Friday, 18 March 2011

The Sorcerer's Cave: A game of exploration, magic, adventure and men called Nigel

While clearing out a lot of old books from one room of our house this evening my brother and I came across some long-forgotten treasure, bought from some boot sale or other. The Sorcerer's Cave is a board game created in 1978 by someone called Terence Donnelly. The players (in our case myself and my two brothers) each chose a party of very basic characters (man, woman, dwarf, wizard etc), shuffled a pack of postcard-sized cards and took turns laying them down on the floor.
The Gateway, the players' introduction to the dungeon

The Viper Pit, note the stylish portcullis drawn in biro - we'll come back to this later.

The cards were a way of randomly generating a dungeon like in modern computer games like Diablo. Some had tunnel sections printed on them and some had chambers where the players would encounter treasure, traps, monsters and other characters. This continued until the Sorcerer himself would turn up, randomly drawn from the deck and needing to be killed. It was essentially a very basic version of Dungeons and Dragons from around the same time. Due to the random nature of the thing, games could start off in one corner of the living room floor on a Saturday morning and grow until half the room was covered in cards.

I don't know exactly when we lost the Sorcerer card but I think it was soon after we bought the game. Rather than giving up on the now un-winnable game we started "modding" it with various bright ideas. See exhibit A:
Translation: A pub room. Roll a six to have a drink. If you do, gain a health point.

That one wasn't one of mine. I do remember coming up with the idea of adding magic spells to the game however. I think I spent a whole day hunched over my typewriter making the cards. These are a small sample of them:
"Teleport", "Curse", "Black Lightning" and "Web" spell cards

These extended the gameplay quite a bit, and then at some point it seems Al (then known as Aley) started naming individual character cards:

Here we have:
  • Nigel the man: I'm not quite sure how a man named Nigel ended up exploring a dungeon, but he's holding a pretty mean-looking dagger so it would be best not to make fun of him.
  • Father Abbot the priest: Priests were a bit annoying really, they weren't very powerful and could only lug around 25kg of loot for you.
  • Gandalf the wizard: Not very original but shows he was quite an advanced reader - this was years before the Lord of the Rings films.
  • Jenny the woman: Women were even worse than priests, and the "Special Scenarios" suggested at the end of the rulebook all involved rescuing them. This one was called Jenny, and I found another one called Sarah, both of whom are named after two of our aunts.
  • Hector the spectre: He deserves to have a picture book written about him.
  • A unicorn with an eye for the ladies.
  • Some loot.
Additionally Al added locked doors and portcullises to some cards just to punish us further. This was how we spent our weekends back then. So, I thought I'd share this on here with anyone who might be interested as we're chucking the whole thing in the recycling bin now.

I still don't know why we didn't just make a new Sorcerer card.


  1. "I don't know exactly when we lost the Sorcerer card but I think it was soon after we bought the game. Rather than giving up on the now un-winnable game..."
    Huh? You can still play the game. You just leave the caves when you think you have amassed a winning amount of treasure!