Players: 1-4 Time: 45-90 mins Ages: 14+
Do you like Kung Fu Movies? Got an interest in Eastern history and philosophy? Or just enjoy the aesthetic? Do you like games that give you loads to think about? A game with a massive challenge? Or even just enjoy a good co-op game? If the answer is yes to any of these questions then this game could very well be for you.
Back in 2008 the good people at Repos Produduction’s publish this beautiful game from Antoine Bauza, who would later go on to design 7 Wonders, the winner of the inaugural Kennerspiel des Jahres (Connoisseur Game of the Year at the Spiel de Jahres) in 2011.
In this game you’ll be trying to protect the village by killing as many ghosts as possible. If you manage to survive to the end, you’ll meet an incarnation of the big bad guy Wu-Feng. Defeat him and you all win (this is a co-op after all, you all win or lose together), run out of ghost cards before defeating Wu-Feng, allow three village tiles to become haunted or if all players are dead at the same time, you all lose.
What’s in the Box?
- 4 player boards
- 9 village tiles
- 4 Tao Dice
- 1 Curse Die
- 65 Ghost Cards
- A whole load of various tokens
- 8 Haunting figures
- 2 Buddah figures
- 1 Rulebook
- 1 Help sheet
- 1 Score sheet
How to play
Ghost stories starts out with the nine village tiles randomly arranged in a square in the middle with the four coloured player boards placed along the sides. Each player board is one colour with a corresponding Taoist monk figure, which starts off in the middle village tile. Each colour has it’s own special ability to help you defeat the barrage of ghosts that will be coming your way, and each player board has two different sides with different abilities so you can choose which one you would rather play with, or if you like to live dangerously, just randomly assign.
At the start of each turn there will be a ghost drawn and placed on the appropriate player board. You then get the choice to get help from one of the villagers or to go and fight a any ghost on the board.
It’s these horrible guys that you’re going to be fighting. They all have dots down the side, which indicate how many dots of that colour you need to roll to kill it, and down the bottom they have any effects they may have (depending on positioning this can be when the ghost is drawn at the start of the players turn who’s board it’s on, or when it gets killed)
Fighting is pretty simple, position your Taoist monk in front of a ghost, roll the three Tao dice and if you manage to get the correct number of colours the ghost dies and is removed from the game. For example if you were in front of the yellow ghost above and roll two yellows on the dice that sucker gets killed. You can bolster your roll with Tao tokens that you can gain through help from certain villagers or from your special ability. So if you were to have only rolled one yellow, you can chuck in a yellow Tao token to make it up to two.
What’s so great about it?
Well, so, so much. I’ve tried to keep my rules explanation brief, otherwise we could be here a while. The basic rules are quite simple, (draw ghost, place ghost, perform any curses ghosts require, move about the village, either get help or fight). The strategy involved is deep and can be quite intense at times.
There’s a new ghost drawn every turn, so you need to keep on top of them or else you’re going to get over run and start losing Qi tokens (they work kinda like lives in an old school Mario game, run out and you die). It’s this constant barrage of ghosts that can really make it nail biting, as you can be quite on top of things, and due to a run of bad luck you’ll suddenly find yourself staring at a board full of ghosts, all proving a threat to killing you or ending the game at any moment.
While you want to be fighting ghosts as much as possible, you might also need help from the villagers to be able to improve your chances of killing them. Sometimes you can spend ages weighing up if you can leave that haunter ghost (they have the little ghost figurines, and if left un-killed can haunt a village tile so you can no longer use it, and possibly end the game) and instead get help so that you’re more likely to kill it. Do you have time? Will another haunter come out on the next go? Can one of the other players maybe tackle it? Would going for another ghost be better? They’re all some of the questions that can go through your head within about three seconds.
This is a very hard game, even on the easiest setting (There are various ways to set up the game to make it easy or harder) I have only managed to win the game once, and have only made it to the incarnation of Wu-Feng a handful of times.
As it is a co-op game you can plan out your moves to a certain degree and you can ask for help from your fellow players. This can have drawbacks as some people can be a little forceful and plan your next 10 moves for you. We find it best to play with the rule of ‘you can discuss as much as you like, but the player whose turn it is gets the final say as to what they do’, which helps to eliminate some of that.
The Artwork is simply stunning. The amount of work that has gone into the design of the game is bewildering when you think about it. Every Ghost card has been individually designed with some very gruesome images. Each village tile and player board has all had the same treatment. This all helps to give the game a real sense of atmosphere and brooding.
What’s not so great?
Well, as I’ve stated before, this is a really tough going game. Which is great if you’re looking for a challenge. However it can be a little disheartening when you still haven’t won after 20 games. I haven’t even attempted this on the harder settings. The rules do state that it will be hard and it will take you a few games to really get into it, and possibly win the game (again, this can be great. I like a slow burner that you can take your time to really get to know, but some might get a little impatient).
The rule book is awful. It was very difficult to understand. I had to look a few bits up on-line just to clarify what it meant. The flow chart on the back is handy for the basics, but for some of the more fiddly rules you might be better going straight to on-line sources. The rule book is the only thing that I feel could do with a redesign and a re-write. Even Antoine Bauza himself has admitted that the rule book was a little confusing and has learnt from his mistakes on that one.
Yes. I fully recommend this game, it’s a great stepping stone from gateway games to something a bit more meaty to sink your teeth into. It can be difficult, but the challenge is great and rewarding when you do well.
As it’s co-op it’s great for if you want to bring everyone together for a change from competition.
The artwork is atmospheric and really goes with the theme.
On top of all this, if you get bored of the base game there are at least two expansions, one of which allows up to 5 players, one of whom will be playing as Wu-Feng himself. As well as an iOS app to play on the go and practice for when you’re playing with friends.
One last thing worth mentioning. It can be played solo. So if you’re having trouble getting everyone together or want to practice at it a little more or even if you enjoy a little time lost in your own thoughts on a game you can bust it out any time.