Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/07/12/tabletop-review-creatures-caverns-second-edition/
Creatures and Caverns is one of those things I picked up on a lark. I guess I just really liked the idea of one Peter Schweighofer refining and publishing the rules to a game he made as a little kid based completely on watching people play Dungeons & Dragons. I loved making up my own games as a kid and doing two different Transformers: Generation One RPGs (One with the Storyteller system and one with just a d10 and Tech Specs) is actually what got my foot in the door with WoTC, White Wolf, and Eden Studios. So I have a soft spot for games made as a kid and then refined.
Creatures & Caverns is only twenty-six pages long, but it’s extremely well done. It ends up being more a board game, miniatures, and pen and paper RPG crossbreed. It’s not quite similar to the old Dungon! game but I could definitely see comparisons to Dragon Strike or HeroQuest. Heck, even the old G.I. Joe board game from Hasbro where you could use the old figures instead of the pieces that came with the game is a decent comparison to this.
What I really like about Creatures & Caverns is that it’s exceptionally easy to play, making it a great gateway game for small children. You only need six sided dice and there are two character classes: knights and wizards. This means kids don’t have to contemplate min/maxing characters, races, skills, feats, and the rest. They can use swords, or they can use sorcery. Starting stats are set, but as the game goes on, you can customize your character by giving them more Hit Points, more spells, extra damage, or the ability to fend off attacks within a high roll range. Again, it’s pretty simple by most RPG standards, but for people just learning the basics of tabletop gaming, this is very easy to learn and still make the character into your own. One of the interesting things is that instead of spending experience points to improve your character, you spend either gold or Hit Points. More damage or defense in exchange for less health? This creates an interesting conundrum. Personally I’d get rid of gold before Hit Points, but it’s nice that there are two options for boosting a character’s abilities.
Gameplay is pretty simple. Someone designs a map on paper or uses one that already exists. Characters are marked with anything from miniatures to bits of paper (based on the scale of the map) and the entire experience is a pure hack and slash dungeon crawl. This is definitely more roll-playing than role-playing, which is fine as this is more a board game than anything else. Everything is turned based, with each player facing what each room has to offer in its entirety. Once that is done, win or lose, the next player gets their turn. At first glance, people used to playing pure tabletop RPGs might think, “Wow, that means there can be a long time between turns, especially with multiple people playing,” but in fact, things go pretty quickly. There’s not a lot of resource management or real tactical planning involved with Creatures & Caverns. It’s just dice rolling. Again, look at a board game like Dungeon!. It was the core of old school D&D turned into a 2d6 board game. Things work very similar here.
Combat is pretty simple. Each player or monster has a spread that allows them to hit. Starting characters hit on a roll of five or six for example. The defender can then roll to see if they parry. If successful, damage is reduced. Damage comes from armour first and once the armour’s Hit Points are gone, it begins to be taken directly from the character. Once at 0 Hit Points, the PC is dead. If the monster is killed, the PC gets to add the creature’s experience score to his or her hit point total. So if a PC is at 10 Hit Points and the XP score for a Large Dragon is 50, the PC’s Hit Points rises to 60. There is no Maximum Hit Point level either. Both adventures are simple but fun and remind me of some very early D&D adventures, where the emphasis was on killing and looting over storytelling.
The game comes with stats for thirteen different monsters and rules on how to design your own. It also gives a list of traps, treasures, and magical items. The book ends with two adventures, along with their game maps. The first adventure is meant to be a short introductory experience while the second is a lot longer. Both adventures give a comprehensive description of what is in each room, making them easily played by even the most inexperienced DM. Again, C&C2e is probably best left to newcomers or people using it to teach their kids and/or friends how to play a role-playing game. Gamers used to systems like GURPS or RIFTS might poo-poo the game for its simplicity while other gamers will probably embrace it for the same reason.
All in all, Creatures & Caverns is a wonderfully done, simply little boardgame/RPG mash-up that I think kids of ANY age could have a lot of fun with. It’s all the more impressive when you consider that the game is completely free of charge. So you might as well download a copy of this. At worst you got a free twenty-six page game you’ll never actually play. At best you’ll find something that you really enjoy playing with your kids or with people new to tabletop gaming. Either way, you’re sure to get your money’s worth.