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Cutthroat Caverns
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Store:  Card Games, Strategy Games
Series:  Cutthroat Caverns
Theme:  Fighting
Genre:  Negotiation & Diplomacy
Format:  Card Games

Cutthroat Caverns

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Product Awards:  
The Dice Tower Awards
Most Innovative Game, 2007

Ages Play Time Players
12+ 90 minutes 3-6

Designer(s): Curt Covert

Publisher(s): Smirk & Dagger Games

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Product Description

An artifact of untold power lies in your hands. To claim it, you must escape the caverns alive. No less than nine horrific beasts stand in your way -- that, and the greed of the other players.

In this game of kill-stealing, you decide whether to swing for a whopping 50 points of damage -- or hold back, awaiting a more opportune time to strike. Only the final blow matters if you are to score the kill. Hold back or sabotage others' plans too much -- and the entire party will die, without a winner.

Product Awards

The Dice Tower Awards
Most Innovative Game, 2007

Product Information


  • 94 Action/Attack/Item Cards
  • 6 Initiative Cards
  • 6 Character Cards (to track your health)
  • 25 Oversized Encounter Cards
  • 1 Monster Life Tracker
  • 8 Glass Beads (2 Yellow, 6 Green)
  • 1 Token Sheet
Cutthroat Caverns has the following expansions available:

Cutthroat Caverns: Tombs & Tomes Expansion Pack 3 Out of Stock

Cutthroat Caverns: Relics & Ruin Expansion Pack 2 Out of Stock

Cutthroat Caverns: Deeper & Darker Expansion Pack 1, edition 2.0 Out of Stock

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Product Reviews


Average Rating: 5 in 2 reviews

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Great Co-Op/screw them in the end game!
November 12, 2007

We had an hour to kill on Saturday as we waited for the 7th person to show, so the 6 of us got this out.

Simple directions.

Quick fun game play.

Tons of strategy for those who like that kind of game. For those that do not get the strategy right away, you can just play cards simply out of your hand.

The first time we played with 6 of us, it took 1 hour and that included us referencing the instructions as we played.

I highly recommend this game for anyone that has a good group to play with.

Backstabbing and backstabbing!
October 17, 2007

I've talked in the past about games that have surprised me; because after reading the rules, I thought the game would be boring - only to find out later just how good the game actually was. Cutthroat Caverns (Smirk and Dagger Games, 2007 - Curt Coven) was different; because as soon as I read the concept and started going over the rules, I was sure that I was going to love this game. The idea of backstabbing fellow adventurers in a dungeon isn't anything new - especially those who play with "munchkin" players in roleplaying games, but this card game actually encourages folks to annoy one another.

The concept is simple; players are working together to beat monsters in a dungeon, but only one can win at the end. Players want each other to die, but not early in the game, as all players are needed to defeat the monsters. It's a hilariously fun game of both blatant and subtle backstabbing, and with the right group of players is one of the most enjoyable experiences I've ever played. It certainly isn't for the faint of heart - confrontation and shouting will likely be involved in a game, and fortunately it only lasts just over an hour - an intense time of high interaction.

Each player takes a character - each a stereotype of typical dungeon adventurers - with no discernible differences in the game other than the pictures. Each character has a card with a stone used to track their hit points, starting at one hundred. A deck of creature cards is shuffled, and nine of them are placed face down in the middle of the table, forming the dungeon for the game. A deck of ninety-four cards is shuffled and placed on the table, next to a pile of initiative cards (one for each player: 3-6). A monster life tracker card is placed on the table, and a marker is placed on a track to show which encounter the players are on. A pile of prestige point counters is also placed near the board, and the first encounter is ready to begin.

Each encounter begins with players drawing seven cards from the deck, and then the top encounter card is flipped over. The monster on the card is examined, and their hit points (according to the number of players who started the game) are marked on the monster life tracker card. Players draw random initiative cards and place them face up in front of them to show the order of their attacks. Players then select an attack card from their hand, placing it face down in front of them. Once all players have chosen their cards, they are revealed in the order of initiative. Attack cards are of several types:

  • Most are simply a number that do a certain amount of damage, from "0" to the awesome "100".
  • Others are a numbered attack that does double damage when played by the player whose picture matches the one on the card.
  • Others give a bonus, such as "Focus Strength", which does zero damage but adds thirty to the attack value of the player's next attack card.
  • Some allow the player to attack twice or have other various effects. Some cards may cause the attack cards to be rotated, doubling or halving their damage (the numbers are printed on the sides of the card). As cards are flipped over, the hit points of the creature are checked; and if it is killed, the encounter is over, and all remaining attack cards are discarded. After all cards have been played, and the creature is still alive, then the cards are discarded; and the life points of the monster are adjusted accordingly.

The monster then attacks according to the information on the card. Each monster does different things. Examples include:

  • Axe: Does 20 damage to player # 2, and ten to the person to their left and right.
  • Basilicanth: Does about twenty damage to the player who hit it for the least amount of damage.
  • Trolgg: Attacks four times, hitting player # 1 for ten points, and then each succeeding player, as long as "heads" is flipped on a coin.
  • Anti-Paladin: Attacks the entire party for five points, adding the sum to his own life points.
Damages differ, depending on the number of players who started the game. If a monster hits a player based on their initiative, then that happens at the beginning of the next round, after initiative cards are redistributed.

