It should have all been so simple: a quick trip into a cave system for the Corporation to do some research, nothing could possibly go wrong. Unfortunately you fell through to the sublevels and need to get out before your light fails. What was that noise? You might not be alone down here….

Such is the premise of the latest game Sub Terra from Inside The Box Board Games a tile laying, co-operative of racing against the clock. Inside the Box kickstarted Statecraft last year, and are taking this effort to kickstarter next week. Peter Blenkham, the boss of the operation, was nice enough to invite me to preview the game over Tabletopia.

Out of the 8 starting classes each player chooses 1, though the number chosen scales for different number of players, 2 each in the case of the game I played. Each character comes with a couple of abilities, one passive and one active, which will change the nature of the way you make your way around.  I chose a Scout, good at rushing ahead and avoiding the nastier tiles and an Engineer, who could make their own path and mitigate the damage from cave-ins. Peter took a medic, you can guess what he does, and the Bodyguard who can scare off the horrors that lurk in the caves.

It’s worth mentioning that the representation amongst the characters is excellent in Sub-Terra, something I know that Peter has worked hard on. As board gaming grows and grows this is something that needs thought about more from designers. The excellent Shut up &Sit Down really have led the way in critiquing games from this perspective, something I hope to support in my own reviews.

On each characters turn, keeping in mind you might be controlling more than 1, you get a couple of action points to move around the cave system. You can get more by exerting yourself at the risk of taking some damage and at moments when the clock is ticking down there is a great calculation between taking the slow and steady path and pushing to the end. These action points can be spent to forge ahead quickly, explore slowly, administer to your wounds, put up rope lines and similar.

The tiles you move over are beautifully illustrated with an underground landscape that strikes the right tone between gritty and mysterious. As you rush to find the exit to the system you will come across many potential hazards: gas, slides, cliff edges, water, squeeze spaces and things that go bump in the night.

At the end of each round you reveal a card from the event deck, which changes construction dependent on the difficulty level that you choose, and that may trigger one of the tile types. Gas will leak, floods will appear, things will move in the dark and the entire sub-system will tremor. As these events occur your path to victory changes and/or becomes more treacherous giving a good feeling of having to think on your feet and adapt to the ever changing conditions of a treacherous underground realm.

Our game at the end, all our Explorers have made their way out of the system!

Our game lasted just about an hour, which is the playtime that the team are aiming for, and throughout I always felt I had significant decisions to make. You split up a lot to try and get through the system as fast as possible, but then come back together as routes are blocked off or you need to help fellow explorers who have fallen by the wayside. At one point by Engineer fell down a slide tile twice, unable to get back to the main path. My scout forged ahead, risking ending up in a difficult position to forge a path to the end of the slide. It was a risk but paid off, and it was a nice moment of joining forces to defeat a puzzle the game had set in front of me.

The Sub-Terra Kickstarter launches on Tuesday 10th of January and has a load of stretch goals planned already. The game is a tense, claustrophobic race against time that should provide a lot of replayability as you try out the different combinations of explorers and delve into the depths of this co-op.