Spelunking and Survival: A Preview of Sub Terra

Sub Terra

Race against time as your flashlights slowly give out and the horrors crowd in, in this cooperative survival horror board game currently on Kickstarter.

Gameplay

Each player choses a character with special abilities and then places their meeple on the starting tile. During a round, each player takes their turn. On your turn you have two action points. Some actions take one point while others require both of them. You can reveal a portion of the cave, which means drawing a tile from the tile stack and placing it down on an open space adjacent to the tile you are currently on. Tiles must connect through cave openings in order to be legally placed. You can also move one tile. Or, you can explore, which means you reveal a tile and then automatically move onto it. This can be a gamble, as some tiles are dangerous to end your turn on.

Some tiles you draw will have no special features, but some will be marked with horror symbols, gas leak symbols, flooding symbols, or similar dangers. These effects can trigger during the Hazard phase, which makes ending your turn on one of them a gamble.

You can also spend your action points to heal yourself or another player, lay down ropes to climb up ledges, swim through flooded tiles, clear rubble, and so on. You can also choose to exert yourself, which gains you an extra action point to spend, but means that at the end of your turn you have to roll the die. If you roll three or lower, you lose a health point.

Sub Terra art

After every player has taken a turn, you move onto the horror phase. Horrors are monsters which infest the cave and move one space towards the nearest player when they move. During the third phase, you draw a hazard card. A hazard card can cause things such as cave-ins, more horrors to appear, or tiles to flood. If you’re on a tile in which one of these events trigger, you lose health. The horrors fittingly cause the most damage.

If a player runs out of health, he is knocked unconscious, and someone else has to come heal him before he can take any further actions.

The players’ goal is to find the cave exit which is mixed in with the bottom six tiles of the tile stack, and get as many characters to the exit as possible. If more than three are left behind, you lose the game.

There is also a limited number of hazard cards, and the last one you draw is Out of Time. When this happens, the explorers’ flashlights are considered out of batteries. During all future rounds, each player has to roll a four or higher, or be dragged into the darkness by the horrors forever.

Sub Terra components

Review

Sub Terra is hard. You’re not going to win the first time you play it. You probably won’t win the second time, either. It’s the type of cooperative game where there’s just enough luck and a lot of strategy that it’s going to take you several tries to start figuring out how to survive. In fact, a lot of the strategy involves figuring out when and where to press-your-luck.

There’s a lot of atmosphere to the game as well. It calls itself a survival horror board game, and you can see it: from the presence of the horrors and the dread when you draw one of the horror tiles, to your reluctance to hang around them. The cave tiles are dark and gloomy and you do feel pressed for time as you race against the ever diminishing hazard deck. In fact, Sub Terra feels like the perfect game to play with a soundtrack on in the background to help set the mood.

Some of the tiles were a bit dark in the prototype, and we occasionally had to look pretty closely to check if we’d drawn a dead-end or not. This was especially true for the cave-in tiles — hopefully the tiles will be improved in the final version. And while the game is for 1 to 6 players, if you are playing with any less than four, each player has to take on the role of at least two cavers.

The characters all seemed well balanced and all the abilities were fun ones to have. This is a co-op game that really does emphasis cooperation. While players can be left behind at the end and the team still wins, you really have to work together in order to achieve that victory. You have to discuss plans, figure out how far you want to explore away from each other, and come help each other out when you fall unconscious.

If you enjoy games like Pandemic or Forbidden Desert, you should definitely check out Sub Terra on Kickstarter.

Pros: Great atmosphere, tough decisions, strong cooperative experience

Cons: Some of the tiles are hard to see, if there are less than four players you have to play two characters 

Disclosure: this preview is based on our evaluation of an unpublished prototype of the game, which is subject to change prior to publication. While a modest payment was received to expedite the review process, our thoughts and opinions expressed here are honest and accurate.