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Subject: Color me so far . . . a little disappointed rss

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Ben Stanley
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So, I saw a ton of perfect 10 comments and ratings, an overall score near the top 100 games, and thought the theme looked incredibly fun. I loved the art and color and idea of a tiny 3x3 grid of options.

So I bought the game without having ever played it. I like a good, tough co-op, after all.

I open the box. Let me tell you the first things I notice:

1. More typographical errors in the rulebook then I can remember ever seeing in a final rulebook in my lifetime.
2. Numerous rule ambiguities.
3. Powers that seem, at first blush, to be out of balance.
4. In my printing, the blue player board has only one power! On the back there is a printing of the repeat of one of the sides of the red player board. Has this happened in anyone else's copy of the game?
5. Cheaply made dice which also look to imbue the game with a tremendous amount of randomness and chance (e.g., a third the time, that curse will do nothing to me, but it could haunt a space, rob a qi, add a ghost, or wipe out every single Tao I spent the last several precious turns collecting?!)

So we play. It's interesting, we get crushed about five ghosts before even revealing Wu-Feng, nothing too spectacular, but a reasonable enough time. I pop on to the forums, and what do I read?

6. The powers are indeed as badly out of balance as they seemed to me (some village tiles are signficiantly less useful than others: many are not used, while others are deemed critical; some player powers, like red flight or yellow mantra, are seen as substantially less useful than their counterparts; some are utterly useless in a solo game).
7. Many players are getting rules completely, totally wrong (it's hard to blame them when the rules have been changed and are still far from clear, but some of their interpretations are not even reasonable, and it's amusing to read them come on the forums and tell others how to get better at the game when it comes out that they have been reducing resistances TO 1 rather than BY 1 or some other egregious rule error in their favor).

Someone convince me that Ghost Stories deserves its good ranking and I should keep playing it.
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Jon W
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Blue Steel wrote:
1. More typographical errors in the rulebook....

Yeah, not too good. Try the latest/greatest pdf (version 1.2).
Quote:
2. Numerous rule ambiguities.

Yeah, agreed again, even with the newer rules.
Quote:
3. Powers that seem, at first blush, to be out of balance.

Well, depends on which powers you mean. I think this is fairly asymmetrical, and that's a feature more than a bug. More below on this.
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4. In my printing, the blue player board has only one power!....

That's too bad: mine was fine. I'm sure Asmodee will replace the defective board.
Quote:
5. Cheaply made dice which also look to imbue the game with a tremendous amount of randomness....

Yes, a lot of randomness, but most of the game is figuring out how to leave as little to chance as possible, and taking the right risks instead of bad ones. It's not as random as it looks at first. If you're losing all your Tao very often, and had a lot to lose, that was a risk you shouldn't have taken; have the guy without tokens take that chance, assuming it has to be taken at all.
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6. The powers are indeed as badly out of balance as they seemed to me....

I agree that they should have made every board useful in each context (the Cemetery in solo is egregious, and Night Watchman? please...). And with White Moon, Green's re-roll is just plain too strong. But I don't agree that "the forums" are unified in terms of the overall imbalances. Some of it is just asymmetry, and actually makes it more interesting in some ways (when should I use the Tea House?). Yellow Mantra is better than it seems at first, and Red Flying can actually be decent, but you have to use him very interactively with the rest of the team.
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7. Many players are getting rules completely, totally wrong....

True, and it is a problem. I still wonder, after many games, about an edge case here or there. However...
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Someone convince me that Ghost Stories deserves its good ranking and I should keep playing it.

The ranking, I don't know...it's a peculiar game. I'm surprised it's as high as it is. Local atmosphere and color? I've already gone on too long with this, but here are three things I love about the game. Maybe you'll identify with them and want to go further.

Counterintuitive: I'm not sure how to describe this, except to say that there are a lot of little decision points that seem obvious but aren't. You get pushed into taking a lot of "reasonable" chances, but I have found, perhaps more in this game than just about any I've played, that my usual hunches are not correct. Which is very appealing, in a way, as it leads to....

Variability: The powers, their relative order, the board setup, the ghost deck order: all lead to different games. And rarely, I have to admit, unplayable ones. But after at least a hundred games, it still surprises me, and that's a huge feature.

