Pain Doctors: The Game of Recreational Surgery Board Game Overview - Last Meeple Standing - Dread Central
Connect with us

Last Meeple Standing

Pain Doctors: The Game of Recreational Surgery Board Game Overview – Last Meeple Standing

Published

on

Do you remember as a child having a game where you got to perform surgery on a patient for money? It was light-hearted, brightly colored, and loud. That’s right… it was Operation (originally published by Milton Bradley, currently Hasbro). Remove the right femur, remove the funny bone… BUZZ!!! When you touched the edge of a bone’s location by accident, the patient’s nose would glow red and you’d know you had screwed the pooch. But, I know you folks were just like me. You tortured that patient as much as you could (or as long as it was funny), intentionally flubbing the surgery. Fun, but sick fun… and we loved it!

Photo Credit: Tiffany Hahn

Now, just for a dark moment imagine if there was a game where torturing the patients was what you were SUPPOSED to do… and you got paid to do it. It sounds like a game Eli Roth and David Cronenberg would collaborate on. Well, luckily for sickos like us, in 1996, publisher Dreamsville Publishing inflicted upon the world the grandly grotesque game Pain Doctors: The Game of Recreational Surgery.

Based on the book The Pain Doctors of Suture Self General, by Alan M. Clark and The Bovine Smoke Society (!), for many collectors the main draw of this evil game was the art. The art on the play board and the cards was created by Alan M. Clark, an illustrator and author well known in the horror community for his nightmarish, twisted (literally), and obscenely organic paintings. He has won the World Fantasy Award, Locus Awards, and the International Horror Guild awards for his art. His work has graced the covers many horror novels, magazines, and CDs. Collectors who had no interest in games sought Pain Doctors out simply due to Clark’s involvement in the project.

The premise of Pain Doctors is that you are a deranged surgeon in “The Facility,” attempting to keep your patients healthy enough to withstand whatever grim surgery you chose to dish out on them. Meanwhile, your opponents attempt to knock your patients’ health down in disgusting ways to prevent your operations, procedures that are anything but necessary. Eventually, you decide you’ve had enough and feel confident for the “press your luck” segment of the game where you perform surgery after surgery on your patients. Do you hack into them, causing as much pain as possible and thus winning more points? Do you slice into them one more time and risk killing them (and get NO points). Do you forge on ahead, carving them up for a possible win? Is the theme of this game dark? Hell yeah, it is! I daresay there are no games darker than this.

COMPONENTS:
While there is a lot to recommend this dark game, the odd components are not one of those elements. The game itself rests in a clear poster tube, with the thin, laminated game board surrounding the Treatment, Patient, and Surgery cards; a bag of glass beads representing 1, 5, and 10 points (yellow for lymph, red for blood, and white for white blood cells, respectively…ewwww); a really cool medical-chart-looking pad for tracking points; and Xeroxed instructions, as well as a strangely charming Note from the Designer warning players not to try any of the surgeries depicted in the game and not to sue them for any reason. The board is REALLY thin, but it is laminated, so it should last. Since it comes rolled up in a tube, it requires a lot of back bending or the use of tape of sticky tack to hold it down without it rolling back up. The cards are quite thin, as well, and I suggest sleeving them if possible to prevent wear and tear. Over the years, mine have begun to show dings and rubbing. Clark’s art on the cards (especially the Patient and Surgery cards) is disturbing, as you might imagine, strangely veering more toward the surreal than the gruesome, but in keeping with his style. However, the art on the board is substandard, early 90’s CG.

Pain Doctors: The Game of Recreational Surgery in original poster tube packaging.

Pain Doctors: The Game of Recreational Surgery – Back of Game Board

Pain Doctors: The Game of Recreational Surgery

Pain Doctors: The Game of Recreational Surgery – Surgery chart.

SETUP:
Getting the game ready to play could not be more simple. The three decks, Patient, Treatment, and Surgery, are shuffled. Each player is dealt three Patients, each of which starts with 5 life points, tracked with the glass beads. Patients are assigned to one of three wards (Addicts, Geeks, or Batty), which is important because certain cards only impact patients in particular wards. Each player is dealt a “Go to Surgery” card from the Treatment deck and receives four random Treatment cards. Then gameplay begins.

Pain Doctors: The Game of Recreational Surgery – Patient cards

Pain Doctors: The Game of Recreational Surgery – Treatment Cards.

