25 June 2016

Board Game Review:Ghost Stories

Today is the day when I review another board game. For this outing, we'll look at a fun little co-operative board game. The name of this game is Ghost Stories, but don't be fooled by that name: it has nothing to do with sitting around a campfire trying to scare your friends. Instead, players are taking on the role of Taoist monks trying to defend a village that is being besieged by demons. It's hard, and it's maddening, and it's oh so much fun. But let's do this properly: I'll start, as always, with the numbers.
Strategy: 4
Randomness: 3
Complexity: 3
Humour: None
Attractiveness: Pretty
Average Length of Gameplay: 1 hour

Congratulations, young Taoist monk! A nearby village has asked for help in fighting off the minions of Wu Feng, the lord of hell. You have been selected as one of four who will undertake this righteous mission. You and your three companions each have special abilities that will allow you to be successful in this quest. But remember, this task will be a difficult one; you must judge carefully how best to proceed with your quest, and use your resources carefully. The villagers will assist you as best they can, but remember as always that it is your responsibility to ensure the safety of the village!

The board is made up of four small player boards and nine village location tiles. The tiles are arranged randomly in a 3×3 square in the centre of the table, and then the player boards are placed along each side. The monk figurines move from one village tile to another, and may either engage the demons in combat, or take an action to give yourselves some benefit. On a player's turn, he draws a demon card, which comes in one of five colours: red, green, yellow, blue (the same as the players' colours) or black. If the demon is not black, it must be placed in one of the three card spaces on the correspondingly coloured player board. Black ones go on the player board of the player who drew it. Each demon has one or more special ability. Some cause more demons to be drawn immediately, others prevent a monk from using his power, others require you to roll a curse die, and still others are able to haunt the village, causing a village tile to be flipped and its ability lost.

Ghost Stories in progress. The nine village tiles are in the centre, and the four player boards are arranged along the sides. The player pieces are on the village tiles, with some demon cards on the spaces of the player boards. There are tokens and dice on the table nearby.

After drawing a demon card, placing it on the board, and implementing any 'upon summoning' effects it may have (as well as the recurring 'beginning of turn' effects of all demons already on the board), the players are allowed to move to an adjacent tile and either take an action or attempt to banish a demon.

Taking actions: each village tile offers you an action. You can take the action permitted by the tile on which you are currently standing, including unhaunting a flipped village tile, gaining a Tao token, resurrect a dead Taoist, or take a Buddha figure (which can be placed on a player board to immediately and automatically banish a demon placed on that space later on).

Banish a demon: If you are on a village tile adjacent to a demon (or, if you're on a corner tile, you may be adjacent to two demons, and can attempt to banish both simultaneously), you may roll to try to exorcise that demon. The game comes with four dice, and most Taoists roll three of them to try to banish demons (the green Taoist has as one of his possible powers the ability to roll all four dice). The dice are marked with colours on each side. Demons are rated by how many icons of their colour it takes to banish them. For example, the 'Sharp Nails Mistress,' which is a red demon, has a single icon on the card. Thus, it requires one red icon to banish. On the other hand, the 'Green Abomination' card, which is (not surprisingly) a green demon, has four icons displayed on the card. So it takes four green icons to banish. However many icons are required, the Taoists can gain enough either by having them show on the dice or by spending Tao tokens of the appropriate colour.

In other words, to banish the 'Sharp Nails Mistress,' the Taoist rolls three dice. If at least one of them comes up red (or white, which is the wild colour), the demon is banished. If none of the dice give you the needed colour, then the Taoist would have to spend a red Tao token (assuming he has any). In this way, the 'Green Abomination' demon is much more difficult, as it's very unlikely that you'll roll green and/or white on all your dice, and even if you do, you'd still need to spend a green Tao token to meet the required four (unless you're playing the green Taoist who can roll four dice, and even then, it's still improbable that all four will come up green or white).

During setup, one of the Wu Feng cards is chosen at random and placed, unseen, eight cards from the bottom of the demon deck. The Taoists must keep the village safe and avoid allowing any player board to be overrun until Wu Feng appears, and then whatever incarnation Wu Feng takes, the Taoists must defeat him before he gains enough strength to overwhelm the village and trigger armageddon.

The game continues until one of several things happens:
  • All four Taoists are dead. The players lose.
  • Four village tiles are haunted (flipped face down). The players lose.
  • The demon deck is exhausted. The players lose.
  • The incarnation of Wu Feng is banished. The players win.
There are a few more details that I haven't mentioned, like the Qi tokens (which are basically the Taoists' life points) or the Yin-Yang tokens, which allow a player to take an action from any tile even if they're not on it, or to unhaunt a village tile. And I've only just briefly mentioned in passing one of the special powers that each colour Taoist has. But the above is a fairly accurate description of the game, and is enough to give you a basic idea of how the game works.

I really enjoy this game. Like most co-operative games, it's very thinky-thinky, and keeps the players on the edge of their seats as the suspense grows. It has a strong theme, interesting mechanics, and is just generally a lot of fun. I personally recommend it. But that's just my opinion; you should give it a try and decide for yourself!

So I'll leave you with that for now. Next week, we continue our overview of the classic World of Darkness. So you can look forward to that, and until then, remember to

Game on!

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