Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Catspaw & Paper Tiger: "Betrayal at House on the Hill"

To get in the mood for Halloween this year we really wanted to go creeping around a dark, musty, old building, risking certain doom at the duplicitous hands of a secret, power-mad conspirator.  No, I'm not talking about Parliament Hill, I'm talking about the tile-laying, co-operative, RPG adventure game Betrayal at House on the Hill.

In Betrayal you become one of twelve archetypal characters cribbed directly from an entire host of horror movie cliches.  Using lovely pre-painted miniatures to keep track their progress, players explore the creepy-ass mansion hoping to gather clues and resources before all hell breaks loose.  The house is randomly constructed with a sizable stack of tiles, all of which feature evocative artwork and cool in-game effects.

Every time an Omen card is drawn, players must roll to see if the game's main threat is revealed.  When this so-called "Haunt" is triggered, one of the players turns against the others and the game's scenario details get revealed.  The action continues until either the remaining allied players or the newly-revealed traitor fulfill their customized victory conditions and win the game.  

Since Betrayal is the perfect game to play this time of year Mike, Chad, his son Mac and I all gathered at Andrew's place to get our spook-on.


Andrew...Brandon Jaspers
Chad...Heather Granville
Me...Vivian Lopez
Mac...Professor Longfellow
Mike...Darrin "Flash" Williams

I sent Vivian through a door right off the main Entrance Hall, which ended up depositing her in the Junk Room.  After drawing an Omen card, Vivian found a "Skull" which would allow her to take Physical damage in place of Mental damage.  I then got a ton of pips on the Haunt roll, staving off any quick revelations.

Mike used Darrin "Flash" Williams' six Movement points to haul ass upstairs.  He crept into the Library and eventually gained a point of Knowledge.  After drawing an Event card, Flash heard a "Closet Door" in the room creak open.  Unfortunately, while trying to search it, Mike rolled two blanks, ushering in another Event and sealing up the closet door forever!  Flash turned away from the now-featureless wall only to catch a spectral "Groundskeeper" charge at him with a shovel!  With a successful Knowledge roll of "4", Flash resisted any harmful effects of the illusion and ended up finding a lucky Rabbit's Foot.

Armed with Speed of "4", Heather joined "Flash" in the Library and gained a point of Knowledge.

As Professor Longfellow, Mac moved two spaces and proceeded to poke around in another room just off the Entrance Hall.  After entering the Statuary, Longfellow witnessed a particularly heinous "Bloody Vision" event.  Forced into a three-die Sanity roll, Mac got a "4", allowing the skittish Longfellow to steel himself against the awful sight and gain one Sanity.

Brandon Jaspers moved three spaces, through the Creaky Hallway and into the Ballroom.  Suddenly Brandon's flashlight gave out ("thanks" to the "Lights Out" Event) plunging him into total darkness.  This condition would keep him limited to one movement per turn, unless he could hook up with another member of the Scooby Gang!

Vivian failed to move through the Junk Room without incident, losing one Speed point in the process.  Undaunted, she inched her way into the Abandoned Room.  After drawing another Omen card, Vivian located a mysterious "Book" which gave her two Knowledge (so long as it remains in her possession).  The subsequent high Haunt roll kept us all in the clear.

Still upstairs, "Flash" moved into the Master Bedroom where he found a weapon "pulsing with power".  It was a "Spear", you perverts!  And, no, not that kind of "spear".  It was the kind that of "Spear" that gave him two additional dice when making a Might-based melee attack.  After a brief intermission filled with infantile snickering, Mike rolled a "6" for the Haunt, keeping us safe.

Heather, with her Speed of four, moved through the vacant Research Lab and into the upstairs Gymnasium, prompting another Omen draw.  After adding a one-point bump in Speed thanks to the tile, he suddenly incurred a nasty "Bite" from Mike, whom we henceforth decided to refer to as the "L'il Nibbler".  Mike rolled a four-die Might attack and got a "5" versus Chad's roll of "4".  As such, Heather ended up receiving one point of Might damage.  Chad then made a frighteningly low roll Haunt roll, triggering the dire dire event!  

The Haunt we got was "Small Change".  For this particular scenario, the designated Traitor was the character with the highest Knowledge, which resulting in a tie between Heather Granville and Vivian Lopez.  After investigating a little further we discovered that, in case of a tie, the Haunt Revealer becomes the traitor!  As a result, Chad went into another room to read over his victory conditions and prepare a strategy.  After he made himself scarce, the rest of us breezed over the scenario details:

Now that your experimental subjects are all safely in the house with your cats, it's time 
for the real fun to begin! Dropping the beaker of Shrinkital, you watch as the silver 
liquid turns to gas. Miraculously, it shrinks you and your subjects down to the size of 
mice. Already you hear your cats padding towards the frightened subjects. It looks as if 
you and your cats will really enjoy this little experiment, one you like to call 'The 
Digestive Response of Domestic Felines to the Introduction of Homo Sapiens Minutus.'              

The rest of us were horrified to discover that we'd all been are shrunk down to minuscule size!  Our new goal was to locate a toy airplane located somewhere in the house, figure out how to fly it and then escape through one of the mansion's windows before being eaten by Chad's feline flunkies!

Our new mission started promisingly enough as the now-teeny Professor Longfellow managed to crawl up the Himalayan-like staircase.

Meanwhile, Brandon Jaspers stumbled into the worst possible room: the Coal Chute!  This dropped him into the Basement, making his retrieval via airplane a real challenge!

In quick succession, Vivian Lopez moved into the Gardens while "Flash" found the toy airplane!        

On his turn, Chad's furry goons flanked out, pouncing on both Vivian and Professor Longfellow.  His seven-die Might attack against Vivian turned up a "5".  Since Viv only had two Might dice at her disposal, the cat was soon batting her around like a catnip-filled bag of potpourri.  Another cat rolled a solid "7" against the Professor and began painting-brushing crap out of the venerable scientist!

Longfellow attempted a Knowledge roll to try and get away but rolled a lousy "3"!  This insured that he was now officially destined for the litterbox on the Traitor's turn!  Meanwhile, down in the basement, young Brandon wandered into the Servant's Quarters.  Vivian's escape attempt fared considerably better with a roll of "8" but Chad's pussy (?) proved wilier, rolling a "9".  Just like the Professor, Vivian was now destined to become a bowl of Meow Mix!

"Flash" moved four spaces, trying to free Professor Longfellow from this catspaw.  Although he conjured up a "6" point Might roll (nicely augmented with two bonus dice courtesy of the "Spear"), the cat still managed to counter!

On Chad's turn, his kitties got their snack-on, first gnawing on Vivian:

And then chowing down on some prime USDA Longfellow:

In order for the explorers to win, Flash had to survive the cat attack, figure out how to start the newly-discovered plane, fly down into the Basement, pick up Andrew and then fly out of the window!  No problem!  After Brandon fumbled his way blindly into an adjacent room, Flash tried to get back to the toy plane.  His four-die Knowledge roll proved fruitful and he soon the plane was all fired up and ready to go!

Chad's lead cat then pounced on Flash, rolling seven Might dice for a nasty total of "9" versus Mike's diminutive result of "5".  In his one and only escape attempt, "Flash" tried a Speed contest, allowing  him to roll six die.  Unfortunately his result was a paltry "1" versus the cat's "5".  Flash, like his two other companions, was instantly reduced to a human hairball.

Traitor Chad wins the game!!!

This first game went by so fast that we decided to play another one!


Andrew...Peter Akimoto
Chad...Jenny LeClerc
Me...Madame Zostra
Mac...Father Rhinehardt
Mike...Ox Bellows

Madame Zostra marched straight through the first door she saw and promptly slid right down a Coal Chute!  After dusting herself off and getting her bearings she moved into the Operating Lab where she had to contend with "Mists From The Walls".  After rolling four blank faces on her Sanity check she was forced to take one full die of Mental damage, so naturally I rolled a friggin' "2"!  To make matters worse, she had to take two additional die of Mental damage because this encounter happened in a room with an Event symbol!  After sucking up another three points of damage, Madame Zostra was left rendered virtually insane as well as clinically brain-dead.

Meanwhile, Ox tried to navigate through the Collapsed Room.  Despite the fact that he was well-equipped with four Speed dice, he rolled low and took two points of Might damage after falling through the floor.  At least the place he landed in (the Larder) gave up a few consolation prizes in the form of a one-point Might boost as well as an Adrenaline Shot.  Not too shabby!

After closing her eyes and pretending that she was at Six Flags, Jenny LeClerc slid down the Coal Chute and ended up in the Larder for a Might point increase.  

