The Holiday Devil!

Hey everybody!
It’s game day once again here at spalanz.com, and today marks an extra-special game day blog as it’s Christmas week! Whether you’re celebrating with presents and food, or if it’s just time off work – or even if it’s just another week – I hope you’re all having a grand old time! Personally, I find there’s nothing so magical as spending a couple of hours with some supernatural horror, so it’s time once again to take a look at the always-excellent A Touch of Evil, and the second “holiday villain”, as we fight against the demonic Krampus!

You may recall, of course, this was a web villain exclusive from Flying Frog Productions last Christmas – which got me very excited at the time, as I love the amount of elaborate work that often goes into these web villains. While I didn’t get to try him out last year, I have now had the pleasure, and I want to give some brief impressions today!

A Touch of Evil Krampus

First of all, I liked this villain a lot. While not as wonderful as the Volgovian Nutcracker, he is nevertheless an interesting villain to go up against. For those unfamiliar with the folklore, Krampus is a devil who runs around at Christmastime punishing bad children by whipping them with birch rods, like a reverse St Nicholas. Indeed, Krampus punishes these children on the night before St Nicholas’ Day (6 December). For the town of Shadowbrook, many of the original immigrants brought the Germanic tradition of Krampus with them, and regularly celebrate with parades and feasting. And this is where the fun begins!

At the start of the game, Reveler tokens are placed on the dangerous locations, and a pool of townsfolk tokens is created by all the town elders and allies, whose cards are removed from their respective decks. One townsfolk token is placed in each corner location, and the stage is set for the festivities to begin!

Over the course of the game, heroes can search the crowd of revelers for clues by rolling a d6; if you roll a 5 or 6, you’ve found the real Krampus and he attacks you! On the roll of 1-4, however, you can either collect investigation tokens equal to the number rolled, or gain one Egg Grog token, which prevents up to two wounds being done to you or an ally with you. The band of revelers then moves on to a random location, but if they ever enter a space with a townsfolk token, that townsfolk is taken by Krampus and placed in his sack!

While there are of course a multitude of other things going on in the game, which I’ll get to shortly, this is the core of the new villain and how he changes the gameplay. I must admit, it took me a while to “get” this, and for a number of turns I wasn’t interacting with the revelers, which meant they were just nothing on the board, and the game didn’t feel that exciting or different. Reveler tokens don’t stop movement – instead, you search the crowd as an elective action. However, the potential benefits of the Egg Grog tokens (or even the bonus investigation) should get you searching the crowd as often as you’d search a corner location!

A Touch of Evil Krampus

The other big new mechanic here is Naughty and Nice. At the start of your turn, you choose whether your hero is naughty or nice, taking the corresponding token. If you were nice, then nothing immediately happens, and the token is returned to the bank. If you were naughty, however, you keep the token, you gain one investigation for each naughty token you have, then you roll a d6; if you equal or less than the number of tokens you have, you take as many wounds as naughty tokens you have, then return them all to the bank. In addition, if you roll a 5 you get a free event, and if you roll a 6 you get a free town item. Having multiple Egg Grog tokens really helps if you’re planning to push your luck here!

Naughty and Nice also has an interaction with the Minion Chart, which only includes one such minion – the faun – and two Events. Perchta is a follower of Krampus in the folklore, and the result of a roll of 3-4 on the Minion chart. Rewarding the virtuous and good, while punishing the wicked by ripping our their intestines and replacing them with straw, this event gives each nice hero d6 investigation, while forcing d3 hits on each naughty hero. Another event on the chart, Birkenrute, similarly punishes naughty heroes by forcing the discard of d6 investigation, items or allies (the chart also says “wounds”, but I’m guessing it doesn’t mean heal yourself…) Both of these events are very thematic for the villain, and while events seem to so rarely come up in games, they were nevertheless fun when they did!

But what about Krampus’ sack?

Well, folklore describes how Krampus roams the neighbourhood abducting particularly bad children, carrying them back to his lair in a sack, whereupon he eats them. In the game, any townsfolk in Krampus’ sack will be eaten on the roll of 4+ whenever the shadow track moves into a new stage. Hilariously, however, during a fight with the villain, you can target the sack and potentially rescue anyone trapped inside if you score a successful hit. The townsfolk rescued in this way immediately join you, which is nice! You can also attempt to team up with townsfolk still on the board by paying 3 investigation and rolling a 4+ when you encounter them.

A Touch of Evil Krampus

I really enjoyed this villain. The extent to which allies matter is really amazing – and can be increased if you have The Allies supplement for the game, of course! I always like to try to get a couple of extra folks whenever I’m playing, so you feel like you really have a posse going on there, and this has never been easier with this addition. While the potential is obviously there to ignore the revelers and see very little happen with regard the sack, and always choose to be nice, effectively rendering the large part of the game pointless, I can’t actually imagine anyone would elect to play in this manner.

It’s no Volgovian Nutcracker, which remains one of my all-time favourite villains for the game, (and I’m looking forward to going up against him again in my now-traditional game on Christmas Eve), but Krampus is still a really cool villain for the game, and one that I feel is well-implemented and enjoyably different. Variety is always great, and having a huge cast of villains to go up against is awesome.

He’s also free, so what are you waiting for?!

A Touch of Evil – revisited

Hey everybody!
Tuesday is Game Day here at spalanz.com, and for today’s blog I’m taking a look at a game that has already come under the spotlight of awesome here: A Touch of Evil!

A Touch of Evil

I’ve been playing this game a lot recently with only the base game, something that I tend not to do with these kinds of games very much. And this is really what I thought I’d write about today. You can see all about the game in the earlier blog, where the mechanics are explained and whatnot. I’ve been really interesting in my own attitude to gaming lately, so I thought I’d explore this instead, and see where it goes. It might not end up being a very interesting blog, and I may not do many more like it, but let’s see, anyway!

A Touch of Evil

A Touch of Evil is a perfectly fine game in and of itself, and you can have a whole boat-load of fun without any expansions. However, I always find myself playing the game with at least one, and when I’ve played it without any in the past, I’ve always had something of a mediocre experience with it. I find this really interesting, and it got me thinking back to my very first games with it.

I was introduced to the game by an ex-girlfriend, and we played quite a lot of it (though she always preferred the same company’s Last Night on Earth). The fact that it can be played competitively or co-operatively, as well as the historical theme, has always greatly appealed to me. We bought it when it was new out, so obviously for a long time we could only play it with the base game, but we still did so, and we still enjoyed it. As expansions came out, we added them in, and always had a good time – but this is where the interesting thing (to me) comes in. Once Something Wicked had come out, we never went back to playing with just the base game. Even if we were using a base game villain, we’d still use the Echo Lake board.

