Feb 202023
Final Girls, Assemble!

Final Girl is a boardgame for one person. You play a Final Girl trying to rescue Victims and find equipment to empower yourself while a KIller stalks the map, killing victims. The game ends with the Killer killing you, or you killing the Killer. It is a card driven game with some interesting time mechanics and some very thematic elements.

I enjoy this game a lot. Most horror games try to are aimed at groups and therefore work hard to empower everyone at the table so they feel useful. In my opinion, that dilutes what makes most horror movies scary/ If everyone has a shot at the monster, than is it really a monster?

In this game, only the solo player has a chance with the killer. You will always have six of more Victims. These utter idiots die faster than balloons in a pin factory. That’s good, because saving one feels like a victory and watching one die really proves the danger of the killer. It makes one player the star of the story and allows the rules to do some clever things.

Another aspect I enjoy about this game is that it is modular. The expansions are called Feature Films and include a Killer, a Setting and two Final Girls. Each of these components come with their own rules to make them unique but you can mix and match them with other expansions as you like. This lets you use the Camp Killer in the Suburban Houses setting against the Girl who survived a poltergeist. It gives the games quite a big of replayability.

The downside to this game is that like a lot of solo games, there is quite a bit of set up. My first few games took me an hour and a half to play. They command a lot of table space. Also, the core Set whish is around 15$ doesn’t come with a scenario on its own. You need to buy the Core Set AND a Feature Film to play, which may cause some confusion with buyers.

Those caveats aside, it is a great game for horror movie lovers. My wife and I will play a game while the other watches and kibitzes. We are making our way through the expansions and have greatly enjoyed our time. The fact that we have already bought all of the expansions that are currently available tells you how hook we are.

Jan 202023

I enjoy the heck out of journal games. Most of what I write is for public consumption but when I play a journal game, I get to write purely for myself in a way that is very liberating. It reminds me of how fun writing should be, and that is a healthy reminder when I am knees deep in a project that doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon.

Of the journal games, Thousand Year Old Vampire is the Rolls Royce of games. A physical copy is about $50 and that is worth it. You get a book that looks and feels like a worn journal. There are two hundred and twenty prompt,s, meaning each game is going to feel very different. There is space to let you actually write in the book which is a decadent touch and I one I fully appreciate.

As for the game, you write as a Vampire and lived through ages. This is the right kind of vampire. There are no clans of elders and a complex social stratus of rank and prestige. These Vampires are rare and special. There are other Immortal creatures in the world but they are to be feared and avoided, just like you. You are a killer and the people you journal about will most likely die at your hand. Or be the death of you. The prompts give and they take away, but mostly take away.

The brilliant idea that drives this game is the concept that ancient immortals forget things. You will write your experiences but as you gather more memories, you begin to pick and choose which memories you let fade. Diaries can help hold more memories, but a diary is just a physical object and those can be lost just as easily as a home, a job or your suspicious mortal friend. As a man who struggles now to remember important details from ten years ago, I fully sympathize with a vampire struggling to remember something from a hundred years ago.

This mechanic does an interesting job of changing your character in ways that I rarely see in fiction. How does a personality change if they forget that they murdered their first love? What does it mean that a character forgets the Immortal that tormented them for fifty years? I used to see the loss of memory as a detriment but I got to tell you, I was jealous of my vampire forgetting about the time he betrayed his only human friend.

It has been a delightful experience. The best compliment I can give is that I find myself wanting to tell people about what my character has been through. It reminds me of the excitement I feel when I am playing a really good tabletop role-playing game. I am invested in my character and watching him triumph or suffer is equally enjoyable.

If you like journaling, I highly recommend you treat yourself and get this game. Just do it before you forget I said so . . .

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Sep 192022

I haven’t played any role-playing games in a very long time. Part of it is that the games I am interested in rarely intersect the interests of my wife and friends. I like horror and most horror games that I like are about existential dread and doom. Games that were a little less doomy tended towards being shallow and I just couldn’t get into them. There is a popular genre of games that I call Supernatural Charmed which are more geared towards recreating CW style TV shows. I like those shows but I wouldn’t want to play in those worlds.

