So anyway, word on the streets is that "A Touch of Evil" is a pretty darned good game, an "Arkham lite", and has come out just in time to celebrate the Halloween holidays. This was one of the few titles on my ever-shrinking want list; I really dug "Last Night on Earth" and I think for a small company that Flying Frog has really come out of the gates swinging in terms of game design and component quality. Good horror games are not exactly in abundance, so when you find some gems you really have to stop and take notice (like Matt did in his column yesterday.)
Anyway, a friend of mine had gotten a big order together and AToE arrived just in time for me to chunk it on his order. I was similarly impressed with the production quality this time; while there are far fewer figures in this one, the ones that are there are of the same extremely high quality. Seriously, they are easily as nice as anything of a similar scale that Fantasy Flight Games has done. And to make up for the smaller number of figures as compared to Last Night on Earth, there are tons more tokens and chits, and a LOT more cards; I think the card count is around 250 or more. They're the same sort of high-glossy 'stick to one another' style cards that they used last time, so be careful popping them out of the package. I used the "cracking" technique where you take a section of the cards and sort of bend them a bit, where they'll crack like knuckles and come apart much more easily.
The board is much smaller than you'd expect, being less than half the size of similar boards and positively dwarfed by Arkham Horror's behemoth of a board. The scale of the board is 'larger' than LNOE as it covers the town as well as some of the surrounding locations, so movement is much less "literal" on this map. Some have said they don't dig the map art as it looks like an old-time map on a piece of parchment, but I thought it worked pretty well.
It also comes with a soundtrack CD. You probably already know how you feel about this one way or another, so let's move on. I will add that I think it's a nice touch on their part to include it, though I haven't listened to this one yet much at all.
Anyway, after pawing through all the components, my brother and I were ready to knock out a game of 2-player co-op. We selected the villain randomly and got "The Spectral Horseman." We then also picked heroes randomly and mine was the busty Katarina while his was the dude with the glass eye. Then, we were off.
Rather than do a play-by-play (since I could never do this the same justice as Mr. Bistro's excellent "Battlestar Galactica" session report), I'm just going to break down how the game plays. Essentially you spend the game buffing up, finding out which Town Elders are trustworthy to take into the final battle, and earn enough "Investigation" to buy stuff. You can buff up by hanging out in town getting Event cards, spending Investigation tokens on Town Items, or going to the named locations on the board to see what you can find.
Each named location at the corners of the board has their own location deck. When you investigate those locations, the top card is flipped and you carry out the instructions. Most of the time they take the form of "skill checks" where you dice off against one of your stats and earn investigation based on the difficulty of the roll and the number of successes. Other times you'll find yourself locked in combat with some creature, and defeating that monster will also earn you investigation. What you'll really want is to find items that will increase your fighting skills or your other stats, those such items are much more rare.
Every turn after the players have all gone the top card of the "Mystery" deck will be flipped. If you've played Shadows Over Camelot, this is pretty much the same as the whole "Progression of Evil" thing, where the game system is playing the part of the villain. These often take the form of the villain attacking, or random minions being placed on the board, or "stays in play" style events that hamper the efforts of the heroes.
There's a Shadow Track that is a pseudo-timer on the game. It doesn't move downward by turn, but only when some element in the game moves it. If it ever moves off the lowest end of the track, the heroes have all failed and the villain is triumphant. This track ties in to the last part of the game--the cost of "Lair" cards. You have to purchase a Lair card in order to enter the FINAL SHOWDOWN with the main villain. The Lair deck is simply a stack of random locations, with another cost printed on them and possibly some special text. To enter the final battle, you move to the printed location, spend the cost on the card, and you're then locked in battle with the final villain. In the co-op game, all other players can pay the listed cost to teleport to the final battle location and lend a hand.
We really got nailed from the start with an event that stayed in play and continually pushed the shadow track downward, though it did give us 2 free investigation per turn. "The Hour is Late" I believe was the name of it. So we were on a clock right from the beginning. We both had rotten luck finding stuff at the corner locations, mostly running into more creatures or skill tests to earn more investigation.
Meanwhile, my brother was often on the receiving end of the Spectral Horseman's ride; once the Horseman rolled five hits at once against him, sending him back to town for a visit to the doctor. Yes, "death" in this game is more of just a setback; unlike Last Night on Earth, you don't choose a new Hero upon death but rather take the old RPG route of 'waking up' in town after a defeat, minus some investigation or possibly items. This isn't really too hot thematically, but especially in the competitive game I could see someone being totally hosed if death were permanent.
Anyway, time was ticking, the villain was growing stronger, and we weren't finding jack at any of the outer locations. Eventually I took Katarina back to town, bought two pistols and a horse and decided to go John Woo style. My brother then snapped up a Lair card, and we were pretty much only a few turns from GAME OVER so we went for it. We knew which two town elders we could take with us, but two of them were evil and had already joined the villain.
(Humorously, one of them was discovered to be evil--Lord Hanbrook--after my brother had been to the manor and taken part in a "meeting of the elders" or some such. The investigation he earned from that was spent to look at Lord Hanbrook's secret, and poof--Lord Hanbrook went screaming and cackling into the night to join up with his evil master. That must've been the most awkward ending to one of their town meetings ever.)
Anyway, my brother couldn't fight worth jack but was able to hang in there and do a few points of damage here and there before he was finally cut down. Katarina was, on the other hand, a villain-killing machine; her ability to hit on 4, 5, or 6 (as opposed to just 5 or 6) meant I was racking up the hits. The Horseman was doing damage as well, but I had a card that increased my wounds by 1 and a couple of events that helped stave off damage. I was finally able to put down the Horseman and had only one wound of my own left, the closest margin it could've possibly been. Total playing time, not including setup? About 90 minutes.
So what did I think?
It's fun, no doubts there. I would like to see more variety in the location decks, as it really does boil down to just those three things--dice off for some investigation, enter a fight, or find an item. Also, because the scale has been abstracted a bit, the 'game' seems to bare through the mechanics...instead of feeling as though you're "investigating", you feel as though you're moving to the different locations simply because there is a carrying limit for each one. While the cards have interesting flavor text, all the dice off cards are pretty much the same--"roll skill at x difficulty level, collect investigation for each success."
This was pretty much necessary to keep the game moving quickly, something I can appreciate. The game never dragged along and we were at the endgame before we knew it. Part of that had to do with the event that kept the clock ticking, but we were apparently just buff enough to end the game exactly when we did, even though we thought we had no shot. I would've been more comfortable increasing my stats more before the final showdown and might have done so without the timer.
We enjoyed the co-op style of play, though I'd think the cut-off for co-op would be 4. A lot of the text on your event cards will deal with hindering other players and that part of the text is useless in the co-op game. I don't know if 2 player competitive would've been that much fun but we'll try that for sure in the future. I would think with competitive, the more would be the merrier as if someone's down, you wouldn't have just one other player kicking them constantly.
Thumbs up from me, though. This is a nice, light adventure game with a great horror theme, solid bits, and those goofy live-action pictures on the cards that have quickly become Flying Frog's hallmark. A good game to bust out for a Halloween party, the rules are light enough that you shouldn't have too much trouble teaching it to your pals. I can't really rate the game yet as I'd want to play it more times--in different styles as well as against the different villains. So far, though, so good.