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Catacombs and Castles Review

Board Game Review by::
James Wolff

Reviewed by:
On Feb 16, 2024
Last modified:Feb 16, 2024


We received Catacombs and Castles, a dexterity game published by Elzra Games. Catacombs and Castles is a combination dexterity and skirmish game set in a fantasy setting.

Catacombs and CastlesI like a lot of skirmish games. There’s something about controlling the battlefield, triggering special abilities, and capturing objectives. Dexterity games also intrigue me as you replace dice or card luck with your own fine motor skills. But what happens when you mix them together?

You get Catacombs and Castles by Elzra Games which plays 2-8 players in 30-60 minutes.

Gameplay Overview:

For team mode, teams are set up as teams of two, three, or four characters depending on player count and whether you want a shorter or longer game.

Each player selects their heroes and takes their hero piece, portrait card, and rules card making sure to select the streamlined A-side or more complicated B-side as the rest of the players. Each hero also takes a team action card. The objective of the game is to take all 12 health tokens from the other team.

Catacombs and Castles Cards
Some heroes showing the different A and B cards you can choose during setup.

The game is played in rounds which has the teams taking alternating turns. A player’s turn play follows their individual rule card which is often made up of one or more flicks of tokens. A rush is a movement that won’t deal damage if your hero piece hits an opponent. A melee attack has the player flicking their hero piece while a ranged attack has players using a different token placed within 1 inch (or 25 mm for fans of the metric system). These ranged tokens will often have different effects. Some characters act in a specific order where a carrot (>) symbol is between icons (for example Rush then attack) while the pipe (|) symbol represents an or between actions.

Hitting one opponent into another doesn’t chain damage but a hero can carom between enemies dealing damage to multiple opponents. Luckily for bad players, like me, there’s no friendly fire damage. When damage is done, tokens are used to charge up team abilities. There’s also armor tokens which absorb damage and different types of damage that include assists transfers which go to teammates’ ability cards, health transfer which restores team health, and void transfers which discards tokens from opponent’s team cards preventing their team abilities from being activated.

A nice feature is when your token is blasted off the board (and it will be from time to time), you can place it back in play near where it exited on your next turn.

Play continues until one side’s health pool is depleted.

There’s also a one vs. many mode featuring a tougher boss with three bunches of less powerful henchmen and a boss vs. boss mode where henchmen abound.

Catacombs and Castles Gameplay
In the heat of battle. The big obstacles give you cover and bank shot opportunities.

Game Experience:

There’s a lot of components in the big box so my first experience was being overwhelmed by the amount of content that needed to be sorted and stickered, but once that was done, set up was straightforward. The walls are needed unless your table has a recessed playing area or you aren’t playing with savages as these keep the discs on the table. The hard plastic bases started to damage the cardboard walls which has me questioning their long-term durability.

Catacombs and Castles Cards
Villains with their different cards. Fittingly sitting outside the walls of the upcoming battle.

In a nutshell, you’re flicking your pieces and trying to hit your opponent’s pieces, so basically, Ice Cool if I was trying to explain it in three seconds. But there’s also a ton of iconography and little twists that add a lot of depth if you’re too cool for penguin school. There’s 37 different icons on the back of the rule book but most of them offer slight twists on the basic concepts. This is a game where I expect that over time, skill and strategy will start to play a larger part in overall enjoyment as well as becoming a more significant factor in who wins.

Much like Ice Cool, mastering trick shots can be critical for pulling off big moves and subsequently, victories. If you can hit an opponent and push the pieces where they can’t counterattack, then you’re doing better than my trading health tokens with my opponent by hitting them and defiantly staying out in the open as I dare them to return fire (pro tip: that generally didn’t work well).

The difference of the various ranged tokens makes a difference as you’re not likely to move a hero piece with the tiny arrow ammo while a fireball can clear out an area with it’s chunkier mass. And the large obstacles are basically immovable objects that provide cover and surfaces to bank shots off, as well as locations for runes that allow you teleport around.

Catacombs and Castles Flick
Getting ready to flick a small fireball at someone who looks cold because I care.

If trying to decide between the big box and the smaller earlier edition, the biggest difference, besides the overall volume of content, is the playing surface. The big box deluxe edition comes with neoprene mats with a pair making a castle setting and another pair being a catacomb setting. The smaller box edition had a two-sided four-fold board. One advantage of the board is it’s one piece but has creases at the folds. The keystone neoprene mat has holes for caverns that provide various hazards for playing pieces for added variety. The extra stuff the big box contains offers more of everything and then there’s also additional expansions that continue to change up the experience with even more content.

I’m going to start ping-ponging around like a recently shot character disc. Setup can be fairly long, especially if you have to build the walls, and there’s a lot of tokens and cards to sort through to build the teams. But once set up, the game plays quickly and it’s easy to reset and go another round with the same setup. And while I mentioned the vast iconography, this game is quite accessible, especially on the easier side of the cards (and that’s a positive with characters being similar for younger kids or gaming muggles) as each character only has a few symbols on their cards.

I’ve only played this with two players, and that’s probably the game at its weakest as the table cross talk (fine; trash talk) and overall energy around the table is more limited although there’s less downtime. The boss mode and team mode seem like they become more different when it’s not single players per side.

Catacombs and Castles Walls
The art and stickers look great on the pieces.

The overall sameness is something I noticed during my plays. In a way, there’s a lot of differences without distinctions that likely won’t be noticed without repeated plays. This game will likely be the most rewarding for groups who will play this together and all “level up” at the same rate over time. It’s only in writing this review and pouring over the cards and rules that some of these differences became more apparent. But, like many dexterity games, a large differential in skill between players can negatively influence how the game feels, especially at lower player counts.

Whether I’ve won or lost, I feel like I can usually pinpoint one or more turning points and, for me, that’s important in a head-to-head game. And while shot luck can play a part, at some point over one or more games skill should beat luck. Where the game might get challenging is interpreting what just happened when things fly around quickly. Did my hero hit that second opponent, or did they move when the first enemy token bounced into them? If your group likes things rigid and clean, this is probably not your jam unless you’re going to set up cameras and check the replay in slow motion.

Final Thoughts:

Wall durability and setup length aside, Catacombs and Castles is a fun game that you can play as seriously as your group wants to. If I had a gameplay criticism is that while there’s a lot of choices for characters to choose, they do play similarly. But it is silly fun and there’s a lot of potential for groups that want more depth, theme, and options than some other dexterity games.

Final Score: 3.5 Stars – Catacombs and Castles is a gloriously chaotic and accessible skirmish game that also offers more depth and options than many other flicking games.

3.5 StarsHits:
• Simple concepts that can be expanded as players improve.
• Lots of opportunities for stand up moments
• Big box offers a lot of variability

• Long set up time relative to the game length
• Cardboard walls started to fray after a few uses
• Lots of iconography

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  1. Some clarifications: This review is about Catacombs & Castles Second Edition. There are two versions of Second Edition: a standard version available at retail featuring a large neoprene playmat and an exclusive “big box” version that includes two additional large playmats and two expansions (Siege Defender 2E and Keystones & Keeps 2E). All versions of Second Edition have playmats instead of the game board from First Edition (which has been completely superseded). The Second Edition rules were fully revised and updated. There are new “one versus one” and “boss versus boss” modes. There is a Second Edition Upgrade set available from Elzra that replaces all print components from First Edition. Finally, not mentioned in the review is that both versions of Catacombs & Castles Second Edition included dedicated expansion content for Catacombs Third Edition.

    • Thank you Aron for clarifying the differences between both first and second editions as well as different versions of the second edition.

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