I found this fan-made cardgame while I was searching the internet for free downloadable games, and at first I could´t believe it: not only it is free, but also has an impressive presentation!
"Fatal Frame" tries to submerge 2 to 4 players in the universe of the PS2 survival horror videogame of the same name. Each player is a japanase little girl lost in a haunted village. In order to escape, you have to collect some "victory points" finding secret hints or defeating ghosts (each player wields an arcane camera which can "absorb" ghosts into a photo). Once you have got enough points, you have to confront the "boss ghost", the first player beating the boss is the winner!
The setting is not exactly the same as the videogame. In the videogame, the characters are two twins who try to escape cooperating. In the cardgame, each player plays against the others. Althought it seems a major change, I think it´s neccesary to implement a competitive cardgame. The other concepts of the videogame are very well implemented, specially the boss fight and the card effects. The game mechanichs also help in recreating the atmosphere.
The haunted village is represented with a 3x3, 9 card grid ("Exterior Locations"). Initially those cards are face down, until a player enters one and turns it face up. Some of those "Exterior-Location" cards are houses. If you are on a house, you can enter it, drawing a numer of random cards from another "Interior-Location" deck, placing them in a row in front of you, with your character ready to explore them.
In a turn, you make the following:
-Draw a Card
-Fight all the ghost in your location. (Those are ghosts other players have thrown at you, or ghosts you couldn´t beat from previos turns)
-Move from your location to an adjacent one
-Play a card (Action, Object or Ghost)
-Discard down to 5 cards (the hand-limit)
Simple, isn´t it? The cards in the deck (those which can be in your hand) are Action cards, Objects and Ghost cards.
Action cards represent events and can have multiple effects, good or bad.
Objects can improve your camera (Camera Upgrades), giving you more power to confront ghosts, or can give you more points (Notes). The Notes can only be found (played) in specifical Interior Locations, giving the players a reason to enter the houses. Surprisingly, Camera Upgrades can be found (played) everywhere.
Ghosts are played on a player (usually others, but sometimes it´s better on you). They will attack that player in his next turn (phase 2). If you play a Ghost, you can play another card in the same turn (which can be another Ghost). This encourages players to spoil other´s plans. A simple ghost-stacking rule allows multiple ghosts played onto the same player, but only if the last played ghost has a strength lower than the previous ghost.
If you fail defeating a Ghost, you have to skip the phase 3 (not to move) or phase 4 (not to play) of your turn. If you win, you take the ghost from the desk and put it in your "Ghost Album" (score stack). Some ghosts give you points, or even special abilities, when they are in your Album. Some cards make interesting interaction with your Album, allowing Ghosts to escape, or even attack you. Some Ghost or Upgrade abilities require you to discard an Album Ghost to activate them, so even the most tiny Ghost can be useful.
If you fail defeationg a Ghost and choose skip phase 4 (not to play), but you move, the Ghost may follow you! "Chasers" Ghosts follow you, whereas "Bound" Ghosts stay in place, waiting for a new player to come. Being haunted by a Chaser Ghost which you can´t beat is enerving, as well as discovering that in your path there´s a Bound Ghost left by another player which you will have to confront. Some Ghosts can only be played/chase you in Interior Locations, some only en Exterior Locations, some in both.
You can only play cards in your turn. That´s nice, because there are no timing problems nor effect stacking problems, and the gameplay goes quite fast.
Combat is resolved throwing dice. You can only combat ghosts, not other players. In order to beat a Ghost, you have to score in a die higher than his strenght. Some Camera Upgrades allow you to throw multiple dice and choose the higher roll, add +1 to a roll, or other bonuses.
The combat versus the boss ghost is a bit different. The final house cannot be entered until you reach some points. There awaits the Boss Ghost, drawn randomly from a 4-card Boss Ghost deck. Boss Ghosts have to be beaten three times (they´ve got a "life bar"), and all of them have max strenght. Fortunately, every Boss has a weak point, as having certain Ghosts in your Album will make you stronger against him. This encourages finding and beating those certain ghosts in order to make your final battle easier (which adds complexity to the game). The Boss Ghosts also throw a die against you (they counterattack): they force you to exit the house if their roll matches one of yours. If you exit the house (forced or in your way), when you return, a new random Boss Ghost will be drawn.
The Boss-combat is very hard and you must prepare carefully before engaging one. Keeping the best Camera Upgrades is vital. Unfortunately, only plain luck will guide those Camera Upgrades to your hand, as there is no trading with other players, and Upgrades can be played anywhere, so if you´re unlucky drawing Upgrade cards, your combat power will be tiny as well as your chances of success.
