Board Game Review

Maybe One Man Left Behind (Sub Terra)

Sub Terra was a kickstarter special for me. A while back when I first learned of Kickstarter I was a huge sceptic as to the quality of some of the campaigns, however it didn’t take long for me to immediately start backing everything that looked remotely playable! But Sub Terra is one that I actually looked at in depth and umm’d and ahh’d about, but inevitably I backed it with all available expansions.. And oh boy am I glad I did!

A quick run down of Sub Terra…

  • The premise is that you and your fellow ‘cavers’ have fallen into a crevice whilst exploring a cave and now need to find an escape before time runs out.
  • Players take on the roles of specialists who have been trapped, but all have special abilities that will help them escape.
  • Each player takes their turn and can take 2 actions; draw cave tiles to expand the map, move around the visible map, reveal and move to the next drawn tile, or heal themselves or revive another player for both actions.
  • The revealed tiles can include obstacles for cavers to overcome which require skill rolls, hazards which will hurt them, dead ends to hinder them, or horror spots.
  • After all players have taken their actions, a hazard card is turned over to show what the next hazard is for that turn, all of which can hurt your caver and even KO them.
  • Whilst you are trying to find an escape, mysterious and dangerous horrors chase you throughout the cave relentlessly.
  • Once all hazard cards have been used, time is up, meaning every player must make a skill roll to prevent instant death by horror.

Sub Terra is one of those games where, once you know what you are doing, everyone goes rogue. The game is supposed to be fully cooperative, but aiding other players is usually a matter of convenience than a necessity. When you can all split up, you will, and you’ll immediately try to burn through the cave tiles as quickly as possible in the hopes that you are the one to find the exit.. But that’s not how it usually works. You’ll have 64 cave tiles to get through, with the exit being in the last 5. Meaning you have at least 59 tiles full of water, toxic gas, dead ends, sudden drops and unstable ground. And that’s without the hazard at the end of each turn! The game is not impossible to beat, by no measure, but to win it requires a lot of tactical cooperation, great dice rolls and luck! The issue with sticking together and being a unit is that you won’t burn through the tiles quick enough before you’re out of time.. and splitting up means you risk falling victim to one of the many hazards of the cave, becoming incapacitated and requiring an ally to spend time finding you and helping you up. There is no perfect method, nor is there any guaranteed path to failure, which is probably why it appeals so much to me!

One of the main reasons I adore this game is because I’ve never started any game the same way. Sometimes we’ll split into two teams, sometimes we’ll reveal cautiously and move when it’s guaranteed safe, other times we’ll place tiles based on visually aesthetics trying to make it match perfectly. I remember when we played the game as a quartet, playing as the medic, demolitionist, diver and leader. The game played out in a normal fashion; we split up, made good ground and managed to avoid horror holes and water as much as possible. Then it went wrong. We’d been blindly burning tiles and making ground in random directions, when we realised that we were pretty far away from one another. We’d been lucky enough to avoid most the deadly hazards and whatnot, but weren’t willing to take any risks.. We decided we’d all start heading back towards the medic to guarantee our survival. Now the most number of tiles you can move in your turn is 3, and with a maze of 30 odd tiles we knew it wouldn’t be a quick job to meet again through the cave, but we had little choice if we wanted to finally be a team. Now the aimless journey of burning tiles was pretty tame and well organised, but the game was about to turn on us.

With all our players within 7 tile spaces of a horror pit, we were at risk. Horrors move slowly, are removed if they’re more than 7 tiles away, and are absolutely terrifying! Knowing you’re in a single file tunnel that may come to a dead end is scary, but having something slowly come for you shows you how helpless you are.. Trying to play it smart, we tried to meet along the journey but got some bad hazard cards and would take 2 damaged were we to enter the gas ahead of us, but as we were playing with all the available expansions the hazard lasted 2 turns.. and the next card was a horror, right next to us! If a horror shares a tile with a player, they go unconscious, and three of us were on it! We argued, shouted, panicked and pleaded, but nothing could help. On the next turn we were gonners! The medic was now the hero of our game. One character was being lead by 4 voices, one rational and the other three panicked and frustrated. It took some convincing but they agreed to come back, spend three turns saving us, and risk the game. After a few nervy turns and risky skill checks, they’d saved the three of us. We took a moment to celebrate and recognise how amazing the medic was and how well we’d all done, knowing full well it was a one man effort! We screwed our heads on right, made a battle plan, found the closest opening to continue hunting for the exit, and then ran out of time. We’d not tracked the hazard cards at all, too wrapped up in the fear of not being a part of the winning team!

When you’re out of time, you must do a skill check of 4+ at the end of every turn, and no one’s luck lasts forever. I managed 2 turns before I was over run by horrors, the diver and my partner as the leader lasted 3 turns, whereas the man of the moment, the medic, didn’t even last one. We’d lost with 8 tiles to go.. Had the medic abandoned us, he’d have escaped.. Would it have mattered? Not really! You need to have at least 2 people escape to win. But that didn’t help the atmosphere. Cooperation is optional for a reason.

Pros

  1. Every character’s ability is unique and works for a purpose.
  2. The level of tactics you can employ into the game is awesome. Not only can you distract horrors with being closest, cavers have a threat level which settles ties in distance.
  3. The cave tiles fit together beautifully and works excellently.
  4. Every game is different.
  5. You can adjust the difficulty if necessary
  6. The win condition means you will need to communicate and work together.

Cons

  1. A few bad rolls and you can be out for a long time.
  2. Being abandoned by your allies means that you can spend most the game missing your turn.
  3. The hazards are very mixed in danger levels and can sometimes be completely avoided.
  4. Having difficulty changes is fine, but it doesn’t seem worthwhile unless you can work as a unit.