They Came From the Beyond the Grave is an rpg that goes in a different direction. It seeks to recreate 70’s Hammer Horror films with a dash of Roger Corman. The conceit is that every game is actually a movie that the characters are in. They get bonuses for acting in genre-appropriate ways like saying Quips, acting in a hammy fashion or adhering to movie logic. The plot and monsters lean towards witches, Dracula, mad scientists and the Devil Himself. There is something to be said for a game that says, “Fuck it, fight Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster and Benjamin Franklin if you wanted.”

I think I have fallen in love with the game. Other systems have tried the meta-gaming route of recreating movies but they tend to go too far into the silliness. Since a lot of the powers come from cards, it would be very easy to toss out powers you don’t think are appropiate. This kind of flexibility allows you to handle anything from Little Shop of Horrors to Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The humor level is up to the players and it would not break this game to go full serious or full Elvira’s Haunted Hills.

Last night I played a game with my wife and it played out like an episode of Hammer House of Horror. My wife got in some great one-liners that aided her character. A piece of the set broke in a way that hampered the monster. It was thematically interesting and for us, extremely recognizable. It felt like something we could be watching on Shudder.

I do feel like the game might be a bit over-designed. The rule mechanics are straight forward, but there is a lot of extra stuff that can happen. My approach was to cut about 1/3 of the character generation for now and to make a list of which rules I wanted to worry about and which rules I will add later. This stripped down approach worked really well for us and it did not feel like we were missing anything.

On a personal note, it is a fun creative exercise to imagine what kind of horror movies a studio would make in the 1970’s. I decided that my studio was based in Wisconsin and would play on local legends and locals. Some sort of monster cow seems inevitable. I have spent too much time thinking about the history of the studio owner and what weird metaphysics he wants to make movies about. The game absolutely does not require you to do this kind of world building but the opportunity is too good to pass up. I am looking forward to what stories Twin Moon Pictures will be creating in the months to come.

If 50’s science fiction is more your thing, Onyx Publishing uses the same mechanics for a game called They Came From Beneath the Sea! If you prefer your horror to be more slasher oriented, there is a supplement for the base game of Beyond the Grave called, They Came From Camp Murder Lake. I have all three books and they are great reads, as well as being compatible with each other.

Feb 252022
Behold, the red triangle!

I like mazes. They were the first puzzle I would go to in an activity book when I was a kid and I still can’t resist poking around one when I see it. Mazes are my jam.

Mazescape is a solitaire game that might have been made just for me. It involves a maze that is laid out on a folding map. When you unfold the map once, you will see a starting point. You take your fingertip or the little pointer piece, and starting at the starting point, you trace your way through a maze. A dead end is almost immediately apparent and you will feel dumb.

But wait! Now you get to use the gimmick of this game. With your pointer on one part of the map, you will unfold the other part of the map. New paths open up. You can explore them, or continue to fold/unfold parts to the map before moving on. It is this process of folding, refolding and unfolding that parts of the maze open to you until you find your way to the elusive exit.

It is a clever gimmick and one that will make you feel truly lost. The act of revealing the map in segments also creates some dramatic reveal moments. Oh dear, what is that glowing skull doing there? This flaming tower certainly looks ominous. How exactly can I get all the way over there?

Each map comes with its own scavenger hunt list of sights to look for. There are also colored keys that you are meant to find before passing through colored gates. Some maps even give you tasks like find the coin and then take it to the wishing well. Because it is still just a paper map, nothing happens when you do these things but it is still a nice thematic touch.

Currently there are two versions of Mazescape, Ariadne and Labyrinthos. Each has seven different maps. It doesn’t matter which you start with but if you like this kind of thing, you will most likely get both.

Amazingly, there is a virtual demo of how the game works at their website.

Jan 212022
My map will never look this good.

Umbra is a solo game designed by Anna Blackwell. You are in charge of a base on a distant planet. Your primary mission is to find a powerful alien relic, but your secondary mission is to just stay alive and avoid losing everything you have ever worked for. All you need is paper, a pencil and a deck of playing cards. It is completely my kind of thing.

