Crystal Caverns

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Under development

This game is currently under development, in the Playtesting stage. Feedback is strongly encouraged! Feel free to give comments on game design or structure on the talk page.

Crystal Caverns
Jeff Hammans
RPG played on a playing card dungeon map
:Players Players: 1 - 5
:Time Length: Long?
:Complexity Complexity: Medium
Trios per color: 5
Number of colors: 5
Pyramid trios:
Monochr. stashes: 5
Five-color sets:
- - - - - - Other equipment - - - - - -
Treehouse Dice, Counters
Setup time: 30 to 60 seconds
Playing time: 15 minutes
0.25 Hr
- 60 minutes
1 Hr
Strategy depth: Low
Random chance: Great
Game mechanics: board
Theme: Roleplaying
BGG Link: ]
Status: complete? (v1.0), Year released: 2987

Crystal Caverns is a RPG for 1-5 players using Icehouse pieces on a playing card dungeon map. The game requires 5 matching treehouse sets.

aka Dungeons and Drones, Looney Labs Labyrinth, etc

What You Need

5 Stashes or Treehouse stashes (preferably Rainbow)

2 six sided dice of different colors

1 deck of playing cards

35 counters

Paper and pencil to track Mage spell use

An opaque bag

1-5 players, 2-4 is best

Printouts of the Crystal Caverns Player Cards.pdf, Crystal Caverns Info Cards.pdf, and Crystal Caverns SpellLists.pdf


Defeat the Dragon at the bottom of the labyrinth.


Players will take turns drawing number cards and placing them face up on the table dominoes style to create an underground dungeon setting. Players and monsters will be represented by upright Icehouse pieces and stunned ones by flat pieces. Combat, magic and mayhem ensues until the Dragon is defeated or all players are dead.


Please read through the rules at least once before playing.

Separate the face and joker cards from the numbers cards.

Place the 4 jacks into a pile face down. This is the Monster Deck.

Shuffle the number cards and place face down. This is the Cavern Deck.

All players should select a different color and reserve two trees of small, medium and large pieces of their color. These Icehouse pieces will be used to track player hit points. If there are fewer than five players, reserve 2 trees of each unused player color. Set those Icehouse pieces aside; they will not be used.

The remaining 3 trees of each color will be used to represent monsters. Place all small pieces of the monster pyramids into an opaque bag. This is the Monster Grab Bag.

Draw one card from the cavern deck and place it face up in the center of the table, and place one of each of the player's large 3-pip pieces upright on it.

Roll a die to see who draws first.

Turn Overview

1) Draw a Cavern card and place it face up in a legal position.

2) If the cavern placed has a monster, then draw a monster card or cards and the appropriate crystals from the Monster Grab Bag. Place the monster in the room.

3) Party moves one card in any legal direction. This move is up to the current player.

4) Combat occurs if a monster is in the new card.

5) If the monster is defeated, then players assimilate like colored pieces into them (increasing their hit points).

6) Play moves to the next player.

The Cavern

The active player draws a card from the cavern deck and places it in any legal position on the table.

The different cards represent different kinds of caverns. In general, odd cards have four exits, and even cards have only two exits on the narrow edges of the cards; the three and four cards are reversed for this generality.

Ace cards represent EMPTY ROOMS

Two cards represent EMPTY HALLWAYS

Three cards represent a HALLWAY with STAIRS DOWN, place a guardian (see below)

Four cards represent 4 WAY INTERSECTIONS

Five cards represent an OCCUPIED ROOM, draw a monster card

Six cards represent EMPTY HALLWAYS

Seven cards represent an OCCUPIED ROOM, draw a monster card

The 7 of hearts is a HEALING POOL, all players add one pip if they can arrange pieces without drawing from the Monster Grab Bag)

Eight cards represent an OCCUPIED HALLWAY, draw a monster card

Nine cards represent an OCCUPIED ROOM, draw 2 monster cards

Ten cards represent an OCCUPIED HALLWAY, draw 2 monster cards

Hallway cards should be placed "Domino Style"; short edge to short edge, except at intersections and rooms (which should be placed perpendicularly).

Hallways have only 2 exits, one at the top and one at the bottom. Long edges of hallway cards are considered walls. Rooms and intersections have 4 exits, one on each side of the card.

