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Christmas. A time of family, of joy, of hope. A time to believe. To believe that we could actually put an end to the accursed evil that walks the Middle Kingdom known as Wu Feng.
How wrong we were, how very wrong.
I had the chance to play four games of Ghost Stories over the recent holiday with various family members. We played three 3-player games and one 4-player game. We never even saw Wu Feng.
The closest we came was having only three ghost cards left before facing the evil one. We had fought smartly and bravely but one by one, our Taoists fell as their qi was sapped by the onslaught of ghosts. Towards the end of the game one of our Taoists died, leaving me and the other player with a hard choice of whether to attempt to resurrect the player or keep on battling.
We wanted to to travel to the cemetery and bring our comrade back to life. In fact, we realized that we needed to in order to have a shot. But we had several haunters out and we already had one or two tiles haunted. We couldn't risk it. And so we spent our turns battling ghosts, hoping in vain that we would find an opening to bring our partner back to life. But after we exorcised one ghost, another came out and that one caused yet another to come on the board. And so it spiraled. We fought and we died.
Another game was also very close, with us around five or so cards away from battling Wu Feng. However, one of the Taoists came across an incredibly bad string of luck, failing three exorcism rolls in a row. They needed to get one red symbol on the dice and each time they came up different colors. Devastating.
Our worst defeat was actually with a full complement of four players. That game we were haunted fairly early with something around fifteen ghost cards before we would have reached Wu Feng.
At the end of our fourth battle, one of the group was hoping they would never have to play this game again, while me and another person were ready to play for a fifth time. “It's Christmas, we have to beat Wu Feng!”
The fact that I played four games over two days and was still ready and willing to play again just cements this as one of my top ten games. Maybe I'm something of a masochist, but there's just something satisfying about breaking this game out, doing your absolute best, and still getting beat down. Losing never feels cheap in Ghost Stories. Incredibly rough sometimes, but not cheap.
I've read online that some people say this game gets easy to figure out after you've played it a few times. Well, I've played over 20 multiplayer games and several single player games (all on “normal”) and I have won once, so I must be an incredibly slow learner. However, this is a game where you get better the more you play and I generally play with different people and don't like making other people's moves for them, so many of my groups may not play optimally all the time.
But I also feel like in Ghost Stories it is rare to have a move that is clearly the best. I'm sure you could statistically break down many decisions. But going off of gut feelings, experience and basic math - most of the time there are at least two or three moves that are all somewhat viable on your turn. This is one of the reasons I really like this game, when I'm generally not a fan of cooperative titles.
Tough choices, great artwork and components, variable set up and a real challenge. All of these are present every time I play Ghost Stories, and I look forward to many more games. I'm hoping my win ration goes up eventually, but I'll have fun even if it doesn't.
With my first few games of Ghost Stories, I tended to attempt exorcisms more often, often ignoring some of the village tiles such as Pavilion of the Heavenly Wind and the Buddhist Temple. However, as I've played more and more I've come to appreciate just how important each village tile can be and of the importance of having enough dao, attempting double exorcisms and teaming up with other Taoists on the same tile in order to share dao. It certainly feels like I'm playing smarter... but only time will tell.
The only other person who played in all four games seems to think that there are some Taoist powers that are clearly superior to others. I think they're all pretty equal, but his picks were: Red Taoist (move another player), Green Taoist (extra die and no roll on the curse die). He thought the Yellow and Blue Taoists powers were tougher to call, but gave a slight edge to Yellow (enfeeblement mantra) and Blue (double up on either the village or the exorcism).
Of course, we picked randomly each time, because those are the rules!
Wu Feng may have dampened the holiday spirit this year, but I have a feeling that in 2016 we will be celebrating the season by sending him back to Hell!