A motley band of adventurers descends into the inky darkness of the caverns in the quest for the fabulous artefact rumoured to lie somewhere deep within . Working together they should be more than a match for the terrifying creatures that wait in the shadows, but each member knows that only the most glorious amongst them will be able to claim the prize; perhaps a little backstabbing may help things along.
Cutthroat Caverns (boardgamegeek, publishers site) is a clever little game where players fight monsters as a team to gain "prestige", the player at the end of game (usually 10 encounters) with the most prestige wins. Combat is handled by cards (there is no board), during each round the players each play one (or sometimes more) attack cards face down. These are then revealed to determine how much damage the current creature has suffered. If the creature is still alive, it gets a chance to retaliate in kind, usually striking a random player for some damage of its own.
The fighting continues until the creature's health is reduced to zero - the twist being that only the player that struck the killing blow gets all the prestige regardless of how much damage they did over the course of the rumble. This scoring system provides the tension in the game; you usually have a range of attacks in your hand but there is no point playing your strongest cards unless you are sure that you are going to be the one who makes the kill. On the other hand, someone is going to have to do some damage to the monster or else it will make mincemeat out of party.
In addition to attack cards, there are also "items" that can be picked up along the way (representing potions and magical amulets, etc) which confer certain benefits. There are also "action" cards that can be played at certain times to aid or disrupt attacks, hopefully in ways that will be of benefit.
So far so good, Cutthroat Caverns neatly encapsulates the cheesy DnD hack-n-slash games without all the bother. What really makes the game fun is the variety of the monsters, each one is almost a different game. Some attack randomly, some can not be damaged by certain attacks, some attack the players that attacked for the most damage (or least damage, or simply who hit first) last turn, others damage everybody equally at the end of each turn. It is this randomness (10 creatures are drawn each game out of a larger pool) that ensures that each game is totally different.
Although the game has a high random component, it seems remarkably well balanced. Most of our games have ended with the party very nearly dead at the end of the 10 creatures, which leads to some very tense final encounters. It is possible to get killed, which removes that player from the game, but this will normally only happen towards end so it is not too unfair.
Cutthroat Caverns is obviously aimed at players who enjoy the trappings of role playing, but the game is simple and fast-paced enough to appeal to nearly everyone. If anything, playing it reminds me of Magic the Gathering, it is a much easier game but supports the same fast paced shifting of strategies and crazy reversals. 3 to 6 players are able to play, the more the merrier.