Cavern cards should not be placed so that cavern exits intersect with existing hallway card sides perpendicularly. If a placing a cavern card would put the new card running into existing hallways then that exit is considered walled off (or a dead-end) and no card may be placed in that spot.


Stairs always have a monster guarding them. The monster to be placed is the same level as the cavern level the players are on. Players on the first level would place 1 pip monsters on a stairs card when drawn. This monster's placement is not affected by the state of the monster deck (see below, in Monsters). If there are not enough pyramids of the correct size to place a guardian, then the Stairwell card is flipped over to indicate the card is LOCKED. Players may not enter the card until at least one pyramid of the appropriate size is freed up through combat and can be placed in the stairwell. At that time, flip the card face up and place the guardian.

Cavern Width

Cavern cards are considered to be two crystals wide, whether they are players or monsters. That means that a party of more than 2 players will have more than one row as some players will be behind others.


The active player must move the party one card in any direction. The party may not be moved to the card it occupied last turn, unless all other exits are dead-ends. While other players may disagree, it is up to the active player to decide.

When corners are turned, the party must also be turned so that the players in front remain in front.

To change the party order requires one move.

Stairs require two moves to utilize. One to move onto the card, and one more move to descend.


When the party descends to the next level, gather up all cavern cards and reshuffle the cavern deck. The player's level increases to match the new level (see below).

When the party descends to the second level add the four queen cards to the monster deck and the medium pieces to the monster grab bag.

On the third level, add the four king cards to the monster deck and the large pieces to the monster grab bag.

Finally, at the bottom, the fourth level remove all three's from the cavern deck and add one joker to the monster deck after the monster deck has been exhausted once.

Pyramid Colors

PLAYER CLASSES and their abilities

Each color represents a different type of player crystal with different abilities. Attack and Defense abilities may only be used in the front row, and Rear abilities only in the second or third rows. If there is only one row of players, then Rear abilities may be played from the front row.


Blue or Cyan.

Initiative: 4

Attack ability: add 1 to damage for the current hit or swap places.

Defense ability: add 1 to defense roll (like a DIG)

Rear ability: may SWAP places.


Black or White.

Initiative: 2

Attack ability: 2 damage to all undead in room. If the undead monster is killed this way, then it is removed to the Monster Grab Bag instead of being absorbed the player.

Defense ability: Add 1 hit point to any player crystal.

Rear ability: Add 1 hit point to any player crystal.


Red or Orange.

Initiative: 1

Special ability: Spells. The mage may choose from a list of spells. The spells are then marked off until descending to the next level. The mage then regains all his spells.

Mage Spell List

The mage player may cast each of these spells once per level of the player. So, a 4th level mage has 4 Fireballs that may be cast. Once a spell is used, it is gone for good for that level of the cavern. The mage has all his spells replenished when the party descends to a lower level of the cavern. It is recommended to use pen and paper to track spell use.

Attack Spells

Lightning - one point of damage to all monsters Fireball - 2 points to one monster.

Defense Spells

Shield - mage takes 3 less points of damage this combat round only Confuse - monster hits the monster next to it (or air if it is alone) for 1 damage instead of the mage regardless of the die rolls

Rear Spells

Scrying - mage draws cavern cards for all exits from the current room. Including any monster cards and crystals. Haste - one player gets +3 to their initiative for the current combat.

Note: Rear spells may be cast during Defense if there is only one row of players.


Green or Purple.

Initiative: 3

Attack ability: TIP

Defense ability: Immunity to monster abilities this combat.

Rear ability: 1 point of damage to any monster.


Yellow or Clear.

Initiative: 5

Attack ability: Rogue gets a 7 on initiative next combat round (before bonuses)

Defense ability: Immunity to TIP's (this does NOT require a WILD) WILD does nothing extra.

Rear ability: may SWAP places

Hit Points

Players use pips to represent hit points. A Rogue with two points would use a medium piece. One with 4 would use a large and a small stacked together.

Power levels

Players have a power level indicating their overall skills. It is easy to keep track of as it matches the level of the dungeon. For every level a player may roll one treehouse die in combat. So, players on the third level of the cavern are third level and would roll 3 treehouse dice in combat.

