...easy ...easy ...eeesay...
This was high on my Essen pick up list, and was, in fact, my first purchase of the first day. It later sold out, so I felt pretty vindicated by my headlong charge through to Hall 3.
The game is in the general mould of hidden movement games like Scotland Yard, Letters from Whitechapel, and Nuns on the Run. There's no Fury of Dracula combat here, just pure hide and seek, with encounters between Maniac and campers producing an instant result. For the campers, movement is open and on the game board. They navigate using a system of dots to measure their steps. The Maniac uses the hidden movement mechanic by noting where they are behind a hidden screen, using the numbered track on the game board which crosses over with, but is not the same as the tracks used by the campers. Campers get up to two moves per turn, the Maniac gets only one, but the spacing between numbers and dots is not the same, meaning both sides need to plan carefully and use the map, which actually does have topography that matters.
The twist with the game is that it is divided into four 'chapters' which vary the gameplay. In chapter one, the campers have to make it to their cabins safely while the killer stalks them. The Maniac revels where he was three steps earlier every three moves. But in chapter two, the killer is the hunted, and must try to avoid being caught as daylight breaks. He's easier to spot in the morning light, and must reveal where he is, not where he was, every three turns. This totally switches the tension around, and the pattern is repeated in chapters three and four.
Each chapter also has different conditions for what happens when Maniac and campers cross paths (literally). In chapter one, the campers die. In chapter two, the maniac 'dies' (of course he's not dead, have you ever SEEN a slasher movie?). In chapter three the campers can 'push' the maniac back if they cross him, though he can keep coming and he can kill them if he crosses them. In chapter four, the campers block maniac movement. In addition, the delicious rule of 'the predestined' changes the role of protagonist and antagonist even further. Whomever ends chapter two closest to the maniac, or 'kills' the maniac if they manage it, becomes the chosen one (and switches their coloured pawn for a white pawn... slasher movie fans should already be amused), and are the 'designated survivor' who can kill the maniac outright to end the game in chapter four.
Additionally, though, in another excellent little game twist, there is also a 'solo chapter mode' that allows each of these scenarios to play as a single game, with slightly altered rules, so you're not locked into a full play through.
Enough with the rules. We finally got this to table last evening in Dublin, and everyone had a blast. I played the maniac, and five others played campers. We started with no sense of whether we would get just one chapter in or get through the whole thing. We got through it all in about three hours, with about a half hour of rules to start with. The box says 45 mins per chapter, so that was pretty much bang on, and we didn't feel it was time wasted on a fun game evening that had already included a few warm ups.
It plays quite quickly once you begin to understand the flow of it. There aren't many fiddly rules even though there are those varying rulesets as the chapters go on. Picking up items is just walking over them, item use is pretty straightforward (use an item, discard the token) and usually pretty intuitive (lanterns throw light on adjacent spaces, shovels allow campers to bury corpses, bear traps... well, they're bear traps, what do you reckon you'd do with one in this situation?...). It's all extremely thematic, both in rules and in visual design. The board is nice and large, but incredibly claustrophobic in play. It's dark enough for atmosphere but clearly readable and evokes the setting perfectly. There's a large lake that can be traversed by boat by campers or underwater for the undead maniac, there's a labyrinthine graveyard with lots of movement points in it, a camper van spot for new arrivals, double sided cabins that are placed one side up depending on who opens them (if the maniac opens the cabin with his axe, it stays dark, if the campers unlock it, it's lit) and lots of humour in the character cards that doesn't take away from the game's overall suspense. Your camper can die, and you have to sit it out until the next chapter if that happens. The guy or girl in the image may look like the easy meat and make you laugh, but you'll want to keep them alive just the same. The characters do have abilities, but this isn't an RPG. The replacement characters you'll take for the next chapter if one dies will also have abilities, and you'll still be able to pick up tokens (unless you're the dog: no Sparky issues here).
What was interesting to me as the maniac is that I wasn't really playing all that well, not really using the map properly and wasting my ability tokens in chapter one because I didn't really understand the flow of the game or the map yet, BUT, the campers were in constant suspense. Because I sat there quietly smiling, they assumed I was right on their heels and about to strike. When I didn't, they were just more paranoid and confused. Once the maniac player keeps their cool like this and isn't groaning with exasperation about how badly it's going, the game retains its suspense even when no one dies! I eventually did manage to start killing them off in chapter three, and they seemed genuinely excited and urgently engaged as we hit chapter four and they tried to herd me towards the Predestined with their 'new arrival' characters (including the promo dog, whose ability is actually pretty good).
I think any slasher fan is going to enjoy this game. It's just tongue-in-cheek enough to be fun, but there's also lots of thematic tension if the players are into it too. As a game in itself, it's a clever re-think of some familiar hidden movement elements, nicely produced with easy enough rules to play out of the box, as we did, even with an inexperienced maniac. Now, if the theme is objectionable to you, well it's a no-brainer that you should steer clear, but again, it's hard not to resist bursting into a chorus of "I would've gotten away with it too if it weren't for those meddling kids, and their stupid dog" when you lose as the Maniac, which I did.
The one thing I would recommend is finding something to replace the in-game pawns. Meeples will do, but try to find one that's slightly different for the maniac, just for atmosphere. The camper pawns that come with the game look like Stan Marsh from South Park, and I just couldn't get past that. Easily fixed, though.
Thanks for your first impressions.
Playing in the manic role is not easy, but you'll see that doing more matches to beat the maniac deteriorating for the campers. Manage well the distribution of initial tokens (tent) and not limit yourself to put your keys on the opposite side of the color of the respective cabin, but try for example to put a couple of keys a little closer to their cabins and you'll see ... This it is a game where strategy and the choices of the participants change much the outcome of the match and I hope that it's good to always have several matches. In the many matches we played at "Lucca Comics and Games" the maniac has managed in some cases to kill all the campers in the first chapter! Remember the "Murderous Fury" (after you kill a camper take immediate additional steps ... ;-) I await impatiently your gaming opinions after other matches;-) Thanks.
P.S. Escuse for my terrible english