Pain Doctors: The Game of Recreational Surgery – Surgery cards.

Pain Doctors: The Game of Recreational Surgery – Glass beads.

GAMEPLAY:
On each turn of the game, players will alternate drawing Treatment cards and playing them, in order to raise the life points of their patients or lower those of other players’ patients. The also have the option of discarding their hand and drawing a new one, which ends their turn. Patients with 10 or more life points get moved to Pre-Op, where you will perform surgeries on them to gain points. To add to the completely grim gameplay, certain special Treatment cards dramatically alter proceedings, such as a Swap Patient card that lets you steal your opponent’s patients and replace them with one of yours, a Bodyguard card that protects your patient from many game effects, and a Suicide card that removes a patient from play (they kill themselves to avoid more surgeries… I told you this game was dark). Once patients have been moved to Pre-Op, they are protected from many game effects, but one thing to keep in mind is that there are only three slots for patients in Pre-Op. If another player moves his patients into those three slots first, you have to wait until there is a vacancy to move YOUR patients there. The game is cutthroat in more ways than one. When a patient is moved into the Surgical Theatre, the real slice and dice of the game takes place (could it get any worse?). The surgeon draws from the shuffled Surgery deck one at a time. Each card indicates the number of points earned and the life points lost by the patient, as well as three important pieces of information. The cards tell the surgeon whether they (1) Stop the Surgery (a patient with life points remaining scores pain points from all of his surgeries); (2) Must Continue (thus risking more surgeries, possibly killing the patient and scoring no points); or (3) Choose (the surgeon can decide whether they want to press their luck, going for more points or potentially killing their patient).

WINNING:
The game continues in this wicked way until one of the surgeons scores a total of 500 points or they successfully complete 10 surgeries. That player is crowned Chief Surgeon of The Facility and wins the game.

Pain Doctors: The Game of Recreational Surgery with instructions.

FINAL THOUGHTS:
Let’s be honest here: Pain Doctors was never destined to win game design awards in the general public. Hell, it is a minor miracle that it was published at all! Talk about a niche market…a game all about inflicting as much pain as you can in a hospital for fame and fortune? No way was this game ever destined to be carried in Walmart, Toys ‘R’ Us, or even your friendly neighborhood game store. Stocking this game would result in you being chased down by peasants with torches. To my knowledge, it wasn’t released into the wilds via traditional markets. In nearly 30 years of collecting games, I’ve never seen a copy of Pain Doctors in a brick and mortar store. Today, you are very lucky to find a new copy of this game on eBay for under $150 (it originally sold for $29.95). Is it worth it? That depends. Pain Doctors provides ghoulish fun for folks looking for a horror game that is weightier than Zombie Dice but not quite as heavy as something like Dawn of the Zeds (and its multiple rule books). It sets up quickly and is strangely satisfying as you keep pressing your luck to perform more and more surgeries (I always imagine myself as Dr. Logan from Day of the Dead when playing Pain Doctors).

The game is a blast, and we laugh our asses off playing this weird game every time it hits the table. However, there are a lot of horror games out there that have better components, deeper gameplay, and wider availability, so your money might be better spent elsewhere. But, for fans of Alan M. Clark and his amazing art, this game is a must buy… if you can find it.

PRODUCT DETAILS:
Designers: Steven Carlberg, Victor Oliver, and Michael A. Powell
Artist: Alan M. Clark
Publisher: Dreamsville Publishing

RATING:
5/10 (but 10/10 for being so damned screwed up)

Last Meeple Standing is brought to you by Villainous Lair Comics & Games, the ultimate destination for board game fanatics in southern California.

For more information visit the official Villainous Lair Comics & Games website, “Like” the Villainous Lair Facebook page and be sure to follow Villainous Lair on Twitter and Instagram.

Continue Reading
Comments

Last Meeple Standing

The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 Game Overview and Review – Last Meeple Standing

Published

on

How much do you trust your friends? More specifically, how much do you trust your *gaming* friends? Games of social deduction have been popular for a very long time, but it seems like it took forever for the gaming industry to catch up to the obvious and ultimate implementation of the concept of “who is the bad guy,” John Carpenter’s The Thing. I’m sure it had a lot to do with rights and moola.

