Claustrophobia 1643 (2019) review
Designer: Croc, Laurent Pouchain
Survival horror is the name of this game. Not a dungeon crawler or a two player skirmish, but a survival horror.
Why is that? Because for the human player and their band of heroic warriors, they will be facing hordes upon hordes of demons that will be climbing out from the woodwork. And for our Demon player, it’s just another day in the garden, planting flowers and watching them bloom in blood.This is a game where if you are the hero ,the odds are against you and the scenario is daunting. You will feel a little claustrophobic.
The game is a streamline back-and-forth between two players trying to achieve their goals. With 20 scenarios to choose from, there is a lot of choice in how to win and how to build your dungeon. Some scenarios have a set constructed layout. While others are built as you go from an almost random stack of tiles. Each tile has its own benefit or curse, whether it be a trap that wounds a hero or tentacles that do double damage to anyone hurt in that area. And then there’s the magic well, which will heal a hero and the Spawning pits from where troglodytes will pop up.
Now, I say streamlined due to the fact that this is a reprint and the simple to play game has been modified to become a little simpler and fair but does not take away from the tactical gameplay of the original. But the set up for each scenario is not streamlined and can take a little time. You’ll be sorting out the tiles to create piles to draw from. Or laying them out in a pre-constructed labyrinth. These tiles are big and chunky but luckily they are all numbered individually to help locate which one goes where and in which pile. Then the players will be collecting their heroes or demons and adding their character sheets into their consoles. Which is another great upgrade for board gaming. As these consoles will hold your dice and damage tokens. Another added bonus is the fact that you will easily find your miniature, because they look exactly like what they are drawn on the card art. A problem that Monolith have had with their other titles.
With set up complete, you’ll be able to shake the pillars of heaven and hell, by taking simple actions. Both sides will perform the same types of actions but in an asymmetrical way. In the preparation phase the players will roll and allocated amount of dice. For the hero player, these dice will be added to the consoles indicating that particular characters movement attack and defense points. Where as for the demon player, their dice will be used to collect cards, Prima Matiera Gems, or power the values up to break the rules. After which the Demon player has a bonus phase where they can spend their Prima Matiera Gems to Spawn monsters onto the board. And finally the players will be able to activate each of their miniatures on the board by either, moving and attacking or attacking and moving. And there you have it. That is all of the rules of the game and how to play it. Very simple, streamline and fluide.
But the game is no HeroQuest. As simple as the actions are to understand, the devil is in the details. Each hero has different statistics that, when a die is assigned, will give them different abilities or even powers. For example your main character, the Redeemer, has the power to call upon God to bless his team. Or depending on the scenario, other powers. On the other hand, the demon player may have different demons that they control. Again each has its own characteristics, skills, and powers. And this is where the intricacies and delicate strategies can be found. Every decision made, especially by the hero player, can be a matter of life and death. Whereas the demon player can keep chucking their army of monsters at the heroes. As long as they have Prima Matiera Gems, of course.
Now, this big box should be an obvious giveaway that this game is big. With players having a number of consoles in front of them. Plus the ever-expanding labyrinth that they will be playing in (depending on the scenario they play). You’re going to need a very big table to play this on. Even though there are only two of you playing. Having a small table can distract you from the game a little, as you slide the map around or move one of your consuls because it’s in the way of the ever-expanding labyrinth of hell. But it doesn’t feel overly produced in size. As there’s plenty of space for all the miniatures to sit on each tile, so it does not obscure information on it. And as for the big consoles, making them smaller would probably make them more fragile. Having them at this size is perfect to place the dice, tokens and damage tokens in to. If the consoles were smaller, the dice would have to be smaller too. And they are already small and a little difficult to read.
The scenarios, at first glance seem a little unbalanced. And then you start playing the game. That’s when the hero player will actually feel the game is unbalanced as they have this momentous task to fill and a long way to go to get to their destination. And after the first few rounds, they will feel even more disheartened when they see the amount of troglodytes and possibly other demons barring their way. Making their life hell. Which fits perfectly well with the theme of the game. That is, a group of criminals have been converted by the church, into mercenaries and sent into the depths of the earth to fight the demons that are crawling out from hell to take over the earth. And I can see some people bitching about the fact that this unbalanced set up means that the game has not been well designed. But if the theme of the game was Indiana Jones going up against thousands maybe millions of Nazi's just to get one artifact, I don’t think they’d be crying as much. The game does enough with it's choices to balance itself out with its mechanisms and clever planning. Also the little tweaks that of been added to this version of the game that mitigate luck.