MONSTERS and their abilities

When an occupied cavern card is placed on the table, one or two monster cards are then drawn from the monster deck. Place the drawn cards in a face up pile next to the monster deck. When the deck has been exhausted, shuffle the spent pile and it becomes a new monster deck. When the monster deck has been exhausted twice, all monsters on the current level have then been placed.

Monster Level

The level of a monster is determined by the monster card drawn.

Jack cards represent first level monsters. Blindly draw a small piece.

Queen cards represent second level monsters. Blindly draw one medium piece.

King cards represent third level monsters. Blindly draw one large piece.

The Joker card represents the Dragon. Blindly draw two small pieces, one medium and one large piece. Place the base of the medium piece into the base of the large piece then cap both with the small pieces.

The monster's level matches its original pip count. So, a monster represented by a medium piece is a level two monster. A monster's hit points are equal to it's level multiplied by the number of players. If the level two monster were in combat with 4 players, it would have eight hit points.

Monster hit points may be represented by counters next to the cavern room.

Monster Colors

Monster abilities are the same for Attack and Defense. Monsters have no Rear abilities.

Yellow (or Clear) monsters have speed abilities. Monster gets a 7 on initiative next combat round.

Blue (or Cyan) monsters have cold attacks. Player hit gets a 1 on initiative next turn.

Red (or Orange) monsters have fire attacks. +1 to damage this combat round.

Green (or Purple) monsters have poison attacks. Player gets no attack next round.

Black (or White) monsters are undead and have draining attacks. Player loses a level (to a minimum of level one) temporarily. This affects the players number of treehouse dice and combat damage. Effect ends when combat ends.

Monsters may roll one treehouse die per pip count, just like player levels affect the number of treehouse dice they may roll.

The Dragon may only roll 4 treehouse dice. (Not seven.)

The Dragon will always use its 3 pip color power first, its 2 pip color on a second WILD roll, and then its two 1 pip powers only if it rolls 3 or 4 WILDs on the same roll. (Yes, the Dragon is one tough monster.)


Only the front two players may be engaged in combat. If there are multiple monsters then there is a right and left side and players may only engage the monsters in front of them. If there is only one monster then it is considered in the middle and players should randomly determine which player it attacks.

Initiative: Roll 1 die for each monster to determine initiative. It keeps this initiative for the entire combat. Compare to player's initiative and the highest initiative goes first, ties are re-rolled to determine who may be the faster of the tied numbers. So if a monster rolled a 4, and there is a Rogue and Fighter playing, then the monster and the fighter re-roll to see who is second and who is third.

Sped up rogues and monsters will have a tie-breaker roll for first place. Cold affected players and monsters rolling a natural 1 on initiative get a tie-breaker to see who is the lamest this round... (also known as a "nerd-off")

Combat Procedure

1) Whoever has initiative rolls as many Treehouse dice as their level and a six sided dice. Another player rolls as many treehouse dice as the monster's pip count (the Dragon rolls 4 treehouse dice) and another six sided die. (We use Black Treehouse dice for monsters and white ones for players.)

2) Add the player's level to their to hit or defense roll, and the monster's level to it's to hit or defense roll.

3) If the attacker's combined die, treehouse results, and level bonus is higher than the defender's then a hit is scored.

4) Damage dealt equals the character's or monster's level plus any bonus due to special abilities. For example, a second level fighter, who also rolled a WILD on one of his treehouse dice would do three points of damage.

Notes: The Dragon is a level 4 monster. If a player dies, all monsters AFTER the current combat will be scaled to the number of active players. It is suggested that dead players continue to play by rolling for the monsters.

Treehouse die table

Results only take effect for the correct side. Defense results only work for defenders and attack results for attackers (regardless of whether they do damage or not). Ignore the roll otherwise, because nothing special happened.

TIP - Attack, defender stunned (tip defender over flat and it can do no damage until it recovers)

HOP - Player or monster is unstunned (place upright)

DIG - Defense only, defender digs in (+1 to roll)

AIM - Attack only, aimed blow (+1 to roll)

SWAP - 2 monsters or players may change positions (no damage dealt) Monsters will always swap places.

WILD - Player or monster may use its special ability. See below for the Dragon.

Notes: DIG and AIM effects are cumulative. Two DIGs would give a defender a +2 bonus to their roll.

