TABLE GAME REVIEW: Ghost Stories

Ghost_Stories_game_boxThis week on GS Table Games, we grab our fighting staffs and get busy battling ghosts as we try to send the ghost of Wu-Feng back to Hell in Ghost Stories!

 

 

 

 

Want to fight ghosts dressed as a deadly Priest? Then Ghost Stories will tick all your boxes. It is a cross between Ghostbusters, Supernatural and Ninjas, and it is not easy, but it sure is fun to play.

The Lord of Nine Hells walks the earth.

Wu-Feng, the Lord of Nine Hells, has discovered the village hiding the funeral urn containing his ashes. Four Taoist priests protect the village, as hordes of ghosts and demons descend on the town to reclaim the remains of their evil overlord. Can you hold out against the forces of eternal darkness, or will Wu-Feng recover his ashes and destroy everything in his path?

In Ghost Stories, the players work together as the Taoist priests attempting to turn back the tide of evil and save the doomed village. With mystical powers and ancient martial arts, the heroes will battle wave after wave of ghosts and demons until Wu-Feng himself rises to claim his remains. Working together is your only hope, as the ghosts increase in number and force the Taoist priests to sacrifice resources, time and even their very lives in this desperate battle against the hordes of Hell.

First of all, this game looked cool before I even opened the box. The artwork on the outside is both great and also telling a story. I know you should never judge a book or game by its cover but in this case, it was spot on. I mean, come on – it shows the priests getting ready to do battle with two ghosts about to attack against the back drop of a haunted village. That is practically a movie right there!

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What you get in the box

The aim of the game
In Ghost Stories, it is your job to protect the villages from the invading ghosts or evil spirits by exorcising them using dice or Tao tokens. If you allow too many villages to be haunted, you fail. If all the players die, you fail. If the final ghost card is drawn with Wu-Feng still in play…YOU FAIL!

Set up
We start by setting the game up with the village tiles first. This is a random set up, which means that every time you play the game the nine village tiles will be different, creating a different challenge each session. Then the players decide which color priest they want, which is not as simple as it sounds; each priest has two special abilities, but you can only choose one to play for that game. You then lay your coloured player board with your special chosen ability on the side around the village tiles, and the board is now set and complete.

Then each player will get some Qi tokens, which effectively keep you alive, one Tao token of your players colour and a Yin Yang token. Then all players place their Priest on the middle village tile and we place the two golden Buddha’s on their specific village tile. Then the last set up is shuffling the ghost cards and also placing one of the Wu-Feng cards just above the bottom of the deck. Now we are good to play the game.

Gameplay
The game is split into two turns or Phases, with the Yin phase being the first one. The Yin phase is basically the Ghost turn. It is broken down into 3 actions. The first action is for the ghosts’ cards on the players board – they take their action, whatever that may be, including moving forward if the ghost card has a Haunter, which is represented by a very cool looking black shrouded ghost. This Haunter will move forward until it can haunt a village in front of it, which means that the village is turned over. It is your job to either exorcise the ghost or rescue the village. The next action is that if all three of your card slots on your player’s board are full with ghost cards, you lose a Qi token or a life. You only start the game with 4 (or 3 on hard mode), so this is not good news. If you do not have a full board, you draw a ghost card.

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The Haunters and the Priests do battle with the Buddhas staying neutral this time.

The ghost cards have various components on them that define how to kill them – by looking at the coloured symbols, decide what board they should be placed on based on their border colour, and what happens when they arrive on their turn and also during and if they are defeated as well.

Then it is Yang phase, which is really the players turn. This is also broken into various moves. You can move one space in any direction on the board if you want to, but it is not mandatory. So if you are in a battle with a ghost from last round, you should stay and fight again. On the other hand, you may want to move to a village tile to do battle with another ghost or go to a village to use its special power.

The second action is actually using a village’s power or attempting an exorcism. The battle rules are simple. You need to defeat the ghost by rolling the correct number of coloured dice that matches the colours on the ghost card. The dice have all the ghost card colours and also a white side, which is a wild card option that allows you to change the colour to anything you want, which comes in really handy sometimes. However, at times, your dice roll is not enough, and this is where your Tao tokens come into play. These are tokens of one of the four colours of the players. You can supplement the dice with these tokens that you can collect throughout the game at certain times. So if you need three red symbols but only two on the dice and you have a red Tao token you can use that and defeat the ghost and send it back to Hell. You then lose the Tao token.

How you use the village power is simple. When you land on the village tile, you can then use its power in that turn as your main action. The powers range from bringing back dead priests in the graveyard, nullify a haunted village, gain extra Tao tokens, send any ghost card back to Hell or discard pile as you humans would say, move any ghost and Taoist priest to other spaces or even collect a Buddha. So using a village tile can be a really good action to take, but be warned that you can get overrun by ghosts very quickly.

