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Subject: Story Board reviews: London Dread rss

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Angelus Morningstar
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originally posted here:
http://storyboardwebseries.tumblr.com/post/153655867832/lond...

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Synopsis: You are an investigator in Victorian London. There are dire things here, having thrown their caul over your benighted home. You must work with your other investigators to discover and defeat the evils who lurk in the shadows.

The object of the game roughly conforms to a plot. You must defeat or at least resolve several challenges in a particular order, mounting up towards a final encounter with a principle antagonist. All of your tasks up to this point are mitigating supernatural threats revealed before the end of the game, which all add to the monster’s own power.

As part of set up you will take a number of plot placeholder cards, and intersperse them with a range of dread cards. Each of these are shuffled and distributed across the board to ensure one of these placeholder cards exists in each quadrant of the city, plus one or two more potentially anywhere.

The first task is to discover each of these locations, which are then immediately substituted with plot cards in a particular sequence. During the main phase, these must be dealt with in their particular order, to lead into the end game. While it’s a necessity to discover the plot cards, there is also a risky incentive in revealing the others. For every card left face down contributes two dread to the final encounter. However, dread cards when revealed will contribute more to final total unless resolved.

The dilemma is leave the cards unrevealed for a certain level of dread, or risk revealing the card for something you might be able to defeat but would be worse if you cannot. Naturally, you will reveal some of these cards in the process of your investigation to find plot cards, but the dilemma is still there.

There are two phases to the game, the planning phase and the execution phase. In the planning phase, you have exactly 12 minutes to reveal the various face down cards of London and plan your moves for the day. To plan your activities, you have an action clock and various tokens to indicate which section, and/or location, you will visit in a given hour. So you must program your actions for the day ahead of time. If you require multiple characters to resolve a problem, then you must both be in the same spot at the same hour to resolve.

When time is up, you will step your character tokens across the map in the order you programmed them to follow. Hopefully, the best laid plans of you and your fellow investigators prove fruitful. So much can go wrong in the amount of planning you have, though there are a number of ways you can tap into additional resources to resolve the conflicts you face.

Commentary: London Dread offers me an experience unique among my collection. The individual elements are themselves not unique: Lovecraftian horror, done to death; programmable actions, staple of gaming; Victoriana Britain, popular as hell; real-time gaming elements, been done though not to exhaustion.

However, when you bring all these elements together you think it’s a recipe for disaster, but this actually works in the favour of the game. There is a marvellous and original dynamic here, because the time limit is a constant reminder to pressure you into acting. The demands of acting versus the demand of planning are set in contrast and this contributes to the welcome experience of anxiety underpinning this game.

By the time you’re ready to actually execute your plan, you have already been beset by a tinge of mania, and this colours the encounters lending them a real sense of dread. sense of urgency carries on into the part of the game where you can legitimately slow down, and so it compels the feeling of the narrative while you step through the resolution of each point. This makes the victories incredible high notes and the defeats doubly devastating. Defeat is not the haphazard of misfortune, but the limits of your skill to presage and plan. Your failures are your own mortal foibles.

The biggest limitation to this game is you must understand it as a whole before you can truly play it. You have to understand the end game, and you must understand the consequences of all your choices, before you can properly play. There are no real options to step through as a learning game, unless you are satisfied with learning through trial and error with massive mistakes. I encourage one person to teach themselves the game before they teach others.

Verdict: It’s hard to imagine a way for programmable actions and cooperative games to come together. Clearly London Dread has hit the mark.
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Paul S
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DARK IN HERE, ISN'T IT?
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Really nice review (I like your style - enjoying your commentary-heavy approach).

This is almost a buy for me, but can you say something more about the real-time element? I get the impression from your review that it is a bit different from the usual RT mechanic. Space Alert has pressure applied each moment as the mission progresses; Escape has you rolling just as fast as you can. Whereas, if I read you right, this game has a set time for planning, but no moment-by-moment pressure - is that right? Or do I just need to read the rules?!!
 
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Angelus Morningstar
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I think you summarised the real time element correctly. It's not a constant reaction to chaos as it unfolds, but rather the simultaneous need to plan your actions for the second phase of the game as well as reveal cards. There is method to the madness.
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