First all, this is primarily a map-drawing game. You will sketch your little starting base and using a deck of cards, determine what your planet is like. Then every turn, you will go mining for resources. You draw a card and consult the book. Half the cards are resources and money. Yay! The other half are aliens, traps, natural disasters, formations, treasures and terrible blights. Boo!

In between turns, you spend your resources and build onto your base. You hire marines, cyborgs and hackers. You draw everything you build and you also draw every disaster like when a frozen liquid river obliterates level four of your base.

That’s it, yet it is wonderfully compelling. I have been playing the same base off and on for about a year now. Being a writer, I spend more time writing journal entries than I do drawing a map, but that’s okay. It fills my need to make a base and endure problems and it lets me go at my own pace. Most of all, it gives me room to be creative and that is a treasure in itself.

If alien planets are not your thing, then you are in luck! Umbra has two sibling games. In Delve, you are Dwarves in a fantasy setting mining downwards. In Rise, you are monsters underground working your way up. Be sure to check them out as well.

Dec 032021
Vera the Gorgon is so cruel and ambitious which means she is instantly my waifu.

Monster Prom is a dating simulator for one to four people. The players are monsters at a high school for monsters, yet everyone is over the age of nineteen, and in some cases, are a couple of centuries old. Everyone is safely on the side of age of consent.

As you can imagine, there is a prom coming up and your goal is to get a date to the prom. There are six eligible students to woo, and some characters who are hidden. You spend your days and nights either at the auditorium, hanging in the gym, attending a rave outside, scamming money in the library, lurking in the bathroom or even going to classes. At lunch, you get to pick from different tables to socialize with students, teachers and occasional heroes.

It is a funny and silly game. The humor is interesting to me as it discusses sex a lot, but only in a vague way. This not a game about titillation, even when trying to research an obscure sex position to impress a ghost. In fact, it reminds me a lot of being young and knowing I wanted sex, but not terribly sure about the details of what they entailed.

I should also add that every character is effectively bisexual and one of the first things the game asks for is your pronouns. Yay!

What really sets this game apart is that you can play it with friends on the same computer or on a network. Players can compete for the same date, or stay out of each other’s way and maybe help each other. In multiplayer mode, the game gives you little mini games that are mostly prompts for social humor. It is the first video game in a long time that recreates the comradely you get from a tabletop game.

Speaking of which, this game is surprisingly deep. Each possible dating companion has multiple possible story lines. There is also a lot of random events not to mention a store that sells items that open other quests. The replay value is incredible and I think I will be playing for quite a long time. That is even before you get the DLC which opens up even more stories.

So yeah, if you want a casual slightly racy dating game with a lot of monster humor and satire of popular media, then Monster Prom is for you.

Oct 222021
This is why I don’t go camping.

Videogames about slasher films can be a mixed bag. Some games have you play the survivors, which means you are playing from a point of weakness against a vastly superior enemy. That can be a bit nerve-wracking. Other games have you playing the killer, which sometimes make me question if it is really healthy to be hunting down people for fun. The older I get, the less sure I am of this. This can make finding a good game about slasher films tricky.

Slayaway Camp does something interesting. You are the killer, but instead of bullying defenseless teens, you are navigating your way along a course only able to move in the cardinal directions and only able to stop at walls or living bodies. That’s right, you’re playing a puzzle.

It is that puzzle element that takes the feeling of predatory power away from the player. Don’t get me wrong, you’re still knifing people and severing heads, but it is darn hard to do. The puzzles are tricky and the addition of police men, armed officers and freaking fire pits have you sympathizing with your favorite masked killer you next time you see a movie.

Did I mention that the art style is done in minimalist cubes? The people look like early attempts at Minecraft. When someone gets their head removed, it looks like a Lego block being pulled off. It really takes the away from the horror when everything looks so cute and adorable.

Added to the puzzle element is a lot of humor. Slayaway Camp loves all horror movies and tropes and will gleefully play with them all. The trailer that plays before every campaign really puts a lot of the blame on the dumbasses who decided that it was safe to go back to the murder camp. As an added challenge, no animals are allowed to be harm in the playing of the game, which means you spend a lot of time making sure you don’t endanger a darn cat. The overall effect is this feels less like a slasher simulator and more like the goofiest b-movie you have found on Shudder.

