There are three things which I feel summarise my excitement about Sub Terra which was recently brought to life through KickStarter:
1. After two play throughs I ordered ultra violet lights.
2. After the first game I’ve had requests that next games night we build a blanket fort in The Abbey Inn and play in there with the new lights and the soundtrack (Another stretch goal that was unlocked.)
3. I keep making people feel the cards and tiles. (2mm punch board, black core boards and matt finish, black core card; all bonus stretch goal features which make this game a delight to hold). You think I’m weird. I’m not weird. Once you’ve stroked the cards you’ll see that this is a normal reaction.
Such is the excitement and joy Sub Terra generates. I could leave it at that really; it tells you everything you need to know. But why use 240 characters when 8 pages will do?
You are trapped in an underground network of caves and tunnels. You must work together to find the exit and escape before your torch lights run out or the horrors get you. There are other threats too: cave ins, gas leaks, floods and the dodgy background of one of your fellow cavers. One of the pure joys of this game for me is the fact that the cavers are a diverse mix of race and gender. Finally, a games designer who has got it so right. So right that when I play with my family, I don’t have to be a boy character because all the girls have gone. And, in the immortal words of Lotto from 8 mile “This shit is a horror flick, but the black guy doesn’t die in this movie …” Now Louis may die but as the medic it’s very, very unlikely.
You can outrun the horrors – a pack of vague, shadowy figures who pursue you through the darkness. Hiding from the horrors is another option but it takes up precious time. There is no place for cowardice, as to me this is the equivalent of hiding in a wardrobe: if they don’t spot you, you are still trapped, you still have to get past them and get out. Also you’ve been holding your breath because it was really loud and now you have a headache.
But don’t worry, there’s always Jai – our dodgy but hench bodyguard – who can fight them off. The interplay of characters special abilities is finely balanced which makes it all the more important that you DON’T SPLIT UP!
This, my friends is a horror film basic. Our complete disregard for this on our first game made me question the years spent watching horror films in the firm belief that I will be ready if/ when the apocalypse comes. I had plenty of time for contemplation while I lay drifting in and out of consciousness for hours, surrounded by the scratching, scurrying sounds of the horrors.
Your turn has two or three phases. On your turn you can choose between exploring – where you reveal and leap into the next section of cave with reckless abandon – or just revealing which allows you to peak cautiously into the next chamber, perhaps using a mirror so the horrors don’t see you. Being over cautious means you won’t find the exit in time but be too daring and you find yourself gasping for breath in a gas leak or plunged into icy waters where you must drift unconscious until the medic arrives. Provided the medic hasn’t chosen this moment to get a round in.
We found that exploring on our first phase and revealing in the second worked best as on our second phase sometimes we could mitigate the effects of our earlier recklessness, but ultimately to escape you must take risks.
The optional third phase of your go is exertion. Of course, in these dangerous surroundings, it can exhaust you, draining your health. Or, you can be lucky and exert yourself with no ill effects. Just as in life, fate is capricious and is decided on the throw of a die.
The caverns and tracks you reveal have challenges like ledges, slides and rough terrain as well as the more obvious dangers noted above.
So, what have we learnt:
1. Don’t split up
2. Use your strength wisely
3. Hiding is futile
4. Be friends with the medic
5. Be lucky.
It is a challenging game, which if played well (by which I mean in a blanket fort with UV lights and the sound track on) definitely might completely partially equip you with the skills you need to survive the apocalypse.
Come along and have a game at a Cards or Die event.
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