A Touch of Evil

When I bought it for myself, I bought the entire line in one go, though still played the base game by itself at first, to get to grips with it once more. As I said, I’ve come back to just the base game a few times since, as well, but it has always felt a little lacklustre to do so.

But why?

The game didn’t fundamentally change when Something Wicked was released. Sure, there were more mechanics going on, but the components of the base game are still the same as they were when it was released, so why should something that posed a decent challenge and provided lots of fun suddenly stop doing so?

I suppose the obvious answer here is a change in my own skill level. As my familiarity with the base game increased, I could prepare and play accordingly. However, while this might be something of a knee-jerk response, I don’t feel that it really holds up to scrutiny. The fact that the game involves drawing from decks of cards and rolling dice means that any level of skill is mitigated by the high luck aspect. There are some location cards I’ve forgotten about because I haven’t encountered them all that regularly. There is too much random going on in this game to be able to properly assess the damage certain mystery cards can provide, meaning that almost any card is simultaneously both dreadful and an easy pass, depending on the game state right there and then.

Strategy in such games all-too-often boils down to stock up on items and then go after the villain, even if it means paying 12 investigation for a lair card. Sure, there can be micro-strategies happening, such as always sending your female investigators to fight the succubus, but in the main, there’s not a lot else that can be done.

However, if you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you’re not only an amazing person, but you’ll know that I am a huge fan of thematic play, and I will rarely go into this game thinking “I’ll just stock up on stuff and then go in all-guns-blazing”. I like to explore the board, and even when I’m drawing seemingly random encounters, I like to see how I can weave these things into a narrative that is telling the story of the game. Immersing myself in the experience, I like the fact that I don’t get to fight the villain until the end (more often than not, at least!) as it lends an air of mystery to the game. I keep coming across packs of wolves, and what was that succubus all about at the covered bridge? Oh no, it’s a vampire!

A Touch of Evil

However, playing thematically will only take you so far, and I think the issue – for me, at least – is just that I’ve been spoilt by expansions. The base game for any game line will invariably give you a good, all-round experience of the game, but it won’t be particularly mind-boggling (at least, not anymore). It falls to the line of expansions to enrich the gameplay experience further, once you’ve been pulled in by the initial purchase and like the basic mechanics. A Touch of Evil is no different to a whole host of other games in this regard, and I could have really picked any other game in my collection to write about in this sense. In the case of Something Wicked, we have more locations with complex encounters, we have more villains with more complex mechanics, the whole game is taken up a step by the addition of this board. If you add in The Coast, you’re in for the night with that game setup! However, once you’ve experienced that sort of craziness, by paring it back to the base game once again, I for one feel like I’m having a fairly basic experience, which I think is the crux of this entire issue here.

Expansions aren’t always necessary, and can sometimes feel like a real train-wreck. Other times, expansions are necessary to the continued enjoyment of a game, but fail to deliver as they only provide a more-of-the-same feel. Yet other times, expansions add a whole new dimension to a game that makes them virtually inseparable to the main game. While I’ve always been a great lover of expansions, this has always stemmed from the fact that I like variety, and new ways to play a game, though I am opposed to expansions for the sake of it. A game like A Touch of Evil certainly falls into the category of needing more expansions, and those that we have for the game have served to enhance the experience immeasurably. You don’t need expansions to enjoy the game for what it is, but I feel you certainly need them to ensure you continue to enjoy the game.

What about you? Can you play just a base game and enjoy it forever, or are you more of an expansion fiend?

Here be Monsters!

Hey everybody!
Game day here at spalanz.com has a more relaxed tone today. I’m actually on holiday at the moment, but if this scheduling lark works, you’ll be enjoying this blog on Tuesday all the same! I thought I’d share a couple of reviews I wrote initially on boardgamegeek of two of the print-and-play villains for A Touch of Evil: the Shadow Witch and the Delion Dryad!

The Shadow Witch

I suppose this is more of a first thoughts than a review, as I’ve only played one game against this villain, but I just had to share!

First of all, the web exclusives from FFP get a really big thumbs up from me, as I love to see companies promote and support their games in this way. It’s also a nice way to get some really crazy mechanics into play without upsetting the more mainstream physical product, if that makes sense. That the Shadow Witch was ‘released’ for Hallowe’en is extremely apt, because this is one scary villain.

At first glance, the Witch appears to be quite the pushover – indeed, four combat and five wounds would seem like a bit of a pushover, and her ‘Basic Game’ stats only pump her up by 1 combat for each ‘remains in play’ card. While not exactly easy, it is still nonetheless quite straightforward to cancel such cards, so provided you can control things so that you aren’t forced into a Showdown, it should be fairly straightforward to win. Her Basic Game minion chart is also fairly, well, basic really.

But the Advanced Game is where this villain really shines, and I think if you want to play against her, you’ll want to be playing the Advanced Game every time.

First off, the Shadow Witch has the most interesting effect to date on any villain, that of gathering clues. This really helps to make you feel like you’re on a real investigation into the Witch’s past, and I am such a big fan of this idea I want to try to incorporate a similar thing into all my future games! Not only is there a thematic point to this, but there is a very real game reason for doing so as well.

See, the Shadow Witch has some insane methods of pumping herself up with combat dice. As well as having +1 for each Mystery card that ‘remains in play’, she has +1 against any hero with less than Spirit 4 (get thee to the Church!), +2 for every Little Secret revealed on a Town Elder in your Hunting Party, and an astonishing +6 just for being in the Showdown! You’ll definitely want to be on the trail of those clues, just to counteract this ability!

As if that wasn’t bad enough, she’s also very good at killing off the Town Elders. I think every villain has an ability (certainly, most of them) centred on the “Murder!” Mystery cards, bringing out extra minions and whatnot. The Shadow Witch forces a roll against the Town Elders’ Honour, and for every Elder’s Honour that matches the roll, they get a Transformation marker. If these markers equal their Spirit, they are killed, removed from the game, and a Shadow Spectre haunts the town in their stead. Wonderfully thematic! In the basic game, there are 7 of these Mystery cards, but with expansions that number can be as high as 11. That’s a good reason to want to get Sophie the Midwife on your side, if you can!

