Plumbing the Depths: A Catacombs of Karak Review

by Corey Whelen
13 May 2019
2-5 Players, 45 Minute Play Time, Medium Complexity, Medium Strategy, Ages 7+
Will you be a powerful wizard, seeking an ancient artifact with the power to end the world? A skilled swordsman searching for a fabled ruby to win the heart of his true love? Or a clever thief with a troubled past, a penchant for gold, and a thirst for vengeance?
Catacombs of Karak is an adventure in a box, complete with all the genre-specific trappings you’d expect- brave heroes, horrible monsters, magic spells, labyrinthine dungeons, and of course, that sweet, sweet loot.
The game itself is deceptively simple. Wander the dungeon, kill the monsters, collect better gear, and be the player with the most treasure at the end of the game. Just like real life, right? Kind of? Okay, not really, but you can’t slay dragons in real life either, so Karak definitely has the edge here. It also has gorgeous pieces, thick cardboard, two-sided character tokens, and sturdy, layered player mats that will keep your pieces in the right place, even through the odd unfortunate table-quake!

The art! The art is so, so beautiful. I love those dorky cartoon skeletons.

The big decisions start almost immediately in Catacombs of Karak. With 7 unique characters to choose from- each with their own unique abilities, enthralling art, and detailed backstory to explain why they’ve sought out the fabled dungeon underneath Karak Castle. A Warlock, an Oracle, and a Warrior Princess walk into a castle- it’s not a joke, these characters are dripping with personality (and well thought-out backstories) and it gives players new opportunities to explore the catacombs with a fresh outlook on dungeon-life!

The brave and noble heroes of Karak are never afraid of being outnumbered!

Speaking of fresh, Catacombs of Karak’s greatest strength might be the titular setting. You draw and place tiles as you explore outwards from the Catacomb’s entrance. You build it as you go, and this brilliant little mechanic means the gameboard changes every single time you play, and that no two games of Karak will ever be the same. Additionally, monsters and treasures are drawn from a beautiful canvas bag, meaning you never know what horrible monster or fabulous treasure lurks around the next corner
After that, the game settles down into a steady rhythm of fighting monsters, finding new weapons, equipment, and treasure, and beefing up your character until they’re mighty enough to handle Karak’s ultimate threat- the insidious slithering serpent, the red dragon who is rumoured to be corrupting the castle and the lands around it. A mighty foe for a mighty warrior!

Seems like the Wizard’s adventure is going well! He has a few spell scrolls tucked up his baggy sleeve…

So, strap on your shield and sharpen your sword, Catacombs of Karak serves as a phenomenal introduction to the world of RPGs, it’s perfect for kids looking to get into the genre, and great for adults who appreciate some good ol’ fashioned sword and sorcery.