Let’s deal with the obvious first: yes, I’m certain the developers of the game were well aware of John W. Campbell’s 1938 novella Who Goes There? as well as Howard Hawks film The Thing from Another World, much less the 2011 prequel The Thing, but Mondo’s semi-cooperative game very specifically focuses on the John Carpenter version, all the way down to specific characters from the film and even snippets of dialog. With that out of the way, onward with what is important: the game itself.

Photo Credit: Tiffany Hahn

COMPONENTS:
The components are a mixed bag for me, ranging from “Wow!” to “That works.” The standout components for The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 are the miniatures, or “movers” as the game refers to them. The movers are incredible. The sculpts are exquisite in their details. Each figure portrays the characters exactly from the film, all of the way down to their defining details. Nauls and his roller skates, Clark and his dogs, Garry and his pistol, and, of course, MacReady with his signature flamethrower. I’m really impressed at how well the miniatures capture the essence of their inspiration. Other components don’t fair QUITE as well, but do the job. I like the boards for tracking objectives and infection in the game. They are sturdy and the iconography used is easy to understand at a glance. They provide a quick reference at any point in the game with regard to how what needs to be done and how doomed you are due to infection by the unfriendly ET.

There are two elements that fell short for me, though. First, some of the cardstock used in the game felt flimsy and lightweight. The character cards, Mission Log cards, and Power Out/Room Destroyed cards, in particular seem to have been printed on somewhat cheap paper, leaving them limp and easy to bend, fold, and otherwise mangle. These days, cards in a lot of even obscure games are printed on really nice stock with a linen finish, so it seems strange to me that a AAA title like this would have gone for somewhat cheaper materials. Second, and this one may be personal preference, but the art design for me just didn’t work 100% for me. When this game was being marketed, a certain amount of emphasis was placed on the art and how amazing it was going to be. Well, I’ll agree when it comes to the miniatures, but the rest of the design seems a little… well… bland. I understand that the designers may have been shooting (flamethrowers) for a somewhat stoic or “official” document-like design. If that is the case, they have succeeded. For example, the main board for the game DOES look like a “you are HERE” sign. Sure, the sterility of the graphic design matches the cold isolation of the theme, but there are times where the player might wish for a little more. For instance, if you flip over a tile to see simple red text that says “Thing 1,” are you going to quake with fear or are you going to start looking around for the Cat in the Hat and his duo of disaster? Couldn’t this token have had a horrific graphic depicting the correct iteration of The Thing? I’m just sayin’…

SETUP:
Set up for this game is fairly simple. If you follow the one page of instructions in the manual, you can’t go wrong. After one play, you probably won’t need to refer to the setup instructions again. Each player picks a character, maintaining an even distribution of choices between the three Departments available: Maintenance, Operations, and Science. Lay out the main game board, where you will be tracking the movements of your team during the game, setting the Infection tracking board and Objective tracking boards alongside the main board. Shuffle the Supply deck (the base has a LOT of supplies to last the winter) and the Mission Log deck (you have a lot to do in order to survive a cordial visit from The Thing), and place them on the provided spaces on the main board. Place the awesome character movers for the characters chosen in the Rec Room space (remember all of the fun that takes place in THERE?), and place the Rope, Dynamite, and Flamethrower cards within reach of the players. For each of the three Sectors on the main board, shuffle up the Room Chips (depicting hidden Things, Gear, and specific actions, such as card discarding) and distribute them one per room for each sector. Now comes the brutal part: distribute a Blood Test card to each player. There is one card for each player, all of which are Human blood except one card, which indicates you are Infected. Keep these cards secret, as they are going to dictate how you play… for or AGAINST the Humans. Lastly, deal five Supply cards to each player. You are now ready to have your ass handed to you by The Thing (as you may have guessed, this game is HARD to beat).

GAMEPLAY:
The gameplay for The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 is somewhat complex. That is ok, because ferreting out who amongst you is a perfect imitation of a Human and means to cause you grievous bodily harm is also complicated, as it should be. With that said, let’s concentrate on the highlights of game play. First and foremost is table talk. The heart (dripping and still beating) of this game is frantic and desperate talk between the players. Some games encourage the players to keep all elements of the game secret, not sharing hand contents, not sharing strategy, not sharing who the hell you think is an infected Human that means to eat your face off. This game is different. It is semi-cooperative in that all of the Humans are working together to wipe out the Infected, and the player/s who are infected are working secretly to wipe out humanity, all while pretending to be human and throwing blame onto others who may or may not be human. Not only are players constantly discussing who they think might be up to no good, but they are also sharing information about how they might be able to get the survivors onto a helicopter to get the heck out of there. That said, you are encouraged to flat-out LIE if it serves your purposes. Distrust is key in this game, so sow it where you can.

