- Clatter, clatter. That familiar tune of bones scrapping across wood and revealing the kiss of lady luck.
Four warriors. Three convicted felons sentenced to death in the bowels of hell. Not a metaphor but their reality.
The fourth is the Redeemer. He wields light and courage and is a beacon for the hellfire to snuff out. He will die too.
The dice are assembled and a groan is released. A “2” to the Brute, an instinct card to my hand. I will use this later to shift a result to my liking. A fist to the mouth of whistling fate.
With the Brute’s increased attack value I move the lowest result to the Redeemer in search of defense. This leaves my final two choices easy as I land upon two movement with one Blade For Hire and a more balanced line for the other.
Then we run more than we crawl.
This feels like Descent mainlining Rooster Booster. Tiles are flipped from the stack and hell awaits. I run into a cavernous pit with teeth gnashing. I run into a den of canker sores split open and stretching across the walls and floor. I run into nightmares.
Jeremy, the demon, who I call this not because he plays the role of the demon but because he’s a bastard of the highest caliber, tosses his own fated tombstones across the felled gum. He does not groan. The saddle-goose is smiling.
- But that smile is not stone. A bewildered look of confusion replaces the mirth as he once again wrestles with the iconography of his demonic mat like a wolf dancing with an octoped. It’s our third play and this still occasionally happens.
He works it out. Troglodytes nip at my heels and cower in the shadow of a hellhound, its breath a fiery dew upon their shriveled skulls.
A clicking of teeth. The Brute steps in front of the Redeemer and offers a pound of flesh. It has begun.
20 minutes has passed. Hell is alive with a cacophony of screams and grunts.
The tiles are spread across our reach and finely sculpted plastic is everywhere. I miss the color of old but occasionally marvel at the detail of these wonderful sacrificial statues.
I use an instinct card to shift a die result and trigger the Redeemer’s Aura of Courage. What’s left of my suicide squad is in ruin, broken bones hauling tattered flesh. The Brute lays silent in a dead end whose title is befitting. One of the Blades is unidentifiable as his skin has been stretched and fused upon the wall by a hammer-headed demon.
So two, on the brink.
The Redeemer calls upon his blessing. He smashes the hellhound in his path. The Blade, dragging a lifeless leg which scrapes upon the stone floor, fires his blunderbuss. The little albino dorbels shake and fall as their flesh catches the cloud of splinters.
There it is. A sliver of hope.
Time is now gone. It’s faded into the background as we’re caught in the throes.
This tension is familiar. All encompassing. This is Claustrophobia before and forever. My heart is thrashing about like a bottle of bees.
The demon has returned. Its huge bladed skull is thirsty and shining. I want to cave it in.
The bastard plays a card and the draining sack that can barely be called a Blade For Hire drives his hired blade into my Redeemer’s back. I feel it in my own kidney.
My dice poke a finger into the open wound. I dither about with my final instinct card, deciding to use it for the boosted attack instead of altering a die. My Redeemer knows it’s over but he wants black blood if he’s going to give his own.
My attack roll is something else. Jeremy’s mouth hangs open, unconsciously mimicking the maw at the cave’s exit.
Not tonight you hellion.
Claustrophobia 1643 is a confusing gremlin. It’s that cherished friend who disappeared for years and now is back. And you still love them but it’s not quite the same, except when it is. Maybe you love them even more. Maybe you don’t.
The miniatures are better and worse. The box is sleek and sexy but it throws its weight around and threatens to take up all the space you will give it.
There are more tiles than you can handle and Gehenna is as dynamic and varied as ever. But you will stop often to look them up, flipping through the book because Monolith couldn’t be bothered to provide a proper player aid.
The demon board is absent of words, likely poking fun at Beelzebub’s literacy. Language independence killed the radio star.
But it’s also iterated mechanically in a wonderful way which positively adjusts the decision space.
Thankfully the fantastic instinct cards tip the scales, justifying my hundred dollar purchase. That’s the peace I needed.
Turn and face the strange.