Father Rhinehardt ventured down a Creepy Hallway just off the Foyer and ended up in the cozy-sounding Charred Room.  This prompted the Omen Card draw "Madman" which gave the vicar two Might points while deducting one Sanity.  After scoring this unconventional bodyguard, Mac's high Haunt roll kept us all safe n' sound.

Straight-"A" student and global Starcraft champ Peter Akimoto ended up in the Kitchen just off the Foyer.  He found a trapped Girl there and freed her, gaining one Sanity and one Knowledge as part of his "reward".  After this creepy connotation sunk in, Andrew's subsequent Haunt roll helped to preserve the status quo.

Madame Zostra wandered dazed into the Larder, inadvertently gaining one Might.

Ox boldly struck off into the unknown, searching for a way to get back upstairs.  He did one better by locating the Mystic Elevator!  After piling in, he courteously decided to hold the door open for his fellow explorers.

Father Rhinehardt entered the Chapel, gaining one Sanity.  Unfortunately he didn't notice that there just so happened to be a "Creepy Puppet" hanging around just behind the altar!  It scored a "3" on a four Might dice attack but Rhinehardt's Madman-fueled four-die defense came up one better!

Peter Akimoto and his girlfriend Mary Kay Letourneau wandered into the Games Room to play a quick  match of Betrayal at House on the Hill  (OooOoo, meta!).  Here they encountered a bizarre "Night View" as a ghostly couple drifted by.  Unfortunately, ol' Pete tanked his Knowledge roll and the little sissy turned away in fear, forever missing out on the spirit's off to share their unearthly knowledge.  What a dweeb.

Although nearly out of her gourd, Madame Zostra had the presence of mind to move into the Mystic Elevator.  Unfortunately when it came time to more the 'Vator's I rolled a crappy "1", teleporting all of us to...the Basement.  Wow, yet another awesome, productive turn for me!  Oh well, at least my character didn't get electrocuted, bitten, stabbed, shot, squished or anally violated this turn.

Ox randomly mashed Elevator buttons until he got us to the Upper Floor.  He then stepped out, moved past the Upper Landing and then got mired the Junk Room.  He did locate a Ring, however, which gave him the power to use Sanity in place of Might on attacks.  Mercifully, Mike's follow-up Haunt roll let us off the hook once again.        

Still aimlessly wandering around upstairs, Jenny LeClerc stumbled into the Servants Quarters.  After finding a Dog just sitting there she encouraged the pooch to follow her, gaining one Might and one Sanity in the process.

Rhinehardt left the Chapel, moved into the Abandoned Room, and came across a "Spirit Board".
Mac then rolled under our current Omen total, triggering the Haunt!  After cross-referencing the priest's location with "Spirit Board" in the guide book, we looked up the colorfully-titled "Stacked Like Cordwood" Haunt (#48).  We also determined that innocent, l'il Peter Akimoto (I.E. Andrew) was the dirty, nasty Traitor!  Andrew grabbed the Traitor's Tome and left the room, leaving the rest of us to ponder our newly-revealed predicament:   

"While you were driving to this mansion, you told your companions about a series of 
grisly deaths that took place here five years ago.  A group of teenagers sneaked away 
from the safety of their summer camp to explore the Old House on the Hill.  They 
hoped for an amorous interlude...until a madman slaughtered them one by one.  You 
told them that the murderer couldn't be killed and that his mangled body always 
returned to kill again.  There's a good reason why you know so 
much.  That madman was a distant relative of yours.  He's coming back to the Old House 
again, and he's going to need victims..."

Our goal appeared to be fairly simple: locate the Cursed Weapon and figure out how to use it against the otherwise-invulnerable, supernatural serial-killer Crimson Jack!  As the Traitor, Andrew's goal was even more straightforward: kill every one of the remaining explorers!

Andrew moved the now sinister-looking Peter Akimoto into the Ballroom.  He found a pair of Pickpocket Gloves there, giving the greasy little runt the ability to steal items from the rest of us!  Andrew then sicced Crimson Jack on Father Rhinehardt!  In the resulting fracas of opposed Might, Andrew threw a perfect "6", while Mac rolled "4" pips on four die, taking one point of Might and one point of Speed damage!  Yowtch!

Still drifting around the house like Jody Foster in Nell, Madame Zostra crawled out of the Mystic Elevator, slid down the Grand Staircase and wandered into the Foyer.

Jenny LeClerc hustled back downstairs, getting as far as the Creaky Hallway.  With a Speed of six, her dog (Sir Barksalot) ran on ahead to the Chapel.

Father Rhinehardt managed to beat a 3+ Sanity challenge to avoid Crimson Jack's paralyzing Aura of Fear™.  He ran two spaces to the Chapel where he began to frantically rummage around.  After exceeding the 3+ search requirement with his four Knowledge dice, Rhinehardt managed to locate the Cursed Weapon: a vicious-looking Axe!    

Andrew moved that little wiener Peter Akimoto back towards the rest of us, obviously trying to keep within thieving distance.  Meanwhile, Crimson Jack tracked Father Rhinehardt all the way to the Chapel and attacked the priest in a fit of blood-lust!  Andrew rolled four pips on three dice for Jack but Mac handily countered with a "5" on four dice!

Still operating on a single brain cell, Madame Zostra finally made it to the Chapel and gained a desperately-needed Sanity point!  After noticing the Cursed Axe in a moment of clarity, Zostra picked it up and took a few practice swings.  She rolled five pips on her subsequent Might roll, gaining a matching token in the process.  One down, four more head-scratchings to go!

Seeing the clear benefit of research, Ox joined us in the Chapel, gaining one Sanity.  He tossed a "5" on his five-die Might check, scoring our second token.  Two test-swings down, three more to go!

Jenny LeClerc piled into the room, ran over to the Axe, had a peek at it and promptly rolled over five on her Knowledge check, earning us yet another research token!  The explorers were now only two examinations away from Axe-ing Jack an important question!

Channeling the calming effects of the Chapel, Father Rhinehardt managed to shake off the loathsome presence of Crimson Jack by rolling in excess of three pips on his five-die Sanity check!  Sensing a breakthrough, he tried to get a closer look at the Axe, but his view was blocked by his excited and vaguely ass-holish companions!  After failing this four-die Knowledge roll, the turn then passed to the forces of e-e-e-e-e-e-vil!    

Peter Akimoto suddenly revealed his ninja skills by pouncing on Father Rhinehardt, rolling a "5" on his Might check!  The priests' four-die defense yielded a tie and an awkward standoff ensued between a decrepit old man and a nerdy toddler!  Crimson Jack took full advantage of Rhinehardt's distraction, dealing one point of physical damage to the vicar!          

Madame Zostra managed to avoid Jack's Aura o' Fear by rolling a successful Sanity test.  Unfortunately, she only rolled a "4" on her a five-die Might check, missing the required 5+ benchmark to further the group's research.

Ox rebuked the Aura of Fear but fucked up his Might roll.  All of a sudden, the explorer's communal research was grinding to a halt!

Jenny LeClerc shrugged off the Fear Aura, rolling a total of four pips on her five-die Sanity check.  Her Might-based research attempt also fizzled.

After beating Jack's pall of Fear, Father Rhinehardt experienced an uncharacteristic moment of vindictiveness, rolling an eight-point Sanity assault (via six die) against Peter with his mind-altering Ring!  Peter tried to resist with his five dice of Sanity but turned up a weak-sauce defense of three.  Despite taking five points of Mental damage, the traitorous little larvae was still alive!

Peter responded by stealing Rhinehardt's precious Ring right off of his finger in the middle of the fight!  Man, you can't get any more ninjutsu then that!  Enraged by the theft, the (not so) good Father  inadvertently killed Jack with a four-Might counter attack!  He also beat Sho Kosugi Jr.'s ass after the brat took a pot shot at him with three dice and only produced two pips.  The resulting four-point back-hander sent the little snot reeling back into the altar.  Seconds later Rhinehardt could be heard screaming "I kick ass for the Lord!!!"

Content that we'd placated Andrew enough, Madame Zostra stepped up to the plate and nailed her 5+ research requirement on a five-die Might roll.  Only one final argument about where to find the Axe's on-switch remained!

But it would have to wait.  Instead of finalizing our all-important research, both Ox Bellows and Jenny LeClerc spent the next few minutes arguing about whether or not we should use the Axe to hit Jack in the brain pan or in the knutz.

