Exploring the World of Tomb

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Tomb is a dungeon crawl game in which players act as captains of adventuring parties. The competing players recruit heroes from an Inn, send them into a Tomb, then loot the Crypts found there, as well as do battle with any Monsters or Traps thrown at them along the way. If you’ve ever played the old TSR Dungeon! game, you will right at home with Tomb.

The game starts with the players choosing a Tomb map.  The game offers one on each side, the first being simple and straightforward, and the second being far more complex.  While the first is fine for introductory play, players will want to jump to the second one as soon as possible, as each Crypt has special rules and there are a variety of interesting terrain features.  Once the board has been selected the Tomb is setup.  Players shuffle the massive Tomb deck, and each player is dealt three cards.  They take turns secretly looking at their cards (Traps, Monsters, and Treasure) and laying cards in each Crypt until every one is full.  Crypts can hold anywhere from one to five cards, and remembering what you put where is very beneficial.  I should reiterate that the Tomb deck is huge, and players will only set up maybe a fifth of the cards in it.  The rest are set aside and almost never touched for the rest of the game.  This means players will only ever encounter a small portion of the total cards in the game – something that offers an incredible amount of replay value.

When the board is set up, the game begins.  For the first round each player draws heroes out of a bag (eighty-four heroes in all), chooses one, then sets the others in the Inn.  From here players can decide to recruit more heroes or jump right into the Tomb.  This is a major decision point in the game, as there is a great benefit to having lots of heroes in your party (max of five), but there is just as much to being the first person to reach the small Crypts.  Some players will throw big Treasures in the small Crypts, and try to snatch it up before anyone else, and players like myself will throw the nastiest stuff they can find in those Crypts, then take more time to recruit while everyone else is dying.

Players can return their parties to the Inn throughout the game, and fully heal each of their characters.  Heroes will die on a constant basis and players can recruit more here.  In addition the Inn can be used to get more Prayer, Spell, Item, and Tactics cards which will make their heroes more effective.  But each turn in the Inn, is a turn not spent earning points to win.

Play in the Tomb primarily consists of parties racing to the various Crypts and trying to clean them out.  The winner of the game is the party with the most XP, and XP is gained by disarming Traps, killing Monsters, and ‘banking’ Treasure.  Parties have little direct interaction with each other (aside from pick pocketing attempts), but the players will have many opportunities to screw each other over.  When a party Raids a Crypt, the Crypt will direct either the person to the Raiding player’s left or right to act as Crypt Master.  The Crypt Master picks up the cards in the Crypt and does his best to put as much hurt on the Raiding party as possible.  Traps are played first, one at a time.  The Raiding player will be told what is involved to disarm the Trap, but not the target score needed.  The Raiding player decides who will do it and rolls some dice.  If successful, the Raiding player keeps the Trap card for its XP value, or otherwise suffers its ill effects.  After the Traps come the Monsters who are all played at once.  Crypt Master and player take turns having one character attack another until all of one side is dead, or the heroes decide to flee.  Combat is vicious.  Players looking for a RPG-style game where they can dote lovingly on their heroes need not look at Tomb.  Players go through heroes like they are disposable diapers, and it is fully possible for a single Trap or Monster to wipe out an entire party.  S’okay though, because that is how it is supposed to work. Assuming your party defeats any Monsters they find in a Crypt, they keep the Monster cards for their XP value, and they then get the Treasure.  Like Traps and Monsters, Treasure cards have XP values.  Players can ‘bank’ Treasure cards to lose the card, but permanently gain the XP, or they can attach the cards to their heroes.  It can be a tough call sometimes – Treasures can really beef up your heroes, but it’s the player with the highest XP who wins the game.

Tomb comes with a mess of d10s that come in green, blue, and red, and instead of numbers have battleaxes on their faces which represent successes when rolled.  Green dice are the worst, only having three successes, blues have five, and reds offer a hefty seven.  These dice are used for everything, and increasing your die quality, or adding to the number of dice rolls (obviously) increases your chances for success.  Each hero has four stats which show how many dice of each color they roll for different things.  Combat is used in fights, Skill is mostly using in thieving and disarm attempts, Magic can be used to cast spells or defend against magic attacks, and Holiness helps with using prayers and healing.

In addition to acting as Crypt Master, players can screw with each other by using various unique Treasures and casting spells.  They can strike heroes dead, steal Treasures and other things, force players to trade heroes with them, and many other things.  So while parties may not interact with each other in head-to-head combat, there is still all manner of things the players can do.  Acting as Crypt Master is also nice, because not only do you get to attack your opponents, but you also get to peek at a Crypt’s contents, letting you decide if you want to enter it if the other player fails.  Acting as Crypt Master also helps alleviate issues with downtime.

Overall, I find Tomb to be a very fun game, with a tremendous amount of variety.  Near as I can tell each of the hundreds of trap, monster, and treasure cards you get in this game are unique, a factor that further adds to this game’s replay value.  The rules are not complex (the main rules only being about five or six pages) and are easy to jump right into.  If you are looking for a simple but fun dungeon game, this is a great choice.  There is also a ton of potential here for expansions and additional fan-made material.  It is only a matter of time before fan-made maps and heroes pop up on the internet, as well as custom variants to the rules.

I do have a few gripes though.  The party markers suck, being all the same picture with a slight color change to differentiate them.  It seems odd in such a well-made game, and makes playing in dim lighting (like the bar I played in during my first session) a pain in the ass.  There are solo and campaign rules included, but they are more of an afterthought and add little to the game.  I tried playing the solo variant and it felt silly, making me aware of how many mechanics (such as movement) only make sense when you having competing players rushing around the Tomb.  The campaign rules are rather dumb.  Players don’t get to keep their heroes or treasure, but rather their XP value.  Based on their total XP already earned, they gain trivial little bonuses that don’t do anything to make players feel like they are ‘leveling up’.  I appreciate what the designer was trying to do here, but neither set of rules are very worthwhile.  There are also errors on the second ‘challenging’ game board.  These are small errors like calling Inn cards Bar cards, or Item cards Blacksmith cards, but anyone who isn’t an idiot won’t think twice about them.  Also it would have made more sense to have the Crypt Master always be the person to the Raiding player’s left, or always to their right.  I played a game with five players, and through random luck only got to be the Crypt Master once.  I doubt it happens often, but it meant I had more downtime then anyone else in a rather large game.  It wasn’t a big deal, but makes me think slightly smaller-sized games (3-4 players) are best.  These criticisms should all be taken lightly.

Some players of dungeon games are seeking that Holy Grail – the dungeon game that makes them feel like they played D&D without having to actually play D&D.  Tomb doesn’t really do that.  Like I mentioned before, heroes (and to be fair, the monsters too) are paper thin.  There’s a reason you get so many heroes in the game, so don’t grow attached to them or think you’ll watch them blossom into mighty warriors.  Chances are they’ll blossom into heaps of entrails.  Also, there is a strong memory-game element to Tomb.  While this element helps with the strategy and party-to-party competition in the game, those looking for a sense of exploring the unknown will feel let down here.  This isn’t a criticism – I like Tomb fine the way it is.  But I know the Grail-seekers will come calling, so I’m issuing fair warning now.

Tomb is a lot of light-hearted dungeon mayhem.  Go play it sucker.

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