Game Name: Tomb – Cryptmaster
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG)
Designer: Brent Keith
Artists: Nate Barnes, Thomas Denmark, Carl Frank, Michael Komarck, Rodney Saenz, and Franz Vohwinkel
Genre: Dice chucking, dungeon delving game
Players: One to six players
Playing time: 60 minutes
Let’s get the biggest sticking point of the game out there, right up front!
Tomb: Cryptmaster has possibly the worst rulebook I’ve ever encountered from any AEG game I’ve owned. I’ll put it simply: It’s terrible! The layout of the instruction manual makes absolutely no sense from a chronological, logical, or functional standpoint. Worse yet, the manual doesn’t even scratch the surface of addressing the dozens upon dozens of exceptions, loopholes, and sheer conundrums that will creep their way into your first game. You will spend your first few hours with this game completely confused and befuddled, afterwards quite a few players will simply make up your own rules to duct-tape the gaping holes left behind in the haphazard design. I should also mention all of the disassociated nomenclature that permeates the hundreds of cards; there’s a lot of confusing misnaming going on in many instances.
Also Tomb: Cryptmaster is a bit too dice heavy. There are a ton of dice to deal with and it would of been a lot easier to simply have a d20 to toss about instead of loads of different colored dice. I have nothing against rolling big handfuls of dice but I think, in this instance, less would have been more. Although the suggested time for this game is an hour, expect to spend a minimum three hours on the first run through and most games thereafter. After you finish reading the rules and start playing, it will still take some time to get used to all the various actions that your party characters (and their items and spells) will be able to do during your turn, during battles, and when various events happen. As the second game in a series that touts itself as having a revised and expanded rule book, it still poses rules that are hard to understand or are downright contradictory. This very same problem is a holdover from the original Tomb, which is a real shame.
As you read through the rules you’ll honestly wonder if they were sent over to Fantasy Flight Games’ Department of Confusion for a once over before the book went to print…
With the bad out of the way let’s move on because there is quite a lot of gaming goodness to be had; once you unmire yourself from the swamp which is the rules, and can focus on the flow of the game, it’s a hell of lot of fun. Nothing beats the feeling of knocking down that first door, stomping a monster, and getting some loot.
As far as the components of the game, the artwork in Tomb: Cryptmaster is all top notch fantasy fare and there’s certainly no shortage of it as all the 300 plus cards have large and unique images. The quality of the components is high all around as well. The cards are sturdy, and should hold up well over time, and the character counters are of thick and durable stock. The plastic stands are a nice touch as well, allowing players to show off the artwork on one side while keeping their stats on the back hidden from other players. The quality of what’s included is certainly what we’ve come to expect from AEG and that’s always a plus!
On to the game itself:
While dungeon-crawling games are typically known for their cooperative play against a single game master, or the game itself, Tomb: Cryptmaster is pretty much an every-man-for-himself experience. Players are able to control up to five characters and venture into the tomb as a party in search of crypts to raid. The game ends once the tomb is cleared of all its curses, traps, monsters, and treasure cards. So the game breaks down into a race between the parties to collect as many points as possible through their exploration and encounters while, as each player gets their shot at being the Cryptmaster, taking shots at your fellow players to deny them of EXP.
One of the first things that jumps out, when you open the box, is the variety of characters available to play. You have over 80 choices, and you’ll be burning through these characters because exploring the tomb is beau coup dangerous. You might not want to get attached to any particular character (or characters) because odds are against them returning from their dungeon adventuring alive!
Set up is pretty easy as various rooms in the tomb (known as crypts) are seeded with encounter cards – curses, traps, monsters, and treasures. The players take turns secretly placing these cards in the crypts, so it’s best for each player to try to remember where they’ve placed the deadliest monsters and most valuable treasures as this will help that individual player navigate the tomb to their advantage. Each player then draws five heroes at random then selects who will be their primary hero. The remaining heroes are placed in a pool to be selected later in the game.
There are four different hero classes, with each class focusing on a particular trait. Fighters focus on attack, Mages use magic via spells, Clerics are holy beings armed by the strength of their prayers and Rogues are highly skilled in the arts of thievery and tactics. This is pretty standard fantasy fare here. In addition, each hero has his own unique special ability. There are multi-class heroes who can act almost as Swiss army knives, giving you the traits of two or three hero classes and they are a real boon.
Before venturing into the tomb, players will spend several turns at the inn, recruiting new characters and equipping them with items, spells, prayers, and tactics. The party can return on any turn (under most circumstances but there are exceptions) to heal up and continue strengthening their members, so the inn will become a very familiar sight throughout the game. Once they’re ready to start exploring, the party will begin raiding the various crypts with hopes of earning treasure and experience points. Each time out a different player will assume the role of the “Cryptmaster” who opposes the raiding party. Throughout various stages of the raid, this Cryptmaster will attempt to kill off party members with the use of cards from their hand and those that were placed in the crypt itself during game setup.
One nice mechanic of the game also allows for players to share characters as mercenaries which, when combined with the Cryptmaster mechanic, keeps everyone at the table engaged during crypt raids so there isn’t tons of downtime while players wait for their own turn to begin. Unfortunately, the game can drag at points when most of the parties are back at the inn performing character maintenance turn after turn. After your party takes its first shellacking at the hands of a monster, it can take several turns to get back into fighting shape. Hey, what was that I mentioned about getting very familiar with the inn? I’m surprised hand out frequent guest promos there! This cycle of exploring followed by re-arming causes the game to run well past its advertised 60 minute play time. Most players will find their games clocking in right about the three hour mark.
Once the party is in the tomb they can move to a crypt and break-in. Depending on the cards placed in the Crypt, the player can encounter a curse, a trap, a monster, a treasure or any combination thereof. A player must disarm the trap and kill the monster to recover the treasure. Curses are never good and failure to disable a trap leads to various penalties from losing your turn to getting a character in your party killed.
Monster battles are the meat and bones of the game. You’ll certainly need a well balanced party to handle the mid to high level monsters. Combat is resolved by rolling a combination of dice: Green, Blue and Red. You receive a number of dice based on you character and the equipment that he has. Scoring a hit means that the monster takes damage. The party and monster take turns attacking each other, with the monster getting off the first swing, until either the monster or the main hero is dead. Killing the monster gets you the corresponding EXP. Losing the battle gets your hero killed and he loses everything he has equipped. A new hero spawns at the inn and you have to go back to recruit him. Yep, it’s off to the inn again! Of course you can always choose to continue deeper into the Tomb with fewer party members. Overall the combat is plenty of fun and there are a multitude of effects and items to play which make every battle different.
The game ends once all the crypts have been cleared and the player with the most EXP wins.
Tomb: Cryptmaster really does bring a unique take to dungeon crawling so if you dig a meaty monster stomping, treasure snatching experience you should definitely add this game to your collection. You can even combine it with the original Tomb for a bigger game. The Cryptmaster and mercenary mechanics are great ways to keep players engaged throughout the game and the artwork is excellent. The rulebook can be a potential deal breaker for those who expect to game right out of the box and, although the official Tomb FAQ Forum is a lifesaver, one can’t be expected to be surfing the net for answers to every timing, item usage, or card question that rears its head. And there will certainly be many questions like those!