Yes, your old friend luck is in this game and he seems to be carrying an army of friends with him. From the dice rolling, the random tile draws for the map, up to the random cards you draw which would give you special powers and abilities. But there is enough tiny little details in the game to mitigate this luck. One of the bugbears I had of the original game, as the hero player, was being kicked when I was down. This is because as the hero player, when ever you take damage you are forced to block one of your activation lines. What is this mean? Remember I spoke about assigning dice in the preparation phase. After the dice has been rolled by the hero player, whatever the result is needs to be placed in one of the six lines of activation depending on the value. If your hero is seriously wounded and only has one activation slot open, but you haven’t rolled a dice of that value to slip it into, you’re a little bit screwed. There is nothing you can do. This hero cannot move or attack, which is the primary reason why they are there. In this version of the game, the hero can collect instinct cards that can be either used to power up one of their heroes attributes. Or be used to change the value of a dice to the number depicted on the card. This is a fantastic get out of jail free card for hero players who is feeling screwed by the dice. As certain lines of activation will allow you to draw more instinct cards, making it easy to cycle through this deck to find the powers you need at the right time.
Of course there is dice combat, which relies on rolling a number of dice to attack your opponent, and if the value is higher than their armor, then you made a hit. Luckily the values of the armor do not feel excessive and you will do damage quite a few times.The mass of the team in the army is made up of troglodytes, which can be easily killed and also may be slaughtered if there are multiple troglodytes in the same space and the hero player rolls multiple dice, all of them successful.
The same can be true when attacking a hero player character. But each character has fluctuating defense levels, depending on where the hero has allocated their dice. So the demon player will need to pay close attention to the hero player consoles. Where as the hero player will be paying attention to the amount of Prima Matiera Gems, possible spawning points on the map and powers of the demons that they have in play.
So you can see there is quite a bit of interaction between the two players. And remembering this interaction will help you out of difficult situations that you believe luck has pushed you into. Whether it be from the dice the tiles or the cards. But, and this is a big but. When you start losing your heroes, the luck will be pressed against you. Hope will start deteriorating from your eyes as the long slog to reach your objective becomes infinitely harder. And even though your team may be cut in half, there is always a chance that there will be a chink in the armor of the demon player, allowing you to slip through an unseen hole and finish the game with an upstanding roar.
One of the downsides is, that your first few games will be clogged up with questions, simple as the game is. As you'll constantly be referencing the rulebook as these questions pop up in your game. For each scenario there are new and different rules. Whether it be certain tiles that does something different or whether it be different demons that have different powers. The powers of the demons are explained in two forms on their character sheets. As icons and as text. This can be a little confusing at first as you try to decipher what these powers mean. But after a while or with foresight, you'll see that the text is explaining the icons and these are not two separate things.Then you'll be checking every icon to see which one interacts with the other, then it all makes sense. And the language will take a while to get used to as well. I am still struggling to remember if "impressive" means to block opponents movement or defend another hero (it means block). Yes, even though I have demo this game more than 20 times and played it seven myself, I still can’t grasp the names of the talents that the heroes have. One day I will remember.
This is the perfect two player, deep and thematic game for hard-core gamers. A strategic movement game, more than a skirmish. But also with it simplicity it can be taut to younger players or players that I’m not normally into this kind of game. You will be tempted to play different scenarios every time you open the box. I feel more comfortable playing one scenario several times, once as the demon player and once as the hero player, letting me feel the difference of the same story, but in a different way. Then having a good time and laughing at how I failed with either faction. This facit also gives the game a lot more replayability and fluidity with each play. The box says this game plays in 45 minutes, you may find some of the scenarios will take you up to a good two hours. That maybe even without having to dip your head in to check the rules (and definitely doesn’t include setup time).
Going back to I said at the beginning, this game has the look and feel of a dungeon crawling game. And the majestic magic of a two player skirmish. but playing as the hero player, you will soon find out how much more this game has in common with Resident Evil, than Descent.
Technical score 9.5/10
Artwork on characters and monsters is outstanding. But there seems to be a general lack of artwork on the cards and consoles, leaving a bleak and dry, black and white look on your table. The component quality is outstanding, from the detail of the miniatures up to the red skull tokens which are damage points. Everything is sturdy and solid, including the box insert and how old the game packs away. And it’s all presented with a well written rulebook and scenario book. Although it could do with some reference sheets to speed up play
My BGG score 8/10
(very good- enjoy playing and would suggest it)
This game scratches the Descent itch, but has a better two player feeling. There lots of choices to be made playing as either faction, with a simple rules set. Simple enough for my 12-year-old to play. I believe the design was made so a parent could play the doomed heroes while a child could play the menacing demons. Which is perfect for me and my family. Every game is a different adventure as your opponents change and your end goal too. With lots of dice rolling which I like but with less luck than you think, which I like. This is a fun miniatures game that packs a wallop but does not get stale.
Combined score 8.75/10
A major upgrade from the original version. Upgrades include art, components, more demons and cards for heroes.Things missing from this version are pre-painted minis and cleaner looking tiles.
And now it’s over to you...