TIP and HOP cancel each other on a one to one basis. If a third level player rolled two TIPs and the monster rolled one HOP then the monster would be stunned.

Players not in the front row still get to roll their treehouse die, but only HOP, SWAP and WILD results take effect. Some abilities take no effect beyond the front row, such as the fighter's +1 to combat damage.

The Dragon and abilities

The Dragon could have as many as 4 abilities. It also get 4 treehouse dice. In a single roll if the dragon gets one WILD it uses it's largest color ability. With two WILD's it also uses it's medium ability. With three WILD's randomly select the small ability if the two small pieces are different colors. With four WILD's the Dragon uses all four of it's abilities on the unlucky player.


After combat ends, if a player in the party matches the color of a defeated monster, the monster's pips are stacked onto the player's stack as a reward. Use pyramids from the player's stash if possible, otherwise, the player may use pieces from the monster grab bag. The Dragon is an exception to this rule. Defeating the Dragon ends the game.

End of Turn

Play moves to the next player.

If the dragon was defeated, then the party wins. Tally all player pip counts, the player with the most hit points is considered the party leader and should gloat as appropriate.


Roll Initiatives: Initiative is rolled separately for all monsters and players every combat round. This evens things out, but can significantly slow the game down.

Varying Hit Points: Fighters start with 3 HP, Archers and Rogues with 2, and Clerics and Mages with 1.

Designer's Notes

I wanted to create a cooperative Icehouse game where all of the players had a common goal. I wanted the players to compete, not against each other, but against the game itself. I wanted it simple enough to be able to learn the rules quickly and yet have enough depth to intrigue players to keep going. I also wanted a definite ending in one big monster that the players would have a sense of closure in its defeat.

I also wanted to use items that would not be too difficult for a moderate gamer to obtain. I had considered using cards from Magic the Gathering, Aquarius, Labyrinth and even the cards from the Munchkin board game version. Then I played a game of Zark City. I had already played Zarcana and Gnostica and loved the idea of using tarot cards for the map. But even then, many players might be hard pressed to find some, or have a reservation to buy a set. Zark City proved to me that I could use a deck of regular playing cards and still have an enjoyable game. Synchronicity struck again with 3 royalty card types and three pyramid sizes. The fourth royalty, and the rarest card in a playing card deck, the Joker, I saved for the toughest monster in the dungeon.

I tried to use a single treehouse and then a 3house set in the early design stages, but found there were just not enough pyramids to make it work well. As I worked up to the current 5 treehouse/icehouse stash level, I also had come up with the treehouse combat die result, so I had a bit a synchronicity there.

I realize that there is a possibility of the players disagreeing on which way to move the party. They could just go back and forth between the same cards endlessly. We have not had this problem in playtesting, and I suspect if it happened then perhaps this is the wrong game for that particular set of players.

I would love to see an artistic version of the cavern cards as it would greatly increase the mood of being in a dungeon.


Version 1.4 02Apr2010

Cleaned up docs for uploading to the wiki.

Version 1.3 30Jan2010

Changed monster grabs to exclusively match the monster card. Previously, if a player pulled a King, the player had a choice of drawing a large, a medium and a small, or 3 smalls. This proved to have some interesting strategic possibilities as players could use up a specific color by NOT fighting small monsters until the color showed up that they wanted and then swoop in for an easy kill. The change simplifies the game a bit.

Added LOCKED stairs as it became a strategy to make the stairs unguarded by NOT fighting at all.

Version 1.2 20Jan2010

Changed initiative to speed things up. Old initiative is now a variant.

Version 1.1 14Jan2010

Added stairwell guardians to put an end to the "elevator strategy" of merely shooting to the fourth level as fast as possible.

Changed green from Druid to Archer. 3 Spellcasters was too many, and balance was horrible.

Expanded WILDs into Attack, Defense and Rear categories. It adds complexity but it is much more fun. When a player uses the class reference cards, it still plays very smoothly.

Version 1.0 10Jan2010

At first it seems unfair for monsters to get a roll every combat roll but remember it is defensive most of the time.

Why tie the player's level to the cavern level? It was easy and not as unrealistic as it first seems.


Elizabeth Mendez, Jeff Hammans


Inspired by D&D, Zark City, Gnostica, Zarcana and all PC rogue-like games.