Core gameplay involves drawing a Mission Log card each turn and checking whether it is an Event or a Mission. Events can indicate things such as power outages in certain rooms or even rooms catching fire. Events are resolved immediately, and then a new Mission Log card is drawn, again resolving an Event if it is drawn (damn bad luck). However, if it is a Mission, the card will indicate what the Mission party’s composition must be: how many team members and what type (e.g., it must contain one Maintenance character). The Mission Log card will also indicate how the Mission must be completed, which is my favorite part of the game. The captain that turn will decide, with input from players, which room in the current Sector to explore. Each Mission requires the players to secretly add one Supply card to a pool of cards, face down, attempting to get certain types of cards (e.g., petri dishes) or weapons to generate damage (e.g., guns that are worth three dice).

The trick is… and don’t forget…at least one of the players is not Human, and they are going to do everything they can to foul up your plan, either by contributing a card that does not help you beat the mission (e.g., a weak card) or even Sabotages the mission. Yes, the Infected player can chip in a red Sabotage card secretly that causes all manner of bad things to happen to your team. You’ll note that I said cards are provided by players SECRETLY, face down. This is because the captain that turn is going to shuffle these cards and either draw randomly from them or reveal them all at once…and he will NOT know who contributed what card. But, they might have suspicions. How the players react to their suspicions makes up a lot of the gameplay. If players succeed on their Mission, they get to reveal the Room Chip in the room. It may be gear they need to advance the game by filling in spots on the Objective Board. It may be instructions to discard a card and draw a new card, or it may be a Thing they have to Battle.

Battle is VERY similar to completing missions in that each player is going to contribute a card face down, with each card indicating how many dice you get to roll or, in the case of the Infected, Sabotage. Depending on how far the infection has advanced in the station (infection advances as a result of failing Missions or Battles), the captain rolls dice looking for different types of results, such as three of a kind after three rolls. If the players succeed, they add the Thing they beat to the Objective Board, possibly allowing them to advance to the next sector.

If the game sounds challenging so far, wait until you toss in special gear like the Rope, which allows the players to “tie up” the current captain, preventing him from embarking on the current mission and switching the new captain to a new captain. Or there is the Flamethrower, which allows you to torch, kill, and remove from the game entirely a player you suspect is the Thing (heck yeah!). Then you’ve got new blood tests that take place when you advance to a new sector. A deck of Blood Test cards which has been seeded with ONE Infected card is drawn from by each player, possibly secretly creating second infected player, making the game even harder. There are other hitches that arise like determining if only humans have made it onto the escape helicopter, but these just add to the fun. Heck, you may not even make it to that point (case in point, we didn’t even make it out of Sector 1 the first time we played…we got devoured). This is not a game for first-timers to board games or casual gamers, but all of the twists, turns, and unexpected developments only add a deeper sense that you really are fighting for your life as desperately as you can.

WINNING:
Winning, whether you are the Humans or the Infected, is ALSO a tiny bit complicated. The game is asymmetric in that both the Humans and the Infected have different ways they can win. For the Humans, they can beat the game together, as a team, by clearing all three Sectors and ensuring that only humans are aboard the helicopter. That’s IT, their ONE shot at living. The Infected, though, have three ways they can win and thus wipe out humanity: Achieve maximum Contagion level on the Infection Tracker board, Destroy Outpost 31 by destroying four rooms throughout the base, or Stow Away on the helicopter. Any of these results in humanity being shit out of luck.

FINAL THOUGHTS:
Despite my slight amount of griping about the graphic design and card stock earlier, this is a GREAT game. If you are into The Thing and its growing mythos, this game is OUTSTANDING. The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 absolutely captures the paranoia and growing sense of dread that has instilled every iteration of the story up until now. Players find themselves completely unsure who really is The Thing if the Infected player plays their cards right. You find yourself asking why the captain made a decision that got your party damaged when your voted against it. You find yourself wondering who it is that sabotages your missions time and time again and try to read in their face who it is, wishing that you had a petri dish/blood/copper wire test in real life.

