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Simon Lundström
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Surprisingly neat thinker with horror theme

a review of Bump in the Night

Introduction
I am one of those who like Twilight Creations games, though I rarely am caught playing them. I like the themes, the arts and, the style, and I really want to like the games too. I started out with Zombies!!! and I also bought When Darkness Comes, liking both, or rather wanting to like them more than I actually did. I got Mmm… Brains! because it was cheap and figured that blah, this was not half as fun as that other dice game by Knizia, where you bought roasted maggots instead.

So, I found this fabulous game shop in Cambridge that saved me the Christmas as I found the perfect Christmas present for my nephew (Ricochet Robots) and the Christmas party game (Ca$h'n'gun$) so I wanted to buy something extra just to reward the shop. I ended up with Bump in the Night, half thinking that I had bought a game that I wanted to like more than I actually did. This time, though, I found I was wrong. This review is after two plays.

What's in the box?
6 sturdy cardboard tiles that you lay out 2x3 to form the haunted house.
52 cards. Sturdy cards. Frankly, a bit too sturdy. Really. They're hard to shuffle.
50 plastic minis of which 14 girls, and 6 sets of 6 monsters.
Rulebook

The components are, shortly, fantastic. Much more than I expected. Top quality. Cards could have been a bit floppier. And the box is a bit too big, with a senseless paper insert. Sigh.

Brief game overview
In Bump in the Night, each player controls a set of monsters that are placed in a haunted house and used to scare the fourteen girls that have dared to enter. The goal of the game is to get five points, and points you get by either scaring a girl shitless, or scaring her so that she flees out of the house. The trick, however, is that you can't just take monster and have it enter a room with girls and think that's enough - no, they'll just scream a little, leave the room and that's that. In order to really scare the girls, you need to have them run through several rooms, encountering more monsters as they run. And the girls move according to a certain set of rules - for one thing, if there is a monster-less room they can go to, they will go there. In order to have them enter a room with another monster in it (and thus scare them more), you have to lock doors and block their escape routes, and force them in to room after room with monster - making good use of your opponent's monsters and your cards while doing it. Only then will you scare them enough to earn you points.

All six monsters each player controls have different abilities, they make the girls they scare run less or more, they can have you lock or unlock extra doors, one can move through walls and so on.

This makes up for a tactical out-think-your-opponent(s) game which is much more neat than I had dared think.

Rules summary
Now, this is a chapter for itself. I rarely complain about bad rulebooks. People hate the Return of the Heroes rulebook, and yeah, it wasn't great, but at least I understood. For Ghost Stories, I had a hard time, but after a while I got it. With this however, a combination of strange game concept, explanations left out, and weird terminology actually had me scratch my head and it wasn't until I checked BGG and the designer's replies here that I finally got it. As soon as I got it, it was something of a "aha, OK NOW I get it!" sort of logic to the whole thing, but the rule book itself made a very bad job helping me get it. Some important stuff was explained just as a parenthesis, and as I said, the choice of words for the terminology was… downright bad. But anyway, after a while I got it.

There are some rules for randomizing the setup, but the rulebook explains at least that part well. What you're sitting with after setup is a haunted house with a lot of rooms and corridors and doors, and 6 differently sized groups of girls, gathered in different rooms. And each player places their goblin (one of the six monsters) in an empty hallway and gets three cards, and you're ready to go.

On each turn, a player gets to do five things in a certain order (all are optional):
1) Lock or unlock a door by placing or removing a lock marker on the door. No girls or monsters can go through a locked door (except for the ghost)
2) Place or move one of his/her monsters (monster cannot be placed directly into a room with girls in it)
3) Scare a group of girls: Say "boo" with one (and only one) of his monsters, if the monster is in a room with girls in it. This is the main action and the rules for this was what made me scratch my head, more on that below. It's during this phase that the active player can play action cards that affect the girls' movement amongst other things, and it's also during this phase that the players earn points.
4) After the Scare, he may move one of his monsters or one girl (not into a room with monsters) one room.
5) Play block card(s), i.e. cards that mess up for your opponents, like removing monsters and so on. These cards can't be played during your turn, but only at the end of your turn.

Scaring the girls and how the girls run
As I explained above, the idea isn't to just scare the girls, or even scare them into a dead-end with locked doors - that won't gain you any points. What you should do is force them to run into rooms with more monsters in - and that you can only do by locking the doors and/or placing monsters tactically, prior to the "boo".

Each monster has a "scare" value. The cat has 0, the Poltergeist has 1, the Spectre of Death has 3 and so on. If the room you're saying "boo" in has a skull mark, that adds 1 to the "scare". If it's just one lonely girl you're scaring, you get another +1 scare. And if it's a group of girls, the Scare value gets reduced (they're less scared if they're many).
The final Scare value is the number of total Free Moves for the girl group. (I could, here, explain why I found this terminology confusing, but I've already complained about that, so never mind. Read on.)

