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How To Win In Sub Terra

Sub Terra is a really difficult game. I mean, Sub Terra is a really really difficult game. The caving horror masterpiece, created by ITB, is a cooperative adventure. It’s an exploration into the depths of luck, light, and regretting turning left when you should have turned right at the last crossroads. There are so many ways to die, that rumour has it Oxford University has added a synonym to death called “To be Sub Terra-ed”.

Yes, Sub Terra is hard – but not for the reason you would think. The plot sets you as cavers who have decided to go spelunking into the world’s worst hole. The goal of the game is to find a way out. In order to get out, you need to explore between 59 and 64 cave tiles in order to find the exit – and this is where it gets difficult.

You see, Sub Terra has a few ways to keep you on track. The first is that after each player has had their turn, a card is turned from the hazard deck. These make bad things happen within the game – from gas attacks, to monsters, to floods, to tremors, and, of course, cave-ins. All of these can hurt, slow you down, and even knock you unconscious. Not all players are expected to make it out of the cave alive, and that is one of the amazing things about the game. Sub Terra is a natural horror game that genuinely inspires woe and trepidation.

We have lost playing Sub Terra so many times, and yet only won a couple. In order to win you need to do everything that feels unnatural in a horror game (heck, it’s everything you shouldn’t do in a horror film as well), and this is where this article comes in. This is my advice in what I call the Sub Terra Firework Strategy.

This is my advice for surviving the hellfire that is Sub Terra.

How To Survive Sub Terra: The Firework Strategy

The Firework Strategy: I call this the Firework Strategy for two reasons. Firstly, fireworks move fast. They are a short, sharp spark, followed by a large bang. This is essentially the model for this strategy, with quick thinking and moving to match at its heart.

The second reason is because fireworks burst. This needs to be reflected in the game. All those times people have split up in horror movies, and you have screamed at the screen shouting: “what are you doing?”

Well, guess what? Yep. You’re going to be doing just that. In order to survive the rules are simple. You need to explore as much space as fast as possible. The logic is sound. With four players, being able to explore an average of one tile each per turn, will result in around 16 turns each. This will eat through 16 hazard cards, which is brutal, but still possible to win on Expert mode. If you slow down and only explore two tiles every three turns (or play it safe) then you may as well be dead.

Moving also helps keep you away from horrors, but more on this in a bit.

That Moment

The moment we knew it was over.

Pick Decent Roles: There is a concept within Sub Terra that all of the roles are created evenly. Where this can be true, to some extent, there are others where, if played correctly, they shine brighter than all the others.

One of my favourite roles to play is The Diver. The Diver has a fantastic ability in Sub Terra where he is armed with a double-edged sword (that’s a rubbish metaphor – let’s go with a duel lightsaber). He has the ability to move through floods, as well as, and this is where he gets really neat, diving. To dive he disappears under a flood, comes off the map, before reappearing at any other flood. It’s an amazing ability, since floods never go away, and is a superb way of running around the map with ease.

Other great characters to play include The Geologist, who can remove rubble; Bodyguard, who can remove horrors; and The Scout, who has the ability to tweak tiles as they are about to be exposed. All of these are abilities that affect movement, which is key to the game.

To keep moving, and this is again where we must defy nature, it makes sense not to take The Medic.

“Say what?” you say, “what do you mean?”

Well, it sucks, but one of the ways to survive longest in Sub Terra is just to keep exploring. Forget about healing using the medic and just heal as you need to by resting. Why? Well, healing with the medic takes two characters, not just one, away from the action of exploring the cave. It pays off not to take the healer. This is possibly one of the only games you will hear that as a strategy.

If You See A Horror – Run: Next in the “blindingly obvious advice” section is the strategy for when a horror comes up – run. If possible run as hard and as fast as possible in the opposite direction, exert if needs be, but get the hell out of Dodge.

There are two reasons for this. The first is that horrors disappear once you are far enough away from them. This is priority number one as, as mentioned before, if you don’t take the medic then you are kind of vulnerable.

Secondly, this is also a chance to explore. You can use this as a reason to just keep pushing on, and so it allows you to focus on turning tiles over.

Use Reveal, and Explore Cautiously (Note the Comma): It is often easy to get caught up in always exploring (revealing and moving) in Sub Terra, when sometimes revealing is a better option. You just need cards down to move through the deck, so sometimes it is beneficial (especially if you are due a dead end) to reveal without exploring. Sometimes exploring is genuinely the best option, but it is worth thinking about.

Think: Okay, last bit of advice (for now) but think. Sub Terra is an unforgiving game that can play out like a wet oboe in a percussion orchestra if not treated with the respect it deserves. It is so easy to die, so easy to lose, that the game needs to be thought through.

Horrors kill you outright. Gas does crippling damage. Cave-ins remove three health. When most characters only have three health, that’s pretty devastating.

You need to think about Sub Terra. Keep an eye on what cards come out, hope for the best but always plan for the worst.

You see, Sub Terra is not just a game – but a brutal metaphor for life. Horrors will come. You will sometimes feel like the world is falling in on you. Sometimes you won’t be able to breathe…

…but if you keep your head, if you keep control, if you have the right people around you then you will come out alright in the end.

So there we go – some Sub Terra and life advice. All in one blog. What more could you want?

SIMILAR ARTICLE: Review: Sub Terra

SIMILAR ARTICLE: A Beginner’s Guide to the Cthulhu Mythos



  1. My friend backed this on Kickstarter and is really looking forward to receiving it. I am looking forward to playing it, and I think I will share this article with them so we have a chance of winning. Thanks for sharing

    Liked by 1 person

    • We got it at the UKGE after seeing it played there. Now it’s one of our go-to games. I’m yet to play solo yet but I bet it has a different strategy altogether. I’m glad you like the article 🙂 thanks for the comment.

      Liked by 1 person

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