These Shadow Spectres also loom out of the miasma thanks to a horrible event, the Wrath of the Shadow Witch, which discards the top two cards of each location deck, any allies discarded by this being removed from the game and replaced with these Spectres. Wow. Again, the base game has five allies that can fall foul of this (in my game, three of them left us for good because of it), with as many as 11 more added in with all the expansions.

That would be bad enough, of course, but wait! These Spectres have an additional effect of their own! While a Shadow Spectre is on the board, you draw an extra Mystery card at the start of the Mystery phase! Adding to the chance you’ll get one of those cursed “Murder!” cards, or even something that will remain in play!

By far my favourite mechanic of the Shadow Witch, however, has got to be Solomon the Cat. Remember that marker from Something Wicked, that could represent the Familiar Cat that lurks on the Forbidden Island? Well, here he has a name and a neat little effect that kicks off at the start of each Mystery Phase. Vaguely reminiscent of The Horseman Rides Tonight, he zooms off around the board from Random Location to Random Location, but instead of attacking you, you have to pass a Cunning 5+ test or pay the consequences, rolling on Solomon’s little chart. It’s all basically bad stuff that can happen – indeed, the villain sheet tells us he wanders around “spreading misfortune wherever he goes”. However, if you happen to have the keyword Strange, and fail your Cunning test but then roll a 6, you can get extra Investigation, or 1 Clue. Very handy that, but unfortunately very difficult to pull off – with the exception of Heinrich Cartwright from the base game, every Strange Hero is rolling at least 3 dice for the Cunning test. Unless you roll like me (that is, badly), you might not make it work. Solomon is a fantastic mechanic, however, and I think I’d like to see more of that if this game continues to be expanded.

The Shadow Witch has got to be one of the most original and, I feel, complex villains we’ve seen in this game so far. The game I’ve just played against her was absolutely brutal, but all the more awesome for it!!!!!

The Delion Dryad

Having enjoyed myself so much reviewing the Shadow Witch last time, I thought I’d turn my attention to the first web exclusive villain this time, and regale you all with my thoughts on the Delion Dryad!

Aside from the fact that I really like the look of this magik plant, I really enjoy going up against her in the game, as everything is made so much more interesting due to her abilities! There are some really crazy things going on here as well, that often require a lot of keeping-track, but I find it just makes for a more immersive game.

With the basic rules, the Dryad is already fairly tricky to get round. 6 combat and four wounds doesn’t sound particularly difficult in light of the villains we’ve been seeing in The Coast particularly, but when combined with her Sorceress ability, which makes each hero need a combined Spirit and Cunning of 8 or more or else you only hit on a 6, things already look tough. You’ll need to go off exploring a lot, or else train at the Church and/or Magistrate’s Office before you can actually take her on. So an early-game Deadly Encounter might set you back further than you’d like.

The Basic Minion chart also provides a use for the Living Trees minion markets included in the base game, which is a really nice touch! What isn’t nice is that they are a lot more deadly than the Angry Trees that you might encounter in the Olde Woods deck, rolling an extra fight dice. The event on this chart increases the amount of secrets the Town Elders get, which can get out of hand pretty quickly if you’re unfortunate enough to roll this event. The Dryad also has wolf minions that, in the basic game, have a set number of wounds so you actually have to defeat them, much like the Timber Wolves you can encounter in the Olde Woods.

The Olde Woods is, as you might expect, quite the theme for the Dryad, which is explored further in the Advanced Abilities. Her Dark Spirit of the Woods ability is particularly atmospheric I thought, and as (bad) luck would have it, when I was eventually forced into a Showdown with her it was actually in the Woods. When there, both she and her minions get an extra fight dice, though on the plus side non-Showdown fights and defeated minions are worth an extra one investigation. However, during the game if you’re caught lingering there, you’re attacked on the roll of 1, 2 or 3. A really nice touch, I thought.

She has two really quite distressing abilities, one of which has already been mentioned here as perhaps being a bit too much. Shadow of the Season gives the Dryad +1 Wound Marker whenever the Shadow Track moves into a new stage, either forward or back. So if you’ve been stockpiling Reassuring Speeches to play once the track has moved down low enough to buy a lair card before you drive it back up, you might want to rethink that strategy. “I think not!” really helps, though, as you can perhaps get it down far enough and then just keep it there.

The second ability, Control of Nature, has her spawning Living Trees at Random Locations at the beginning of every Mystery phase. These trees are already no pushovers, but if you leave them too long, all six will be on the board and you’ll be forced instead to move the Shadow Track each Mystery Phase. (As an aside, I’m not exactly sure why the Villain Sheet states you should do this if the number runs out, as this is already in the rulebook as written).

Each Villain, of course, also has an advanced effect that kicks off at the Mystery card “Murder!”, and the Dryad’s is, in my opinion, perhaps the best of them all (as much as I enjoy the Nutcracker’s ability, I should add). The Delion Dryad, we are told, is ‘a powerful force of nature’ who uses spells and witchcraft ‘to enchant all those who would challenge her domination’. As such, her Enchantment effect causes any and all Town Elders with Cunning equal to or less than the roll of a d6 to gain an enchantment marker. At the start of the Showdown, all Town Elders in the Hunting Party plus one other chosen by the first player must make a Spirit 4+ test and, if they don’t roll as many successes as they have enchantment markers, they join the Villain as an Evil Elder. This is just genius, in my opinion! If you want Lord Hanbrook’s extra fight dice, or Lady Hanbrook’s ability to ignore the first hit, then you’re going to have to keep them well and truly on your side! (The Dryad has new keywords, however – Magik and Plant – so both the Reverend and the Magistrate don’t affect her with their abilities).

Luckily, there are ways to prevent these enchantment tokens from piling up, though they aren’t exactly easy. First, the aforementioned Reassuring Speech can be used to remove all tokens from one Elder – which is good, though there are of course only two copies in the event deck. Victor Danforth and the “I Say…” card could be of great use here, of course. The only other way is through the event Creeping Brambles on the advanced Minion Chart. If you pass an Honor 6+ test, for each 6+ rolled you can remove one enchantment token. The advanced Minion Chart, however, also changes the Nature’s Lure event to one that adds enchantment tokens, instead of Secrets, to the Town Elders.

Lastly, as you might perhaps expect, the Delion Dryad is Flammable, so highly susceptible to Fire items, as are her Living Trees minions. So while you have a Torch and you’re fighting her Trees, you get +2 Fight Dice in your favour. Against the Dryad herself, you can discard that Torch to get +4 fight dice until the end of the round, so when you’re up against this one you’ll want to head to the Blacksmith as soon as you have 4 Investigation under your belt!

