The cover image for The Night Cage. It features a hand holding a dripping candle, giving off yellow light against the dark. Next to the hand are the words "The Night Cage: how long will your light last?" and the logo for Smirk and Dagger games

Do you ever find yourself wishing that your weekly game night was a little less fun-and-laughter, and a little more dread-and-horror? If so, you may have already heard of The Night Cage, a cooperative strategy game from Smirk and Dagger.

Art from The Night Cage. A sketchy, loosely human figure is shown to be lying on a stone floor, staring at a dripping candle in the dark

A Nightmarish Labyrinth - the Concept and Story of The Night Cage

The Night Cage takes place in a dark maze, seemingly endless, lit only by the feeble light of your flickering candle. The path changes each time you round a corner or turn around. Worst of all, there are monsters waiting in the dark: WaxEaters, Keepers, Pit Fiends, The Pathless, and worst of all, The Dirge, as foretold by its terrifying Omens. And if you don’t make it out before your candle burns out, you’ll never make it out at all…

To escape, you and your fellow victims of the Cage must wander the pathways, gathering keys to unlock one of the gates. But these gates are in limited supply, and so are the keys. If you lose too many of these to the darkness, you’re trapped forever.

 

Gameplay and Rules 

An image from The Night Cage rulebook, with a sketchy, humanoid figure falling through darkness

Unlike most strategy games on the market, this one is actually fairly simple, and relies mostly on tile-placement for its gameplay. But don’t let that trick you into thinking that it’s easy!

To start, you shuffle the tiles being used for your level of game difficulty (more monsters and fewer keys are added for a harder experience). Each turn, your pawn moves a single space, causing you to discard all tiles that you aren’t directly connected to and draw-and-place new ones. You need to balance the need to draw enough new tiles to get sufficient keys, escape monsters, and locate gates, with limiting the risk of drawing new monsters, losing gates, or running out of tiles and ending the game.

Luck vs. Strategy?

Luck does play some part in the game, as well as your own strategic skill, since the shuffling of the tiles can favor or hinder your escape attempt. But by keeping an eye on the number of tiles left, accounting for their types, and accounting for the likelihood of the draw, you’ll give yourself the greatest chance of success.

Number of Players

The game is ostensibly for 1-5 players, although you’ll have the easiest time playing with 4 or 5. Fewer than 4 players, and you’ll have to control multiple pawns (there are always 4 pawns in play). If you have 5, you’ll need to use the back of the board, which has more spaces for tiles.

Most cooperative games get easier, and often more fun, with more players. The Night Cage only gets easier in that you don’t have to control more than one pawn. The gameplay also has about the same level of engagement and complexity. The consistent number of moving pawns, all of which have the same abilities and actions to be taken, ensures that you won’t have any less fun playing on your own or with a partner instead of a party.

 

A Dark and Moody Atmosphere

As may be fairly obvious from the story of The Night Cage, this is a game meant to make you think, and possibly even fear. It’s creepy and spooky. And when you get down to the last few tiles, with several monsters remaining and most of the board left to cross, it can create some real tension and anxiety.

I’d recommend turning the lights down low (the deluxe version of the game comes with flickering electronic candles that create an awesome ambiance, and electronic tealights are a cheap substitute to add to the basic version), the air-conditioner up, and finding a sufficiently haunted soundtrack for the background music.

Art from The Night Cage. An image of a loosly humanoid, sketchy figure, curled up on what appears to be a dark stone floor

History and Availability of the Game

The Kickstarter for The Night Cage first popped up in mid-2020, and quickly found itself fully backed on the popular crowdfunding website. US copies started arriving around a year later, with final Kickstarter editions making their way to international destinations by the end of 2021. You can still buy it online on Smirk and Dagger’s website, or from larger retailers like Amazon.

The Kickstarter edition, if you can find it, comes with nicer acrylic components and die-cast keys. It also includes the aforementioned electronic candles to keep track of your light, which are surprisingly bright. You’ll have to look in resale groups for this version, although sometimes local game stores will carry a few. Chain game stores probably won’t.

 

Our Personal Thoughts

A photo of the contents of the standard edition of The Night Cage. It includes a board, a wooden candle container for tiles, player cards, candle player pieces, and various tokens, as well as the game box

The Night Cage has swiftly become a favorite for my boardgame nights. I’m not a huge horror fan, but the slightly-spooky-slightly-strategic style of the game works just fine for me. And the people I know who are especially into gothic horror, Lovecraft, and Call of Cthulhu have enjoyed it even more than I do.

It took 3 tries for us to win the easiest difficulty level of the game (which may speak somewhat to our level of intelligence), but we enjoyed each one. And we could see ourselves getting closer, making better decisions each time, which kept us coming back to try again instead of getting too frustrated. We’re currently on the secondary difficulty level, and slowly but surely making our way towards a success on that one too!

If you require action and adventure from your boardgames, maybe give The Night Cage a miss. But if you like strategy and full-group cooperation, I cannot recommend this game enough!

 

 

Have you played The Night Cage? How did it go? We’d love to hear your take on the game below!

 

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