at standing in front of a camera and speaking concisely about all the reasons I love Agricola. That video was 20 minutes long and probably less compelling than the Text Wall. So, anyway, this is where we're at. I've decided to do some casual board game reviews with the following format: I go to a board game night every Wednesday night, and every week I will try to play a game I have never played before. I will take pictures (as soon as I find my camera) and make notes. Then I will write a sort of session report/review of the game, hopefully full of entertaining anecdotes. In fact, the goal of the review will be more oriented with being entertaining rather than comprehensive, though overly strong opinions will still get thrown around. Without further delay, we'll get this party started with Tomb. Unfortunately I couldn't find my camera yesterday morning, so no pictures yet... The first thing you notice about Tomb when you open the box is just how much stuff there is. It's kind of deceiving, though, because the game really just revolves around 6-7 decks of cards and a game board. We were playing on a small square table, and when the massive box was opened, I was like, "Oh, hrmm, guess we'll need a second table," but the game's proprietor was like, "No, no, it really doesn't take up as much space as it looks." The source of this deception, you see, was the 100+ heroes that you can recruit to join your band of adventurers in your quest to raid the eponymous tomb. Let me describe the form these adventurers took because it still boggles my mind: sturdy cardboard rectangles approximately half the area of a typical playing card with some very nice artwork of the hero on one side and all the necessary stats and special abilities printed on the other side. There are something like 15 of them placed in the tavern at the beginning of the game and players spend their first few turns looking through that pile to recruit the ones they want, and every time a hero is recruited or dies of unnatural causes inside the tomb, another hero is placed in the inn. So there is always an ever-growing pile of the cardboard pieces hanging out in the inn, waiting to be recruited. And when you're recruiting heroes, all you care about are their stats, so they are all laid stat-side up so that you never see the beautiful artwork on the other side. Stand are provided so that these heroes can bandy about upright, but it is just so much easier to read their stats, which you will be referencing a lot, if they are laid down flat on the table. I really just don't get it. Why weren't the heroes just made into cards like everything else in the game? Then you'd be able to put a portrait on a card and still have plenty of space for all the important stats. And as cards, they'd also be easier to sift through and attach item cards to as well. The game would probably also be significantly cheaper to produce and not weigh a crap-ton, as well. This is like a win-win-win-win situation and I just don't get it. Anyway, let's move on from the ranting, because aside from this misstep, I actually enjoyed Tomb more than I had any right to. Tomb is a fairly straightforward dungeon crawl game where you build your team of up to 5 heroes, outfit them with equipment and spells, and then send them into a tomb to raid treasures, earning points (or "exp") for overcoming bad things in the dungeon and looting treasure. Each treasure room in the tomb has a piece of treasure and a preset number of bad things you have to overcome to get the treasure (1-5). I suppose it's a good time to talk about the turn structure, which was both a blessing and a curse for the game. Each players get only a single action on their turn. Most of the time this is something simple like recruit a hero, or draw two cards from the items or spells decks, or move your party's movement speed through the dungeon, or flee back to the inn to rest. And these simple actions are great. At first it feels a little restrictive, but everyone is restricted. Everyone has short turns, so the action returns to you very quickly. The curse, however, is that raiding a treasure room is also a basic action, and doing that leads to protracted encounters with the room's bad things (curses, traps and monsters) that slows down the fast pace of the game, especially later in the game when you're dealing with 5 bad things all at once. This curse is also a blessing, though, because battles against monsters actually feel tactical because they take time and careful decision making to resolve. I don't know, it's sort of a catch-22, and maybe it was because we started playing late at night, but I sort of got impatient toward the end, like, "Ugh, we still have 4 rooms left to raid, this is going to take forever." But at the same time, I was really enjoying raiding the tomb. I don't know. I'm all over the place about this... I guess there were a lot of things wrong with the game, but it just totally scratched that itch of being able to crawl through a dungeon, slay monsters in turn-based combat and get some nifty treasure. So I can't help but love it anyway. I guess I'm just a sucker. I was supposed to give some sort of session report, so let's get back to that. I started the game with a fairly lackluster group of adventurers, but I had some dude named "Axe," who could sacrafice another member of the party and an item card to call his brother "Hammer" into the party. And when they were both in the party, their stats significantly increased into bad-ass territory, so I decided, "Yeah, let's do that." This added an unforeseen challenge, however, when I had to sift through the giant box of 100+ cardboard heroes to find this "Hammer" guy, but I eventually did find him. He turned out to be a bad-ass priest, where his brother was a competent fighter. Priests don't do much in the game except handle curses (which I never actually encountered throughout the entire game), but they also start with a random prayer card, and Hammer's allowed him to add his holiness dice to his attack dice (he had a lot of holiness dice), making him a ridiculously good fighter, especially after I gave him a weapon that increased his holiness and attack dice. I was a little late getting into the dungeon, what with the whole recruiting Hammer business. I had a full 5-hero party, but the other 3 I will refer to simply as "fodder." For, you see, bad things happen in the tomb. It is unavoidable. And the only upside is that you get to choose who that bad thing happens to. So when you run into a big bad monster (and monsters always attack first), you send in the poor thief to take the brunt of the attack. And just so we're clear, the thief never comes back. But then it's your turn to act, and so you "Drop the Hammer." It was a pretty effective strategy for a while: kill off the scrubs and then send in the Hammer. But then I picked up a treasure that allowed me to recruit monsters into my party. What? I can recruit monsters into my party? Well, this game just got significantly more awesome. I should probably note at this point, however, that there was very little balance or consideration given to monster party members in this game. Most monsters have special abilities and it is sort of up to the collective group of players to figure out what that ability's text means regarding fighting other monsters as opposed to fighting players. Do not play this game with rules lawyers. This business is very seat-of-your pants, with a heavy side of, "Yeah, that sounds right, I guess." In addition, some monsters just become stupidly over-powered when allowed to become a member of a player's army and given items to circumvent their inherent weaknesses. Like the hydra that doubles its hit points every time it gets hit but doesn't die. Or the monster I luckily recruited when I used my treasure. I really wish I could remember its name. It kind of looked like a spiderant from Borderlands. It had a very lackluster attack stat, but it had the ability to take a number of actions at the beginning of combat equal to the number of creatures on the opposing side. So if I gave it all of Hammer's awesome equipment, plus a few more choice items to beef its attack up to ridiculous levels, then it essentially had the ability to kill every single monster I encountered before they could act. And that's pretty much how it played out. I even drew a card that let me attack other players' parties when they were inside the tomb, so I killed all of them too just for fun. Maybe it wouldn't have been as much fun if I had been on the other end of the over-powered ridiculousness, but it was certainly fun from the side I was sitting on. And as a self-professed despiser of randomness, I'm kind of ashamed at how much I enjoyed it, as your power can vary wildly depending on what cards you draw and all combats are resolved by rolling dice. But, in the end, I really don't know what to say. I would totally play this absolutely ridiculous game again.

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