Claustrohpobia 1643 is a beautiful, thematic remake of the game Claustrophobia, which was originally released in 2009. Ten years is a long time in any form of media, and board games are no different. The recent trend in hobby board gaming, especially in asymmetric games, is skewing ever more towards perfect balance of the opposing sides, whatever the conflict may be, and really focus on player skill and choice rather than luck or swinginess. Claustrophobia 1643 definitely feels a bit more old-school in that regard, as luck and twist of fate are just as vital to gameplay as player choice and strategy. That doesn't mean that player choice and strategy don't matter here, but you need to be on the lookout for exactly when the luck turns, and you need to be prepared to take every advantage that you can get, or you are going to get steamrolled.
Claustrophobia 1643 is a 2 player only game that pits one player as the Western Warriors, a group of rag tag scouts and fighters led by a Redeemer, that are trying to fight back the innumerable swarms of troglodytes and demons of hell. The other player takes on the roll of the Infernal, the forces of hell, whose sole task is to grind the Western Warriors into dust before they can achieve whatever objective the particular mission you are playing has given them. The Western Warriors are strong, especially when they stick together, while the Infernal player has a few strong units backed up by a near endless swarm of troglodytes. The Infernal player can attempt to win via attrition, but it's far more likely that they will win by separating the Warriors from one another and striking at just the right moment. The Western Warriors have to try to stay together, and try to stay alive in an environment so hostile that even the twists and turns of the caves they are exploring are working against them.
This game hits it out of the park when it comes to the theme. Everything about the components, the look, the feel, and the gameplay sell the theme. When you are playing as the Western Warriors you feel like you are on an expedition into hell, and you feel like the entire world is working against you, and if you manage to eek out a victory it feels hard fought and satisfying. While playing as the Infernal player you really feel nefarious, conniving and sneaky. You feel like an evil mastermind who is waiting for just the right moment to pounce on and destroy the usurpers who have dared set foot in your realm. Waiting until just the right moment to strike feels wonderful, especially as you see your enemy's hope turn into terror as you smash them before they can complete their objective.
Theme is king in Claustrophobia 1643, and with that focus on theme comes mechanics that are incredibly luck-driven. Combat is a straight dice-fest, and the actions that both players take each turn are dice dependent as well, but luck isn't the only factor in success, even if it is so heavily ingrained in nearly every aspect of the game. There is quite a bit of strategy and planning that go into choosing how to allocate your dice. Assigning the wrong stat line to a Western Warrior at the wrong time can spell disaster, and allocating your dice towards your more powerful abilities as the Infernal player can show your hand to the Western Warriors and let them plan accordingly, but try as you might there is always the chance that a run of bad luck will absolutely devastate you, especially as the Western Warriors, and some of them, like getting a run of really bad tile draws as you explore, are nearly impossible to plan for.
If you are the type of gamer who is turned off by wild swings in luck then this probably isn't going to be the game for you. If you are the type of gamer who likes beer-and-pretzels style dice-fests where the outcome of the game is less important than the fun you had while playing then there is a lot to like here, especially considering the fact that the game includes a whopping 20 scenarios, and doubly-especially if you like to try out both sides in asymmetric games. The missions are varied, but even replaying the same missions over again feel different play to play due to the fact that tiles are drawn randomly while exploring, so the dungeon will almost never have the same layout twice.
In our experience the swings of luck tend to favor the Infernal player more often than the Western Warrior player, so if you are going to play with someone new you should probably have them start as the Infernal player, even though it appears to be the more complex of the two at first glance. The reality is that both sides have their intricacies and complexities, and both sides can be played well, in spite of the heavy luck factor. Because of that, the best way to play Claustrophobia 1643 is with one dedicated opponent who enjoys this type of experience as well. It's really fun to play missions against the same opponent, especially if you both know what to expect, because then it feels much more like a match of wits as you both keep an eye out for and try to take advantage of the winds of fate when they blow your way. Even then the Infernal player is going to have an advantage (in our experience anyway) so if you are going to be a dedicated Western Warriors player then you are in for a solid challenge.
All told, Claustrophobia 1643 does feel a bit old-school, and it should. This is a game that sets out to do a specific thing in a specific way, and it does a good job of accomplishing that goal. The game oozes theme, and even though there is a layer of strategy to be had here, this is more of a sit-back-and-enjoy game than a brain-burning tactical chess match. Being old-school certainly don't mean un-fun, but this is certainly a game for a certain type of gamer, so if you are the type that likes tight mechanics, or Euro style sensibilities then this isn't going to be the game for you.
A note on replayability: Claustrophobia 1643 comes with 20 scenarios in the box, which is going to eat up a lot of your time, even if you play them all only a single time. Due to the way the game is 'balanced' it can actually be a lot of fun to re-play the scenarios after switching sides with your opponent to see who can perform better as the Western Warriors. Regardless of whether you do switch sides and re-do scenarios, there is quite a wide variety of goals and objectives across the various scenarios, and there are a number of scenarios that are worth revisiting even if you don't switch sides.
A note on table space: One thing to consider when deciding where to play this game is just how large the tiles are. As you explore, and more tiles hit the table, the Infernal player decides how the tiles are placed, and will do so in a way that will give them the best advantage. This means that the board can grow rapidly in any given direction, and it's hard to plan out exactly how much space you'll need, but it's better to err on the side of "as much space as possible".
A note on “chrome”: Claustrophobia 1643 has incredibly high quality components, which you can get a closer lookout in our unboxing article here. The box, cardboard tokens, dice and boards, and miniatures are all incredibly high quality, and look great on the table. Every component fits the theme of the game, and the mechanics work in tandem with the theme to really sell the setting. The one small miscue is in the translation of the English rulebook. The story in the rules is pretty roughly translated, and some of the verbiage isn't as clear as it should be. There isn't anything that would stop you from playing, but you may need to look online for clarification for some rules that are left rather vague in the book.
The bottom line:
Claustrophobia 1643 is interesting, thematic and fun, as long as you like directly competitive games where one huge swing of luck can determine the outcome of the game. The theme really shines through, and the dice allocation systems are fun, and can lead to some nerve-wracking and tense moments. Playing as the Western Warriors really makes you feel like you are venturing into the deep, dank darkness of hell where you'll be outnumbered and on the run, and one wrong turn can completely devastate you, while playing as the Infernal player makes you feel like a devious overlord determined to crush the trespassing humans as soon as the right moment presents itself. This really is a game for players who put theme first, and it's is at its best when you have one dedicated opponent to play through all of the scenarios with. If you are the type of player who likes tight mechanics and perfect game balance then you are probably going to be frustrated by Claustrophobia 1643 but, on the other hand, if you like to chuck dice, take risks, and care more about the feel of a game than its elegance of design then you will probably find a lot to like about it, especially if you have a friend who enjoys chucking dice along with you.
Get this game if:
You enjoy thematic games, especially those with darker themes.
You love detailed miniatures.
You like to play both sides of asymmetric games.
You have a dedicated opponent to match wits with across all 20 scenarios.
You don't mind games that can swing wildly based on RNG and luck.
Avoid this game if:
You don't like dice driven combat.
You don't like asymmetric games.
You don't like games where the opposing sides aren't perfectly balanced.
You don't like games where luck is a huge factor in your success.
The copy of Claustrophobia 1643 used for this review was provided by Monolith.
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