Saturday, November 04, 2006

You did your part, little 50 year old boy (Mall of Horror, Betrayal at House on the Hill)

Another Halloween has come and gone, and with it another session of horror themed games.

It's the first time in a month and a half for all five of us to be playing at the same time. The honour of the first game went to Mall of Horror, an impulse Hallowe'en buy on Kozure's part. I was excited to play it, because the concept is pretty interesting...

Mall of Horror

Mall of Horror is a rather innovative take on the zombie boardgame genre. Every player controls 3 characters who are trapped in a mall. There are five stores where the characters can barricade themselves, and a parking lot which is extremely dangerous but where valuable equipment can be found. Every round, zombies arrive and try to break into the stores. As long as the characters outnumber the zombies, they are safe... but the zombies keep coming and numerical superiority doesn't last forever. If characters find themselves outnumbered, somebody will die. This is where the true colours of the game reveal themselves... Rather than resort to combat, players must VOTE to pick the victim! Loser gets eaten (I'm guessing this is meant to simulate the characters pushing someone to the front). When the game ends, the winner is the player who has the most valuable characters left in the game.

So, basically, this is Survivor: Zombie edition. It's quite a fun game.

There are a number of additional details which enrich the gaming experience:

1) The three characters are not equal. There is a "hot babe" worth 7 points at the end of the game, a "tough guy" worth 5 and a "guy with a gun" worth 3. The girl has no special ability, other than being worth the most. The tough guy counts as two characters when determining if the zombies can break a barricade. The guy with the gun gets two votes when determining who gets sacked (because he's got a gun, which makes him convincing).

2) Every round, each player must secretely choose a destination for one of their characters. Staying in place is NOT an option. This creates very interesting dynamics because a location which was safe last round (because the characters outnumbered the zombies) can suddenly become deadly if a few characters leave. Also, there is a maximum number of characters in each location, which causes a lot of tension as areas become overriden with Zombies and the remaining available spaces in other stores are full. If a player chooses a destination which ultimately cannot accomodate a character, it winds up in the parking lot. Ouch.

3) One player is voted "Head of Security" each round. Normally, players don't know where the zombies will arrive every round. A newly elected head of security has a big advantage because he/she gets to see, through his short-circuit cameras, where the zombies will be going and he/she can act accordingly.

4) The parking lot is very dangerous because every single zombie in the area eats a victim (i.e. they don't need to outnumber the victims). The reason characters would go there is that the parking lot is home to life-saving equipment, such as guns and barricading materials. In game terms, any survivors vote one player to draw 3 cards. That player chooses one, then MUST give a second card to another player and then discard the third. Ass-kissing typically ensues.

The game manages to create a very interesting atmosphere of tension and desperation as the zombies start piling on the board and the player's characters start dwindling. Negotiating skills are put to the test. Promises for future consideration and "watching each other's backs" can mean the difference between making it to the end and... not. If I were to fault the game it would be that in the absence of any real currency, the creativity of negotiations is somewhat limited. Also, player elimination could easily force a player to watch from the sidelines early on... a potential problem in a game of this length (1-1.5 hours). This is easily the best zombie game I've played, and the game mechanics capture the theme very well. Despite this, the game is more in the "Intrigue" and "Quo Vadis?" camp of cut-throat negotation games. Less nasty than Intrigue, but still nasty.

Shemp ran away with the game, teaming up with Kozure early on and generally out-maneuvering and out-negotiating the rest of us throughout the game. He backstabbed Kozure at just the right time, knocking him out of contention for the lead. Bharmer was nearly eliminated early on. Luch and I did our best, but we couldn't change the pecking order. Interestingly, on the last round it became clear how fragile any lead in the game can be... Shemp found himself with his two remaining characters in the parking lot on the last round. There were two zombies there. He had a "hide" card which allowed one of his characters to survive, but if he hadn't he would have been wiped off the board and out of contention. Fortunatly for him, he had prepared for such an event and was holding onto that card for quite some time. Kozure did finish second, and the rest of us lost all our characters.

We finished off the evening with our yearly game of Betrayal at House on the Hill. The scenario which came up saw me, as a little girl, be the traitor. The story goes that the house is alive and likes to feed on humans. In return for eternal youth, I led the other players here as a sacrifice. Every round, the other player's character could potentially age dramatically. I simply needed to wait and let them die fo old age, or get directly involved and "help move things along". Meanwhile, the other players were running around and trying to cast spells in various rooms of the house in order to remove the enchantment and save themselves. Predictably, the old priest died quickly. The dynamite I lobbed at the little boy helped me eliminate him (though he had aged to his 50s by then, and had successfully cast 1 or 2 spells... leading to the blog entry's title). Shortly thereafter, the woman also succumbed to old age. Only the jock remained, and he had hardly aged at all due to exceptional rolling on Shemp's part. Just as I thought to myself that things were looking good for me, the dumb thug stumbled across the last room they needed to find and succesfully cast the final spell. I lost.

It's a stupid game, but I enjoy it. The variety of the scenarios continues to impress.

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