Still unhealthily obsessed with the little boy (an unfortunate predilection for a small percentage of  priests), Father Rhinehardt went after Peter Akimoto with an eight-point Might attack.  After posting a feeble three-point defense, the kid was finally dropped, fulfilling Father Rhinehardt's secret ambition of murdering a young child with his bare hands.
Crimson Jack popped back up in the Entrance Hall, reconstituted and more powerful then ever!  Seeking revenge for his young ward's death, he charged through the mansion, burst into the Chapel and    flew into Father Rhinehardt.  The priest rolled a four point defense against Jack's five point attack and was forced to take a point of Might damage!

Madame Zostra's four-die Sanity check easily cleared the 3+ hurdle to overcome Jack's spell of Fear.  Unfortunately she followed tis us by completely whiffing her five-die, Might-based research check.

Ox's four die Sanity check was also successful, allowing him to resist the miasma of terror!  He followed this up by determining conclusively that the sharp end of the Axe would definitely be more effective against Jack then the handle, thus completing our research!  He celebrated this revelation by raising the weapon above his head like a Tusken Raider and shouting something profound like "RRRuuuRuuuuOOOrrrrrUUUURrrr GuGuGuGu!!!"      

Jenny LeClerc avoided Jack's "Fear - 50-Foot Radius" spell and then moved three spaces into the Statuary Corridor.  Se was soon freaked out by the sound of disembodied "Footsteps", resulting in the loss of one Sanity after Chad rolled a pitiful "2".

After rolling a "3" and barely avoiding the dangers of Jack's evil Aura, Father Rhinehardt fled to the Organ Room.  This triggered an Event called "The Beckoning", which forced certain explorers to pass a Sanity check or jump out the nearest window!  Madame Zostra rolled four pips with four dice and both Ox and Jenny were similarly successful!

In a final bid to kill / wound / mildly inconvenience the Axe-wielder, Crimson Jack lashed out at Ox, scoring five pips on a four-die Might roll.  Ox could only muster a defensive roll of "3" on five dice, forcing him to take two points of Speed damage.

Still camped out in the Chapel, Madame Zostra rolled a "2" for her Sanity check, falling prey to Jack's stench of Fear.  This caused her to lose one point from her already-crippled Sanity score and one point from Might.  Now nuttier then a Pal-O-Mine bar, Madame Zostra used her remaining three Speed points to run around the mansion, yelling "Whoop-WHOOP-whoop-WHOOPWHOOP!  Whoop-WHOOPWHOO-whoop-whoop!  WHHOP_WHOOP-whoop-whoop-whoop-whoop!"

Ox (barely) avoided Jack's Aura of Fear by rolling a "3" with his four dice of Sanity.  Before taking up the Axe (for a bonus Might die) he jammed an Adrenaline Shot into his dick, giving him a potential four free damage pips.  On the resulting six-die Might roll he got a total of thirteen pips!   With Jack's defense roll of four, the crazed killer took nine points of damage enough to fell Michael Myers and Jason Vorhees combined!

The explorers win!!!


Even with the revised rule and Haunt books provided by the Second Edition, the scenarios for Betrayal at House on the Hill still inspire a lot of chicken-or-the-egg style questions.  Fortunately, the game is so thematically rich that I just don't care!  As you progress through the game you really do get the sense that you're inching your way through a decrepit old manse waiting for something to spring out at you.  The sliding abilities of the characters, the odd effects produced by the room tiles, the traitor mechanic, the evocative flavor text on the cards and the sheer number of unique and varied scenarios really makes this game a fun and memorable experience.

Betrayal at House on the Hill scores a veddy scary four pips out of six!

Wanna make up your very own horror flick instead of just passively watching one?  Click on the image below to order Betrayal at House on the Hill via and help support the blog! 

P.S. Check back soon for my third and final Betrayal at House on the Hill session report!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Purification Is Setting In: "Zombies!!!"

Ten (!) years ago I read the following blurb in the March 2002 issue of the late, lamented gaming mag Inquest:

" (Zombies!!! is) zombie-killin' fun, pure and simple.  There's no complex strategy here.  The undead miniatures spawn along desolated city streets, and you've got to hack, blast or punch your way through their gruesome hordes to the escape chopper.  It's a game that cries out for beer, pretzels and holy water."

By the time I read this, I'd already been a fan of zombies ever since George A. Romero scared the fertilizer out of me with Night of the Living Dead back in 1983.  Needless to say, I was already predisposed to a buying copy of Zombies!!! long before 28 Days Later exploded on the scene that same year and turned the walking (or in this case sprinting) dead into a bona-fide cultural phenomenon.

I played the crap out of Zombies!!! when it first came out.  As far as I was concerned, there'd been nothing like it ever before (I was wrong, BTW).  Everyone I played this game with was similarly compelled to run out and buy their own copy.  One local game retailer had no less then three of my friends march in and buy it on the exact same day!  Of all the games out there that I should have gotten commission on, it should have been Zombies!!!

But ten years was a long time ago and there's been a lot of board game innovation and evolution in the interim.  Does this venerable zombie-slaying title still have the "BrAiNSsSS!!!" to be a contender?

Zombies!!! is a horror / exploration / fight-for-your-life style board game for two-to-six players.  Participants take on the role of survivors attempting to stay alive during a zombie apocalypse.  The game board, representing streets and buildings in a typical city, are laid out randomly via thirty different map tiles.  Players roll dice to determine how far they can move each turn and engage in combat every time they find themselves in a space with one of the shambling rotters.

Fights are ludicrously easy.  If you roll a four, five or six on a six-sided die you kill the zombie.  If you roll a one, two, or three, you take a point of damage and one of your "Heart" tokens gets removed.  Players can also use "Bullet" tokens to augment a poor die roll.  Major structures around town have additional Bullets and Hearts inside which players can collect.  In addition, cards can be played to improve your situation or hinder your opponents.  At the end of every turn, another die roll determines how many zombies move one space.

Yep, these are the slow-assed, shuffly, olde skool kinda zombies!  A-w-w-w-w-w-w, yeah!    

First player to reach the center of the Helipad tile or kill a predetermined number of zombies wins the game.  On the other hand, if a player looses all of their Heart tokens half of their zombie kills are discarded and they move all the way back to the center of town.  

Hoping to get inside the designer's head and scoop out all of that yummy gray matter?  You can read the game's full rules right here.  

This being the glorious month of October, we decided to revisit Zombies!!! for Halloween.  We gathered at Dean's place last Wednesday night to shotgun our way through endless waves of mouldering undead.

For the purpose of full disclosure, we played with the core game components, the School's Out Forever tiles, a smattering of cards from various expansions and a rules variant designed to speed up the game. 

Here are some house-rule highlights:
  • "Guts" tokens represent how many cards you can hold at any given time.  If you roll a "1" in combat you lose a Guts token and every time you roll a "6" you gain a Guts token (to a maximum of five).  
  • The amount of zombies you need to kill in order to win the game is influenced by how many players.  Ergo, we needed seventeen zombies in order to win.
  • We determined Movement by rolling a six-sided die and then adding our current count of Hearts. 
Andrew was Red, Chad was Yellow, I was Black, Dean was Orange and Mike was Blue.


Andrew made the first drive, moving six spaces in a bee-line right down a zombie-choked street.  In his first battle he lost one Bullet and one Heart but killed his second target on his first roll.  He picked up (and then promptly burned) a Bullet in order to kill a third target.  While strolling through a "T"-intersection he got jumped by a particularly resilient ghoul who cracked his skull open like a hard-boiled egg.  Killed on his very first turn, Andrew went right back to the center of town!  Hey, if yer gonna get killed in this game then it's wise to do it early.  

Just prior to Dean's turn Chad played "No Guts, No Glory" resulting on a moratorium on Bullet use until the end of his next turn!  Nonplussed, Dean put down the Skate Shop, rolled up a total "8" for movement and then killed his first zombie with authoritah by rolling a "6".  After snatching up a Bullet he then blasted another shambler in the mush with another "6".  A "1" then materialized in his final fight, forcing him to spend a Heart.  He blew another Heart on his follow-up roll of "3", re-rolled and got a "4" for the kill.

Mike played "Adrenaline Rush", which doubled his movement roll from 6 to 12.  With three Hearts thrown in for good measure, Mike became the equivalent of Barry Allen with a crazy Movement total of 15!  He moved eight spaces down the street and then ducked into the Florist Shop.  His first roll of "1" cost him one Guts token and one Heart but his next roll of "6" was an insta-kill!  After snapping up the Bullets underfoot, he blasted another ghoul with a "6" and scored another Heart.  But his next two fights took a turn for the sour when he rolled a "2" and then a "1", costing him two Hearts and one Guts token.  His luck finally turned around when he tossed his third "6", vaporizing his opponent's skull like an over-ripe melon.