For all this, however, I still found her a fairly routine Villain to beat. Some really nicely thematic abilities, and the wonderful Enchantment effects, but otherwise it wasn’t too hard a slog to fight her. With just the base set things are a bit different of course, though up against her with Adrianna, from Hero Pack 1 and who determines her fight dice first (to say nothing of forcing rerolls for 2 investigation each), things like the Living Trees lose a lot of their threat. But anyone equipped with a Hunting Rifle will have this edge.

I still really like her, I think the theme that comes out of this Villain is tremendous, but given all the expansions we’ve had since, I feel that some of the edge has been taken away from her.

Delion Dryad

These characters are awesome and, along with the Volgovian Nutcracker and Krampus, are a whole load of fun that can be added into the game for a new experience. Recommended!

The Devil Strikes!

Hey everyone!
Happy Boxing Day, to all those who partake of the season!

Following on from my earlier blog, Flying Frog have put up a new web villain for A Touch of Evil – Krampus, the Holiday Devil! From German folklore, Krampus is the demon that punishes naughty children at Christmas. How wonderful!

The first new content for this game in just over two years, I’m going to try this chap out shortly – have an awesome day!

Download it now:
Krampus, the Holiday Devil
Cover Page (incl FAQ)
Basic Minion Chart
Advanced Minion Chart
Counters

Get cracking!

Hey everyone!
The big day is almost here, so I want to share with you one of my all-time favourite Christmas games – it’s a small web expansion for that old favourite, A Touch of Evil: it’s the Volgovian Nutcracker!

Volgovian Nutcracker

Ah, Christmas! It’s a time of fun and frivolity, lively laughter, good spirits – and evil nutcrackers. Of course it is! Tchaikovsky couldn’t have been further from the truth. When Christmas comes to Shadowbrook, only bad stuff entails…

I thought I’d share some rambling musings on this, my favourite of the pdf villains for A Touch of Evil (and, incidentally, my second-favourite villain of the entire game series so far), so that you can curl up with a cup of chocolate in the twinkling light of the tree and be terrified beyond your wildest dreams. Because there are evil nutcrackers out there…

Yes, my favourite of the web exclusives. FFP deserves so much credit for doing this. When game companies are willing to give you free stuff, it’s always good, but when said company is willing to give you free stuff that is just as good – if not better – than the product that has a price tag, I feel a massive rush of affection for them that usually leads to me spending more money on them. While I appreciate that FFP are of course widening their base with more games and supporting those, not to mention the resources that must go into these things, I still have all of my extremities crossed that there will be more pdfs appearing in due course.

But for now, I’ll uncross some of them to continue with this blog…

Volgovian Nutcracker

The Volgovian Nutcracker is like nothing we’ve seen before, entirely unique, with his own unique minions and mechanics. The first thing that I noticed when glancing through his sheets is that he never actually attacks you, until you get to the Showdown. Whereas you would expect the D6 roll of a 6 on the minion chart to be a villain attack event, instead there is a really nice effect that I’ll describe shortly. While it’s still possible to encounter the Nutcracker himself through Deadly Encounters, you otherwise won’t see the little wooden guy until the end.

There is something quite whimsical about this villain that has such undercurrents of darkness that it strongly reminds me of the circus folks in Batman Returns. The villain himself is a nutcracker, after all, and his minions are toys! Where’s the harm?! Well, have you seen how sinister those Stuffed Bears look?! The Christmas cheer is there, but it has such a wonderfully dangerous edge that it is the perfect marrying of theme in this game. (I’ll come back to this point later.)

First off, then, let’s have a look at the Basic Game. With Toy Soldiers and Toy Cannons, the Nutcracker seeks to strike. These Toy Soldiers have the nasty ability of being able to repair themselves at the end of each fight round on the roll of 4+, which makes them just that extra bit annoying. The Toy Cannons also do double damage on rolls of 6, so even though they’re only rolling 2 fight dice, they have the potential to knock you out in one round. The event that replaces the usual Villain Attack is called “Holiday Ball”, where you roll a die and consult a chart. Rolls of 2-5 are benign, in fact they’re quite helpful; roll a 6 and you might be getting some investigation, but you’re also spawning some Toy Soldiers. Rolls of 1 move the Shadow Track. The Nutcracker himself, sporting a 5 combat rating and 6 wounds, has a wonderful ability called ‘Crushing Bite’ where his rolls of 6 force you to discard an item or ally, or take an additional hit. Those powerful jaws, capable of crushing through the hardest of shells, or the closest of bonds between hero and ally…

Volgovian Nutcracker

But as usual, it’s the Advanced Game that I’m more interested in.

To start with, the Advanced Game adds two more movable bits to the game experience – the aforementioned creepy Stuffed Bears, and the delightfully whimsical Christmas Caravan – more on the latter in a minute! First of all, all these toys become a lot more deadly. The Soldiers still heal, but they also inch closer to the nearest hero at the beginning of the Mystery phase. The Cannons – well, watch out if they’re in any named space! If they’re at a corner location, they bombard that location’s deck, discarding D6 cards from the pile until there’s nothing left. If they run it down, that location is considered to be destroyed and it is treated like an unstable location instead, much like the Sunken mechanic did in Something Wicked, released a few months before the pdf went up. If the Cannons are left in Town spaces, they discard a random Town Item and move the Shadow Track each Mystery Phase. Combined with The Hour is Late, that can be a killer!

Ever thought Stuffed Bears were cute and cuddly? Well, think again! These little horrors are as dangerous as the Vampire’s Wolves, or the Werewolf’s Feral Kin, hitting on 4, 5 or 6! The good thing is they can only take two wounds. The Holiday Ball event is now transformed into something that I really like, too. If rolled, the heroes with a Party Invitation Event card move immediately to the Manor and gain D6 investigation – very handy! You then roll a die for each living Town Elder, the roll compared to each of their three attributes, triggering a different effect for whichever it matches. So, if it equals the Elder’s Honor, that Elder gains a Resolve Token (from the Something Wicked expansion – if you aren’t using this (gasp!), you can use this effect to remove a Mystery card that remains in play on the roll of 5 or 6); if it equals their Spirit, they gain a Secret card, and if it matches their Cunning you can place 2 Investigation at The Manor.