As a monster says "boo" like this, the girl(s) get an initial so called "terror value" of 1, and will (regardless of the scare value/free moves) run away, until they reach a room without monsters, following their movement rules where the active player has limited amount of choice. The goal of this phase of the game is to have the girls to either run out of the house, or to run into new rooms with monsters, increasing their terror value until it reaches 5, in which case they… well, the rule book doesn't say exactly what happens then, but I take it they faint or wet themselves or whatever. In both cases, the girl(s) are removed from the board and the active player gets them as points.

The girls' movement rules can be summarized with this sentence: "If there is an unlocked exit to a monster-free room, the girls will run there, unless they already have been in that room during the current run." The girls will never run back into a room where they've just been, and they can never run through locked doors. The only situation where the active player can control where the girl(s) run, is if there are several monster-free rooms to choose from, or if there are no monster-free rooms, but several monster-infested rooms to choose from.

Each time the girls are forced to enter a room with another monster, their terror level is increased by 1. Also, if this monster is of a colour they haven't encountered yet during this run (i.e. another player's monster) their terror level gets another +1. So, there is a very strong incentive for forcing girls into rooms with your opponents' monsters.

The girls will run this way until they 1) reach an empty room, or 2) run out of the house or 3) wet themselves (their terror level reaches 5). The outside of the house counts as having a monster in it, so even if you force the girls into the entrance hallway, you need to have all other ways blocked my monsters or locked in order for the girls to run out.

Once the girls reach an empty room, you get to use the so called "free moves" (if any) that were caused by the initial "scare value" (not to be mixed together with the "terror value"). The "free moves" is more sort of "extra running" that you get because the initial monster was so scary that some girls continue running even though they actually reached safety. However, the "free moves" don't count for the whole group. Let's say you had a Spectre of Death, with scare value 3, He scared a group of 3 girls, and three together means a –1 for the scare, causing a total scare value of 2. The girls run away until they reach an empty room. Now, you can move either two of these girls another one step each, or one of the girls another two steps, always following the normal movement rules. These "free moves" have to be used, unless the girls can't move at all (for example, if they're in a dead end). If the girl(s) you move using the "free moves" are forced to enter a room with another monster, their terror is increased again, and they will again run and run and run until they reach an empty room again, at which point you can continue using your "free moves" if you have any left. Or, put in other words, the "free moves" are the amount of times you can move a girl out of a monster-free room during the Scare phase.

So, if you got some nice initial scare value, even if you haven't blocked enough exits to get the whole group of girls to wet themselves, perhaps you can cause one lone girl to run out or into rooms with more stuff in, earning at least one point or two.

If you at all said "boo" during your turn, you get to draw one card. Also, each time another player does a "boo" and has the girl(s) run into a room with your monster in it (thus earning him extra terror value) you get to draw one card. There is no hand limit.

Game continues until one player has amassed five points, thus declaring him or her the winner.

Verdict
From the box back, I gathered as much as this wasn't an ordinary "only theme" horror game from Twilight Creations, but I hadn't expected this. Frankly, the game-play mostly reminds me of Drakon - it's the same "now we have to gang up on that guy, because see, if he does that, and locks that door and moves that guy there, he can scare that group of three all that way, so you need to unlock that door or at least move your bat to the kitchen or…" style of gameplay. Or you could say it's a "try to keep track of the other players' possibilities" type of game. Unlike Drakon, though, it's highly playable on two players, where it more reminds me of Dungeon Twister, albeit with a rather decisive random hidden element (the cards).

The incentive to use your opponents' monsters as you scare the girls to run is very strong, even if it has your opponent get more cards, and the interactive balance is very well done. There are some killer card combos, the cards unlocking one of the two extra house exits being really powerful, but as long as all players know that those cards are out there, there are always ways to stop players from getting a real huge amount of points in one go.

The monsters' special abilities are nicely balanced and they work great. The poltergeist's ability to lock/unlock an extra door, the ghost's ability to walk through walls, the spectre's high scare and terror value, the goblin's ability to hide, they're all well thought out, and intriguing.

The rulebook was hard to understand at a simple read, but once the lights were on, I have to admit it's pretty clear what the designer had in mind. The only place where the theme doesn't work is that scaring the girls into dead-ends is worthless – really, that should be pretty scary. Or at least, I think so. But I guess the game wouldn't work then. I won't say the rulebook stinks totally, but mixing "scare" with "terror" and not wording out exactly that "free moves" meant was confusing. Just replacing the word "free moves" with "extra run points" would have made life easier, seriously, and I'd liked a more solid statement in what way "automatic moves" and "free moves" really were, though I finally figured it out.

All in all, I was very pleasantly surprised at this game. It feels like a weird abstract, yet the theme works very well, doesn't feel pasted on, and the whole idea of scaring girls to run around in a house is hilarious. It plays quick, it's fun for 2 players and still works for more, and almost changes game style in the process, the 2-player game being a cold tactic, the 3-4 player game feeling like Drakon and 5–6 players (I can only imagine) being a total hilarious chaos.

