Wednesday 11 March 2015

Review - Claustrophobia: De Profundis


Claustrophobia: De Profundis
Published by Asmodee
Designed by Croc
For 2 players, aged 14 to adult

Tobias staggered through the darkness, his ragged breathing reverberating in the damp confines of the hellish place he knew now would be his tomb. He found a wall, felt its pitted surface with his bleeding fingers, and allowed it to guide him deeper into the winding catacombs. Behind him, the cacophony of wailing troglodytes grew louder.

They had finished feasting.

They were coming for him.

He redoubled his efforts, forcing himself to greater exertion despite the screaming protests of his lungs and the burning muscles in his legs.

There were lights ahead: flickering torches in the blackness.

Tobias let out a strangled laugh, almost breaking down in tears. The only light here was the light they had brought with them.

'Wait,' he screamed, almost choking on the word. 'Wait. I'm here.'

He could see twisted, jittering shadows in the flare of the torches. Shapes that were human, and yet somehow...


He paused.

A hand gripped his shoulder, pulling him into an alcove. He tried to scream, but someone clamped a hand across his mouth.

'Quiet,' a harsh voice commanded.

Tobias relaxed, identifying the voice even as lantern light swelled in the gloom, etching out the hard lines of the Redeemer's grim features.

Slowly, the Redeemer took his hand from Tobias's mouth.

'It's not them, is it?' Tobias muttered.

The Redeemer shook his head solemnly. 'We can't get past them. All we can do now is pray. Here, take my hand. We will pray together.'

'What shall we pray for?'

'We shall pray that we die well. We shall pray we live long enough to avenge our fallen brothers. And we shall pray for angels of mercy to carry us to a better world than this one.'

There was a noise behind them, and both men turned to see a tall, red-haired woman leaning against the wall. She was smeared in blood, marked from countless battles, and with a trio of trog heads hanging from her belt. Her expression was unreadable as she wiped black stains from her sword.

'You could do that,' she said. 'Or you could follow me.'

Tobias's heart began to race. 'Are you an angel?'

The woman hefted her sword, smiling grimly. 'Not even close,' she said.


Claustrophobia game
This is the artwork for next year's International Women's Day, I think.

So, here's the thing... Claustrophobia is one of my all-time favourite games. It's up there in the top three, along with Mage Knight and Tash-Kalar. It really is just a superb product.

When I first bought the game, I mistakenly believed the base game lacked content, and that it needed an expansion. I wrote a review saying as much.

Turns out my review was wrong.

So, years later, I wrote another review, re-evaluating my view of the base game, which actually has more replayability packed into it than many other games of a similar nature. It is far more replayable than Space Hulk, for example.

Claustrophobia may only have six scenarios, and very limited ways to customize your team, but every game is a tense duel between two players. The cards you draw, the dice you roll, the map tiles in play (even the orientation of the map tiles), the tactics you try, the equipment you carry, the demons you face... There are so many variables, and so many ways in which the game can surprise you with its ingenuity.

But of course, just because I realised there was no need for an expansion didn't mean I wouldn't get expansions when they became available.

This is one of my favourite games, after all.

Claustrophobia: De Profundis (which translates into "I don't speak Latin"), is the first of two expansions for Claustrophobia, and it is a very special little box of tricks indeed.

It is also incredibly difficult to review.

You see, De Profundis, doesn't really bring anything new to the table, so all the good things I have to say about it, I have pretty much already said when I reviewed the base game. In fact, the new rules from this expansion fit on a single side of A4 paper.

I guess, if you have a winning formula, you don't want to break it.

Claustrophobia rules
One page of new rules, for 12 new scenarios. It's a good ratio.

What the expansion does bring to the table is a bit more of everything you already like. More equipment, more demons, more map tiles, more event cards, and most importantly of all, 12 new scenarios.

Oh man, the scenarios... They are so good. They follow a storyline, so they are great fun played in sequence; but they also work as solo encounters, so you can dip into the scenario book wherever you fancy, and just see what happens.

And so much good stuff will happen...

But I don't want to tell you about it.

There is a certain joy in reading the scenario setup, and figuring out your tactics, and I don't want to spoil that for you by telling you about that mission where the demon constantly reincarnates but there are troglodytes that... Oh no. Wait.

I wasn't going to tell you that.

Claustrophobia map tiles
I think we're lost...

You see? This is a tricky expansion to review, because part of the fun is encountering all this stuff for yourself.

I can't even tell you about how evil the new event cards are, because I don't want to deny you the absolute joy of drawing one of the new cards from the deck, and realising for the first time how cruel you can be to your opponent.

So you just have to trust me.

You do trust me? Right?

Okay, here's something I can tell you... The expansion includes four new characters. Two Sicaria, which are Valkyrie-style warrior women for the human player, and two hell hounds. Four miniatures may not sound like a lot, but they really do add a lot to the game.

The Sicaria are bad-ass warriors that get customised with special skills at the start of each mission, in the same way a Redeemer gets customised with Redeemer powers. This means that even though you only get two new characters, they play very differently depending on the equipment and skill loadout. They are fascinating additions, and they genuinely give the demon something to worry about, as they can go toe-to-toe with a demon and leave the encounter carrying a brand new hood ornament.

The hell hounds are even more interesting, and not just because they remind me of that cenobite that runs along the walls of narrow corridors in Hellraiser.

Claustrophobia hell hounds
Smile for the camera.

They swell the ranks of the demon horde, and add some interesting new dynamics. Basically, in any scenario from the expansion, the demon player has the option of bringing in up to two hell hounds; however, every turn thereafter, the demon player must allocate one of his dice to each hell hound. The number on the dice indicates the hell hound's stats for the turn (in much the same way as with the human characters). If the demon player doesn't allocate a dice, the hell hound just chases its own tail, or rolls on its back, or starts humping the postman's leg or something.

This is a really interesting wrinkle in the rules for the demon player. The hounds are powerful, and bringing them into play is easy. But having to allocate each one a dice every turn in order for them to be even remotely useful really starts to drain resources, making it difficult to activate special powers, or gather reinforcements.

It's just bloody clever, and introduces exciting new decision points without changing the basic rules of the game at all.

Oh, and by the way, as with the base set, the miniatures are painted. However, I would say the painting is not up to the same standard. My Sicaria are particularly bad, with rogue paint smears on the face and clothing.

Claustrophobia Sicaria
"You are a strong, confident woman."

Unfortunately, the paint is not the only issue I have with this expansion. My other issue is that the integration of new components with old is not quite as seamless as I would like. For example, the new event cards are only supposed to be used in the new scenarios, and should be removed when playing a scenario from the base game. That is pretty annoying, and is made worse as there are no icons on the cards to indicate which ones are from the expansion.

Similarly, new map tiles and equipment cards are supposed to be kept separate when playing the base game.

Finally, Claustrophobia included a points system that allowed players to bid for control of the humans, and then build a force around the bid amount. This concept seems to have been abandoned for the expansion.

But that's all I have to complain about really, which isn't actually a lot.

If you loved Claustrophobia, I think it is safe to say you will love this expansion. It genuinely does what you expect an expansion to do: it gives you more of everything.

You may look at the components and think four miniatures, 10 map tiles, and 52 new cards isn't really a lot for the money. But if you did that, you would be falling into the same trap I fell into with the base game. With just a handful of new components, Croc has dramatically increased the options available to each player, and added plenty of variety.

And no, you don't need this expansion. Claustrophobia isn't less of a game through the absence of the hell hounds or the Sicaria.

But trust me, you do want this expansion.

You really do.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Go on, leave me a comment. You know you want to.