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Damnation: The Gothic Game is a last-person standing game of killing your friends.  Throughout the game, you will probably find yourself...

Damnation: The Gothic Game - Preview Damnation: The Gothic Game - Preview

Damnation: The Gothic Game - Preview

Damnation: The Gothic Game - Preview


Damnation: The Gothic Game is a last-person standing game of killing your friends.  Throughout the game, you will probably find yourself cackling with glee as you submit your friends to the fiendish rooms and traps littered throughout the Vampire’s castle.  Of course, everyone will be trying to do the same to you so don’t laugh too quickly.

Gameplay

There are some simple mechanics to this game which reflect the game’s original printing nearly 30 years ago. Move aside roll-and-write; roll-and-move and player elimination are alive and well if this game is anything to go by. Generally, I don’t like either of these dated mechanisms but the designer of this game has taken sensible steps to reduce the annoyance factor of both.  The new design has added an abundance of features and variation to the game to keep fans of the original and modern-gamers appeased.
6 unfortunate souls - ready to die
The roll-and-move irritation is actually turned into a welcome decision space by two of the game's mechanisms; a hand of up to five action cards, and your character’s talents.  The cards can be played during your turn for a variety of effects and each player has access to four talents which may allow them to affect their movement.  Of these talents, two will be common to all players (these common talents allow you to roll an additional movement die or to re-roll a die) and the other two talents will be unique to that character (some also affecting movement).   Together, the cards and talents give you lots of immediate decisions every turn to mitigate a ‘bad’ roll.  Although after multiple plays of this the only bad rolls are those in which your opponents are controlling your movement.  Don’t let this happen.
The Gentleman, about to not be gentle
Once you’ve used a talent you must discard a talent token, you start with three.  During the game, you will recover talent tokens but you can never have more than three tokens and you can never have more than one token on a talent, ready to use. All players have a unique inherent talent which could be used each turn if applicable without spending a token.  I haven’t played enough to see if the characters are all balanced but in the majority of the games, I have had the player who ends up controlling the Vampire is favoured – more on that character later.

