Full of enthusiasm from writing about Runebound, I want to take some more time now to wax lyrical about yet another of my favourite board games of all time, this one a little more easy to get a copy of: A Touch of Evil!
Published by Flying Frog Productions, this game is quite simply awesome. With the Runebound/Eldritch Horror posts that I’ve made in the past, you might get the impression that I like big board games that fill the table with their stacks of cards and piles of bits, and you’d be damn right I do, but FFP manage to produce games that put me in a very happy place indeed. A relatively small company, with a relatively short portfolio of games, they nevertheless have tremendously high-quality stuff that is simple to learn, simple to play, but an incredibly immersive experience all the same. They currently have five board games to their name, and each one, while having a similar system, is nevertheless overflowing with flavour and theme that makes them feel entirely different to each other. Their mission has been to create games that focus on theme and fun rather than overly-complicated mechanics, and boy have they succeeded!
If you’ve seen the movie Sleepy Hollow, you’ll feel right at home with A Touch of Evil, which is about as direct a homage to the early-nineteenth-century American Colonial Gothic theme as it’s possible to be. The game is co-operative, where you take on the role of an adventuring hero fighting to overcome the darkness surrounding the town of Shadowbrook, though you can also play competetively, where you race to be the first hero to defeat the evil in the land. There is supernatural evil there, and it’s up to you to investigate and stop it before it stops you!
The board is an exquisitely-illustrated map of Shadowbrook and the surrounding area, and as in the film, there are classic Colonial locations such as the windmill, the manor, the covered bridge, and the abandoned keep. During the course of the game, the heroes travel around encountering the spaces and uncovering clues that allow them to further their investigation, until they can face the evil and, hopefully, overcome it.
Heroes have three skills – spirit, cunning and combat – as well as one or more special abilities, an honor value, and a life value. These skills are used to overcome tests or to fight while encountering the locations around the board, and can be levelled up through finding artifacts, buying items at the Blacksmith, and skill tests in the town. The currency of the game is investigation (the blue tokens), which are gained mainly through successful skill tests at encounters.
On your turn, you roll a 6-sided die to determine how far you can move, then encounter the space. If it is one of the four corner locations, you draw a card from the appropriate deck. Broadly, the manor and the windmill are safer locations than the abandoned keep or the olde woods, but you can be attacked anywhere, and also find items to buff your skills. Throughout the game you also have the opportunity to draw event cards, which you can play to give your hero an advantage such as preventing wounds, or rolling extra fight dice. Usually you can draw these while in town, but you also get one if you roll a natural 1 for movement.
Skill tests, such as that shown above, are resolved by rolling a number of dice equal to your value in that skill, so for Katrina to make the Cunning 4+ test shown above, she will roll three dice. If she rolls at least one 4+, she is successful, and gains investigation as the card shows. For fights, the same basic principle is followed – fights can be described as Combat 5+ tests – for every result of 5 or 6, you hit the enemy (although, Katrina’s special ability is to hit on a 4, 5 or 6). Enemies – either the villain himself or one of his minions – roll a number of dice at the same time, and hits are assigned at the same time. In this way, it’s possible to defeat an enemy while being knocked out at the same time.
Like heroes, the villains each have an oversized card that shows their combat and life stats, and also any special abilities they have. I’m playing here against The Scarecrow, but there are also such classic villains in the core box as the Werewolf, the Vampire, and the Spectral Horseman (Sleepy Hollow again). The game has two modes built-in, the Basic Game and the Advanced Game. Basic Game stats aren’t particularly easier, they just don’t muddle things up quite so much – usually, in the Basic Game the villain only has one special ability, and in the Advanced Game he just does more. There is also the villain’s Minion Chart. Usually, you will only fight the villain once, at the end of the game, so to make things more interesting, he also has a horde of minions that will interact with the heroes more often. Once the heroes have all acted, there is a ‘Mystery Phase’, where a single mystery card is resolved. These are never good, often bringing more doom to the players. These cards will bring minions into play, will move the shadow track (more shortly), or will generally make it more difficult for the heroes. They can also provide buffs to the villain in the same way that heroes can find objects to buff themselves:
The heroes’ task is to find the lair of the villain, and they do this by buying Lair cards, which show a particular location on them. The shadow track is used to determine the cost of these cards, as well as interacting with the villain in other ways. It isn’t a timer for the game (although one of the mystery cards can make it one), and you might go half a dozen or more rounds without it moving at all. Divided into five phases, with four stages per phase, the track marks the decreasing cost to buy a lair card as the villain grows in power – in the final two phases, it only costs one investigation to buy a lair card, usually because so much craziness is going on, it should be pretty obvious by that point where the villain is hiding!