Is the game hard? You betcha it is! Some might argue that it is TOO hard, but to that I say: No, you’re wrong… shut up and look for The Thing before I torch you. Would discovering who was an ET from hell be easy? No way! Would you be scared and frozen with fear? Damn straight you would be. All of the mechanics in this game steer the players into a state of mind very similar to that of the characters in the novella and movies. I have nothing but respect for the designers of the game for fostering that kind of experience, and I cannot recommend this game more highly. It should be on the shelf of every horror fan.

PRODUCT DETAILS:
Designer: Joe Van Wetering
Artist: Justin Erickson and Mark Simpson (II)
Publisher: Mondo and Project Raygun
Published: 2017
Players/Playtime: 4-8 players/60-120 minutes

RATING:
4/5


Last Meeple Standing is brought to you by Villainous Lair Comics & Games, the ultimate destination for board game fanatics in Southern California. For more information visit the official Villainous Lair Comics & Games website, “Like” the Villainous Lair Facebook page and be sure to follow Villainous Lair on Twitter and Instagram.

Continue Reading

Last Meeple Standing

Zombag Game Overview – Last Meeple Standing

Published

on

What is the first thing you think of when you think of a game called Zombag? Jeeze… get your minds out of the gutter (the same one MY mind roams in)! The game is not about THAT zombie bag. In Zombag, 2 to 6 players take the role of zombie apocalypse survivors scrounging through the wreckage to rescue other survivors, gathering weapons and supplies, and fighting off hordes of zombies that swarm the streets looking for tasty brains to devour.

Photo Credit: Tiffany Hahn

The survivors struggle to complete their own missions, triggering an end condition and hopefully having enough points for the win. This is as if there really are any winners in a world where zombies want to snack on your tasty bits all day and all night. But, hey, for at least for a few moments, there will be a greatest zombie apocalypse survivor of all time. Zombag was originally a successful Kickstarter project, which is where I got it. It pops up from time to time on eBay and in game trades on www.boardgamegeek.com. The main mechanic in the game involves drawing tokens of various type – survivors, gear, weapons, conflicts, infection, and, of course, zombie – from a bag and resolving each type of token drawn. But more on that later, after you stop giggling at the name Zombag.

Front of Box

Back of Box

COMPONENTS:

The primary components of Zombag are cardboard punch-out tokens representing survivors, supplies, weapons, conflicts, infection (ewwwww), raid opportunities, and (yes, you guessed it) horrible zombies. The tokens are serviceable, but they are a little on the thin side. One nice thing is that they punch easily. One downfall of board games that rely on tokens is that they often tear or separate when they are punched out, resulting in the art layer being torn completely or partially off or leaving annoying tags you have to tear or cut off. That is not the case here. The tokens popped right out, no problem. The highlight of the tokens, and the art throughout the game in general, is the art. Brittany Biggie has done a great job of representing the world of the zombie apocalypse in a stylish, ghoulish, and yet family-friendly style. The characters and zombies look like they spawned from an Adult Swim TV show, and that is a good thing. To house the tokens, the game comes with a nice, black, velvet, drawstring bag from which the tokens are drawn… the titular Zombag (stop tittering behind your hand). Maybe the bag should have been green?

Biggie’s art is also featured on the game’s Mission cards, of which there are 40, each depicting a different combination of survivors and gear you need to complete a particular mission. The cards are nice, thick stock and are not flimsy and prone to easy destruction, like many of the cards that come with Kickstarter projects. Also included with the game are six black D6 dice with sickly green pips. They match the theme nicely, but I can’t help but think they would have been a whole lot cooler if the pips glowed in the dark.

Then there is the rule book, which is a single sheet, front and back, chock full of simple but somewhat flawed instructions. Hooray for short rule books! There was some ambiguity and left-out bits, so there is an updated version of the rules on their website that clarifies some of the rules issues and presents things a little more nicely.

Lastly, if you Kickstarted the Zombag (I’ve not seen it in the wild, in friendly neighborhood game stores), there were some cool exclusives. Two character tokens were added: The Clerk (who is obviously Ash from the Evil Dead series, complete with chainsaw) and The Advisor (who is based on Simon Pegg’s character from Shawn of the Dead, complete with cricket bat). Each of these characters has special abilities, like dual wielding for The Clerk (“boomstick” and chainsaw) and the ability to use any weapon for a re-roll for The Advisor. The Urgent Mission Event token stops the player in their track and forces them to complete a randomly drawn Mission before they can continue with the game. My favorite bonus for backers has to be the “V.I.P. Zombie,” a tough zombie that is based on SFX make up artist extraordinaire, Tom Savini! The likeness is hysterical!

