100 Days of Halloween: Tabletop Horror, Part 2 – Fantastic Horror
We welcome back friend, gamer, blogger, and fellow author Tommy Brownell for two more games in our “Tabletop Horror” series. If you missed the first post in this series, check it out here: Tabletop Horror, Part 1 – Zombies.
Welcome back, Tommy!
The next two games on my Horror Tabletop list share a common theme once again: Horror fantasy board games.
I am hard pressed to think of a more unassuming board game, but this one is pretty unassuming. I bought the Necromancer Bundle, a big all-in-one package, taking a huge risk on this game.
It’s a very basic orange/red box with a sleeve around it, and opening it up, the board is tiny, and the laser cut pieces have soot on them. The cardboard cards feel unusually stiff and the ink looks kinda rough. The whole thing feels kinda low budget (though I do LOVE the art). This is high-end packaging for games by Victory Point Games, by the way, which are also sold in polybags.
The premise is that the Necromancer has risen up and is unleashing blights across the countryside. The heroes are holed up in a Monastery that serves as the last bastion of light and the staging ground against evil.
The game is for 1-4 players, competing cooperatively against the Necromancer. To kill the Necromancer, you must unlock a Holy Relic (using 3 keys) and beat him in an area free of his blights, or perform a ritual with THREE Relics. If his darkness overwhelms the monastery, you lose.
The heroes include Bards, Scouts, Wizards, Princes, Knights and so on (18 options in the Necromancer bundle), each of whom has a deck of 10 powers they can learn to help them wage war. Blights include vampires, spies, liches, and more abstract obstacles like desecrations, taint and shrouds. One expansion even adds quests to tackle during the game, such as rescuing kids lost in the woods, nightmares coming to life and so on.
Victory Point Games’ tagline is The Gameplay’s The Thing, and that’s certainly true. There is a charm to the game that can’t be denied, but the gameplay itself is much deeper and more rewarding than it appears, as your heroes try to sneak around the board, or actively draw out the Necromancer to do combat.
Fair warning, though: The game is HARSH.
The first in the 4th Edition based Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Series Board Games, I bought this entirely because I found it cheap and I thought I could use the minis for other games.
Turns out, the game (and its two, more traditionally fantasy, sister games) is great. This game is also completely co-op, as 1-5 players team up to battle Lord Strahd Von Zarovich and his minions in Castle Ravenloft, laying out tiles as you explore the castle.
Each of your five hero options include race and class-based powers that you can select going in, and you will need them, because the Blazing Skeletons, Non-Blazing Skeletons, Wraiths, Gargoyles and Ghouls will tear you up, often harming you even if they miss. To say nothing of the Encounter Cards in which Strahd sometimes strikes from the shadows or hideous traps are unleashed. Don’t forget the Boss Monsters, like a rampaging Flesh Golem, a terrifyingly awesome Dracolich and Strahd himself, who is less than half the size of those other two, but a beast to battle.
As a huge fan of Ravenloft, who never felt like it really “fit” D&D, I would have thought that a Ravenloft dungeon crawl would have been a horrible idea. Turns out, it’s kinda great, and the brutality of the enemies combined with the flavor of the Encounter cards makes it feel very much like a horror game, even though you are (ostensibly) killing monsters and taking their stuff.
The included scenarios all have a bit of variance to them, and loosely form a campaign if you play them in order (beginning with one hero trying like the devil to escape before Strahd wakes up, to the PCs eventually hunting the vampire master to put him away for good).
I will say that this game is such a meatgrinder that I have actually houseruled healing in this game so I stand SOME kind of chance of winning a scenario. Great fun if you don’t mind board games that go for your throat.
Happy Halloween 2014!!
Tommy Brownell is freelance writer/editor and a tabletop gamer/reviewer. He writes The Chronicles of Rachel Strand for Equinox Comics and has worked with Savage Worlds licensees Savage Mojo, Daring Entertainment, Gun Metal Games and Third Eye Games, and has recently begun developing his own creative imprint known as Empyreal Creative, through which he is developing his own comic series, among other projects.
You can find him on the web at: http://mostunreadblogever.