Table Top Game Review
The Night Cage by Smirk and Dagger
Players: 1 to 5
Playtime: ~50 minutes
RTF4Perfect for: Groups who enjoy cooperative escape games laced with suspense, strategy, and a bit of luck.
The Night Cage is a game of cavern survival! Players find themselves isolated in a mysterious series of darkened tunnels, desperate to find each other and a way out. Armed only with candles, the party must traverse the cave’s passageways while searching for keys and an exit. But they must not delay because the wax of their light source is dripping away quickly. Plus, they are being hunted.
To begin The Night Cage, one to five players retrieve a starting tile, their meeple, and a nerve token. On a turn, individuals can either move or stay. Movement involves traveling onto a neighboring tile on the grid-style gameboard and then revealing all newly adjacent connected tiles. Of note however is that all tiles that are no longer adjacent after the move are discarded from the game. The reveal of tiles might mean the discovery of keys, or gates—both positive. However, tiles could also put monsters onto the map which if crossed will significantly hinder progress. To be successful, players must work together to a) each find a key, and then b) meet at the same gate to escape.
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What works in The Night Cage is the balance of strategy and the unknown that results in an engaging suspenseful experience. Working together to determine optimal movement, while considering the odds of negative effects, is paramount. Monsters add a particularly thrilling variable to the proceedings as they “trigger” whenever their line of sight is crossed. But the twist is that they move and attack across both the row and column they intersect. This means while one person moves to avoid an attack, it could harm a teammate elsewhere. Also, parts of the tunnel system crumble, revealing pits below. Falling (or jumping) into a pit means that a player can reappear at an open spot of their choosing on the map (with limitations). Finally, nerve tokens are used to boost positive effects, or reduce negative ones. These mechanics helps balance The Night Cage between the randomly revealed tiles with methods for players to have wider control of their movement, and thus fate.
Players who don’t enjoy games that rely on a healthy amount of luck, or scenarios where alpha-gamers can take control, may not enjoy The Night Cage as much as others. The tile reveal system can certainly have huge negative impacts on intended strategies. For example, the reveal of several monsters at once surrounding a player. Or, because the team must discard tiles when attacked by monsters the group can lose because all of the keys and/or gates exit the game rather unceremoniously. Finally, the team dynamic necessitates healthy communication but individual decision-making. Players who don’t like relinquishing full control over their outcome may get frustrated.
The Night Cage is a wonderful cooperative game that leans heavily into its claustrophobic theme to provide a great experience for the players. Note too that the game comes with advanced rules that up the challenge level, providing lots of replay value. For gaming groups looking for teamwork, especially during Halloween season, this a great option.