Kickstarter Exclusives

SETUP:

One of the beauties of this game is the simplicity of the set up. First, place all of the tokens in the bag. Then each player draws blindly from the bag until they have two survivors, two weapons, and one equipment item. They simply place any other kind of token back in the bag and keep drawing until they have the required combination. Players place their survivors in front of them and pair them with a weapon, if possible. The key is to try to pair survivors with the weapon whose token is the same color as the survivor. If the colors match, the survivor gets a re-roll during combat. More on that later. Items get placed in a row beneath the survivors and their weapons (their “backpack”), in five imaginary slots. That is the capacity of their backpack, and only equipment can go in the back pack (bullets, food, binoculars, etc.)… no weapons. If you ever have more items than you have space for in your backpack, you can have survivors who don’t have weapons hold them. Deal each player three to five mission cards. This sets the length of the game. The more cards you give each player, the longer the game will be. This makes it easy to tailor the game play time to what you have available. Place the dice within reach of all players, and you are ready to go!

GAMEPLAY:

On your turn, you have two options: Draw New Missions or Scavenge. If you choose to spend your turn by drawing new missions, you simply draw two missions from the deck and then discard two of the missions in your hand. A player might do this if they thought the missions they already had were too hard to complete. Since missions are completed by having the right combination of equipment and survivors, the player might need different mission cards to enable them to end the game while they are ahead in points.

Scavenging is a slightly more complicated process at first glance, but after a turn or two, it can be completed in mere minutes.

The first step is completing a mission if possible. If during the start of your turn you find yourself owning the combination of survivors and equipment depicted on one of your mission cards, you can complete the mission by revealing the card and discarding back into the bag the matching tokens. You then keep the card, face up, to show your progress with completing the required number of missions.

Second, you can freely trade tokens with other players, enticing them with tokens they may want (“Hey, you want the shotgun that goes with that character? I’ll give it to you for the Chef. I really need him in my camp.”). Third is the actual scavenging. During this phase, you roll one die. You may then draw up to that number of tokens from the bag. This is a “push your luck” element of the game. The more tokens you draw, the higher the likelihood that you’ll have to fight a higher number of zombies lurking in the bag. Tokens drawn are resolved in the order: Events > Zombies > Items. Events are Conflicts (where the players roll a die and the highest roller gets to draw and resolve a token either from the bag or in front of them for free), Raids (where a player holding a Raid token rolls a die, and on a 4-6 they succeed and may steal an item that was just drawn or from a backpack on a 6!), or Infection (like I said… ewwwwwww… it’s a rotting grandma lady… but the player who drew the infection rolls a die, and on a 1-3 they have to keep the Infection, which gives them negative points at the end of the game, and on a 4-6 they pass the Infection to the next player who rolls the same way, continuing in this manner until someone gets the ickiness).

Third, they encounter any zombies they drew in any order they want, one at a time. Zombies have a target number you have to roll to hit them and a certain number of life (unlife?) points. Each weapon indicates how many dice the player gets to roll trying to meet or beat the zombie’s target number. For each hit, the zombie loses a life point. If a survivor is using their matching weapon, they may re-roll a die. The player attempts to kill each zombie, keeping those they snuff (they are all worth points on their back side at the end of the game…worth more points the harder they are to kill). If the player is able to wipe out all of the zombies from that scavenging attempt, they get to keep all of the items/survivors they drew, with no limit on survivors but a limit of five items in their backpack. Once this is done, play moves on to the player to the left and the process continues.

WINNING:

Once a player has completed all of their assigned missions, all players total up the points they have from completed missions, items they have, zombies killed, etc., and the player with the most points is king of pile of dead zombies in the wasteland (yay?).

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Ok… by this point, two things should be clear. The first is that this game is a LUCK FEST. From rolling a die to dictate how many tokens you can draw from the bag, to rolling dice for events, and to rolling dice for combat… it’s pretty random. But if you can accept that, it leads to the second thing: the game is loads of fun. There is a lot of yelling and cheering as folks make or break vital rolls. Players get to toss a crap ton of dice in this game, and for a certain type of gamer (me, for example), that is a blast, no matter how random the game is. There is also the element of trade, which is often overlooked by players and reviewers of this game. Players can really work the table by making shrewd trades at the right time, thus preventing a mission completion by one player and ensuring a completion of their own mission. Good stuff!