Operational: It's not a strategic game, in that you can't make truly game-spanning plans. But it's not entirely tactical either, in that you often need to sequence 3-5 turns very precisely. So I'm not sure what to call it, but maybe this old wargame term fits.

Not sure any of that will change your mind, but there's definitely more to this game than meets the eye after one playing. I think even most strong critics of the game would agree with that.
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Brent Mair
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It looks to me like you have some valid complaints. The misprinted board is certainly an issue, and the ambiguous rules and typos are certainly obstacles to getting into the game.

But what it really comes down to is do you like the game? I don't want to excuse the publisher for the mistakes. They could and certainly should do better. But you already own the game. Are you going to play it or not?

Since this game is cooperative I don't have any issues with the random and unbalanced elements of the game. Co-ops need randomization so that the game stays fresh and the play doesn't stagnate. Will some setups be harder to win than others? Yes. Will there be some games where six bad rolls in a row kills your chance of success? Yes. Does that make the game bad? Not in my opinion. I love the underdog role. Give me the weak taoists, the wrong tile in the center, and random rolls and card flips and I'm a happy man.

I haven't played many games recently but you have awakened in me a desire to play this again.
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Michael J
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I don't think this game is a "10", but I certainly enjoy it. The rules as written were ambiguous and poorly drafted as you suggest, but don't let that stop you from enjoying the game. Get passed the rules, and judge the game on its merits. Yes, we'd all like perfect rules, but if I had to choose, I'd rather have good games with poor rules than no good games at all.

Regarding luck and randomness and extreme punitive die-rolls... As you gain more experience, you'll learn to mitigate some of these (not all, but some). For example, if there is a ghost with a curse ability on it, you probably don't want to attack it with the player that has the most tao tokens unless that player is green and can re-roll the curse die (because yes, the loss of tao tokens roll is by far the hardest in the game to overcome IMO). Additionally, like many push-your-luck games, you don't want to hang on to your tao tokens indefinitely. You need to be using these, combining with other players, and systematically killing ghosts.

Overall, you don't want to attack a ghost unless you are nearly guaranteed to kill it. This is critical to reduce luck in the game (a big part of this game is just that: figuring out how to mitigate the luck). You can't take too many wild shots at exorcisms if you expect to win. You'll have to take a few, but for the most part it is more important to make every turn count than it is to get lucky every once in a while.

I have seen many discussions about out-of-balance powers, and I think that some of these are true, but like all other games with complex strategies, some powers are better in some circumstances, and others in other circumstances. Additionally, players don't always take advantage of certain powers correctly. It's a groupthink thing, and there are many discussions regarding the same powers opposite of the other discussions.

Hopefully you can get passed the rulebook and play the game you hoped you could play when you bought it. Otherwise, it should be easy trade bait.

Good luck!

Mike
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Christian Sperling

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Hi Ben!
I can understand your disappointment if you recognize most of the weak points of that game all together at once.

Yes, the rules are a mess and also reading them parallel in different languages is not helpful all the time!
I spend some hours in advance looking up a couple of threads to be prepared and still had some questions. Luckily there are many very good summaries of FAQs and Helpguide-sheets for beginners to start a bit less unfrustrated!
I think, NOBODY played Ghost stories the right way in his first games...it takes some rounds to get routine.

Your printing errors are a sad thing but I read that the customer service should be quick and generous.

Yes again, some village tiles are more useful than others and rolling the curse die can quickly cause a loss of the game but even if I was frustrated about losing a Qi or whatever, it didn`t make me leaving the gameboard but thinking about strategies which avoid rolling the die more than necessary or beeing able to calculate the consequences of a die roll in advance!

Now the positive things of Ghost stories which are the reason the game is ranked so high:

I like the flexibility that every game has other start conditions when changing the position of the village tiles, the taoist`s abilities, etc. .
The difficulty level is very adjustable. There are a lot of possiblities to make it slightly easier or more difficult to win.

The two most convincing elements of Ghost stories are for me:
It is the hardest game to win I know and you can always increase the level up to "hot hell" (starting with only 2Qi each) or still higher if you liked your ass kicked and added to that Ghost stories has the best working, challenging single modus I have seen around!
I bought the base game together with the White Moon expansion and the small Guardhouse expansion and after about 7 games I know that I can play dozen of rounds and will still discover new clever strategies and start variants which change the game the way that it feels different!