Chad played a 4-way intersection tile and then diced up six points of movement.  Just as he was about to pick up his pawn, Andrew played "Brain Cramp", forcing him to wander off into a completely deserted part of the board.  No zombie kills for Chad that round!

Just as I was about to enter a juicy-looking building, Chad played "Claustrophobia", effectively barring my entry.  I quickly changed plans and used my six Movement points to venture out into the four-way intersection where I killed three zombies with one economic roll apiece!  Boo-ya! 

Andrew drew a boring ol' straight-away street tile.  He then rolled a "6" for movement, went into the Skate Shop and found a "Chainsaw" (courtesy of the "Ooooo, What Luck!" card).  

Dean discovered the Toy Store, but with his crappy movement roll of "3" all he could do was admire it from afar.

Mike pulled the Fire Station.  Just before he ventured inside, Dean played "Power Outage", preventing him from picking up any Bullet or Heart tokens!  After we all agreed that this was a gloriously dickish move, Mike consoled himself by moving four spaces and pureeing a zombie on a roll of "5".

Chad drew a "T"-intersection and then rolled a "2" versus his first zombie in combat, requiring him to spend two Bullets.  He then moved five spaces and whacked another zed on a roll of "4".

I started my turn by bringing out the University's front gates!  Still in the Toy Store, I proficiently dispatched the fiend on my space with a "6" and then rolled up a "2" for movement, giving me a grand total of five (with an extra three for my Heart-count).  I bagged a second zombie in the store with yet another "6" and then finished the extermination with a "2" boosted up with a coupla Bullets.

Andrew started his turn by tabling the Lawn & Garden Center .  Thanks to his friggin' "Chainsaw", Andrew overkilled a zombie on his space with a "5" and then generated none movement points.  He got a "1" in his next fight, costing him a Guts token and a Heart but he quickly rebounded with a roll of "6".  For his final action he chucked down "Electro Shock Therapy", giving him three additional Guts tokens!

Armed with seven movement points, Dean ventilated a mobile corpse walking down the middle of the street with a "4" and then played "Why Don't We Go Some Place More Private?".  This allowed him to enter the Lawn & Garden Center, move into Andrew's space and then escort him back outside behind the loading dock where he presumably treated him like Ned Beatty in Deliverance.  Hey, I know it's a zombie apocalypse but a man got needs!     

Mike played a "T" intersection tile and then rolled a "6" to liquefy the zombie in his space, earning him a Guts token.  He then got a "4" for movement and added two for his Hearts.  Poking through the Fire Station, Mike chucked a "2" against his first walker, forcing him to expend two Bullets to finish the job and pick up a Heart.  With the last of his opposition defeated, Mike gathered up two more Bullets and a Heart.

Chad drew the Sporting Goods Store and then killed the zombie pawing all over him with a roll of "5".  After dialing up five total movement points, he scored a "6" versus the first zombie in his path, earning him a shiny, new Guts token.  Unfortunately he got jacked up in the entrance to the Sporting Goods Store and rolled a "1" in the resulting fracas.  After spending a Heart he bounced back with a "5", getting the kill and picking up a new Bullet in the process!

After adding a parking lot to the university campus, I rolled a "4" to drop the deader in my space and collect a free Bullet.  With a grand total of six movement points I proceeded to haul ass, ganking another shuffler along the way with a glorious "6"!

Andrew revealed and placed the Army Surplus Store but after scoring eight big movement points he ran back into the Lawn & Garden Center and totally cleaned house!

After placing a humdrum ninety degree street tile along the hinterland of the map, Dean turned his attentions to the task at hand.  In response, Andrew played "They're Coming For You,  _(Dean)_" which allowed him to place a zombie on every legal square in the previously deserted Lawn & Garden Center!  Dean managed to take down the zombie on his space and then generated six movement points.  But alas, it was all for nought when he got completely swarmed and had to go all the way back to start!  Another timely and prick-tacular card play!      

Although Mike rolled a "1" versus the first zombie in his space he spent three Bullet tokens to polish it off.  He then played "Where Did Everybody Go?", forcing me to move five spaces through a veritable gauntlet o' ghouls.  My first roll was a "1" prompting the loss of one Guts and one Heart token.  Mike decided to reward my subsequent "6" kill shot by moving me down the vacant Toy Store street.  I then cast another "6" to obliterate the zombie standing in the entrance.  

Chad brought out the Drug Store and then rolled a "6" (plus three Hearts) for a total of nine movement!  He got snake eyes in his first melee but then scored another "6" on the re-roll after spending a Heart.  After replacing the Heart with the one sitting on the ground (?) he went on a crazed undead killing spree, rolling no less then two fours and two fives!

I played the university's Administration Building and then rolled a "3" (plus three Hearts) for a total move of six.  I handily plastered the only zombie in my path with a roll of "4".

After pulling a four-way street intersection tile, Andrew diced up an impressive ten movement points for himself.  In battle he rolled four "2"'s in a row, all solid results thanks to his "Chainsaw".  This allowed him clean out the Skate Shop with ease. 

Since every other player had more zombie kills, Dean was permitted to play "I Know What You Did" to teleport himself from his current tile to an adjacent tile.  After rolling a "3" for movement and adding a similar count of Hearts for a total of six, he immediately charged headlong into a zombie mosh pit.  His first roll of "2" drained away two of his Bullets.  A second "2" result against his next opponent took away his last Heart.  On a third roll of "2" two the zombies piled on, stripping the flesh from his limbs and ripping his bread basket open like a Christmas present.  This die was then immediately banished for being overtly evil.  

Mike brought out the Police Station and then played "Just When You Thought It Couldn't Get Any Worse" to restock the Lawn & Garden Center to full zombie capacity.  He then handily took care of the fiend on his space with a roll of "5".  Fueled by a movement roll of "2" and his maximum five hearts, Mike became a house on fire.  He plowed through the "T" intersection, boosting his roll of "1" up to four by shelling out three Bullets.  He was forced to spend another round after a roll of  "3" but ended on a high note, dispatching his final foe with a "6".

Chad placed a four-way intersection and then scored a movement total of seven (by rolling a "4" coupled with his three Hearts).  His first fight roll turned up a sad little "1", deducting a Guts and Heart token.  He then rolled a "2" and put the kibosh on his assailant by juicing with a pair of Bullets.

I drew and placed the University Dorm.  My movement roll was a paltry "2" (plus another two for Hearts) for a total of four.  I got a "3" against my first rotter but made the difference up with one Bullet.  

We all piled on Andrew during his turn, fully aware that he was only a few kills away from certain victory.  Chad played "Where's The Admin Building?" steering him away from the re-populated Lawn & Garden Center and back towards the university campus.  Andrew countered with "This Isn't So Bad" which moved two Zombies back into his hell-bent path, which he immediately killed with a pair of "4"'s.  In a last-ditch effort to keep the game alive I dropped "Why Won't You Die?!?!?" forcing Andrew to re-fight his last kill.  Without hesitation he followed through with a "4", flattening his last zombie and giving him the win.


Honestly, folks,  Zombies!!! has gone sour to me.  It's pretty sad when you have a hard time remembering the game's basic turn sequence even after so many plays.  Especially if said game boils down to the equivalent of a one-page rule sheet.   

Many of the antiquated mechanics are unnecessary and really bog the game down.  Placing a new tile at the beginning of every turn is a pointless time-waster.  By the end of it, we were throwing tiles down and not even bothering to stock them with zombies because we'd NEVER, EVER GO THERE.  Why not place new tiles only when someone goes off the map to explore the unknown?  If you're concerned that no new zombies are entering play, then just have a random amount of them appear every turn along the edges of the existing map.

Also the concept of rolling for movement is something that's best left behind with childhood, like measles, smallpox and Monopoly.  Sadly, for a brain-dead game like Zombies!!!, there's no easy way to remedy this.  I highly, highly recommend the variant which adds your current Heart total to your movement roll.  Otherwise, you're stuck rolling a single d6 every turn and pondering a Guyana-style Kool Aid suicide pact half way through the game.  

The other bullshit thing about Zombies!!!: dying is often beneficial!  If the Helipad appears right next to  Town Square while you're plowing through zombies in a completely different zip code, you immediately find yourself struggling with the temptation to put the 'splody end of your shotgun in yer pie-hole and pull the trigger.  This is completely anathema to the whole concept of survival horror.  The key word there is survival, morons!  