The art in the game is delightfully weird and silly at the same time, a style I’m really drawn to. Lastly, the game is a synch to teach. After a turn or two, gameplay becomes automatic and people settle into the fun aspects of the game. Also, and this is a plus to me: the game is as quick to put away as it is to set up… even faster! That sometimes makes a difference to me, as after gaming, I don’t want to have to take two hours cleaning the game up before I move on to the next game (Twilight Imperium, anyone?). When all is said and done, and all of the walkers have been taken out, I give this game a rotted and festering thumbs up. It’s good simple fun, and it’s sure to delight anyone into killing the undead while laughing your ass off.

RATING: 3/5

PRODUCT DETAILS:

Designers: Chris Miranda, Ryan Morgan, and Grand Giles
Artist: Brittany Biggie
Publisher: Glass Cabinet Hobbies
Published: 2016

Last Meeple Standing is brought to you by Villainous Lair Comics & Games, the ultimate destination for board game fanatics in southern California.

For more information visit the official Villainous Lair Comics & Games website, “Like” the Villainous Lair Facebook page and be sure to follow Villainous Lair on Twitter and Instagram.

Continue Reading

Last Meeple Standing

Lovecraft Letter Card Game Overview – Last Meeple Standing

Published

on

Ah, Love Letter, that venerable game that Seiji Kanai released in 2012 (AEG, US release). Many of us own SOME form of this game. It is a game of court intrigue and is pure simplicity itself. Two to five people can play, assuming the role of court members attempting to deliver a love letter to the Princess. A deck of only 16 (!) cards is used, and each player is dealt one card to start. Each card represents a member of court and has a specific power they inflict upon the other players when played, with the idea of ultimately eliminating all the other players. On your turn, you draw one card and play one of your two cards, following the instructions printed on it. Different cards eliminate players in different ways. If you are the last player eliminated, you are the person to deliver the titular love letter to the Princess and you win. That’s it, really. As you can imagine, game play is very fast.

Photo Credit: Tiffany Hahn

Usually multiple rounds are played, striving for the most wins out of seven rounds, for example. So far, so good…
Now, you may be asking, what does a game of courtly love and intrigue have to do with the writer of the wretched and bizarre, Howard Phillips Lovecraft? That answer lies in the fact that Love Letter is so incredibly popular that it has been “re-skinned” MANY times. Re-skinning is taking the core mechanics of a game and simply slapping on a fresh coat of paint, so to speak, to give a different theme. Basically, you take an existing game (Love Letter in this case) and say it now revolves around a different mythos. Recently, we have seen Adventure Time, Batman, Archer, and even The Hobbit Love Letter. No, I’m not kidding. The way I see it, they each cater to the particular sub-genre you’re into, so no harm/no foul.

So, why should you care about a re-skin of this game with Cthulhu slapped on? I’m more than happy to answer that question: Because it is NOT just a re-skin. It is so much more. THIS version is the ULTIMATE gift to fans of horror AND Love Letter, in so many ways. You could say it is a love letter to Lovecraft fans, and what a letter it is.

COMPONENTS:
No matter what else you might think of this game, the components alone make the game worthy of a spot on your Lovecraft shelf, whether you collect games or not. I was lured by the theme, but I was won over by the incredible components.

The game box looks like an old leather-bound book and opens with a magnetic clasp that heightens the tome-like quality of the packaging. When you open the box, you are greeted by some thematic art depicting an adventurer surrounded by various Old Ones and a “wax seal.” Very classy. To the right, however, is the really good stuff.

This time around, the game comprises 25 playing cards and 6 reference cards to remind players of the various powers of the cards. The cards are tarot sized and printed on good, thick stock, which makes them easy to handle. However, in a really amazing show of class from AEG, the player is supplied with high-quality sleeves for every card, depicting a suitably creepy letter image on the back and a silvery interior. There are even clear sleeves, front and back, for the reference cards. On top of that, AEG supplied EXTRA sleeves for the cards, in case one gets torn or the Elder Gods rend it into a fine red mist. Since the cards are handled a lot, shuffled a lot, and passed around the table a lot, the sleeves are going to go a long way to preventing wear and tear.

