#434 – EXIT: The Catacombs of Horror [Spoiler-Free]

Box

Base price: $25.
1 – 4? players.
Play time: 1.5 – 4 hours.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)
Logged plays: 1 

Full disclosure: A review copy of EXIT: The Catacombs of Horror was provided by KOSMOS.

Well, I’m excited. I had heard about this one a while back when I first started reviewing the EXIT games, and I was like “a two-part EXIT game???”. It was not translated to English, so it was kind of a moot point. But now it is! And it’s a big one! It’s the size of two boxes! I’m excited! Anyways, let’s get straight to it. This is the … 11th? EXIT game that I’ve reviewed? Let’s see how it stacks up.

In EXIT: The Catacombs of Horror, your friend Ben has gone missing and said that if he doesn’t return, you need to come rescue him. How oddly prescient. Unfortunately, all he’s left you are some weird tools, cryptic messages, and, of course, a strange disk. Delve deep below Paris where things are going to get spooky to see if you can rescue your friend. Will you be able to save him from whatever infernal plot he’s gotten wrapped up in? Or will you both end up trapped in the Catacombs?

Contents

Setup

Setup is kind of hard to describe. Like all EXIT games, there’s a disk:

Disc

Seems to have fewer symbols than normal, but not gonna read into that. There are also Answer Cards, Hint Cards, and Riddle Cards. More Answer Cards than usual; also not going to read into that. Separate the Hint Cards into stacks of 3 based on the symbol on the back of the stack, and separate the Answer and Riddle Cards into separate piles. You’ll also find other stuff, like a strange box, some pieces, and a letter. You need the letter, but put everything else back in the box and do not open anything. That might be useful later.

Anyways, once you’ve done that, you’re ready to start! Don’t start the timer yet.

Gameplay

So, EXIT is the same as it’s always been. You’ll start with a Riddle Card, usually one pictured on your starting supplies. That will define a puzzle for you to solve, usually one resulting in a 3-number clue. Enter that clue into the Decoder Disk, and that will show an Answer Card. That Answer Card will ask you to confirm what puzzle you’re trying to solve and direct you to another Answer Card, which will tell you if you’re right or wrong.

As you solve puzzles, you’ll unlock new puzzles and clues that may not be solvable right away. If you’re not sure, you should consult the Hint Cards. They’ll give you help, at the cost of bumping down your final score should you use too many. Out of fairness, though, the game doesn’t count Hint Cards that don’t provide you new information.

Unlike other EXIT games, this one is a long one. There’s a convenient break in the middle where you can stop, regroup, and then resume on another day, or you can do what we did and just power through the whole thing at once. Yeehaw. Just make sure you’re not too hasty; you don’t want to do something that’s difficult to take back, even if it is just a game….

Oh, and don’t burn your house down.

Player Count Differences

This is always really difficult to evaluate, for me, but honestly, I’d probably skip this solo. I love the EXIT Series, but most of my enjoyment of them comes out of cracking some of the tough puzzles with my pals, not sitting alone at home and working them out by myself. If that describes you, go for it! There’s a lot to do, with this one. That said, I think with some of the puzzles that required cutting stuff out (there’s always one in an EXIT game, minimum), it was nice having other players who could grab stuff and examine it so that we weren’t as strapped for time at any given point. Personally, I think it’s strongest at two (generally what I think all the EXIT games do best at), but I think three is also totally fine. At four, I worry there’s not enough for other players to do all the time, so they either have to tag-team a puzzle or they just spend their time idling around waiting for something to do.

Strategy

I generally try to stay away from giving too many pieces of strategy advice for the EXIT games, because I don’t want them to come across as spoilery. To that end, I’ll just offer some basic tips that I try to keep in mind every time I play an EXIT game, which is usually helpful.

  • Again, don’t be too proud to use hints. I think that’s the hardest part about the EXIT games, personally. Since they give you clues piecemeal, you’re not always sure whether or not you can solve the puzzle at hand with the tools you have. The first Hint Card for a puzzle always tells you what pieces you need to solve it, so it never hurts to double-check instead of wasting a bunch of time trying to figure out how A and B fit together when they’re just not supposed to.
  • The fact that the game recommends having a lighter means that I really should tell you to be careful. Just … don’t do anything particularly foolish with it.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • Another EXIT with a narrative! I really, really like these. I think that they make the theme a lot stronger than “you’re locked in a barn”, and it lets us crack jokes about it over the course of the game, so the players are more invested as well. That said, it’s a pretty intense narrative, so if you think your players may not like the idea of a pretty horror-themed EXIT, then, well, why did you get “The Catacombs of Horror”? I’d be a bit more sympathetic if it weren’t explicitly what it says on the box.
  • I don’t think there was a single puzzle I didn’t like in this one. That’s even more impressive given that it’s about 2x the length of a standard EXIT game. It makes me wish I could Eternal Sunshine my brain and go back and play this again fresh, honestly. It was super fun, and now I really want to go and do an escape room. I guess I’ll do one in a couple weeks.
  • The puzzles come at a good pace. I don’t think we spent too much time on any one puzzle, but we do go after the hints once we start to feel stuck. I just really like the way this whole set was laid out.
  • The challenge increases gradually. I felt like the beginning puzzles were pretty straightforward and the final puzzles were pretty challenging, and this is one of the few EXIT games that I feel like really nailed that progression. It doesn’t mean the others are bad; it just means that this one was really awesome, for me. Huge fan of it.
  • So many things got used! It’s just got a lot going on in it. There’s tons of components, tons of cards, and you really feel accomplished at the end of it. I really liked how it all turned out.
  • Some of the pieces are really cool. There are three in particular that my friend really liked, so she got to keep them once we finished up. They’re very endearing, and they’re a great souvenir! I think one of the other EXITs really got that part down, too. One of the best things you can give players at the end of a single-use game is some kind of souvenir so that they can remember the experience once it’s done.

Mehs

  • I think there’s a translation / print error in the rulebook. It initially says that you need the book, but it’s supposed to be a letter, which threw us off for a bit. I wouldn’t normally complain too much, but I’d like for the setup instructions to be pretty much perfect.
  • Some of the cuts are … rather precise for no real reason. They ask you to make a bunch of tiny movements to cut something out, and then it ends up not mattering all that much. We lost a fair bit of time due to my type-A love of precision, which was a bit frustrating for the team.

Cons

  • Open flames tend to limit your location options for playing. Don’t tell anyone, but we played in a conference room at work and everything seemed to go okay. Just keep that in mind. I don’t really consider this a spoiler as much as it is a piece of good advice.

Overall: 10 / 10

Welp, I’m probably going to regret this rating, but, I think this is the best EXIT game. I don’t have a ton more to say than that, but I should at least try to justify it so that when one inevitably comes along that’s better than this one I can sufficiently eat crow for being so presumptuous. It has literally no puzzles I dislike. I liked all of them, and it’s two EXITs smashed together, basically. That’s some incredible puzzle design, in my opinion. There are a few groaners, but I really respect those because they’re clever in a way that makes me feel just a bit dumb. It’s another narrative EXIT, which I truly adore. It even comes with cool souvenirs for once you’re done? That’s another strong move. My literal only complaints are nitpicks, and that the theme isn’t my favorite of the EXIT themes (that still probably goes to Dead Man on the Orient Express), but it’s still a really good one! Given that this was one of the later releases, I’m stoked as hell (pun intended, I guess) for the rest of the upcoming EXIT games, and I can’t wait to see what they’ve got in store for us next. If you’re a fan of the EXIT series, at all, I think this one’s the best one I’ve played, hands down, and I’d overwhelmingly recommend that you check it out!

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