Having said that, I'm loathe to throw the dead baby out with the bath water.  The game is easy to chuck down and get into.  It has considerable noob gamer curb appeal.  When the entire map-board is splayed out and covered with a metric shit-ton of plastic miniature zombies, the thing looks pretty epic.  Closing in on your last few required kills or crawling towards the helipad still offers a visceral thrill.  And although the cards can sometimes reduce the victor to the equivalent of a coin toss, the effects that they produce are unexpectedly numerous and often gloriously prickish.  

Indeed, Zombies!!! has since been trumped by Last Night on Earth, All Things Zombie and even the free print-and-play game Zombie Plague.  Even with all the "hurry up" rules variants we still found Zombies!!! to be a somewhat tedious experience that produced a palpable wave of relief when it ended. I'm not even sure if we'll ever play it again, even for nostalgia's sake.

But I still have a soft spot for this one.  Along with Magic: The Gathering and Settlers of Catan, Zombies!!! rekindled my love for board games.  In retrospect, this probably had a lot more to do with the game's awesome subject matter then the game itself.

I give Zombies!!! three pips outta six!    

Wanna vaporize some zombie heads and snack on a cranium-shaped bucket of pop-corned brains?  Click on the image below to order Zombies!!! via and help support the blog! 

P.S. After the game was over and Andrew and Dean toddled off to finish their Blood Bowl match, Mike, Chad and I played a second game.  I must confess: it was a much less annoying experience with only three players.  Victory went back and forth between all three of us before I finally pulled out the win.  Although I wouldn't describe the experience as superior to other zombie-themed games, running it with only three bodies certainly made it more tolerable.    

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Games That Even A Mom (and Cousin!) Will Love: "Pandemic"

On the same night that we played Gloom, I had a chance to run Pandemic for Cheryl, her mom Sheila and her cousin Justin.  In the interest of full disclosure: Sheila's played it several times before (and is still quite vocal RE: her love for the game) but this was Justin's first go-round.    

Pandemic is a co-operative action-point-based hand-management game.  Players become Center for Disease Control staffers attempting to curtail the spread of four virulent infections running rampant across the globe whilst simultaneously seeking to find cures for them.

In order to win the game, players need to maximize the specialized abilities of their assigned roles.  The Researcher can pass off cards to other characters, making it easier to translate the colored sets of cards into "cures", the Medic can eradicate all disease in one location with a single action, the Dispatcher can move his team-mates around the board during their own turn and the Scientist can create cures by turning in four matching cards instead of the usual five.      

The diseases tend to spread at an alarming rate and players who develop vaccines at the risk of ignoring hot spots are doomed to fail.  If the viruses spread unchecked, your team will be defeated.  On the other hand, if you manage to produce all four remedies before things go completely guano, you win!

The game board is a world map depicting the available paths of transit between major cities.  Each turn, participants will use their allotment of four actions to move around, treat illnesses, build Research Stations and uncover valuable cures.  At the same time, participants are constantly drawing cards which seed new outbreaks (represented by color-coded wooden cubes) and reveal major Epidemics.    

Want the full diagnosis on Pandemic?  You can read the full report here.          


Cheryl was the Researcher (Brown Token)
I was the Medic (Orange Token)
Justin became the Dispatcher (Purple Token)
Sheila played the Scientist (White Token)

Take note: we played this game on the "Introductory" difficulty setting by seeding four (out of a possible six) "Epidemic" cards in the Player Deck.   

During set up, we determined that the initially-infected cities were:
  • Milan, Beijing and Washington with three cubes apiece.  
  • Johannesburg,  Los Angeles, and Bangkok with two cubes each.  
  • Miami, Taipei, and Chicago, which were all given single cubes.   

Ignoring the whole "most-recent-sickie-goes-first" shtick, I took the first turn, using one action to move to Washington and a second to clean it up before moving on, Little Hobo-style.  During my Infector Role phase both Osaka and Kinshasa got cubes.  

Cheryl took a dart out to Washington and removed tiers of infection.  

After hearing that Europe was "nice and phlegmy this time of year", Sheila went off to Europe to address the immediate crisis in Milan while Atlanta and Delhi both came down with a pox.   

Justin used one action to remove the cube from Atlanta, hustled down to Miami for one action, patched everyone up there and then hauled ass to Bogata.  New infections promptly began to spring up in both Essen and Jakarta.  

TURN TWO               

I traveled from San Francisco to Tokyo to Seoul to Beijing, removing all of the cubes at my final destination with a single action.  On my turn as Infector, Kinshasa got the first cube and then an Epidemic came up!  After ramping the Infection Rate indicator up by one, Kolkata was drawn from the bottom of the deck and promptly burdened with three new black cubes.  Finally, both Taipei and Bangkok received a single serving of cubes during my Infector Deck draws.  

Justin used the "Airlift" Special Event card, allowing Cheryl to fly from Washington to Paris and pass a badly-needed red card off to Doctor Sheila.  She then hustled down to Algiers, used her final action to prevent a spillover there and then played a timely "Government Grant" card which dropped a Research Station in Istanbul.  Finally, the Infection Draw step brought out new cubes for Washington and Johannesburg, putting the later city on the brink of disaster.    

Sheila reduced the cube count in her current location and then shifted her focus to another site.  Her Infection Phase made the situation in both Milan and Kinshasa even more dire.

Justin moved three spaces and then helped to downgrade a critical threat.  His first Player Card draw was another Epidemic, driving the Infection Rate up by one.  Moscow then had the dubious honor of receiving three brand new cubes.  After placing the reshuffled Infection discards back on top of the deck, Justin played "Forecast" to peek at the top six cards and re-arrange them.  This ensured that the Infector Role draws (one cube each for Milan and Washington) weren't disastrous.


I used all four of my actions to dismantle several ticking germ bombs in Asia.  During my first Infection draw, Taipei got a cube, bringing it up to three.  Instead of adding a fourth cube to my second draw, Johannesburg exploded and neighboring Kinshasa and Khartoum both got cubes.  After addressing our first spill-over, the Outbreak Marker went up by one.

Cheryl passed a blue card off to Sheila, giving us our first potential cure.  Moscow exploded during her Infector Phase, driving the Outbreak Meter up to two and dumping fresh germs on both Tehran and Istanbul.  (Note: we were supposed to put a black cube on St. Petersburg as well).  On her second Infection Deck draw, Cheryl was also forced to add another cube in Bangkok.

Sheila spent two of her actions to rush back to the Research Station and whip up a blue infection cure.  She then left Istanbul and purged all the blue cooties out of a neighboring town.  She followed this up by drawing and then playing "Resilient Population", completely removing the Taipei card from the game.  Single cubes were then added to Kinshasa and Los Angeles during her two mandatory Infection Card draws.

Justin spent his first three actions removing a like number of yellow cubes from his current location.  He  then moved on to the next closest hot spot.  His first Infection draw turned out to be the already virus-ridden Kolkata which promptly exploded, scattering new cubes onto Delhi and Chennai (Note: we made another oversight by not adding black cubes to Hong Kong and Bangkok as well).  Jakarta was the second Infection Card draw so we piled on another cube.


I moved one space, used my second action to remove all of the cubes in that location and then moved two more spaces to get set up for the next turn.  After plopping an additional cube down in Bangkok I pulled yet another Epidemic Card which drove the Infection Rate up to three.  Pulled from the bottom of the deck, Ho Chi Minh City was promptly buried in red cubes.  Playing the role of the Infector, I then drew cards for Bangkok, Kinshasa and Jakarta.  Suddenly two more cities were teetering on the edge of disaster.

On Cheryl's turn, she moved two spaces and removed two cubes from her heavily-burdened destination.  Her Infector Cards turned up Los Angeles and then Johannesburg, the later of which which exploded in an Outbreak.  After additional yellow cubes were added to both Kinshasa and Khartoum, Milan received another blue cube on her final Infection draw.

Sheila used her first action to move one space and her second to chip away at a location swamped with three black cubes.  She then drew a Mumbai Player Card, giving her a potential black cure.  Ho Chi Minh City, her first Infection Rate draw, resulted in yet another Outbreak!  After shifting the Outbreak Marker up to five, additional cubes were added to Bangkok, Jakarta, Manilla and Hong Kong.  This resulted in a chain reaction of two additional Outbreaks, putting us one point shy of defeat!  Sheila's last two draws added cubes to Kolkata and Moscow.  We were still alive, but just barely!

Justin removed three critical mass yellow cubes in Africa and then kept moving.  His Infector Draws added more blue cubes to Washington, Chicago and Atlanta.