So when you have a lair card, and you’re feeling brave enough to take on the villain, you can start a Showdown with said villain. First, you need to get to the place on your lair card, then pay the cost shown on that card to start the Showdown. Some cards will also interact with the villains, perhaps giving them bonuses for the first fight round of the Showdown. At any rate, once you’re there, it’s time to stop the evil!
You have the option of forming a hunting party to go after the villain. You may have noticed the six cards across the top of the board originally? These are the six town elders, all of whom have at least one Secret they are hiding. Throughout the game, while investigating for clues as to the supernatural evil stalking the countryside, you can also use your clues to investigate each of the elders, to see if they are working directly with the villain or if they’re just a drunkard or a coward. Each of the elders has a skill value and a special ability that can be used if you bring them with you in your hunting party, though you need to be sure you’ve thoroughly investigated them beforehand. If you gamble on an uninvestigated elder, you could have a nasty surprise when they join your party!
All elders have one life point, and during the Showdown, the villain must ascribe one of his fight dice to damaging one elder with you, so they can be quite useful for soaking up damage if nothing else! When it comes down to it, you and the villain both roll, and if all goes well, you’ll defeat the big bad and win the day! If not…well, there are other heroes…
I categorically LOVE this game! The theme is wonderfully executed, and you can get lost for hours or force a showdown and have the whole thing over in 45 minutes. I’ve played it countless times, in conjunction with all the expansions at one point or another, and I just can’t get enough. Oh yeah – there’s expansions!
Each of these beauties adds something awesome to the game, though it remains perfectly playable and perfectly enjoyable by itself. From the new boards and new stuff of the big boxes, to the addition of new heroes and villains in the aptly-named Hero Packs, there are all sorts of good things waiting to be found here!
I’m constantly impressed with Flying Frog’s support for their games, and A Touch of Evil is no exception. In addition to all that bumph, they’ve also produced two smaller card-packs, and web exclusive villains that you can print off and enjoy! Of these web villains, I think I was most impressed with The Shadow Witch, I was overwhelmed when I first tried her out! There is also the ‘Christmas Special’, The Volgovian Nutcracker, who leads his hordes of toy soldiers and sinister teddy bears against the heroes! I’m also a huge fan of the sheer amount of content they pack into their games. Along with all of the cards and stuff, there’s a whole host of extra counters that have no specific rules for them, but are there specifically for you to do whatever you want with them. You’ve seen, in the images above, counters for the villain, and The Coachman ally, but there are all sorts of other things in the box, and the same with the expansions as well. In idle moments, I’ve come up with a few ideas for utilising the additional content from Something Wicked, but not all of it is forgotten, as some of the web villains use certain counters as well, which is always good to see.
None of this is doing the game any real justice, of course – if I wasn’t so camera-shy, I would have done a vlog with my entire gameplay shown for you! My best advice to you all, though, is to go out and buy this beauty right now. Lose yourself in the fight against supernatural evil, then come back here and tell me what you think about it! I do so love a comment or two!
It’s my fervent hope that, at some point soon, I will also produce some blogs about the expansions as well. They’re each one so awesome that they really deserve special treatment, so stay tuned for that, as well! Until next time…