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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

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

horror


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)


Overview Arkham Horror Third Edition revisits the town of Arkham (again - are we getting bored of this world yet?) and pits players aga...

Arkham Horror Third Edition Arkham Horror Third Edition

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

horror

Overview

Arkham Horror Third Edition revisits the town of Arkham (again - are we getting bored of this world yet?) and pits players against Lovecraftian apparitions and anomalies all the while managing their own health and sanity. Players take on the role of an investigator moving and fighting their way around different sections of the town trying to uncover clues, both in terms of gameplay and actual clue token to defeat the scenario. There are 4 scenarios in this game which all feel quite different from each other and even when replaying a scenario no two games are identical.

Thematically Arkham Horror sits between Eldritch Horror which deals with Cthulu infestation on a global scale, and Mansions of Madness which has you running about a building fighting the evil minions. Arkham Horror has you warding off evil on the scale of the eponymous Arkham town. Full disclosure though, I have not read, nor intend to read any of Lovecraft's books, I am aware of some of the lore but wouldn't describe myself as a fan.

This game has been on the streets for a few months now; FFG has had three cracks at getting this game right and because I haven't played the earlier versions I won't comment any further on the differences between them, but I will provide my thoughts of this as a stand-alone game. You can watch my unboxing video here: https://youtu.be/L5ynYkqkbJM.

Gameplay

Each round consists of four phases that repeat until the players either achieve the scenario objectives, or enough doom has infested the town to defeat the players. During the first phase, the Action Phase, players take turns to perform two actions. Anybody familiar with the majority of FFG rule-sets will be in familiar territory here (Move, Attack etc.).  Cooperative games often allow for self-determined player turn order and this is no different, however, once my group was familiar with the game if our characters were in different neighbourhoods (often the case) we went ahead and played our actions concurrently. This significantly sped the game up - after the obligatory group-think at the beginning of the turn. When players were in the same neighbourhood there was often a synergy of actions that required a little more thinking of who should go first for the best outcome.

After the players have all moved the monsters on the board will activate according to their own specific objectives. The different Monster types have different activation actions, some will run towards the nearest character, others are immobile and just fling doom around. The different monster behaviour, for me, helped to breath a lot of life into this theme. I wouldn't want to count the number of Lovecraftian games there are on the market but we [gamers] show no sign of being tired of it yet; at least we seem to be out of the Zombie-everything era.

After the monsters have activated available players (i.e. those not engaged with a monster) will have an encounter. The Encounter Phase is my favourite part of the game; the NPCs and events that you deal with during an encounter add tons of flavour into this game. You'll draw a specific card depending on where your character is in the town and read out a specific text depending on how many doom tokens are in the same neighbourhood as you. This will often result in taking a test of character. This is done by rolling a number of dice dependent on the particular attribute being tested. The attributes are familiar from the other Cthulu-universe games that FFG have pumped out e.g. Lore, Will, Intelligence, Strength etc. Your particular attribute score means you roll that number of dice, any 5 or 6 results (normally) means you've passed the test. 

The timing mechanism by which Events cards are added to the different Encounter decks is a brilliant piece of design and scales well for any number of players. Each time a clue is 'found', a Clue token is placed in the centre of the neighbourhood in which it was found. This will also add an Event Card to one of the top three cards of that Neighborhood's Encounter deck (each neighbourhood has its own). When drawing an Encounter card during this phase, there is a chance you may draw that Event Card which is the primary mechanism to advance the game and achieve scenario objectives.

The fourth and final phase is the Mythos Phase in which players will blind draw two mythos tokens from a bag. Each token will cause a specific effect (usually bad) for the players to deal with. This phase did tend to slow the game down a little bit but the resolution of all the effects was engaging enough to keep players attention, even if the interval between your last Activation and starting your next turn could be upwards of 15 minutes, a lot more with 6 players around the table.  It was often a relief, in more ways than one, when a blank Mythos token was drawn.

During the game, players will also acquire items, spells, and conditions which generally, help the players. These, along with each character special abilities, are a crucial tactical element to beat any scenario. On my first playthrough, I ignored these additional pieces and quickly lost. I played this way primarily to learn the basic mechanics before teaching one of my game groups. However, I got sucked into this learning game enough to push on until I lost my solo playthrough with two characters. When you play with all the rules (as is intended) all the scenarios felt 'winnable' but always challenging, in fact, I haven't ever won a scenario on the first playthrough, but they were all fun enough, and crucially, quick enough to try again on the same night.

