The Sorcerer's Cave

As a child, I remember playing a game called The Sorcerer’s Cave.  It was a simplified dungeon crawl.  Each player would take a team of heroes down into the dungeon, explore tiles, fight monsters and get treasure.  Whoever escaped with the most treasure was the winner.

I adored the game and played it over and over again with my siblings.  A few years ago, my parents were having a clear out and they discovered a bunch of old games.  They asked me if I’d like any of them and as soon as they mentioned The Sorcerer’s Cave, a flood of old memories came back to me.  “Yes, please!”

In the intervening couple of weeks before I saw them and collected the game I began to wonder if it was really as good as I remember it.  Nostalgia can be a powerful emotion.  Would it turn out to be a big disappointment?  Maybe I shouldn’t play it to keep the happy memories intact…

My son is about the age I was when I started playing it though, so I couldn’t resist.  One of things I always loved about it was the exploration.  The cave tiles are slightly bigger than a postcard and my family had two sets, for some reason, that we had combined together, so we had a lot of tiles.

You place the entrance to the dungeon in the middle and gradually explore outwards.  At some point though, you will find stairs going down.  If you go down these stairs, you take a new tile and start a new section of the dungeon (Level 2) somewhere else.

You have to play it on the floor.

If you went down another set of stairs on Level 2, you would start Level 3 somewhere else again, etc.  By the end of the game, you would have sections of the dungeon all over the place.  There’s no way you can fit the game on a table; you have to play it on the floor.  We would regularly fill our entire living room with it as kids.  I can’t think of any other game that creates such an epic sense of exploration.

Many of the tiles expand the network of interconnected tunnels, but some of them have caverns on them.  When you find a cavern, you draw from a deck that contains a mixture of creatures and treasure.

The other thing I loved about the game was that when you encounter a creature, it wasn’t necessarily hostile.  You had to roll on a table to see how it reacted to you.  Eg. 1-2 hostile, 3-4 neutral, 5-6 friendly.  If it was hostile you had to fight it and then you could claim any treasure it was guarding.  If it was neutral, you could roll again next turn.

If it was friendly though, it would join your party!  How great is that?!  You could pick up trolls, giants, unicorns, dwarves…  By the end of the game, your party would be huge!  These creatures would help you fight, carry treasure, spot traps and perform a host of useful functions.

I got the game from my parents and we played it the same day.  I was slightly nervous.  My son went headfirst into the exploration, and to my wife’s dismay, the map started expanding rapidly across our living room floor.

When he encountered his first cavern and I explained that the creatures might join his party if they were friendly, his eyes lit up.  After that, he wasn’t so much interested in getting treasure as getting as many different creatures to join his party as he could.

It was just as good as I remember it.

We both had a blast!  It was just as good as I remember it.  Even as an adult, I really enjoyed it.  The other thing that really helps it is that the turns are so quick.  If you explore a tile and it has tunnels on it, you just move into the relevant tunnel and it’s the next player’s turn.

Even discovering caverns doesn’t take that long.  Deal out the cards and roll to see if they’re friendly.  Sometimes, you won’t deal any creature cards so you can just claim the treasure.

The only time it slows down is when the creatures are hostile and you have to fight them.  Combat is a very straightforward affair though.  You decide which members of your party will fight which of the hostile creatures, roll dice for each side adding the strength of the creatures involved and the highest total in each match-up wins.

You always need someone to roll for the hostile creatures, so even when my son was fighting, I still had something to do.  The artwork and component quality leaves a lot to be desired, but the actual gameplay was years ahead of its time.

Now, having said all that, I’ve also played several other games from my childhood, as an adult, and they definitely weren’t as good as I remember.  However, even then, that feeling of nostalgia resurfaces.  Like adding a spoonful of sugar to a bland cup of tea, the sweetness covers a multitude of sins.

Have you ever gone back and played games from your childhood?  Were any of them as good as you remember?

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Jonathan Hicks

Jonathan is the director of Maven Games. He blogs and records podcast episodes several times a week. Whenever he isn't doing anything else, he designs games.

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