The Christmas Caravan also flits around the board, dropping investigation tokens wherever it goes, which can be very handy. The Caravan also takes on the little chart that the Basic Game used for the Holiday Ball event, so that if a hero encounters the Caravan during the course of the game he will roll on this chart to see what happens. There are some minor changes – rolls of 1 draw a Mystery Card instead of moving the Shadow Track, and you’ll place 2 Toy Soldier minions on the roll of a 6, but in essence it’s the same. Heroes encountering the Caravan can also buy Town Items here.

Collecting investigation from the board is made so much more difficult now, however, due to the Exploding Gifts ability. Yes, any tokens dropped by the Caravan, or otherwise placed through card effects, aren’t just clues lying around to be discovered to aid the heroes, but exploding presents from the Soulless Nutcracker! Muwahahaha! Heroes must pass the Cunning 5+ test to pick these tokens up, or else they blow up in your face and are removed from the board, leaving you with D3 wounds. Ouch!

The Nutcracker has a simply excellent ability that works off the “Murder!” Mystery card, too. ‘Tis the Season…for Murder! makes you roll a die and, on the roll of 4+, you place a Stuffed Bear minion at the same location as the 3 investigation. If you roll a 1, the Town Elder with the lowest Cunning is killed. The Villain’s rules sheet just cracks me up on this point, though – the Elder is considered to be “the victim of a deadly present”! I just love it! Those sinister Stuffed Bears have a lot to answer for…

Another really great, atmospheric ability the Nutcracker has is Winter Snowfall. When rolling for Lingering, you roll 2 dice and take the lower result. The effect is considered to be a permanent Weather card, any other such cards are merely discarded, which forces the Shadow Track to move one more inexorable step towards darkness. So if you’ve got Cannons in the Town, and haven’t yet managed to shift The Hour is Late, you’re in real trouble! Especially so, because the Nutcracker has yet another ability that kicks off from the Shadow Track crossing through stages closer to darkness. Assault of Darkness will place a random minion at 2 Random Locations whenever the Track moves into a new stage closer to darkness.

The Nutcracker also has some new keywords that work off existing cards from the core set, as well as not being forgotten by further expansions. So Magistrate Kroft will be able to lend his +2 fight dice ability against this demonic Construct, as will Sara the Bright Witch. However, the devious Nutcracker will have +1 Combat against you unless your Cunning is 4 or higher, so get ye to the Magistrate’s Office!

Volgovian Nutcracker

I just love this guy! he is definitely not the sort of Nutcracker that would transport you to a magical kingdom of sweets and sugarplum fairies, but instead will crush you betwixt his evil jaws and transport you to hell! The whimsy of fighting against toys like some demented child’s nightmare aside, I think the whole package is highly atmospheric and, through all of these little rules twists, creates an almost-entirely new game, moreso perhaps than any other villain. I also feel that, more than the other two web villains, his abilities feed off the Mystery card deck really very neatly, particularly with moving the Shadow Track. In a very unlucky game, you may only have as many as four rounds before you lose!

I cannot gush enough at just how much work must have gone into this creation. The other two web villains have always re-used previously-released content in their own way, but the Nutcracker has his own unique minions, to say nothing of the Christmas Caravan that is roaming the town dropping off sinister gifts. However, this does pose its own problem. If, like me, you don’t have access to the kind of thick cardstock that the regular FFP stuff is printed on, the Nutcracker experience does become a little fiddly, as minion counters are slid with care across Shadowbrook because of the card available. There is also the issue of how the minions are printed, the intention being that the six Cannons and the six Bears have Soldiers on the reverse. It isn’t exactly difficult to arrange the game so that, when you place a Cannon or a Bear, you remove a Soldier from play until that minion is defeated, but it can become a little bit fiddly. I’m not so craftsy that I can overcome this with ease (heck, I can’t even operate a laminator consistently!) However, these are less than minor quibbles – I’m just thrilled to have more content for the game that I love so much!

The Christmas Caravan is also a really great addition. All its abilities aside, I really like the fact that it doesn’t automatically move every turn, but only on the roll of 4+, so if you want to encounter it but find yourself on the other side of the board, you have a chance at least of getting there. It does tend to be tweaked when I play, though, so that you can’t buy Town Items there. I feel that, had this villain been released as part of a more mainstream expansion (Sinister Celebrations, perhaps, where we see a daemonic Thanksgiving Turkey, or somesuch?) the Christmas Caravan should have had its own deck of cards that you could buy from when you encounter it – candy canes that allow you to discard for +1 fight dice, as you jab them into the eyes of the Stuffed Bears, perhaps? Wrapping paper that you can discard to automatically defeat a Toy enemy, as you wrap it up. Or a massive walnut, which allows you to go first in the Showdown because you jam the jaws of the Nutcracker? Well, maybe that would be a step too whimsy. Anyway, I’m fine with encountering the Caravan and rolling on its little chart before it trots along to its next location, leaving those exploding gifts in its wake. I just feel that it’s a little bit weird that you can buy these items in town as well as out on the Crossroads. The town is the haven of the game, where you can go for good stuff and stuff that can help you – if the Caravan really has brought ‘a host of dark secrets and despair’, it’s enough for me that it drops investigation in its wake.

I said before that he was my second-favourite villain to play against, and the only thing keeping him from the top spot is the fact that I find him so Christmas-themed that it seems almost perverse to play against him at any other time of year. If you haven’t tried this villain yet, what the devil are you waiting for?!

Download it now!
Villain sheet
Minion Chart – Basic Game
Minion Chart – Advanced Game
Minion Counters

I originally wrote this article on boardgamegeek

A little touch of evil…

Hey everybody!
Thought I’d try something a little different today. At the weekend, I had an epic game of A Touch of Evil, using the bulk of the expansions (all except the Madness supplement, and The Coast). Fantastic times! So let’s take a look…

A Touch of Evil

I took Abigail Stern and Eliza the Witch Hunter on a trek to root out the taint that has been infesting Shadowbrook… Things didn’t really start well, with Eliza seemingly constantly going up against enemies she was ill-equipped to deal with, while the rumours of foul deeds around Echo Lake attracted the occult-specialist Abigail…

A Touch of Evil

Eliza followed, the two determined to investigate the talk of cultists performing dread deeds in the dead of night…

A Touch of Evil

The South Dock turned out to be a breeding ground for these depraved rites, with cultists – and other evil creatures – blossoming on the docks like rancid pustules on a corpse. However, the clues began to point in the direction of a greater evil – an unspeakable horror – behind these disturbances, and Abigail and Eliza found themselves at the last place they ever expected to be when they confronted it:

A Touch of Evil

Eliza had sought out several useful artifacts that assisted in the fight, strengthening her conviction to go up against the abomination from the void.