Personally, I like the fact that there are many threats (ghosts) which appear randomly but often you can decide on which board on which position to put them. That gives you more control and allows a bit of planning in advance.
Also if some options seem to be more powerful than others you will appreciate to have them available from time to time and they can save your toaist`s or villager`s life!

There are not many games out there next to Ghost stories I felt such a satisfaction after winning against all the evil Wu-Feng incarnations.

Don`t judge the game too early - manage some wins on nightmare or hell level, than you have a deeper insight and can rate the game fairly!

Have fun!!

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Ben Stanley
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Thanks for all the great responses. We played a second time, and we actually got Wu Feng onto the board, but unfortunately the incarnation came in a series of "extra ghost" flips, and was the Dark Mistress with the power to block Tao use (I think that was the name, same evil power as the black widow), right when we had things set up to take out several ghosts with some Tao chips and focus on the big bad. We lost to hauntings because we could no longer banish the ones we had planned to take out.

I appreciate all the good advice, and recognize the game is about matching up the right player to the right target (green gets most the tormentors, for example) and mitigating risk as much as possible, but I am still at the stage where I see a very high level of chance.

I suspect I should have started with a 4 player game (we did 2 first and then 3). I won't trade away or return the game yet, and each of your endorsements really are encouraging, but it was, shall I say, different than my expectations upon first checking it out.

I have emailed the publisher about the misprinted blue player board. I assume they will fix it and am hopeful they do so quickly.
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Michael J
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Ben, I'm glad you at least gave it another shot. The rules issues can certainly sour one's opinion of any game. Combine that with a printing error like yours, and I can see you starting your rating at -5 before even playing your first game.

There is a fair amount of chance in the game, but it's probably less than you feel like it is. Still, you are drawing cards, and rolling dice. There's only so much that can be done to reduce luck. But as I pointed out, much of the game's difficulty comes from managing the chance elements and mitigating its effect on the outcome.

I'm not sure what your expectations where when you first checked it out, but hopefully you can let go of them and enjoy the game for what it is.
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If you're not playing with the White Moon expansion, give that a try. I found the expansion to give the game a lot more depth and actually make it easier and better balanced. There's a lot more to do and a lot more choices to make. It sounds like a "try" rather than "buy" for you, but see if someone has the expansion and give it at least two plays. The first will be a teaching game, and I found GS in general to be a LOT more fun once every player fully understands what's going on.
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Anson Bischoff
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I wouldn't say that the game is out of balance. It is designed to vary from game to game (which it has to as it is cooperative!) Getting the expansion (and the mini expansions) also adds to this variability. Also, I think the player powers are more evenly balanced with the white moon expansion (the red player went from the character I dreaded receiving to the one I always ask for. As he can move twice, he is able to more easily save villagers and receive artifacts.) The tiles are also a bit more balanced (the graveyard is used much more often) Also, while the tiles are unbalanced, this adds some difficulty with the expansion as some of the most useful tiles are often left out. While the game is 'unbalanced', the result is that you never know what kind of combination you will have to face. Certain monsters on the board at once, combined with missing tiles when you need them adds to the theme of this being a really really tough game. The wonderful thing is, with all the little variables in the game, it still usually seems beatable, while never being easy. Personally, I love it. I'm a huge cooperative gamer (Pandemic, Arkham Horror, Space Alert, Shadows Over Camelot, Red November) and this is one of my absolute favorites. Cooperatives need high amounts of variability or else they become 'solvable'. I'd definitely check out Space Alert as well if you like cooperatives.
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Ben Stanley
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mjacobsca wrote:
There is a fair amount of chance in the game, but it's probably less than you feel like it is. Still, you are drawing cards, and rolling dice. There's only so much that can be done to reduce luck. But as I pointed out, much of the game's difficulty comes from managing the chance elements and mitigating its effect on the outcome.

I recognize and appreciate what you are saying. Still, I wonder if there shouldn't be more ways to "set" dice, or additional wilds (two of the same, wrong color can be used as one of the right color).

