Note: This preview uses pre-release components and rules. What you see here may be different from the final, published game.This post was a paid preview, you can find out more information here.
Horror presents some near-perfect fodder for board game ideas. Story arcs in the genre follow a traditional path and have a discrete ending even if there might be a hint of future danger. When board games coop those tales, usually the concept itself provides immediately identifiable archetypes for heroes and villains within gameplay structure.
This is absolutely the case with an upcoming game from publisher The Screaming Brain, now funding on Kickstarter. It’s a cooperative recipe fulfillment game with a light horror theme. Specifically, several investigators are trapped in a house. They move from room to room hoping to collect the right artifacts to dispel the entity haunting the house. The game handles 2-4 players and takes around 60 minutes (at most 90) to finish. If you’ve got a group of four, that’s the ideal player count.
Players first setup The Exorcism at the House of Monkton Falls (EHMF) by laying out a series of room cards. Some cards have a lock pictured on them which means they are placed face-down. Other rooms are immediately available and so are placed face-up. Locked rooms can be unlocked as rewards from completed Tasks (see below).
Turn to turn, rooms provide actions for the players to acquire items that are needed to complete Tasks. These objectives usually require a specific set of items to trade in. Once that is done, players then collectively gain Exorcism tokens that get placed on a track above the play area. They may also gain other benefits such as items or unlocking rooms. When players have gathered 30 Exorcism tokens, they win the game. However, it’s not that easy. During each turn, a player will perform other steps that present an array of challenges.
In the first step, the current player reduces in value one die from a set which acts as the game’s timer. There are 8 time dice so players collectively have at most 48 turns (8 x 6 sides) to gain the Exorcism tokens to win. Readers can already guess that if the time runs out, the game is lost.
The second operation on a turn is to move any current spirits or monsters in the house. This is done by flipping the top card of the Haunt Deck. The cards will show which monsters/spirits move and in what direction. In addition, any rooms whose die symbol matches the card receive a darkness token. These show the danger of a room becoming engulfed in Darkness or “Shrouded” according to the game terms. Once that happens, a Shrouded card is placed and the room is unavailable until a player “Purifies” it. Should there ever be so many Shrouded rooms that there are no more Shrouded cards to place when a room requires one, the players lose.
The most important step for players to plan for is the Perform Actions step. After completing steps 1 and 2, a player gets three actions. Their choices are as follows:
Move – Move 2 spaces orthogonally
Purify a Room – Remove a Darkness token or remove a Shrouded token
Trade – Give or Take items from another character on the same space
Use the Room’s Action – Usually this is to acquire items from the room.
Play a Plan Card – Certain rooms provide Plan cards which give extra one-time abilities.
Complete a Task – Turning in items to gain Exorcism tokens.
After three actions, the current player passes the turn pawn to their left and the next player goes through the same turn steps.
As mentioned in the introduction, horror is a perfect theme for many games. However, the implementation of the theme is really dicey. Sometimes it’s too heavy and dark and at other times it’s diluted so light as to be Casper the Friendly Ghost. It’s clear The Screaming Brain publishing team spent a lot of time on the theme here. The artwork is a superb meld of the flavor of Edward Gorey/Gloom card game and the Rugrats cartoon. That may sound crazy, but it works perfectly. The monsters have a whimsical, childhood terror quality while the black and white drawings and interspersed red offer the underlying aggression of a good Edgar Allan Poe tale.
Considering the game’s mechanisms, if readers have played Forbidden Island or Pandemic, EHMY borrows heavily from those designs. The cooperative game style of Matt Leacock is very much present including timers on individual game components, a deck for resolving each turn’s dangers, and variable player abilities. Specifically compared to Forbidden Island, it’s a good step up, but it also might feel a little samey.
Finally, while the game’s actions all seem familiar and the art is wonderful, there also seems to be no singular way to play. The game depends heavily on the characters selected and some game group self-balancing of characters may be required. What this means is that certain characters may be better to avoid if a group wants a bigger challenge.
Gamers looking for a new game that revisits Pandemic or Forbidden Island with a Edward Gorey flavor, The Exorcism at the House of Monkton Falls is perfect. It’s a horror themed cooperative experience that’s light and challenging without being too offensive for grandma. Players who are looking for more advanced cooperative gameplay might want to pass this up. Overall, it’s got just the right mix for family game night.
As always, we don’t post ratings for preview copies as the components and rules may change from the final game. Check back with us after the game is produced for a full review. This post was a paid preview, you can find out more information here.