A Touch of Evil

However, most impressive was the way Abigail had managed to learn so much…

A Touch of Evil

When the time came, Abigail was more than prepared to face the horror – in one herculean effort, she managed to send the abomination back into the void, and secure the safety of Shadowbrook once and for all…

A Touch of Evil


This game was tremendous. I love Abigail’s ability to use her Cunning instead of her Combat, combined with the Student ability that improves her Cunning for each book item she has. Last year, I wrote an extensive review of Hero Pack 2, where the hero version of Abigail (she’s an Ally in Something Wicked) appears, and worked out she can max out at a theoretical 25 Cunning:

(For those of you interested, the base game gives two Book Town Items, one of which gives +1 Cunning; there is a Book of the Occult at the Abandoned Keep which gives +2 Cunning (and is an Occult Item); the Book of Town History at the Windmill gives +1 Cunning; the Book of Witchcraft at the Olde Woods gives +1 Cunning, and with a Party Invitation she can carry both the Family Bible and Book of Medicine from The Manor, for a core set total of 12 Cunning. Something Wicked has the Explorer’s Journal for +2 Cunning on the Forgotten Island; either the Keeper’s Registry or the Book of Death from The Inn; the Book of Lies from the Monastery, and you’ll definitely want to add the Scroll of Knowledge Monastery Item to the list, which is a book and allows you to re-roll any Cunning dice, including using Cunning instead of Combat! Something Wicked includes a Book of Riddles for the Manor deck, giving +1 Cunning, so you could swap that out for the Bible or the Medicine book – Something Wicked adds 8 Cunning, or 7 to the running total if you make the switch. The Coast gives us the Captain’s Log at the Shipwreck, a Book with +2 Cunning; Smuggler’s Cove gives us the Ship’s Manifest Book, and the Lighthouse gives us our second Occult Item, the Serpent’s Tooth, for +2 Cunning. There are two books available from Tidewater, but they don’t add anything that the Town Item books haven’t already provided; The Coast therefore adds 6 Cunning and another health box. 12+7+6=25!)

That’s pretty impressive, though during this game I managed a respectable 13 Cunning. However, I quickly found myself amassing Investigation tokens during the game, and had little to spend them on. Consequently, both heroes got to the Showdown with oodles of clues, so the Unspeakable Horror’s Last Hope special ability made for a very easy finish – Abigail basically killed it off in this manner.

However, this is largely because I spent so much time on the game. Well, anyhow. I lost five of the Town Elders, meaning I was actually only one move on the shadow track from the whole thing going crazy!

I love playing this game with the Unspeakable Horror. This was definitely a fitting game for my Big Game Saturday this week!


So, a bit of a session report style thing going on there. Let me know if you liked the format!

 

The Curse of the Bog-Fiend

Hey everyone!

I’m keeping the Halloween spirit going all this week, today with some short fiction! Remember the board game A Touch of Evil, and the excellent expansion, Something Wicked? Well, this was a session report I wrote up following a game with Inspector Cooke vs the Bog-Fiend a while ago, and thought it’d be an idea to share it with you guys this week. So sit back, and enjoy!

Something was wrong in Shadowbrook. Anybody who spent any amount of time in the town couldn’t shy away from that fact. However, nobody could say precisely what it was. I suppose that’s why they called me to the town. As a police inspector, I pride myself on my intelligence and my cunning – if anyone could get to the bottom of what was happening in Shadowbrook, I like to think it would be me…

It was raining when I arrived. The town, nestled in the dip of a shallow valley, had a slight haze surrounding it. My arrival caused no little surprise among the locals, but when they realised who I was and where I came from, I like to think I detected a slightly more positive shift in their attitude. I made at once to the manor house of Lord Hanbrook, with whom I had had some past dealings, and was apprised of the situation fairly quickly by a meeting of the town elders.

For weeks now, the countryside around Shadowbrook had been sinking. I admit, I was at first slightly nonplussed by this fact. However, where once was firm ground, good roads, and arable pasture, there was now fetid swamp. Hanbrook called me in when a local lad named Jack had disappeared, only to turn up one Sunday morning dead, having drowned in one of these newly-appeared swamps.

The locals were understandably afeared. Hanbrook appeared more concerned that he was losing the use of his land for rents, but the locals had different ideas. Age-old legends about bog-fiends began to surface, the stuff told to youngsters to make them more obedient, though this time repeated as fact. Well, I was unperturbed, and set off in my investigation.

I was staying at Hanbrooks manor, where one night I discovered a secret passage that led, it seemed, into the bowels of the earth. I followed the tunnel for what seemed like an age, and was utterly baffled – yes, I! – when I emerged at the monastery I had passed by on my way in to the town. The monastery, it turned out, was well-equipped with all manner of tomes and scriptures on the locality, and my perusal of the library there turned out to be quite fruitful.

I determined to return overland to Shadowbrook to converse more thoroughly with the locals, but a chance encounter at a wayside inn that evening turned me from this course. I was given a battered old book by a hooded stranger, who insisted I take it “for when the time comes”, before he left. That night, I studied the ancient text – which called itself the Book of Death – and determined to return to the monastery the following morning, having developed a strange inkling that there was more going on there than I had first thought.

The following morning dawned bright and crisp, and I walked up to the gate expecting to be met by one of the friars, yet no sooner had I arrived at the outer walls than the bells began to toll ominously. The monks began to scurry off in different directions, like ants under attack, and I had a prickly feeling as if something were not right here. Turning my gaze about the place, I kept being drawn to the mist-shrouded island across the lake – Echo Lake, I believe the locals call it. However, when I turned back to the monastery, I found myself set upon my hooded, masked individuals!

Two of these men – for men I assumed them to be – came at me with knives, while the others seemed to be whispering in some unknown language. My time in Shadowbrook had been strange up to that point, but now it had turned absolutely deadly! I searched my person for anything to use as a weapon, and fortunately came upon a crossbow I had purchased some time ago. I managed to loose a bolt at the nearest of the fiends, and  – just like that! – the other devils vanished.

Squaring my shoulders, I marched up to the great West Door of the monastery and, seeing it open, slipped inside. Something at the back of my mind was telling me that the monastery lay near the heart of my investigation, and I determined to root out the cause of it. While wandering the echoing cloisters, however, I found myself attacked once more, this time by a short, stocky figure in a cowl. I had at first thought it one of the monks, but when that cowl fell back, I was shown the error of my judgement. The face that stared back at me was a cruel one, pallid and evil, with incised markings on the forehead and cheeks in the shape of a “x”. Luckily, my crossbow made short work of him, and with one bolt in the stomach, he fled back into the dusty catacombs from whence he came.

