I was lucky enough to recently receive Ghost Stories in a math trade. It was a hotly wanted item so I was pleased when it came my way. That was ten days ago... how has it faired initially?
At the moment, I'm playing most games with my two sons aged 11 & 9 but trying to find something that everyone enjoys can be a problem. As soon as my boys heard the theme to this, it became a must-have.
Theme - In the vein of movies such as Encounters of the Spooky Kind, Magic Cop & the Mr. Vampire series, players assume the roles of Taoist Monks charged with protecting a village from the onslaught of an army of ghosts and ultimately the arrival of Wu-Feng, the big bad of the game. The nine locations in the villages each offer an ability for the players to use but are at constant risk from being haunted. The players must work as a team in order to beat the odds that are stacked against them... and they are stacked high.
Components - The player boards, tiles and counters are all heavy card stock and will be durable. The figures are made out of a soft plastic but there is plenty of box space so any damage is unlikely. Dice are plasctic and have a nice weight. The card deck is decent enough quality but I can see heavy play wearing the cards out. They also have black border so I would recommend card sleeves.
A special mention has to be made about the artwork across the whole game which is excellent and invokes the theme very well. The boys have studied most of the cards in detail and 'Great Putrid' is a favourite.
Rules - I won't go into detail as other people have done a far better job in the reviews here. So this is a quick overview.
Each player's turn is split into two phases. The Yin phase deals with the ghost’s side of things. Haunters & Tormentors make their respective move/haunt & roll of the curse die. Player boards that are full of ghosts cost that player a life point. And if not full a new ghost is drawn and added to the game, the location dependant on the colour of the ghost.
The Yang phase allows the player to attempt to take care of the rapidly escalating chaos on the board. He can move to an adjacent village tile, then either use the village tile's ability or attempt to exorcise a ghost from an adjacent player board space, finally you can place a Buddha token on an adjacent space in order to instantly dispatch a ghost that appears there.
The next player then takes their turn... lather, rinse & repeat until you win or lose.
The rulebook isn't the best laid out piece of work, but as I was already interested in the game I was pretty much rules-savvy going into our first game. Someone going in cold will probably have more difficulty. But there is little here to trouble older children (8+) playing with you. It'll probably just take a practice game to get into the swing of things.
Most of our games have been 3 player so I'll mention the Power Tokens that are available without a full compliment of 4. Each player will receive one at the start of the game and this will allow that player to use the power of the neutral board(s). The used token is placed on the middle village tile and can be picked up by any players there on future turns.
Thoughts - It's been a while since I've played a game that was so instantly enjoyable. The puzzle aspect of the proceedings especially appeals to me. The random set-up of the village and the ghost deck ensure plenty of replayability but there are combinations of ghosts that can make things a bit more difficult for the players. This doesn't, in my opinion, detract from the game which is already set at an initially high difficulty level. This is the one thing I was worried about when reading about the game, whether it would be too difficult to win and frustrating for the children. However this hasn't been a problem so far. I have one solo win and the rest of the games have been losses. The boys discuss what we should have done and learn new tactics every game. Each player has a choice of two available powers that their priest can use for the game. The rulebook states that these should be determined randomly but I prefer letting the boys choose and then picking something myself to compliment their choices.
The theme is well integrated and having all the major elements abstracted to basic colours keeping everything moving fast. The boys, being used to watching Hong Kong Kung-Fu movies, visualise the game in that way and a story emerges at the table with teamwork, close-calls, panic & sacrifice (we had a near win when I sacrificed my priest to stop a village tile from being haunted and ending the game. My 9 year old gave me a hug and said "we'll do this for you Dad"). After the end while I tidied up, the boys went into the garden and protected the house from invisible ghosts. You can't argue with a game that stimulates their imagination and brings them back to the house exhausted, ready for supper and bed.
It's a pretty fast-moving game after a couple of games. Our 3 player games tend to clock in around the 40 minute mark, which makes it good on a school night when homework is finished.
I'm rating this a '9' at the moment. If it has longevity then it may hit the coveted '10' spot but currently I'm happy to play it at anytime.
To finish this off, as this has been discussing playing the game with my sons, I thought it may be helpful if they both made a small comment about the game too.
Christian -I love the artwork of the cards and the suspense that it gives you since you don't know what fate (Wu-Feng) you have given yourself and your fellow Kung Fu Priests. HI YA!!!!!
Andrew - There are lots of ghosts and it's a bit complicated on the first game but it's easy to get used to. I think it's cool but hard to beat. The pictures on the ghost cards are cool but some are disgusting.
Excellent review. I have played it four times, love it, and was close to a win, but no cigar! I would really like to play it solo. I don't own the game, but a blonde dude owns it from our Guild and I play his game. I have asked him if I could borrow it to play solo, but he is afraid I will slop coffee or slime the cards with cheeto residue!