TURN FIVE                    

I ditched three red cubes from my current location, moved one space, turfed another three cubes and then moved again.  During my role as Infector Hong Kong, Beijing and Osaka all got one cube apiece but managed to stay intact.

Seeing that re-enforcements were needed in Asia, Cheryl sacrificed her Jakarta card in order to beam directly there.  She then moved two more spaces and tamped down yet another three-cube city that was on the verge.  After drawing "One Quiet Night", she played it immediately and mercifully skipped her Infection Phase.  

Sheila used one action to move back to the Research Station in Istanbul and another to trade in four black cards for a matching cure.  She then used her third action to fly directly to Atlanta and remove a blue cube there.  Her first Player Card was our forth Epidemic, bumping the Infection Rate up by one on the track.  Madrid became the lucky winner of a three-cube infection after we drew it from the bottom of the deck.  In the following Infection Phase Osaka, Ho Chi Minh City and Los Angeles all got cubed.  

After moving two spaces, Justin pulled yet another city back from the brink by turfing two cubes.  Unfortunately his first Infection Card draw turned out to be Bangkok, resulting in our eighth outbreak and a decisive loss.

"Folks, we just got Bangkoked," I muttered.     


Lured in by the cooperative gameplay and intrigued by the grimly-original subject matter, I was quick to pick up a copy of Pandemic when it first appeared on store shelves back in 2008.  After a few plays it quickly shot to the top of my list of all-time favorite games.  Since then the honeymoon phase has worn off a bit, given the game's tendency to inspire B.V.S. (Bossy Veteran Syndrome) as well as it's still-confusing rules regarding chain reaction outbreaks.  

Nevertheless, I still love introducing this game to neophytes.  The co-operative aspect makes it non-threatening, the Infection/Player deck mechanic is still elegantly brilliant, the subject matter is morbidly arresting and the genuine elation players feel when they achieve a rare victory is undeniably satisfying.
It should also be noted that newer iterations of the game have vastly improved components and sharper rules concerning player special abilities and adjudicating simultaneous outbreaks.  

Immediately after this game was over, Justin wanted to know "when we were going home the next day" and if he could "pop by early tomorrow afternoon for a quick rematch".  The desire to replay a game immediately after a loss in order to improve on the previous performance is still pretty high testimony in my books.  

As such, Pandemic handily scores five pips out of six.

Want your own chance to save Toronto from SARS?  Click on the image below to order a copy of Pandemic and help cure your humble host of his financial ills.  

P.S. Sorry we didn't get to that second game, Justin.  Next time, dude.  

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Wheaton Effect Part Four: "Gloom"

Curse you, Wheaton.

As a frustrated writer and ham-ball actor you knew that I'd be susceptible to Gloom's charms, didn't you?  You knew that by featuring the game on your shmantzy interwebz show Tabletop that I'd rush out and buy it!  Didn't you!?!?

We'll I say to thee...NAY!  I most certainly did not rush out and buy your wares like the enthralled dupe of a snake-oil salesman!  Like a Zoloft-addled attendee at an Anthony Robbins symposium!  Like a...

Like a Republican voter in November!  Zing!  

No, it took me a two whole weeks to buy a copy of Gloom.  So there, Wheaton!  I thumb my nose at your Svengali-like powers!   

Okay, enough with the cutesy intro.  Here's the specific episode that (eventually) reeled me in...

Oh, by the way, the video's appeal for me has absolutely nothing to do with my crush on Michele Boyd.  Or my crush on Amber Benson.  Or my crush on Wil Wheaton.  Or, fuck it, my crush on Meghan Camarena.

I had a chance to play an introductory match of Gloom during our first Cabin Con.  Here's my description of the game from that entry:

"In the Edward Gorey-esque world of 'Gloom', players represent a dour and eccentric family of misfits.  The goal of the game is to make your clan as miserable as possible before they expire whilst (and at the same time) making your rivals cheery and transcendent.  This is accomplished with the artful play of various modifier cards such as 'Diverted by Drink' or 'Mocked by Midgets'.  

"With the unique transparent card design, it's easy to keep tabs on the relative mood of any given character.  The game continues until one player's entire family is pushing up the daisies.  As soon as this happens, cumulative scores are calculated and the player who's family is the most miserable in death wins!"  

Wanna peruse the full rules in all their hoary glory?  You can find the document o' the dead right here.    

Like every other game we played that weekend, we really fucked up some of the rules.  For example, we may have played "Untimely Death" cards on characters with positive Self-Worth.  A-a-a-n-d I'm almost 100% sure that we added up points from all of the characters at the end of the game, both living and dead.  Whoopsie.

I wish I could blame all of this on intoxication but honestly, we weren't really that drunk.

Anyhoo, last weekend I really wanted to run it for Cheryl and her cousin Justin, properly this time.  But, as Gloom itself quickly teaches you: the best laid plans often go horribly awry.

So here, then, is how our little tragically unfolded:


I represented Dark's Den of Deformity consisting of:

Darius Dark, Sinister Ringmaster
Elissandre DeVille, The Illustrated Lady
Thumbelisa, The Diminutive Diva
Samson O'Toole, The Bearded Man
Mister Giggles, Creepy Clown

Cheryl was the Blackwater Watch clan including:

Willem Stark, Disturbing Handyman
The Old Dam, Murderous Matriarch
Angel, Starry-Eyed Serial Killer
Cousin Mordecai, The Red-Headed Stepchild
Balthazar, The Unfaithful Hound

Justin became Hemlock Hall, featuring:

Lord Wellington-Smythe, Dumbfounded Duke
Lola Wellington-Smythe, Wild Child
Goody Zarr, Nefarious Nanny
The Twins, Adorable Tots
Butterfield, the Lurking Butler

Since we couldn't agree on "who had the worst day" (man, I can't wait until the novelty of these gimmicky 'who starts first' rules finally wears off), I went first as "the owner of the game".

Dark's Den of Deformity

Darius Dark, ringleader-in-chief of Dark's Den of Deformity, often held elaborate banquets to keep the morale of his freakish staff up.  This elaborate meal included a home-made shark-infested custard which Darius was rather proud of.  Little did he know that his star freak, the Illustrated Woman Elissandre DeVille, had an irrational fear of custards and was thoroughly "Perturbed by the Pudding" (-10 Self-Worth).

For my second play I discarded and drew a new card.

Blackwater Watch

In search of a suitable Mr. Right, the Starry-Eyed Serial Killer Angel, ventured off to the big city to get her kill-on.  So frustrated was she by her inability to find an appropriate victim that she was eventually "Driven To Drink" (-15 Self-Worth).

Meanwhile The Red-Headed Step-Child Cousin Mordecai, was unceremoniously disowned by the rest of the clan.  He was immediately "Crippled by Creditors" (-20 Self-Worth).

Hemlock Hall  

The Wild Child Lola Wellington-Smythe abandoned her afterthought brats at Darius Dark's Circus so that she could lurk around behind the scenes and indulge her twisted fetish for tiger-baiting.  Unfortunately, the wily felines proved to be more clever then she anticipated and Lola was mercilessly "Taunted by Tigers" (for a whopping -30 Self-Worth).  

After hearing their mother's screams for help, The Twins rushed to her aid.  En route they tripped, fell into a rack of unicycles and "Broke Many Bones" (-20 to Self-Worth).

Dark's Den of Deformity

Horrified by the fin-filled flan, Elissandre DeVille hastily moved on to the main course:  prime rib.  Unfortunately, she "Choked On A Bone" and died!  

But not so fast!  Justin played "A Second Chance", canceling my "Untimely Death" card!  So, just seconds before Elissandre passed out, Mister Giggles (who's apparently trained as a first responder, BTW) rushed up and applied the Heimlich Maneuver.  Thanks to the Creepy Clown quick thinking, the bone popped out of Elissandre's gullet and bounced along the ground.  Nummie!

Good fortune continued to abound.  Although young Mordecai was "Crippled by Creditors", a wealthy uncle heard about his plight and personally wrote him into his will.  Co-incidentally, this same uncle died twenty three hours later.  After "Landing a Legacy", things were suddenly looking up for the Red-Haired Black Sheep (?) (now standing at +15 Self-Worth).

Blackwater Watch    

Suspecting duplicity, Mordecai's fellow family members booby-trapped his ill-begotten inheritance with a snack pack of cobras, black mambas, vipers and asps.  Just as he began counting up all of his phat lootz, Mordecai was suddenly "Started by Snakes" (for a total -20 Self-Worth).