When the Dark Mistress appeared in our second game, we suddenly had a ton of extra ghosts because of a freakishly bad string of extra ghost icons on the left stones, and though we had (by dumb luck), the right color in the Prayer Circle, we still needed to roll two of the right colors without any way to use Tao tokens (even though we had a ton of them). I suspect we would have been able to defeat any other incarnation, as we were well stocked for the final fight, but there was nothing we could do against many of the ghosts that showed up at once (since they had 4 resistance and we were denied Tao). Even green was going to be sure to have a statistically tough time banishing the incarnation (had there been time to try), and the rest of us were suddenly useless.

The Tao tokens only mitigate randomness when you are allowed to use them.

kinghenrik wrote:
If you're not playing with the White Moon expansion, give that a try. I found the expansion to give the game a lot more depth and actually make it easier and better balanced. There's a lot more to do and a lot more choices to make. It sounds like a "try" rather than "buy" for you, but see if someone has the expansion and give it at least two plays. The first will be a teaching game, and I found GS in general to be a LOT more fun once every player fully understands what's going on.


I do want to try the expansion. It does seem to offer fun new incredible dangers, risks, and rewards and a few tools to reduce randomness, set dice, or buy time blocking bad effects. What really appeals to me about White Moon is the more unique narrative that would develop in each game as you save some families and lose others, gain different artifacts, and so forth. To me those, and the really nice pieces, would be the reasons to get White Moon, and I could easily see them making a game I am a little torn over become one I love.

I really like Battlestar Galactica because each game is a memorable story in addition to being a tough puzzle. Having the Admiral be a cylon is totally different than when the President was a sleeper agent, or the pilot was a sympathizer. Everything from when cylons reveal to what resource almost (or did) doom humanity feel totally different. If White Moon adds more of that, I will probably pick it up this weekend.

How does Ghost Stories work as Vassal Module? I hve never used VASSAL, but that might be a good way to try the expansion. Does Vassal allow solo play and enforce the game rules?
 
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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You sound as if you expect to be able to win in your first or second try. Ghost Stories isn't that sort of game. You need to gain some skill. After a few games, you'll see more things, improve your play, and the wins, when they come, will be very satisfying.

Of course, you could tweak the rules to make it easier, but I can't see how you'd get any pleasure from that.
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Jon W
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Blue Steel wrote:
How does Ghost Stories work as Vassal Module? I hve never used VASSAL, but that might be a good way to try the expansion. Does Vassal allow solo play and enforce the game rules?

I guess I'm the de facto maintainer of that module now, so I know it pretty well. Not many rules are enforced, and what few are are really more a function of trying to help automate things. So don't look for that here. However, a lot of rule text is visibly logged (that is, a notice is printed about ghost X or artifact Y), so that helps a bit. But enforcement is up to you.

It works very well solo, and is a good way to try the expansion (all the way up to Jean Claude Van Rice, if you like, whom I defeated today on Nightmare--he was the 3rd incarnation). Let me know if you have questions about Vassal or this specific mod, and I'll help if I can.
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Ben Stanley
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Sphere wrote:
You sound as if you expect to be able to win in your first or second try. Ghost Stories isn't that sort of game. You need to gain some skill. After a few games, you'll see more things, improve your play, and the wins, when they come, will be very satisfying.

Of course, you could tweak the rules to make it easier, but I can't see how you'd get any pleasure from that.

Great advice, and I have no preconceptions about how hard the game should be or how long it will take before I win one. And I prefer using the official rules in all games. But I would like to know that the game is mathematically beatable with the draws we have pulled. I don't mind getting crushed at all, but if even 5% of the initiate develops are truly impossible for even the expert players, I think they could have reduced the reliance on randomness more than they did. And perhaps that was a goal with some of the expansions (guard tower and white moon).

It would be cool to watch a grandmaster player and see where his or her choices differed from my own. We are all teaching ourselves Ghost Stories here.

waddball wrote:
Let me know if you have questions about Vassal or this specific mod, and I'll help if I can.

Thanks. I appreciate the offer. I do have one: can I download Vassal and the Ghost Stories modules and mess around with them without connecting to a server, having any kind of account, any other live players, or otherwise being required to create, connect, or do anything special? Again, I have never used Vassal itself before.

I would LOVE an iPhone app of Ghost Stories!
 
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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Blue Steel wrote:
But I would like to know that the game is mathematically beatable with the draws we have pulled. I don't mind getting crushed at all, but if even 5% of the initiate develops are truly impossible for even the expert players, I think they could have reduced the reliance on randomness more than they did.


