When I stumbled across Catharsis online, I had no idea what the game was about. But the art drew me in and I would have never guessed that it was a thematic boss battler with tons of asymmetric characters. So why is the game named Catharsis? I have no idea. But I was still keen on giving it a try. So gather up your dice, spells, and swords as we delve down into the gameplay of Catharsis.
Catharsis is a cooperative, dice-rolling boss battler for 1-5 players that takes about 45-60 minutes to play.
Games of Catharsis are surprisingly easy to learn. Each player picks one of the dozen or so unique characters to use, and the group then decides which boss they want to take on. All decks are shuffled and each player draws 6 power cards for their tableau.
At the start of a round, the top card of the boss deck is drawn. Usually, it will either be an Event, Trap, or Monster to fight. Events can be good or bad, either damaging the players or giving them some kind of boon. Traps are ways to deplete your resources and/or make monsters harder to beat.
Fighting monsters and the Boss is the heart of the game. Once a monster is drawn, the players start with an attack turn. They roll their six dice, with up to 2 rerolls, and then choose how to allocate their dice. The dice are used to activate powers on cards (much like in Dice Throne if you’ve played it). Many powers will do damage to the monster, let you alter dice, or give you some other kind of ability. Once used, a power is exhausted and flipped over.
After the players have taken their turn, the monster fights back damaging the players. Any damage taken requires players to exhaust or discard a card for each point of damage. If a player ever runs out of cards in the play area, they are killed. At the end of any monster round, players can spend 1 morale to refresh all of their exhausted powers. This is the primary way to heal and managing your morale is a crucial part of the game.
Players will continue to work their way through the boss deck until they reach the boss card (usually the last card). If they defeat the boss, they win. If the players ever run out of cards in their area, or use up all their morale, they lose.
My first games of Catharsis did not go great. I got walloped in my battles and never came close to defeating even the weakest of the bosses (the Corrupted Horse). But after looking online, including chatting in their helpful Discord channel, I both found rules I missed and learned some helpful strategies for the game. Much like an onion (or a parfait), Catharsis has many layers to it.
The first thing to know about the game is just how unique the characters are. While all players use the same rules—roll dice, use them to activate powers—every character feels really different. For example, there is the Monk that can combo smaller hits to make future hits easier to make. Or the bard that starts singing songs that get better as the powers get used. Or maybe you’d like the gnome and ogre, who shares cards and after you use the power of one, you flip the card over to be able to use the power of the other. And these just scratch the surface as there was just a ton of creativity in the creation of the characters.
And not to gloss over it, but the villains are the same way. The Corrupted Horse is pretty vanilla, but once you jump into other bosses, they each have their own spin. Take the sniper, for example, where you’ll face the boss card multiple times as every time you defeat her, she drops down a few more spots in the deck to harass you over and over.
It’s things like that make the game feel really thematic. Tie that onto the pile of flavor text in the game and you almost get a DnD-like experience for solo or cooperative players. However, don’t let that fool you, as this is definitely not a substitute for dnd. Catharsis is a resource management and dice rolling game through and through. You’ll need both good rolls, shrewd use of your powers, and careful management of your morale if you hope to win.
As much as I’ve been enjoying Catharsis, it’s not without its flaws. The first of which is the package. The box is just so big that it’s pretty unwieldy. The insert (mine which broke during shipment), does nothing to keep the cards in place if stored vertically. But between that and the oversized cards, the game just takes up way more space than it should. This whole product could have easily been condensed down to half its size. I’ve actually thought about tossing the box and just finding a smaller deck box to hold the cards with dividers.
The other issue is with the graphic design. The cards are very busy, and sometimes the fonts are difficult to read. We’ve also had issues picking the dice out on the busy cards. Overall, it could have just used some streamlining here. I will say that the art is really enjoyable, so I get wanting to feature it, but it was at the expense of storage and table space. I should note that after chatting with Cyberwizard Games, they plan on addressing all of these points in a future expansion/reprint.
Finally, let’s talk a bit about the randomness in the game. Sometimes it’s not a big deal, other times it can wreck you. There are times when the dice just won’t cooperate, and some characters are better at mitigating that than others. The other thing is that sometimes, due to how the cards are shuffled, you’ll draw a lot of bad cards in a row, this can really set your play back. Interestingly, there is a boss deck called the Avatar that works differently, more like a choose-your-own-adventure path with set cards. I really liked this format as it pulled a lot of the randomness out of the drawing. I definitely hope to see more of this style in the future.
Overall I really liked Catharsis. The gameplay had bucketloads of variety with every character and boss feeling incredibly unique. For the gameplay, it’s simple to learn, yet requires a good amount of thought in both learning your character’s wrinkles and also how to best manage your morale. Honestly, this was the game I was hoping Dice Throne Adventures would be. My only concern about recommending it is if you are ok with the random luck of dice rolls and the production issues. Other than that, it’s a really well-made game. If you are looking for a fantasy boss fighter with a great theme, easy-to-learn rules, and a host of unique characters, Catharsis is absolutely worth trying out.
Final Score: 4 stars – A wealth of unique characters and thematic text that can have you up and playing in five minutes.
• Oversize box and cards
• A bad luck streak of rolls/draws can sink you