It’s a rare thing to play a game with player elimination these days; even if you’re obviously losing and there is no chance to catch-up, a lot of games require you to limp along making weight.  Not so in Damnation: The Gothic Game.  This game outright wants to kill you, apparently there are 49 different ways to die … but I guarantee that if you are the first to die you won’t be looking to join another game, you’ll stay and watch the rest of the carnage unfold.  Not only does the game play in about 60 minutes but it’s so much fun watching instadeath happen to the snivelling git who caused your own untimely demise.
The Aristocrat is walking a dangerous path
During a players turn two d6 are rolled, the first indicates the number of spaces your character can move (a natural 6 allows an additional movement roll to be made) and the second is a ‘castle die’ which can land on 1 of 4 unique faces.  The first is a castle, which allows you to draw a card into your hand or as an immediate event; the candle face allows you to move an extra space – it’s surprising how often that extra space can be tremendously helpful; a trap face, which prevents you moving past any trap during your movement – a lovely sight for your opponent if they have the power of adjacency…and finally a blank face after which nothing happens.
Move 8 (exploding 6) and draw a card
If you end your movement on a space adjacent to another character, or within range of one of your weapons (cards in hand) you can choose to control the movement of that character on their next turn or attack them.  As tempting as it is to constantly attack all the things, the power of adjacency is really where the serious damage can be done.  Moving a character into a trap or slide space is a delicious feeling.  It could either mean instadeath or even better, a slow demise into the depths of hell as they try in vain to escape their doom <Mwah hah ha>
Can you see the Grim Reaper?
Most rooms have some unique rules that apply if a character enters them.  In general terms whenever a character enters a room not only will they be safe from anyone declaring the power of adjacency or attacking them but they will also draw a card from that room’s specific deck of cards.  This could either be an immediate event, an action for later use, or a weapon.  These cards and their inherent humour are really what make this game stand out for me; each deck is themed to the room and the art and flavour text are great, but most importantly their effect on the overall gameplay is a huge positive.
There are lots of cards to enjoy
Just when players are starting to get comfortable with the game's rules, the game will pull the rug out from under your feet after a players death in which a Deathknell card is revealed.  These cards alter the fundamental rules of the game so that each game is never boring or feels the same.  I haven’t seen any ‘game-breaking’ cards in the Deathknell deck, each one I have seen has caused some amusement and then often another quick death followed by another Deathknell card reveal - rinse and repeat.  Once players start dying, it’s often a case of who can hang on the longest and you won’t need to hang around for long!
Every piece of art is unique
However none of that talks about the Vampire, at the start of the game everyone is just your average scum-bag looking to kill every other scum-bag in the castle.  The first scum-bag that enters the Vault will become the vampire and will start mercilessly preying on the rest of the players.   The vampire just has to end their movement on another scum-bags’ space to bite and kill that player.  However this power comes with a great vulnerability, the vampire only has six turns in which to hunt before he needs to return to his coffin.  There are lots of lovely thematic touches like this littered throughout this game which complement the art and feel of this gothic horror world.
Vampire doing his thing
With a full complement of 6 players the game will take a little over an hour.  However, it does reward repeated plays.  On my first two plays of this (with different groups) everyone was initially quite timidly exploring the castle without following the core-ethos of the game, i.e. attempting to kill your friends as quickly as possible.  Just exploring the castle in itself was quite a fun game (due to the card art and flavour text) but nothing like the cut-throat brutality of players who know what to expect and are familiar with the rules and are looking to kill you from the first turn.
Nobody's dead yet
I had a four-player game of this with 3 new-to-the-hobby gamers and we were all playing inside 15 minutes.  I may have missed a few rules out as I was learning myself but it’s not a long teach despite the variety of general rule exceptions.  Once players are familiar with the game a turn will generally be finished inside 20 seconds at the most.  There is already very little downtime for any player and even less if you’ve claimed the Power of Adjacency over an opponent.
The current crop of visitors
I would recommend this for gamers and non-gamers.  It’s easy for non-gamers to grasp the more traditional roll and move mechanic but there's enough here to keep your generalist gamer happy too.  It won’t appeal to many self-confessed Grognards nor anyone with a delicate temperament. If you can’t see the funny side of being kicked when you’re down (figuratively) or have been known to flip a table or two because of a bad roll or an event killing your character, then move on, you won’t like this game. 

Components

I have only played on a prototype prior to the Kickstarter launch and I have no doubt that some of the components and content will change.  However, the thing that most struck me about these components at this stage of development was the art throughout the game.  Every card has unique art and there are lots of cards in this game.  The art also has a very distinct and consistent style across all components, which was not something I was expecting to see of a prototype.  The artists have done a fantastic job.
A difficult, but worthwhile room to enter

Criticisms

The only criticisms that I have not already addressed (i.e. roll-to-move and player-elimination) is one of scaling and a lack of rules reference. The game suggests 3 to 6 players. I would recommend a minimum of four.  At three players the castle feels a little empty, unless there are 3 tortured souls hanging around the table to see the rest of the gruesome death action, (watching their friends’ characters die).  This is a similar feeling I get when playing a league match of blood bowl, often a non-playing coach will attend pitch-side to see all of our respective failed rolls, injuries, deaths and laugh.  As long as you approach this game with the same humour you’ll be in for a good time.  At four or more players the game shines.

The lack of a rules reference meant I was regularly looking up the unique rules of rooms when characters entered them.  I'm sure that knowledge will come after 3 or 4 games but it was a common request to either have an on-board legend for each room or player-aid.  I feel a bit miserly even commenting on this as it is a prototype and I'm sure the designer will want to address this for the final design.

Conclusion

Damnation: The Gothic Game is a self-published production coming to Kickstarter at exactly the right time in its development.  Blackletter games are very much an indie games company taking on the behemoth of the modern board gaming market and they have every reason to be proud of their first game.  It’s often hilarious, mostly bloody and full of surprises.  Go take a look at the Kickstarter page when it launches on October 24th.

Publisher: Black Letter Games
BGG Page: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/273955/damnation-gothic-game
Players: 3-6
Designer: Kris Rees - redesign of The Gothic Game
Playing time: 1 hour (ish)


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