There are some Location-cards effects. When you enter a warehouse, you draw a card. When you enter the black pit, you lose a card from your hand. But that´s all. Location cards' potential is underused. Other Location-based effects could be easily invented. I think it would be much better to make Camera Upgrades playable only in specific locations, that would give more significance to those locations.
The mechanics in this game aren´t new, but they work. They are primarily focused on simplicity. You have to make choices often playing your cards and deciding your moves. The ghosts can stop you, but they often give you points if you defeat them, so playing a ghost onto you or onto someone else is a common, funny decision. Capturing the correct ghosts can make you win the game. Fatal Frames is quite strategical to be a light game, although it´s still a light game. There is a mid-level randomization (luck factor) involved: In final turns, tipically every player is confronting a Boss, and victory goes to the first that makes a lucky roll.
This game is easier to learn than other games with the same depth. The learning curve is very short, first because it´s simple, and second because it´s very well presented and it makes you want to try it.
The computer game atmosphere is well catched in the gameplay and graphic design. However, after some plays you´ll find that the "survival-horror" concept is missing, as you cannot die. When you lose the combat with a ghost, you choose not to move or not to play, that´s all. Some creepy ghosts can give you a worse punishment, as losing a turn or forcing you to discard your entire hand, but overall, the worst thing a ghost can make you is waste your time. This is fine because a player cannot be eliminated (and stay bored until the game ends). But, when the players discover that no one can die, gameplay goes happily, without tension. In a "survival-horror" themed game, this is bad.
There is lack of interaction between players. Players can play action cards and ghosts in other players freely, but when two little girls are in the same map area, nothing special happens. The only "interaction" you can arrange by the presence of your character onto another is when you are fleeing from a Chaser Ghost, bringing that Ghost to the same area as another player. But nothing else! It´s a pity, because some interesting rulings could have been made between two characters at the same area (card or item trading or stealing, for example).
The cards are presented in very high quality PDF archives. You have to print and cut the cards on your own. They are 6 cards per sheet. I think 9 cards per page would have fitted, reducing the number of pages, but with 6 cards, there is enought space in each page to be labelled and numbered, which is very useful in the assembly.
The artistic level of the cards is high. The images are screenshots from the game or official pics from Techmo (the PS2 game publisher). However, mixing and arranging the cards, selecting an appropiate font and designing the card layout is a hard work, and it has been cleverly made. I had only two complaints about the printing: the font "Miserable" doesn´t print correctly the apostrophe (') in my cards (could it be problem of mine, as I´m from Europe and I use a different keyboard-mapping? dunno). And the second: action and ghost cards have their stats at the bottom, and if you use Deck-Sleeves, the white flashy dot of the sleeve always overlaps with a stat, and you have to partially unsleeve the card in order to read it.
There aren´t any PDF-format downloadable rules, they are only in HTML format. I find this strange, as the rest of the game´s presentation is superb.
Honestly, this game is much better than lots of company games I have bought. Congratulations for the designer!
From 1 to 10:
GAMEPLAY DESIGN: 7
ART DIRECTION: 8
GAME ADAPTATION: 9
(Edited 1 time, added a paragraph for better comprehension)
- Last edited Wed Oct 4, 2006 11:35 am (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Tue Oct 3, 2006 8:30 pm
Thanks for pointing this game out!
I played both FF1 and FF2. FF2: Crimson Butterfly is an outstanding video game; very scarey. Thanks for the review. I didn't even know this game existed.
Having played the first two games in the series I just had to have this one. It really seems to catch the atmosphere of the game!
Any idea how players who have not played any of the videogames feels about the cardgame?
In fact, I played the cardgame before playing the videogame. I knew the existence of the videogame because a friend talked to me about it, but I never played it.
Some weeks after I found "Project Zero 2: Crimson Butterfly" (Fatal Frame 2) and I bought it from second-hand, obviously influenced by the cardgame.
In my country, Spain, the gaming industry is small. We get published only the most commercial games, which normally are too easy and have beautiful artwork but cheap design. I don´t like that stuff: I prefer interesting or original mechanics, and I often have to buy games from other countries (Germany and USA, mostly). I love the internet print-and-play free games, because they never have to be adapted to a market specification. They haven´t been revised by a company, and their designer controls everything in the production and is very motivated, because gets the best payment of all: having fun. Not all free games are good, but I think it´s worth searching for the good ones. And this time I found a good one.