The combat mechanism is very simple, players can attack any monster they are Engaged with, by rolling a strength test. The number of passes (5s or 6s rolled) is the number of hits applied to the monster. If the monster survives to Activate during the Monster Phase the player takes a number of damage and horror tokens that are shown on the bottom of the monster's card. There is no defence roll, you simply take the damage. Initially, I didn't like the simplicity of the combat but I realised this game is more than a typical 'kill all the things' monster game and combat is secondary.  This way, it is is very streamlined and doesn't detract from driving the scenario along; combat is actually just right for this game - this is not a fighting game. 

Although players can die, you are always able to re-enter play with another character, albeit with some scenario-effecting penalties. I like games that both kill player characters off with no chance to revive, which I think adds to the realism and jeopardy of your actions. I also like games that don't allow for player elimination. This game neatly straddles both of these requirements and it reminded me a little bit of Magic Realm; any game that does that is doing alright in my book.

Components

I hold FFG up as a company at the very pinnacle of component quality, if not design at all times (here's looking at you Discover), this game is no exception. The components are fantastic and you get a plethora of different card decks - even multiple types of the same decks. The rulebook(s) are very well laid and they follow the two-book method of many other FFG titles I am familiar with, amongst others. You get a 'Learn to Play' book which does exactly what it says, and a 'Rules Reference'. The 'Learn to Play' book is very well written and we had only a few occasions where we were unsure of a rule enough to warrant looking up the detail in the reference rule-book. 

The Neighborhoods are depicted on large hexagonal tiles which join together with small rectangular streets. The locking mechanism is a simple puzzle-piece, tabs and slots affair. I found that the tolerance of the cutting was so fine that when joined the pieces would not easily go together (or apart) and when prised apart caused some pulling away of the printed surface from the underlying card stock. This is both a pro and a con as you get a very firm game board at the expense that it might start to wear quickly.  But there is no denying the game looks great on the table and is beautifully illustrated throughout.

Criticisms

As with most FFG games there is an abundance of card decks and tokens to keep track of the game state and that of your player characters. Despite the relatively small footprint of the map elements of the game board you're going to need a massive table or be very organised to sit 5 or 6 players around this. It is a huge table hog. Obviously, all of these pieces are set up before the game and to give you some idea of how long setup takes, almost half of the rulebook (yes you read that right) is dedicated to Setup! I wish setup was a bit quicker if this game continues to find table time I will have to invest in a better solution than plastics bags to facilitate setup. 

Cooperatives often don't work well with either of my game groups as we tend to group-think which drags the game on a bit too long. This is our own fault and despite the streamlining of the game it did start to overstay its welcome near the end of a scenario. However, that didn't always stop us from re-playing it either because it does tell a good story and each play (aside from the major plot points) are quite different. It would be ideal if the playtime could be trimmed just a little bit more but I am at a loss to think of where there is any cruft that could obviously be lost. 

Conclusion

Apart from the first few turns of the first game, where we didn't fully appreciate the consequences of our actions, the game felt well balanced, i.e. easy to play but hard(ish) to beat. The play time on the box is largely accurate with most of my games straying up to 3 hours with 3 and 4 players. This is a highly polished and fun romp in the Lovecraft Universe. Gamers appear to still be eager for more Cthulu and whilst I appreciate the accomplished gameplay and immersive story, I'm not overly sold on the theme itself, which is no criticism of the game.  However, there's no denying the theme shines through throughout this game. I did enjoy my time with this game and would recommend it to any fans of cooperative games who are looking for something with a little more chrome than Pandemic. If you're a Cthulu fan then I would imagine this is a no-brainer game to seek out and play, if not to add to your collection.

Most game-stores will have a copy of this game in and you can use this link http://www.findyourgamestore.co.uk/ to find your nearest.

Publisher: FFG
Website: https://www.fantasyflightgames.com/en/products/arkham-horror-third-edition/
Players: 1 - 6
Designer: Nikki Valens
Playing time: 2 - 3 hours
RRP: £59.99
PixelPLaybox.co.uk