Saturday, June 21, 2014

Ghost Stories by Antoine Bauza


"If your cooperative board game isn't hard enough, then players won't come back and play it."

This is what Antoine Bauza told The Nerd Nighters in an interview. In his Cooperative game Ghost Stories, he's definitely taken the first part of his advice to heart, as Ghost Stories is arguably one of the hardest co-op board games out there. Don't let the difficulty drive you away because, all things considered, it is one of the only pure co-op games that always seems to find its way to the table at my game nights. The challenge adds to the mystique of the game, as the game comes with a score sheet so you can record how close you've come to victory until you finally achieve it.

Each of the players takes on a role of a monk in a remote mountain village that, long ago, sealed away the evil demon/ghost (basically the same thing) Wu-Feng. Unfortunately, the seal that has kept Wu-Feng in place has broken (because of course it has), and it's your job to defeat the legion of evil Ghosts, and then Wu-Feng himself. You're not alone in the endeavor, however, as the residents of the village hate ghosts just as much as you do, and will offer you all the help they can. 

Stephen Qi-Gal is the hardest
of all Wu-Fengs
The game begins by setting up the board. Each person chooses a monk, each one with special powers. The game can be played with less than four players, but it's not quite as fun without the full four. The center of the board is a randomized 3x3 square, each space representing a villager you can ask for help. Each monk starts with 4 health (If you're a pansy like me and play on the easiest difficulty), and a tao token of you monk's color. Then, you choose one of the 10 forms of Wu-Feng (you add more for higher difficulties). Some are harder than others. Put Wu-Feng 10th from the bottom of the Ghost Deck, and you're good to go.

Each player will take a turn by first drawing a ghost from the ghost deck. After that, they will move their monk, then either exorcise a ghost, or ask a villager for help. To exorcise a ghost, you move adjacent to it, then roll dice, trying to match the colors on the dice with the resistance of the ghost, represented on the cards by a number of colored dots. It sounds simple, but things will get out of hand real quick, as some ghosts will "haunt" village tiles, making them unusable, summon more ghosts, curse the players with curse die, or damage the players. 

If you defeat Wu-Feng, congrats, you win. If you all die, you lose. If 3 village tiles get haunted, you lose. If you run out of cards in the Ghost Deck, you lose. 

The board will look something like this.
(this is the iOS version)
I said it wasn't easy, but that's most of the charm of the game. It can be frustrating at times, because a bunch of unbeatable ghosts will come out at the beginning of the game, or haunt a couple village tiles, and things will just be impossible. Most of the time, though, Ghost Stories comes right down to the wire, where a die roll, or a single draw from the deck makes or breaks you. It's less about winning the game than surviving it. When you finally see Wu-Feng, you know it's that last challenge before the game is over. and you grit your teeth and feel like an action hero in an old Chinese Wuxia flick. 

It's a tense game, for sure, but if you are up for a real challenge, take on Wu-Feng and test your luck with Ghost Stories.

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