Slayaway Camp is open all year long.

Oct 082021
I am a sucker for any game with a movie theater.

Zombies! They are a bit played out right now. Who wants to see another bunch of morose people debating whether they should kill sweet Sara now that she has been bitten? Or even worse, another zombie story where the real monsters are the living assholes? I deal with greedy assholes every day, let the zombies be the monsters!

Don’t worry about that in Zombie Night Terror because you play the zombies, not those depressing survivors. You control a group of mindless hordes as they try to break into fortified locations and eat all the delicious people inside. To help you, you will be able to mutate the zombies into various classes like crawlers, overlords and big muscle boys.

And the zombies are really going to need your help because they are dumb as lemmings. Seriously, zombies go in one direction unless they hit a wall, in which they will turn around and walk the other direction. These dumb asses will gladly walk into a machine gun, fire, electrical traps and elevator shafts. You have a limited amount of zombie DNA to guide them and a finite number of zombies.

This compelling arrangement turns every level in a puzzle. How can I get a zombie onto the second story to take out the cannibal? What kind of zombie am I going to need to take down the crime boss? Is there a way to trap these teleporting DJs?

As you can tell, this is not a very serious game although the puzzles can be quite hard. The level selection screen sets the tone by displaying the game as a movie marathon at a sketchy theater. Every mission has some sort of Easter egg or reference to television and movies. Heck, you get to fight a robot from the future while clearing out a polices station. It is the zombie/Terminator mashup you never knew you needed.

This is a fun game for people who like a lot of horror in their puzzle games. It is well wroth the low price.

Sep 242021
That accent card has ruined so many good players.

Someone has died. It is very sad. The players have gathered together to argue who should receive the estate of the deceased. Everyone draws cards that define their characters. One player will be the estate lawyer who will ask questions and make the final judgement. During play, Objection cards will be rewarded to players that can be used on others. Objection cards become facts that players must now incorporate into their characters and defend.

That’s it. That is the whole game. It is that easy.

Except it is not easy at all because the cards are BONKERS. Draw your first batch and you are playing a Whimsical Nanny Psychologist who loves arm-wrestling and knew the deceased from being in the same role-playing game group. Your fellow players are playing unfrozen cavemen who write children’s books and talking dog that dreams of being an actor. The caveman’s relationship is he once owned a bar with the deceased while the talking dog was his AA sponsor.

As you can imagine, this is primarily a game of improv. The lawyer player makes up questions and the players make up anwsers that correspond to the cards they possess. Objection cards inflict a negative thing the player has to improv like secretly poisoning the well at the children’s park. That gets a bit harder to argue you deserve a big fat inheritance.

What genuinely surprises me about this game is how much people love it. I have played this game with families and half-drunk smart-asses and everyone loves it. This is the game other people request that I bring. This is the game everyone talks about for weeks after. Out of all my games, this is the one people tend to buy the night of playing it for the first time.

You might as well it too.

Sep 032021
Surf that golden track, baby.

Audiosurf was a computer game released back in 2013. It created race tracks from songs in your hard drive and populated them with scoring blocks and obstacles. The difficulty and speed of the tracks was directly related to the beats of the music. The neat part was that if you played “Jolene” from Dolly Parton’s greatest hits album, and your friend played the same song, then it was the exact same track. This lets people play somewhat competitively against each other.

It was a very addictive game for me. There is something about riding along a track that is in sync with music that really immerses you into the music. I would often pick a favorite album and just lose myself for an hour. It was a meditative experience for me.

2013 introduced the sequel, Audiosurf 2. I was resistant to trying it because I adored the first one so much. 8 years later, curiosity won over nostalgia and I gave it a try. I am glad I did. The graphics are much improved and the pace has been greatly enhanced. There is more customization which helps tailors the experience you prefer.

But deep down, it is still a game about getting up and close with music. Whether it is a fast song with sharp turns and too many damn obstacles, or a slow thoughtful song that runs along a course that resembles a late nigh drive. AudioSurf 2 engages you with the music directly in ways that always feel intimate.