It was following this attack, however, that I felt the compelling need to return to Shadowbrook. Not a moment did I waste as I once again took to the road. As I drew nearer to the town, it seemed that my adversary had not been lax in his work. Vast swathes of the countryside had begun to simply sink; there was no other way to describe it. That haze of rain once more engulfed the town, but it was in no way enough to have brought about this much widespread flooding. However, my greatest shock was reserved for when I reached the crossroads just outside of the town.

Standing on that slightly raised bluff overlooking the town, it was as if Shadowbrook had been flooded. The town square was completely submerged, but not with rain water, or from the nearby river having burst its banks. This was a murky, green-tinged swamp, wreathed with clouds of buzzing mosquitoes. Not one townsperson was to be found, and I rather felt then that I had failed to save them all. However, as I stood gazing down on the land, a lone rider emerged through the mist – Lord Hanbrook himself.

The townspeople had fled when the swamp water began to rise out of the ground in the night, and were now temporarily housed on his estate. He bade me come with him to the crumbling ruin of a pre-war keep, where, he believed, the foul demon had made his lair. As we approached, it became increasingly obvious that something had happened close-by, for there was barely any solid ground to stand on. When we came upon the keep, however, the sight before us was one of foul horror.

A hunched figure, with a vague look of a man about him, sat in the dark recesses of the crumbling keep, gibbering to himself in a tongue not unlike the creatures that had attacked me in the monastery. It was completely naked, its skin a mottled blue-green, scaly in parts and weeping a slick, greasy ooze. When we drew nearer, its head came up quickly, revealing a scaled face with bony protrusions extending from either side, almost like a crown. It spat something evil-sounding, hissing and cursing in that unknowable tongue.

Hanbrook wasted no time in attacking the monster, and after my momentary horror, I too joined in the fray. The foul creature appeared to turn away our blows without so much as a gasp of pain, and it looked like we would not prevail. However, Hanbrook managed to subdue the beast long enough for me to get a shot with my crossbow right in the demon’s face, which elicited a disgusting wail. To my utter shock, the fiend’s final act on this earth was to rake its ghastly claws across the throat of Lord Hanbrook, causing my friend’s life to bleed out as did the foul beast’s own.

Whatever spell the bog fiend had placed upon the town of Shadowbrook was evidently broken with its passing. I returned to the town, with Hanbrook’s body carried by his faithful mount, to discover the swamp had disappeared, and the townsfolk returning to their homes and their lives. I charged Hanbrook’s corpse to the care of the doctor, and without a second look, left the town of Shadowbrook behind, hopefully forever…

By the pricking of my thumbs…

Hey everyone!
It’s Tuesday, which means it’s once more game day here at spalanz.com! I know, I’ve missed it too. To mark this triumphant return, I’m going to feature one of my favourite boardgame expansions ever produced: Something Wicked!

Something Wicked

Something Wicked is an expansion for A Touch of Evil, one of my all-time favourite games. I did a blog on that game a whiles ago, you might remember. Well anyway. Something Wicked can pretty much be described as ‘more of the same’, with more cards, more heroes, more villains, and a new board with more locations to explore.

Something Wicked

Awesome, huh? The new board features three new locations around Echo Lake – the Monastery, the Inn, and the Forbidden Island. The Monastery comes with a deck of items that you can buy, like the Blacksmith in the base game. The locations are the usual mix, with items available, attacks, and skill tests.

Some of these attacks introduce what has now become a Flying Frog staple: the Order of the Crimson Hand! The cult has already kinda been seen in the base game, with the Assassin enemy in The Manor encounter deck, but here we have the birth of a legend! In the expansion, the cult is most often to be discovered at the Monastery, but they pervade the expansion through the Mystery cards “The Order’s Influence”, which triggers a specific effect depending on which Town Elders are still alive.

Something Wicked

The Crimson Hand attack players if they linger at the Monastery, and have the peculiar mechanic whereby a minion marker is placed there and won’t leave the board until defeated. In addition, the Crimson Hand are minions for my favourite villain currently in this game.

Something Wicked

The four new villains are what I like the most about this expansion. We have the Banshee and the Gargoyle, the Bog Fiend and the Unspeakable Horror. The latter two are, for me, the best two villains in the entire run for this game to date!

Something Wicked

The Bog Fiend features a wonderful mechanic called the Sinking Countryside, which can make the locations on the board disappear as the Bog Fiend gains control over the town of Shadowbrook!

Being a big Lovecraft fan, however, the Unspeakable Horror is without a doubt my favourite. All manner of creepiness goes on with this guy – his Crimson Hand cultist followers draw summoning circles to enable them to bring him forth into the world, and in the advanced game, these circles will be turning up all over the place!

Something Wicked

If a summoning circle would ever be placed where one already exists, it is replaced by a Void marker. Voids can be used by players to travel quickly across the board, as they all connect with each other, but you might be attacked in there by the Unspeakable Horror himself! Fabulous stuff, let me tell ya!

Something Wicked

The new heroes are pretty decent, and again come in the vein of “more of the same” – none appears to be overpowered, allowing for perfect integration with the core set. I think this is something important to mention about the whole expansion, really – it is so well-balanced that it works wonderfully across the entire line!

Around the same time that Something Wicked was released, FFP also brought out Hero Pack 1, which is pretty much entirely what it says, it’s a box with four new heroes, along with one new villain, and a few more cards that can be added to the core set.

Something Wicked

The heroes in Hero Pack One are a nice mix, though they do include Adrianna, the blind Foreign Traveler, who has, I feel, the slightly overpowered ability to roll fight dice and resolve hits before her opponent. Depending on what you manage to collect throughout the game (bearing in mind she cannot use books), Adrianna can be rolling a whole ton of dice and kill even a Villain before can fight back!

And speaking of villains, the one included in Hero Pack One – the Necromancer – doesn’t have his own minion chart, instead using that for the Vampire from the core set. A bit annoying, that – but a few of the fans have come up with various other options, which you can find here. I quite like this, anyway, and have used it to play with this villain.

