Game: Ghost Stories
Publisher: Repos Productions
Designer: Antoine Bauza
Ghost stories is a 1-4 player game in which you will absolutely want to play with 4 players, or at least take multiple characters so that you are using all the slots. The game is about defending a rural Japanese town from an invasion of undead led by an incarnation of Wu-Feng, the lord of hell. Ghost stories is a co-operative game and you’ll have to be working as a fluid team if you want any chance of success.
The game board consists of 9 areas of town, each of which has a unique action to help you, though some may ask a high cost, then there are the 4 player boards around the outside. Each player has a colour which determines their abilities, but also the kind of ghosts they attract. You can think of it as an elemental affinity, but instead of fire, earth, water... you get Rage, disease and drowning. At the start of each player’s turn you draw a new ghost card and place it on an empty space of the relevant player’s board, though there are also black ghosts which can go anywhere.
|The game baord part way through the game, the black spectres are advancing to haunt the town, the yellow player's special ability is locked and the red player is completely overrun with ghosts. This is pretty standard for the mid-game.|
After drawing a ghost you can move 1 space and then either perform the action of the tile you are on, or fight an adjacent ghost on a player board. Fighting a ghost involves rolling 3 dice and trying to get enough pips of the right colour to defeat them. The dice have 1 of each colour and then a wild card, so you’ll average 1 success each roll, to top up your rolls you can claim tokens which are 1-use boosts that count as an extra colour pip.
So far it’s already a little cruel, spawn 1 ghost a turn but unless you roll perfectly you won’t defeat 1 a turn. It already becomes clear that the empty board you start with will not remain empty for long. But that’s before we get to any ghost abilities. These range from haunting, which destroy town tiles every couple of turns unless you defeat the ghost or waste actions delaying them. To downright nasty things such as ghosts that punish you for defeating them with a roll of the dreaded black dice, or ghosts that spawn more ghosts when they arrive causing chain reactions that make you lose all control. Then there are rarer abilities such as locking dice, or locking tokens which, should they come together, can leave you almost entirely doomed.
|Something I really like is how the art for different cards of the same monster has the same scene but from a different angle or a little bit later on.|
It’s hard not to compare Ghost Stories with the likes of computer games such as Super Meat Boy or Dark souls. The game is absolutely brutally difficult even on its tutorial difficulty and it only ramps up from there (not that we have ever dared take the higher difficulties on). However I think the main flaw here is that the difficulty is largely luck, you see Dark Souls might be a brutal and grim game where you know you will die a lot, but it is painfully fair, every death is as a result of your own action, or inaction. Ghost Stories can have the game go horribly and unrecoverably wrong just by rolling bad for a couple of turns.
The key thing when playing Ghost Stories is to expect to lose, your brave Taoists are outnumbered and out gunned, but should they succeed then you’ll feel incredibly accomplished. I find the best way to play is to assume that you will fail every roll, pack enough tokens so that any good dice you do roll are a bonus and you may have a chance. The games’ difficulty makes you reconsider what a co-op game should be like and I like that, losing can be fun when you’re part of a team!