The Village tiles

The Village tiles

Talking of Buddhas, the third and final action you can do is place a Buddha on any free host card space. As long as you collected the Buddha last turn, you can now place it on empty card space. Imagine it as a sort of spiritual landmine. Let’s say you place the Buddha on a green board space and then a player draws a Green ghost, they can then place the card on top of the space where the Buddha is sitting there minding its business and BOOOOOM…Ghost destroyed and the Buddha is placed back onto the Buddhist Temple tile. Now you have to be smart and only use this attack on high-powered cards that require 3 or 4 coloured dice to be destroyed, because to use on a ghost that only needs one red dice is a waste of a good Buddha.

So now we follow the above pattern each round, with a player taking the Yin phase with the ghosts actions and then the Yang phase with the player’s actions. After a few rounds, everyone gets into the groove and starts defeating ghosts, but remember this is a cooperative game so you need to work together to keep the ghosts at bay. Be smart when placing ghosts cards, because if you place a card at the corner between two players’ boards, you can actually defeat two ghosts with one roll. So if a ghost on the red board has one dice to be destroyed then place a similar weak ghost on the connecting corner of the next players board – when the Taoist is placed on the village tile connecting them, he can do battle with both. This combined with placing a Buddha are the types of strategies that you need to talk about as a team.

As mentioned before, when you choose your players you have two sides of your board, with each side having a special ability. These range from moving to any tile on the board, using a village power and performing an exorcism, gain a Tao token of their choice each turn and more. So you can see that at the start of the game, you should all think hard about what set up you are going to do. This means that the game will be different each time based on your player set ups.

With the ghosts cards as described, they have icons on the bottom that detail what actions need to be taken. The icon on the left of card happens when the card is brought into play, the middle one is what happens after it has been placed and the next turn during the Yin phase or Ghost phase, and the final icon is what happens when it has been defeated. These abilities can range from a nuisance to the downright terrible. They can steal a dice from the game, they can bring more ghosts into play, or steal all your Tao tokens, but they can also be good, like a reward for defeating the ghost.

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Game design
Ghost Stories’ rules are simple enough to pick up, and there are enough variations on the players and ghost cards and village tiles to make this a truly unique game every time. It also means that you can see how the game works better each time based on what selections you choose.

It is a game that totally relies on teamwork and good planning to win, as it can quickly turn into a fight to the death when you let too many ghosts arrive on the board. The frequency of the ghosts arriving means that is a really hard game to beat, but in a really good way because it is a challenge for everyone.

We play on normal difficulty, which is hard enough, but you can change this to a few levels harder which seems impossible to beat but I guarantee you will have fun playing it. If you still find that the game is too hard then just change the rules so instead of losing when three village tiles are haunted make it when all village tiles are haunted. This will allow you to build up your experience and then try it with the original rules.

Another good rule for this game is that you can play in a one player mode, which is quite good fun and works really well on the two times I have tried it. Otherwise it is normally for 2, 3 or 4 players.

 

Components
The artwork in this game is excellent, with some truly terrifying images that help create the atmosphere knowing that towards the end the Wu-Feng ghost will appear and kick our butts. The cards are good quality and the player cards and village tiles are very sturdy material, so I don’t see them fading and getting damaged any time soon. The various tokens are decent enough and should not bend.

The Taoist priests are great, and you find yourself trying not to actually play with them and make sound effects as you play. However, my favorite components are the haunting figures that you place on the board when certain ghosts’ cards arrive. These are dark, scary and very cool.

One thing I was not sure of was the dice – I found mine to be quite sticky. However, I have no idea if it was like this when it arrived or because a player was eating Doritos in the first game, but since then I have to give them a quick wipe every game. Lesson learned on that one folks.

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Extras
The game already has two expansions released: Ghost Stories: White Moon and Ghost Stories: Black Secrets, both of which have been well received and increase the game play by introducing some new mechanics.

If you are feeling more techy, then why not also try the iPad version HERE, but not instead of the actual board game as this would leave you without the fun of the actual team work aspect.

Overall thoughts
I have to say that I was not expecting this game to be as good as it was. It really does need team work, though, because if you are four players working to your own agenda you will all die quickly – it forces you to plan as you go. I loved the ghost busting theme and the game mechanics, but I would not recommend it to new board gamers as it is tough and they may get put off if they fail the first few times. But I have loved this game both losing and winning.

It does not take too long to play, but it not really a game that can be played to fill in a gap between two longer games.

I would say that this game is worthy to have on your shelf, and it’s for gamers who don’t mind losing while having a good time doing so.

To find other board game reviews and news, go HERE.

 

Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Montoya

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