Something Wicked

However, there is a lot to be said for including it in your gaming. The way Flying Frog games work, the “more of the same” route is definitely the way forward, I’d say. While I appreciate the big games (such as Runebound), whose expansions offer a completely new gaming experience, there is definitely a lot of goodness in an expansion that you can basically tack onto the core set and carry on enjoying. The balance is so perfect that the entire thing is interchangeable, so you can use the new heroes and villains with the core set, or just the core set heroes with the new villains, or whatever you like. It’s just amazing!

I’ve said it before, of course, but FFP games are just drenched in theme, and Something Wicked stays true to that. The Order theme is great fun, but incredibly strong when you use the Unspeakable Horror. There are just so many great things to enjoy about this expansion, it’s quite simply a required purchase for anyone owning the core set!

Buy it from amazon:
Something Wicked
Hero Pack One

Dark Gothic

Hey everybody!
It’s Wednesday, but it’s also a game day here for spalanz.com, as today I took possession of Dark Gothic, the new deck-building game from Flying Frog Productions! A pre-order from way back when, I’m quite excited to finally have it in my grubby little hands! So to confuse you all by posting a game blog on a non-game-day, here we go!

I’ve mentioned deck-building games before, of course. The basic idea is to make your deck as you play the game, rather than make a deck of cards with which to then play a game. There are now loads and loads of deck-builders on the market, the most popular, I presume, being Dominion. I have quite a few in my own games collection, so that always begs the question of why add yet another? Well, my friends, there are two reasons why Dark Gothic has made it into my collection:
1) I love games! and
2) It’s Flying Frog! Their games are downright awesome!

Dark Gothic

So. Is it like Dominion? Is it like DC/Street Fighter? Is it like Marvel Legendary? Is it like Ascension? Is it like Thunderstone?

Well, the answer is more yes than no, of course. It’s basically what you would expect from a deck building game in the manner of DC or Street Fighter (caveat: I have never played Ascension, so it could be like that, too). You play a monster-hunting hero trying to rid the countryside around Shadowbrook of supernatural evil monsters. You have a starting deck of cards, and on your turn you can buy cards from the line-up if you can afford them. These cards will allow you to improve your starting deck so that you can go up against the monsters. Once three monsters have been defeated, the game is over, and the hero with the greatest amount of investigation (victory points) is crowned the top monster hunter. That’s pretty much it!

Dark Gothic

In case you haven’t realised by now, the game is set in the same universe as the company’s A Touch of Evil, so re-uses a lot of the photo artwork on the cards. We also see familiar faces in the heroes, who come from across the boardgame’s line of expansions:

Dark Gothic

The main deck is made up of gear, location, ally, event and minion cards, which should also be familiar to fans of the boardgame:

Dark Gothic

The villains of the game, however, have pencil drawings for their cards:

Dark Gothic

All of the cards are sourced from right across the run of expansions for A Touch of Evil, though there were one or two intriguing points that made me sit up and pay attention. First of all, there is a completely new villain, the Creeping Terror (villain card is on the left of the above picture) who does not have a place in AToE (yet!) but does appear to be based on an enemy from the upcoming Shadows of Brimstone. Also of note is the hero version of Charlotte Dubois, who is an ally in The Coast – perhaps we’re seeing a preview for a Hero Pack 3..? I really hope we haven’t seen the end of the AToE game line, anyway!

This is really part of the appeal of this game for me: I am a huge fan of A Touch of Evil, so it was really cool for me to see the cards for all the different stuff that I’ve come to know and love being reused in this game. Especially things like the event cards, such as The Hour Is Late, shown earlier. Whether this will diminish my enjoyment of the game as I get used to seeing the cards in their new incarnation, I don’t know. But it was an aspect that I really enjoyed for now, at any rate!

There is a fairly simple charm to a lot of deck-building games, and Dark Gothic doesn’t disappoint in this regard. It’s a fairly straightforward game, and I would probably say that if you are familiar with any of the aforementioned games, you can pretty much wade straight into this one without feeling all at sea. Indeed, if you’re familiar with DC/Street Fighter, you can pretty much give the rulebook nothing more than a cursory glance!

On the subject of the rulebook, however, I do have one minor gripe: it wasn’t all that obvious just how to buy cards/fight enemies. You’ll notice that the cards from the main deck have icons along their left side, as well as icons along the bottom? Those on the left are the card’s cost, and those on the bottom are the effect the card grants. However, I wasn’t sure at first if I had to meet every cost requirement or could in fact choose which one to pay. I think I’ve settled on meeting every cost, as otherwise the main villains would be far too easy to beat! It’s also not entirely clear how the Shadows mechanic works, but when you sit down to play the game you realise – as with the Shadow Track in the boardgame – game effects cause cards to be placed into Shadows, it’s the sort of thing you just have to play the game and discover for yourself.

But all of that aside, it’s still a very enjoyable game, especially if you’re a fan of the board game but don’t have the time/energy to get all those bits out. (My initial, one-player game with Dark Gothic to investigate the rules was actually over in 15 minutes!) There’s a thread over at boardgamegeek.com that perhaps sums up a lot of my own thoughts about the game, however I would cast them in a more positive light. While Dark Gothic certainly isn’t about to shake-up the deck-building world, I think the similar feel to others already on the market lowers the bar to entry significantly, meaning that you can pretty much pick up the game and play. A lot of games nowadays have essentially similar mechanics, but try to distinguish themselves with all sorts of weird and wonderful rules-twists, but sometimes that isn’t necessary for a good game.

So far, there has been a vague announcement for an expansion: The Forgotten Island Game Supplement, which I’m guessing is based off the island in Something Wicked. Not sure whether that will prove to be the model for future additions or whether a more big-box approach will be taken. But then, nobody seems to know anything more about this supplement beyond its name! (I have sent the company an email, and any news will be posted here forthwith!) For pre-orders, a promo villain was made available, essentially the Delion Dryad web-villain from the board game. I assume that she’ll also be available from the FFP store soon enough, anyway.

Dark Gothic

Dark Gothic is true to the Flying Frog credo of good games that allow players to just enjoy themselves, and I’m definitely looking forward to playing more of this as time goes on!

Buy it from amazon:
A Touch of Evil: Dark Gothic

Dark Gothic

A Touch of Evil…

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!

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!

A Touch of Evil

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.

A Touch of Evil

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.

A Touch of Evil

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.

A Touch of Evil

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:

A Touch of Evil

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!

A Touch of 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!

A Touch of Evil
Sophie the midwife joins the Necromancer as an Evil Elder – and what evil, too!

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…

A Touch of Evil

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!

A Touch of Evil

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…

A Touch of Evil