"Relax," said the night man. "We are programmed to receive, you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave." The Eagles, Hotel California
Your eyelids are heavy, you've been driving all night, and because you went left when you really shouldn't have, and then because the battery died on your phone you lost your way. Behind schedule, in the middle of nowhere, you stop to rest for the night at a delightful, ivy-covered bed and breakfast. The warm yellow glow of lights in the window, the cheerful and friendly blue door invite you in. And yet, your skin crawls, something screams inside you to run, hide, tear away from this place and never look back. But...but you’re just so tired.
Welcome, to Dead & Breakfast. If that introduction sounds all too heavy and morbid just take one quick glance at this delightful artwork from Louis Durrant and you'll realise I'm simply been melodramatic. In this game of tile placement you'll be building up the most horrible and frightening of hotels, by ensuring you have the most elaborate and cohesive array of ghouls, ghosts, witches, and cursed dolls to scare even the hardiest of lone travellers, but at the same time trying to ensure the outside of your hotel looks as inviting as possible, with long, continuous vines of flowering ivy.
Dead & Breakfast is wonderfully simple to teach, and equally quick to get started, turning devilishly taxing. You’ll build a hotel in a grid of five by five, selecting double window tiles from a central pool, placing them next to an existing tile to create your hotel tableau. Once a row is completed you’ll select one of the four available guests waiting for a room, and you’ll cover one of your windows with this guest, each of which is terrified by one of your creatures in either the row or column in which they’re placed.
You'll score points in two (three, if using the bonus cards) ways, the ‘biggest’ and most obvious method is your ill-fated guests. By aligning your guests in a row and/or column that has those beasties you'll score points, potentially lots of points. However, equally, as important though is your second source of points: flowers (obviously these are scary flowers as is fitting of a haunted hotel). Each hotel lobby (the brightly coloured front door) needs to be offset in the most delightfully twee way with flowers of the right colour, so by placing tiles with that colour flower that connect back to your lobby/door, you'll score points. Bonus points, ah well, they’re bonuses for doing stuff aren’t they, like aligning your guest orthogonally, or having your vines spread off the edges of your hotel. These bonuses add an extra layer of strategy and complexity to the game that some may want to help elevate to a more serious game, but there is enough going on without to enjoy the game for most.
The scoring of both the guests and flowers come to a rather lovely juxtaposition. You can't win by solely focusing on one method over the other, although ivy is lower scoring, it is a steady "revenue" of points you can't simply ignore. This scoring balance hangs perpetually in front of you like some malicious spirit, taunting you with good choices, but rarely the perfect collaboration of orientation, creature, vines and flowers, and when it does appear another player, of course, wants it. It is within this delicate balance that this game really shines.
Don’t be lulled into thinking just because it’s cute, and uses a simple tile placement mechanic, and because it’s easy to teach that these things combined make a simple game. With each turn you must make the best decision from those options available, it’s a game or careful, calculated loss, of forward planning, of keeping your options open, but succinct enough that you can close those literal and metaphorical holes in your plan later and maximise your scoring. After a quick rules explanation, I’ve seen players jump straight in, with a clear-cut defined plan of action, only to come stumbling to a halt as by the time it's their turn again the landscape has changed, their plan has to adapt, and much like the ivy that creeps along the walls, it has to grow and change.
The ghost that mournfully meanders around the central pool of visible window tiles will dash your hopes of picking up that which you need. The bonuses demand you sacrifice your optimal placement of guests or creatures with the sweet promises of extra points at the end. The bright, pretty flowers will twist and turn, fighting every attempt to tame them and simply get them where you want. This game wants you to be tricked (or treated) Dead & Breakfast is far more than it seems, it is possessed of a game greater than the mere sum of its components, yet remains ectoplasmically-slick in terms of its rules. You will be beguiled by its charm and its appearance, not noticing its hidden depths until you are a couple of turns in, and by which point it will be too late to escape.
Dead & Breakfast is live on Kickstarter now, and you can even try the game out yourself via Tabletopia.
This review and pictures are based on a review copy of the game, as such the game and components may look different from the final product.
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