This game has a huge problem space. Even if you take the card order out of it, the permutations and combinations of all die roll sequences add up to a very large possibility set. Edge cases, with all dice being perfect, or all dice being the worst case, are such remote probabilities that they aren't worth considering (I'd bet money that with optimal dice, advanced players could win with the cards you drew at Hell Level).

There really is a learning curve with this game, and strong players will tell you that they went through the same initial growing pains. For me, that's the true attraction of Ghost Stories: a game that is easy to beat has a short shelf life at my house.

If you're the type who prefers to get strategy tips, you might want to browse through some session reports. I put one up for a Hell Level solo victory that includes every card and every die roll, so you can follow along every step of the way. I suspect you'd pick up a few tricks by reading through that.

There's nothing there that you can't learn for yourself, though, by playing and experimentation. I'm the type who has more fun figuring that stuff for himself before reading about strategy. My gaming buddy is just the opposite, though, so I understand that we all have our own approaches. Whatever works for you.

I just want to assure you that you can become successful at the game, and that if you stay the course, you'll find it very rewarding. Don't think you're wasting your time because the game is unbeatable - that's not the case.

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Jon W
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Blue Steel wrote:
can I download Vassal and the Ghost Stories modules and mess around with them without connecting to a server, having any kind of account, any other live players, or otherwise being required to create, connect, or do anything special?

Sure. Vassal is flexible. I use it only for solo play and pbem (using log files), but many (most?) use it for real-time play. It accommodates both.

Just download vassal from www.vassalengine.org. Then download the module (version 1.18 is the latest) from the same site. Vassal does take a little getting used to at first. Probably the best general advice is to right-click things to see what they do. Also, check the "help" area for this module: I put together a simple html doc that should help get you started.
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Ben Stanley
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Thanks everyone. Game number 3 was a decisive victory that never even had us in trouble ever. I discovered I had been making things harder on us than the rules required, as we never started with Power Tokens. I had left those in the middle of the village, so we had to use a turn at the start grabbing some. We have only played 2 or 3 player so far, but the game is definitely growing on me and I will be picking up the expansion.

The other thing that made our win almost easy was the fact that I dealt in the ghosts from the guardhouse expansion, and they are pretty easy ghosts. Previously I had only been playing with the base set. We ended the game we won with several Qi (I had 2, she had 5, the neutral boards had 2 and 3), we both still had Yin-Yangs (having spent it a few times but recovered it each time), and the ghosts never got out of control at all. Next game I am leaving the guardhouse ghosts out and we are playing on Normal. Then it's on to Nightmare.
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Bob T
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Don't know if I'd rate Ghost Stories a "10"....but if I give it an 8 or 9 I can't even imagine what a 10 would be like.....To respond to a few of your points:

1&2: The rulebook is hilarious! The confusion and typos are part of the charm...Who'd wanna watch Kung Fu movies without the poor lip-sync? Who'd wanna order from a Chinese menu written with perfect grammar and syntax? ("We make you Fresh Hot food for you to Take Out or Delivery!" etc)

5: Never thought about it, but the dice are kinda dull... The "Curse" die is awesome, but the color dice are pretty plain. Maybe they're setting us suckers up to buy custom dice sets someday? The need to look a little more....I dunno, Chinese (?)

6: Yes, Red's "flying" ability kinda sucks. In my group we all hate to be red...But I think Yellow's "Enfeeblement Mantra" is possibly the BEST power of all. Certain spaces are more useful than others, so you place non-haunters in front of them.

All three of us (me, my Bro and his GF) have very devious minds, so we excell at finding new ways to milk each turn for all it's worth. We love twisting the limitations of the rules to our own advantage. But the game is very well thought out, there's no 'secret formula' to beat it every time; just think what a feat THAT is, to design a game that obsessive gamers can't "crack" (or is "break" the correct term?)

You have to balance EVERYTHING in Ghost Stories; can't let Haunters get out of control, can't lose Qi, do you get rid of Black Widow first or Lich? And always make sure you have Buddhas on the board.....and save some for Wu Feng! If you let one thing get out of control, you'll go down in flaming defeat. Plus it's absolutely BEAUTIFUL to look at!!!
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