Below the cards are the Insanity/Sanity tokens. No mere carboard punch-outs here… these are thick, heavy, screen-printed poker chips that have a great heft when held and manipulated. They are printed on one side with Cthulhu, representing an Insane win, and the other side with and Elder Sign, representing a sane win (more on that later).

The manual is only 15 pages, half of which is references to individual game cards for clarification, so you really only have to worry about 7 pages of instructions, complete with lots of diagrams. After one read through, you’ll never have to refer back to the rules again, especially if you have played some form of Love Letter before.

Last but not least is the tray for the game components. There is a lot of discussion in the gaming community lately about how to present the bits and pieces that make up your game (the game Dice Forge seems to be the winner in that category right now). AEG went above and beyond the call of evil duty with Lovecraft Letter. The cards and tokens are cradled in a perfect-fit, simulated green velvet tray that keeps the cards from getting lose in the box and the tokens from getting jumbled as you transport the game. Bravo, AEG!

SETUP:
Setup is a breeze! First, you set aside the Mi-Go Braincase card (ewww… you’re going to need to do things to it later) and shuffle the remaining 24 cards. Depending on how many players are playing, you burn off/remove either 1 card (more than two players) or 5 cards (2 players), in order to thwart card counters. Next, deal one card from the deck to each player as their starting hand, and randomly assign the starting player (I suggest choosing the last player to pet a Hound of Tindalos and live). You are now ready to go!

GAMEPLAY:
Players take the role of explorers tracking down a relative that has vanished under very nefarious circumstances in Egypt. The gameplay is simplicity itself, basically following the same pattern as the original Love Letter, where each player in turn draws a card from the communal deck, picks one of the two cards now in their hand to play, discards it in front of themselves, and follows its instructions, for good or for bad (and yes, sometimes there is no avoiding taking the brunt of a card yourself). Then play passes to the left.

WINNING:
The round ends in one of two ways: (1) the deck is empty at the end of a player’s turn or (2) all players but one have been eliminated. If more than one player survives at the end of a round, compare the number at the top left of your remaining card, and the winner is the player possessing the card with the highest value.

But here is where things get *weird* (in a Lovecraft game? No way…). The quick amongst you may have noticed that the original game came with 16 cards, but Lovecraft Letter has 25. That is because there are new cards that introduce an Insanity/Sanity win condition that is unique to this incarnation of the game. Some of the cards now are “Insanity cards,” cards the represent the mind-boggling damage inflicted by coping with the Cthulhu mythos. Insanity cards look slightly different and present the player with two options: a sane action and an insane action. Once an insanity card is in the player’s discard pile, they have the option of enacting either the sane option OR the insane option when playing future insanity cards, either of which can be good or bad for that player. A further complication of having one or more insane cards in your discard pile lies in the fact that your level of insanity my break you and force you out of the game! If you have insanity cards in your discard pile, before you draw a card into your hand, you have to draw cards from the deck equal to the number of insanity cards in your discard pile. This is called a “Sanity Check.”

If you happen to have the misfortune of drawing an additional insanity card, you are immediately knocked out of the round!

If you win the round with no insanity cards in your personal discard pile, you earn a Sanity token. If you win the round with insanity cards in your discard pile, you earn an Insanity token. To win the game you must either be the first to two Sanity tokens or the first to three Insanity tokens.

FINAL THOUGHTS:
The original version of this game that Kanai released in the US back in 2012 was a GREAT game. It was portable, easy to teach, and above all… FUN. It merits all of the re-skins that it has seen, in order to reach a wider audience. But up until now, there have been no major improvements to the game, in my opinion. Lovecraft Letter raises the bar, not only for future iterations of the basic game, but for all games, I think. The combination of a unique new Sanity/Insanity mechanic on top of the beautiful presentation of this game should make it a treasured part of a game collection OR a Lovecraft collection. I highly recommend Lovecraft Letter!

RATING: 4/5

PRODUCT DETAILS:
Designer: Seiji Kanai
Artists: Vincent Dutrait and Kougi Ogata
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG)

Last Meeple Standing is brought to you by Villainous Lair Comics & Games, the ultimate destination for board game fanatics in southern California.

For more information visit the official Villainous Lair Comics & Games website, “Like” the Villainous Lair Facebook page and be sure to follow Villainous Lair on Twitter and Instagram.

Continue Reading

Recent Comments

Advertisement

Go Ad Free!

Support Dread Central on Patreon!

Join the Box of Dread Mailing List

* indicates required

Trending