Review: Sub Terra

THE PREMISE OF SUB TERRA

Can you survive the caves?

Sub Terra is a co-op exploration game designed by ITB, in which you (and your friends, if you don’t want to play one player) take on the roles of cavers who have spelunked into the wrong hole. Your job, as a crack team of caving experts, is to escape from the cave in one piece.

In Sub Terra, each player takes on the role of a specific person, each with their own unique abilities. These come in handy, as you need to work as a team to explore the caves as quickly as possible. Along the way you will encounter tremors, gas attacks, floods, cave ins, and monsters, each affecting the team in their own way, and each with horrible results.

The Geologist

In each turn, each player can have two actions. Some things only require one action (moving for instance), however occasionally you will come across things that require two. Clearing a cave in is one of those things, reviving a team mate is another. Other options include revealing another part of the cave, swimming, placing a rope, and running. Some require a skill check to do (4 or more on a D6) else you fail and lose a health. With most characters only having 3 to begin with, they need to be preserved as any damage can later prove fatal!

Each character is incredibly mortal. It is possible to die within three turns of the game, although unlikely.

Every turn is split into three components. Firstly, everyone has an action turn. Who goes first varies per round. Secondly, an event (“hazard”) happens. This is like turning over the city cards in Pandemic to see where the next event will hit. Finally, monsters (“horrors”) move towards the nearest player. They ignore all obstacles, but move one space per turn regardless.

You can get rid of monsters by moving seven spaces away, or by setting “The Bodyguard” on them. The Bodyguard is one of the many characters, whose ability is to remove monsters from the game.

Once all the event cards have been turned over, you enter a “Lights Out” phase where the characters need to complete a skill check every turn (no matter the terrain they are in) to see if they get snatched by the monsters in the dark or survive the turn. In other words, if they fail they instantly die.

When exploring the cave, there are various different things you can come across. Some of these are spaces for the event (or “horror”) cards to take effect. For instance, when a cave in happens you role a die. If it is a four, for instance, you place a cave in token on any cave in space with a four on it. Others are more subtle, like tight gaps and slopes/ledges, that need to be traversed.

To find the exit you have to work your way through a series of tiles, and all you know is the exit is in the last five. That means all games should, in theory, last roughly the same amount of time should the players survive. It’s a great system, that takes some of the randomness away from exploration. You don’t know what you’ll encounter along the way, but you know roughly when you are about to encounter the exit.

At the end you are graded on how many players you got out alive. A full house being the best win, followed by by losing one for silver, and losing two for bronze. This can still present a massive challenge, especially with 6 players.

QUALITY AND COMPONENTS OF SUB TERRA

Originally I was actually very pleasantly surprised. Sub Terra is a great looking and fantastically made game. All components are cardboard (bar a few tokens) and they look and feel amazing. There is even a small holder for the tiles to ensure they are all kept neat. It’s a bit fiddly to put together, especially for those of us with pudgy hands, but once it is up then it looks fantastic.

The moment we knew it was over.

The different events are marked with plastic tokens each turn, as seen above by the Cave In token on the right hand side of the board. The monsters are represented by purple tokens that do nicely for the role. They leave the image of the monsters up to the imagination, and that is really neat. It allows for you to try and picture the beasties in the dark.

GAMEPLAY OF SUB TERRA

We have had a lot of fun playing Sub Terra, and yet we haven’t won to date. It is a phenomenally difficult game and one where everyone really has to be on the same page to survive. We were not. Once the monsters come out, once the rock falls start to happen, everything can go wrong quite quickly.

We found that teamwork was key to the game. Now, looking back it is easy to spot a few things we want to try in the next game, or a few ideas in regards to getting out of the darkness and exploring the cave as quickly as possible. We are already formulating plans for the next game.

Cave ins are allocated by chance (the roll of a dice) and there really is a feeling of relief that comes when it doesn’t happen on the space you are in. Or when gas fills an area but you moved last turn. The same with floods. Monsters, on the other hand, are evil. It is possible to get away from them; however, if not quick enough it is possible to get caught up in one disaster after another. It adds a real sense of urgency to the game, and that is something that is missing from so many horror themed games these days.

Generally speaking, Sub Terra is a superb horror game because it understands what makes good horror. Where it is possible to heal, it takes a long time in a game where timing is important. It is possible to heal a teammate to full health, but unless you’re the medic this will seriously slow you down and limit your chances of escape. In Sub Terra you are vulnerable and that makes you question your every move. Every roll is like a roll for your own humanity and your own life. It is this that keeps us coming back to the game, time and time again, even though we keep losing. That, in a way, says more than anything else ever could.

VERDICT FOR SUB TERRA

Sub Terra is a very fun game. It is something that is incredibly replayable due to the exploration aspect, and versatile enough that it is fun with just about any number of players between 1 and 6. We would highly recommend.

 

5 thoughts on “Review: Sub Terra

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  1. Have you ever played The Cave? It’s also a spelunking themed game but instead of being co-op horror everyone is trying to e the best photographer. Not necessarily the best game out there but still fun and thought provoking.

    Like

  2. A really thorough review of a game I Really, really enjoy. I’m very excited to try some of the expansions and hope to gain a slight advantage.
    Sub Terra is now in my gateway game list, and tops classics like pandemic and Catan when introducing new players to hobby games. Glad to hear you are likewise a fan!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the complement, and I know exactly what you mean. It took us three games before we worked out splitting up was the best move. It’s such a different game and it actually works well at building the dread you would feel in claustrophobic caves. Very well done to the team who designed it!

      Like

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