This is by far the most playable thing I've picked up from Twilight Creations yet (meaning Zombies!!!, When Darkness Comes and Mmm… Brains). The feel of an abstract makes it not really my cup of tea, but the idea is great, the gameplay is nice, and most of all, the rules (albeit hard to understand at first) are solid and the game feels very "complete". Expansions? There's no need. The modular board, the randomization of the girl groups and the different feel for different number of players makes this really variable just out of the box.
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Barry Kendall
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Good solid review, I think you nailed it just right.

My only quibble is with the figures of the girls. I'm always a little troubled by the notion of putting small children in trouble (especially for fun) and I was astonished that the figures depict, not teenagers too nosy (or daring) for their own good, but a preadolescent with a stuffed animal.

I could enjoy monstrous mayhem much more mortifying maturing Marys.
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"Every Board Game I Reach Is Dead"
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What!? The kid figures are great! We even used them for victims in Horrorclix too. devil

Good review- the other major rules mistake they made that you forgot to mention was that on the cheat sheets it says the kids terror increases when they run into a new colour of monster or/and a new TYPE of monster, where the designer actually says the terror is meant to go up for EVERY monster you run into not just if it's a new type...shake goo
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Jonas Salonen
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How deep is the game compared to Zombies? I mean, Zombies was fun for about two games but after that it became a pretty boring dice-fest, in my opinion. Maybe the biggest problem was that in Zombies!!! the game didn't end very easily and could take hours to come to a conclusion. it was like "oh, now there are 10 zombies between me and the helipad, I kill three of them but oh no, now there are 15 zombies!".

After reading your review the game seems pretty interesting but does it get boring as quickly as Zombies!!! did? It seems you liked this game better than Zombies!!! but is it just because you want to like this too?

Oh, and thanks for a good review!

EDIT: And no, I'm not looking for a really deep game with this one, just a little more interesting than Zombiess!!! was...
 
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Simon Lundström
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The game is pretty much not comparable at all to Zombies!!! to be honest.
My problem with Zombies!!! is that I very much like the zombie horror flick theme, but the victory conditions were unsatisfactory. I immediately felt Something Better could be done with the components, and started inventing house rules for combat, victory, whatever.

Bump in the Night didn't trigger that at all. It felt like a complete game that had no use for house rules. After three or four games that went very quickly I thought "OK, I think I start to understand how to read this game". There is much going on, and seeing the possibilities in advance takes a couple of games.

Zombies!!! is a game where you walk around shooting zombies with your shotgun, rolling dice. Basically, it's a race to the finish where you do little to affect your opponent. Bump in the Night is a game where you tactically place monsters to be able to cause chain reaction effects, all the while hindering your opponent(s) to do the same. No dice. Your every move should be done with the awareness on how your opponents could use your monsters for their benefit. Completely different games.

Easily put, though, I prefer Bump in the Night before Zombies!!! That said, I'm still working on Zombies!!! houserules to get "the game I want" from that too. They scratch totally different itches. Sometimes I want to simulate a zombie flick, shooting my way forward in a zombie-infested town. Sometimes I want to outsmart my opponents and scare kids
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Jonas Salonen
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Zimeon wrote:
The game is pretty much not comparable at all to Zombies!!! to be honest.
My problem with Zombies!!! is that I very much like the zombie horror flick theme, but the victory conditions were unsatisfactory. I immediately felt Something Better could be done with the components, and started inventing house rules for combat, victory, whatever.

Bump in the Night didn't trigger that at all. It felt like a complete game that had no use for house rules. After three or four games that went very quickly I thought "OK, I think I start to understand how to read this game". There is much going on, and seeing the possibilities in advance takes a couple of games.

Zombies!!! is a game where you walk around shooting zombies with your shotgun, rolling dice. Basically, it's a race to the finish where you do little to affect your opponent. Bump in the Night is a game where you tactically place monsters to be able to cause chain reaction effects, all the while hindering your opponent(s) to do the same. No dice. Your every move should be done with the awareness on how your opponents could use your monsters for their benefit. Completely different games.

Easily put, though, I prefer Bump in the Night before Zombies!!! That said, I'm still working on Zombies!!! houserules to get "the game I want" from that too. They scratch totally different itches. Sometimes I want to simulate a zombie flick, shooting my way forward in a zombie-infested town. Sometimes I want to outsmart my opponents and scare kids


Great, thanks! That really answered my question. Yeah, I know that feeling with Zombies!!!, I hoped too, that the game would have been something more, as the components are pretty good. And I too enjoy the zombie theme and therefore got myself Last Night on Earth which is a bit more complex or deeper.
 
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Ole Steiness
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Thank you for this nice review. I just picked up the game at Essen '11 and only tried half a game (but look forward to playing it more tonight).

I just wanna say that I totally agree about the rules issue. I read rules and design games, and still I had to go through parts of the rules three times to fully understand what they meant to have said (and not what actually was printed there).

But your review already helps understanding the game rules better. They really are simple, when it comes to it

It seems like a great game, and I was pleasantly surprised with all the nice plastic figures....
 
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