Meanwhile, Angel, still drunk out of her gourd, began to "Suffer From Sores" after languishing in bed for so long (for a net -30 Self Worth).

Hemlock Hall 

In an effort to forget about the horrible meal that she'd just suffered through, Elissandre DeVille fled from the big top and took a stroll by a nearby lake where she was "Delighted By Ducklings", giving her a net +10 Self-Worth.   A-w-w-w-w-w-w-w-w.

Justin then went on to play "Misfortune Favors the Old", allowing him to play up to two additional "Untimely Death" or negative Modifier cards.

Oblivious to all the drama happening to his wife and kids, Lord Wellington-Smythe was approached by a pack of panhandlers while out for a stroll on boardwalk.  After being chastised by the wealthy magnate for "sponging off responsible job creators", the mob suddenly realized that Wellington-Smythe was the one who closed down the monocle factory and shipped all of their jobs off to Mexico just to make the investors happy.  As such, the dumbfounded one-percenter was "Beaten by Beggars" (-15 Self-Worth).

Meanwhile, a particularly militant member of PETA, who'd just witnessed Lola Wellington-Smythe's blatant tiger-baiting, pushed in to feign assistance.  She led the dazed and deviant dilettante to the top of a set of steps and then "Pushed Her Down the Stairs", putting her into a deep, deep coma!    

And with that, Lola was sent six-feet under with a -30 Self-Worth!   

Dark's Den of Deformity 

My first card play was "A Tragic Misunderstanding".  So, as it turned out, Elissandre DeVille was the one who "Broke Many Bones" (net self-worth -25) while descending the nearby river bank while the Wellington-Smyth tots were so "Delighted by Ducklings" that they apparently forgot all about their now-deceased mother.   

Meanwhile, the entire population of the local leper colony scored a bitchin' Groupon deal and bussed in for a performance at Dark's Den of Deformity.  Not surprising, three days later the Den's Bearded Man Samson O'Toole was "Plagued By The Pox" (for -30 Pathos Points).

Blackwater Watch

Freaked out by his serpent-tainted windfall, little Mordecai ran screaming out into the woods.  In fact, he ran so far into the forest that he became hopelessly lost and "Never Returned" (scoring a grand total of -30 Self-Worth, including a -10 bump for having a matching 'Beast' icon).    

In her second play, Cheryl dropped "To Be Or Not To Be" on Lola Wellington-Smythe and the notorious Wild Child suddenly emerged from her coma.  Meanwhile, The Old Dam, fed up with all the puke-filled bedpans, decided to push Angel down a flight of stairs as she was stumbling towards the bathroom one night to take a leak (-30 point final total).         

Hemlock Hall

Little did the Twins know but the ducklings they so closely admired were afflicted with the very same pox that had recently swept through the circus.  The result: they "Contracted Consumption" and dropped to -30 Pathos Points.  

Given his abject failure to keep certain members of the Wellington-Smythe family intact, the incongruously-sensitive Butterfield turned to drink and was eventually "Ruined by Rum" (-25 Self-Worth).  

Dark's Den of Deformity

Alcoholism suddenly became rampant in the little town of Gloom.  To assuage the pain of having every bone in her body shattered, Elissandre DeVille also took to the bottle.  Unfortunately she was unaccustomed to the effects of hard liquor, "Drank Too Much Rye", and pulled a "Jimi Hendrix" (perishing with -35, thanks to a -10 bonus for the matching Goblet symbol)! 

As if that wasn't bad enough, RT broke the story that Darius Dark was using (*Gasp!*) fake freaks in his Den of Deformity!  Zounds!  The Sinister Ringmaster was immediately "Scarred by Scandal" for negative 25 Pathos Points.

Blackwater Watch
Since the disfiguring nature of the pox plague had transformed Samson O'Toole into a legitimate freak, he was completely unfazed by the recent scandal.  As such, he became "Charmed By The Circus" (and ended up with a heart-warming -5 Self-Worth value).

Painfully aware of how many bodies were buried on the property by his homicidal mistress, The Old Dam's Unfaithful Hound Balthazar became "Pestered by Poltergeists", earning Cheryl -20 Pathos Points.  

Hemlock Hall

Seeking a distraction from all their recent ills, the Twins attended a high-profile cotillion.  Unfortunately they were "Disgraced At The Dance" after they started making out with one another right in the middle of a particularly heated Lambada session.

Meanwhile, with Lord Wellington-Smythe in traction, Butterfield in the Betty Ford clinic and Lola catatonic with tiger-trauma, Goody Zarr, the Nefarious Nanny, was left in the mansion all by her lonesome and nearly "Starved During A Storm" when a nasty hurricane hit to the town (gaining her a net -20 points).  
Dark's Den of Deformity

Sampson O'Toole was so charmed by his life in the circus that he neglected to look for a spouse until  
he was old, decrepit and devoid of any charms.  As such, the poor, bearded, poxy fuck "Died Old And Alone" (-30 point total).

With their true feelings for each other finally revealed, the Twins decided to thumb their collective noses at society's rules and "Were Married Magnificently" (crawling back up to -5 Pathos Points!)

Blackwater Watch    

To try and offset all of the recent tragedy, The Old Dam ordered house handyman Willem Stark to go out into the woods and cut down a Christmas tree.  Little did she know that Stark's entire family was killed in a bizarre logging accident and he became "Terrified By Topiary" for -20 Self-Worth points.  

Looking to escape the oppressive atmosphere of the circus, Darius Dark accepted a high-profile invitation to dine with the town's luminaries.  So relieved was he to be surrounded by normal folks for a change, Darius proved to be both witty and urbane and "Found Fame At A Feast" (making him suddenly +10 to the good!)

Hemlock Hall  

Justin started with a "Twist of Fate", allowing him to "replace the top Modifier on a character with one from your hand".  So, just moments before Sampson O'Toole was about to succumb to the lethal effects of a broken heart, a charming circus groupie named Pamela invited him to a "Picnic in the Park".  Her precious company and the charming surroundings revived the Bearded Man, giving him +15 Pathos Points!

(Quick FAQ for any 'Gloom'-fans out there: was this a legal play?  Although 'Died Old And Alone' is technically an 'Untimely Death' card, it still had a Modifier on it and 'Twist of Fate' didn't specify that it it only works on 'Modifier CARDS'.  Bottom line is: we allowed it)

Although there was some debate as to whether or not that last play was legal, we really fucked up by allowing "Died Old And Alone" as a second card play.  As stated clearly in the rules, "'Untimely Deaths' can't be played on your second play".  D'oh!!!   

Dark's Den of Deformity

My first play ("A Chance To Begin Again") removed all the modifier cards on poor, beleaguered Sampson O'Toole.    

On the way to visit his newly-acquired love, the sheltered Sampson got "Trapped On A Train" for -20 Self-Worth points.

Blackwater Watch

While running back and forth on the train yelling "LEMME OFF...LEMME OFF...LEMME OFF...LEMME OFF...LEMME OFF...LEMME OFF!!!" Sampson drew the attention of a high-ranking member of the clergy.  After he was "Blessed By The Bishop", the pox-ridden freak spent the rest of his train trip in a total state of zen (+20 total Pathos Points).

Meanwhile, The Old Dam hit a mid-life crisis.  She began wearing cut-off jeans and tube tops (*HURRRK!!!*) and started banging anything with a body temperature over thirty-seven degrees.  As she "Grew Old Without Grace" her self worth plummeted down to -20 points!  Take heed, Madonna!  

Hemlock Hall      

After being horribly tortured by The Old Dam for his foliage related-fears, Willem Stark quit his job as the estate's handyman.  Free from the Blackwater's dark influence he instantly became "The Toast of the Town" gaining a net +15 Pathos Points in the process.

After having more loads dumped into her then a Maytag, The Grand Dam drowned her guilt and shame and was "Diverted By Drink" (making her +10 to the good).  

Dark's Den of Deformity  

Just before the train finally pulled into the station, someone told the Bishop that Samson was part of that "degenerate circus" run by a "reprobate" named Darius Dark.  Upon hearing the truth, the Bishop recanted his blessing and made sure that O'Toole and his ilk were "Chastised By The Church", giving him a net point total of -25.  

Notoriously cheap Lord Wellington-Smythe finally got a therapist for his tiger-fied (tiger-fied, geddit?) wife Lola.  After she was cured of her psychosis, Lola was positively walkin' on sunshine.  As such, she really wasn't paying attention when she left the shrink's office, walked out into traffic and was promptly smoked by a bus.  Still, she "Died Without Cares" and an unfortunate 0-point Pathos value!    