If the monster stays alive, then all players draw one card and a new initiative card, and start the round again. The player who kills the monster takes the card and receives prestige points equal to those shown on the monster. In the seventh, eighth, and ninth rounds, players receive bonus prestige points, taking markers to show this. After the creature is killed, all players may discard any number of cards from their hand; and the next monster is turned over, starting another encounter.

Besides attack cards, players may draw item cards, which must be played in front of them. Some item cards are one use potions, others give a player a specific ability (like having more cards in their hand each turn.) Players also may get action cards that are played at different times during the game to help players or annoy opponents. Examples include:

  • Edge Out: Play on another player before they reveal their attack card. Discard it, and they may not attack this turn.
  • Human Shield: Play when damaged by a creature, picking a player on your right or left to take the damage instead.
  • Plan "B": Play to switch any two initiative cards.

The game continues until all nine monsters are killed, or until the players are all killed, which ends the game in defeat. A player who is killed during the game loses, and their prestige points do not count. When (if) all nine monsters are killed, the player with the most points is the winner - with ties being broken by fighting another monster.

Some comments on the gameā€¦

  1. Components: The game comes with twenty-five large encounter cards, which easily show all the numbers on the cards. The artwork on everything is really good, although perhaps a little dark on some of the monsters. The art is done by multiple artists, which are done fairly well, although you can tell the difference in styles from card to card (my personal favorite is Tim Wollweber's artwork, who did the character cards). The characters cards themselves are large with an easy hit point track (counted down by fives), and glass stones are used for the markers on all tracks. The initiative cards and attack cards are of good quality and have simple, easy-to-read text on them. I am seriously considering putting the initiative cards in plastic sleeves, since they go through a lot of wear and tear. Piles of double-sided monster counters (some monsters are really a group of small monsters) and prestige tokens are included as well as a "coin" for use with some monsters. Everything fits well inside a nice plastic insert in a smallish black box.

  2. Rules: The eight pages of rules explain the rules fairly well, with some diagrams and examples of how all the different cards work. However, in a game like this with monsters of various types, you will invariably run into a decent amount of questions; and I have to say that the rules don't cover a lot of situations that I think would be obvious. Fortunately, on Smirk & Dagger's website, I was able to find a FAQ that answered everything we had a problem with but still expect to find some rules arguments in your games. People understand the game fairly easily, although you may have to pause when new items and/or monsters show up.

  3. Treachery: The motto of the game is "Without teamwork you'll never survive; without betrayal you'll never win"; and it's True with a capital "T". Some players may get all excited and play evil cards on other players right away; but the game is prepared for this, because a monster doesn't get easier just because someone died early on in the game. Players have to grudgingly help one another as they fight the monsters, because otherwise everyone will die. A player who earnestly backstabs everyone else without thought will find that the game ends quickly, with all other players upset with him. Rather, a player must seek to sneak in the killing blow (something that's just as upsetting here as it is in real role-playing games.) There are a few cards that help others, but many more that "help" others. Examples of this is a healing potion, which allows a player to heal another willing player, but it gives them prestige points to do so. This means you'll see people gladly offering to heal the wounds of others, with the wounded person flat out refusing. Other cards allow you to shout an insult at the monster then pick the player who gets damaged next. This can be funny stuff, unless it's aimed at you.

  4. Monsters: There are twenty-five monsters included with the game, which gives a good bit of variety, since only nine are used per playing. They certainly have a wide range, from the Boogens (which swarm all the players with small monsters) to the Necromancer (which brings back a former monster from the dead), to the Shift (which becomes super strong after two rounds) to the Clockwork Golem (which basically has to be killed in one round). Each monster has to be handled differently, depending on which encounter they are - with perhaps great care (of fervent fighting). A couple of odd encounter cards are in the deck: a trap room, which randomly hits players; and a riddle room, which causes a deadly game of "Memory Match" to be played (something I would never tolerate except in this setting - strangely). You never know who is lurking in the next room, and it certainly helps raise the tensions of the game.

  5. Strategy: Players are obviously stuck with the cards that they draw; however, players draw cards so many times during a game that they will likely get to play many good ones. What players have to do is hurt the monster, but not so much that it allows another player to land the killing blow. On the flip side, a player wants to land that blow themselves and must watch where they are in initiative. Players who kill too many monsters early on will find themselves the target of many critical misses and other problems from other players, and I'm not surprised to see an early leader die in the final rounds. Strategy is not so present in the game as tactics, however; since players must adjust themselves to the style of each enemy that they come across, as they are all different.

  6. Fun Factor: I certainly would steer people who don't like confrontation or who take things personally away from this game, as there is a lot of trashing done by other players. I found it a blast, and people who already enjoy role-playing games will find this one quite entertaining. It's like Munchkin, only fun - and with an actual game included. A few folks complained that it seemed long for what it is, but that can be handled by adjusting the amount of encounters (I personally like nine). I also enjoyed how differently each round felt and the interaction between all the players.

Cutthroat Caverns may cause some arguments between players, and that coupled with its theme will keep it from being played with some of my gaming groups. But with an adventure loving, easy-going group, this can be one of the most fun experiences I've ever had with a game. I like the fact that players are forced to be cooperative yet can stick the dagger into each other at the most inopportune moment. Shrieks of rage and shock and laughter mingle together in this game from Smirk and Dagger, their best work to date. I highly look forward to the multiple expansions promised, to see what new monsters and rules will be added. For me, one of the best games of 2007.

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"

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