Blackwater Watch

Balthazar, driven mad by the persistent poltergeist pestering, leapt out of the mansion's top floor window.  He died after "Falling From On High" taking -30 points to the grave with him (-10 for having the matching Death symbol).  

After making every hot after-hours underage nightclub in town look supremely lame, The Old Dam  was "Chased Away By Children" (bringing her to -10 Pathos Points).

Hemlock Hall  

One of those Taylor Lautner types made the mistake of chasing The Old Dam to a nearby lake where she used her feminine wiles (and two bottles of Smirnoff Ice) to seduce him.  "Finding Love At The Lake" boosted her Self-Worth factor to a nauseating +15.

Meanwhile, Lord Wellington-Smythe ordered Butterfield to remove a sizable hornet's nest affixed to the eave of their twelve-car garage.  Unfortunately the butler, still completely soused, tried to get it off with a pair of tongs and some oven mitts.  After he was grievously "Wounded By Wasps", Butterfield was now rockin' an enviable -45 point depression total.

Dark's Den of Deformity

Although a freak, Samson O'Toole was still a pious freak.  Being called out by the church really crushed his spirit and he "Was Consumed From Within", taking -25 Pathos points with him to the grave.  

I followed this up with "A Stormy Night", allowing me to draw four cards and play "An Unpleasant Surprise".  Just as the dinner party was wrapping up an intoxicated Darius Dark nullified his feast fame by climbing up onto the table, inviting the guests to witness the "Biggest Show on Earth" and then dropping his trousers.  "Scarred by Scandals" once again, Darius sat at a (dis)respectful -25 Self-Worth.      

Blackwater Watch

Willem Stark's reputation as the town's golden child didn't last for very long.  The savings which he earned working for The Old Dam eventually dried up and one day he was caught "Stealing From A Stiff", reducing his Self-Worth to a balance of zero.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the corpse he looted just so happened to belong to the local "traveller" community.  Assuming foul play, Stark was "Jinxed By Gypsies" and suddenly found himself at a suicide-inducing -45 Pathos Points!  

Hemlock Hall

Blinded by wasp stings and possessing the blood-alcohol level of Christina Aguilera, Butterfield wandered off into the woods where he was "Devoured By Weasels" (perishing at a truly admirable -50 Self-Worth, thanks to a +10 bump due to the "Beast" icon ).

Despite what appeared to be a happy union on the surface, the Twins became "Burdened By Boils"!  Oh-oh, looks like someone's been steppin' outside the gene pool!  (-30 total self-worth)

Dark's Den of Deformity

Humiliated by his recent "overexposure" and distraught by the loss of his most lucrative freaks, Darius Dark "Died of Despair" (try saying that five times real quick).  All told, Darius managed to rack up a good -40 points before shuffling off the mortal coil.

This particular "Untimely Death" card forced me to discard my entire hand, nullifying my second card play.

Blackwater Watch

The gypsy curse on Willem Stark turned out to be a pretty nasty "Stop Breathing" curse.  Eventually the disgraced handyman "Ran Out Of Air", taking an impressive -45 Pathos Points into the afterlife.

Cheryl then decided to discard and redraw for her second play.

Hemlock Hall

En route to the STD clinic, the Twins were set upon by a pack of vicious...poodles.  "Pursued By Poodles" was the final humiliation for the incestuous imps, bringing their self-loathing total down to a whopping -45 points!

Tired of all the greed, scandal and abuse of power, the previously unseen Count Wellington-Smythe took decisive action and excised his son Lord (yes, his first name is actually 'Lord')  "Out Of The Will"!  Understandably shocked, Lord Wellington-Smythe vowed to clean up his business practices and reconcile with his family, a pledge that lasted for approximately twenty-five minutes. (-35 Pathos Points)

Dark's Den of Deformity

My first card play was "Body Thief".  Creepy Clown Mister Giggles (0 Pathos Points) was revealed (to no-one's surprise) as a slimy corpse-thief, making off with the remains of Willem Stark (-45 Pathos Points).  Both were immediately removed from the game.  

Meanwhile the pox continued to circulate around the Den.  This time it was the Diminutive Diva Thumbelisa who came down with persistent poops after her delicate digestive system was "Distressed By Dysentery" (for -25 Self-Worth).  Holy alliteration, Batman!

Blackwater Watch

Drunk on love (and six quarts of brandy), The Old Dam slipped on the trail coming back from the lake and was "Pierced By Porcupines" (net 0 Pathos Points).

"The Root Of All Evil" was Cheryl's second play, allowing her to steal a card from both Justin and I.  As it turned out, the Old Dam Managed to crawl out of that nest of porcupines and made her way back to town.  Unfortunately, during the painfully protracted trip back, she "Was Hunted By Horrors" (for a total of -55 points).

(Note: this play would have been awesome if it had been legal.  Part of the condition of playing 'The Root Of All Evil' is that 'you must have a living character with the Lucre icon to play this card."  At the time, The Old Dam had the 'Marriage' icon.  Honestly, am I the only one who didn't cheat during this game?)  

Hemlock Hall

In order to recover from being written out of the will, Lord Wellington-Smythe's business practices became increasingly dodgy.  Eventually his abuses became so blatant that he was publicly "Cursed By The Queen".

An incredibly illegal "Untimely Death" card was then played on Wellington-Smythe, putting him in the dirt with an obscene -50 points.  Zoinks!

Dark's Den of Deformity   

Still pursued by horrors real and imagined, The Old Dam went to her family doctor and got a prescription for Atavan, allowing her to "Sleep Without Sorrows" (raising her total to only -20).

I then chucked out a card and drew a new one.

Blackwater Watch  

The previously tabled "Was Hunted By Horrors" forced Cheryl to skip her turn.

Hemlock Hall

The Twins managed to beat their pursuing poodles to death, but found no solace when they were "Greeted By (Their Vengeful) Ghosts" for a hefty total if -50 points.

Yet another illegal "Untimely Death" card ("Choked By A Tie"?  "Overcome By The Measles"?) killed The Twins whilst adding an additional -10 for the matching Skull icons (for a total of -60).    

Dark's Den of Deformity 

I played "To Be Or Not To Be", revealing that The Twins had experienced a premature burial.  I tried to shift this same card to Thumbelisa and finish the game but Justin countered with "A Second Chance", giving him the power to cancel one "Untimely Death" Card as it's being played.  Curses!

For my second play I chucked out a card and drew a new one.

Blackwater Watch

After dodging a near-death experience, Thumbelisa experienced a personal Renaissance.  She set up a profile on "Plenty of Fish", started dating Tom Cruise and soon both of them were "Wondrously Well Wed" (bringing her up to +10 Self-Worth).    

Meanwhile The Old Dam woke up from her firful slumber feeling famished.  Unfortunately, the drunken Butterfield tried to prepare her meal in an Easy Bake Oven and she was "Sickened By Salmon" (for a decent -40 Pathos Point total).

Hemlock Hall    

Justin started his turn with "A Stormy Night", allowing him to pull four new cards and play "A Chance To Begin Again", liberating The Old Dam from her myriad of burdens!

For his second card play, Justin re-killed the Twins!  Just as he was completing his second card play, Cheryl inexplicably played "Body Thief" as a reaction (?), removing The Old Dam and Darius Dark's husk from the game.

(Note: this was also a flagrant rules oversight.  The only way that Events can be played as a response is if it says 'Cancel ______ as it's being played'.)     

And so, oblivious to the Death Star-sized asterisk hovering over our heads, the game came to its dubious conclusion.  

Final Scores

Justin / Hemlock Hall...-125 points 
Cheryl / Blackwater Watch...-90 (-20 bonus for matching icons) 
Me / Dark's Den of Deformity...-60 

As a rabid fan of Risk 2010 and Sid Meier's Civilization: The Boardgame I wasn't quite sure how Justin would react to a hand management storytelling game.  But between Gloom's vague similarity to Magic: The Gathering and the ability to give fits of frustration to your opponent, he really seemed to dig it.

Finally, my apologies to the good people of Atlas Games as well as to designer Keith Baker for fucking up so badly.  Honestly, the game is very easy to learn and play.  I know, I know...I really feel like turning in my Rules Lawyer degree.

If it's any consolation we still had an absolute blast exercising our creative muscles with Gloom.  Honestly, I can't think of a better way to get warmed up for Halloween!

Gloom scores four hideous pips on the die-o-meter.

Sick and tired of wearing shades 'cuz yer future's so bright?  Click on the image below to order a copy of Gloom and help out ye olde blog at the same time...