Three of us gamers had gotten together on a Friday night and we wanted to start off with something that would be a bit lighter before we hit Space Alert. After contemplating Mansions of Madness, going to the point of starting a game before realizing we just weren't in the mood for it, our host ran upstairs and pulled this DVD game out. Normally, I am not a fan of DVD games because in my experience whatever added elements they bring to a board game (animation, increased randomness) are outweighed by issues (annoying background music, tacked-on mechanics, extended game duration) which result in the original board game being a better choice then the movie version. However, we were told that this game would last at most 49 minutes and that fact alone influenced us to give it a try. No matter how bad it might be at least we knew when it would end.
There aren't a tremendous amount of components contained in the box but everything was well done. The large bi-fold board is colored with a dark theme and divided into six colored regions. Extensive use of symbols on the board, printed in a dark ink, meant that identifying what action you were supposed to take on a given spot was sometimes difficult. The game recommends you dim the lights- which I did because I actually wanted to give the game its due- and that only compounded the problem. The "wings" / flight space was hard to identify, as were some other areas. White ink on a dark background certainly would have worked better.
Each player assumes a character role, complete with detailed biography and unique shaped token piece. While normally I play with RED, the ORANGE's pumpkin head piece was too much and I instead picked this one. I will say now that there were times in the game when specific characters (ex: "Anne de Chantraine", the witch) are called out and I found it confusing trying to remember whom I was and who other people were. As this game is timed, each player may have several things going on at once and mistakes or lapses in memory are a minor problem.
There were two blue/white D6 dice which in our dimmed light appeared black, though I think they were cool. Many times during the game I was urging the player before me to pass me the dice because I could not reach them. Though the other player wasn't intentionally neglecting to pass me them as some sort of metagame (at least I don't think so), adding more dice to the game would have helped this problem. Then again, it might have destroyed the tension aspect of it. I don't know.
The also game comes with lots of plastic keys molded in several colors which were generally easy to distinguish, though the red and orange looked similar in the dark light. Sorting them by color on your player racks is a bad idea, as it may tip off other players as to what you have (another metagame element?), thus careful studying of the pieces is necessary.
Several decks of cards were also included which didn't seem to be the best of quality but who cares? There were dozens of cards and we only used about ten or so... meaning if a few get trashed the game will still play well. A plastic "Well of Fears" depository for each person's greatest fear is also included which was a bit nifty if not goofy. Finally, there was the DVD itself, which like most DVD games started off with sections for rules explanation and then the game track(s), by which players imputed who was playing and what pieces they chose to divert the DVD into the correct track.
In a paragraph, there this is a roll-and-move game in a timed environment whereby players must attempt to collect one of six colored keys and then race to the center of the board and randomly draw out the "fear" that they put into the "Well of Fears." Spots along the board allow you to collect keys, move to other places, battles others to take their keys, or get stuck in "The Black Hole." The quantity of keys is known to all players, but each person's breakdown by color is secret. Cards drawn at times in the game cause different rules to be broken, and some are meant to be played at certain times in the game as indicated by the time remaining on the television- either you play the card then or else throw it out. At times the DVD will interrupt the player's game to give special instructions or punish certain players. In the end, if one player has not won by the time 49 minutes have elapsed everyone loses.
What I Liked about this Game
1.) Light: This is a very simple game, a few notches above a simple roll and move but certainly not a brain burner. I don't know if I would call it a "beer and pretzels" game though both were consumed during the session, but there was some minor strategy involved and the rules were simple enough (though see comment below). In all, I would classify it as a "party game" which sometimes carries the stigma of a bad or poorly designed game; neither would be fair here, though it certainly isn't Agricola or War of the Ring. Nor is it intended to be.
2.) Takes Six Players: This is important for families with more kids then the typical Red, Yellow, Green, and Blue piece games can accommodate. I have never played with six and wonder if that many players would just slow the process down. I think it would, but if everyone is having fun who cares if there isn't a winner?
3.) Well produced: I joked with my friend that I wanted to buy the game just for the pieces. I liked the dice and the keys seemed to be usable for other games, like 221 Baker Street. The orange pumpkin piece alone seemed cool. I admit it- I am a weirdo- but this game escapes from the cheap cardboard pieces and instead the producers invested in quality pieces. I don't know how much it cost, however, and that is certainly a factor.
4.) Ever Changing: At times this game felt like it was dragging with no player close to victory, and yet near the end I found myself with 11 keys and snagged the victory (maybe) at the last second, literally. Players constantly buoyed from having lots of keys to not enough, or from the right color compositions to not enough, which made for an interesting game.
5.) Interesting Mechanic: The DVD timing mechanism as it interacted with the "clock cards" was cool. If you had a card with a certain time on it and the time showed on the television you would call out the card and play it. If when you drew the card the time had elapsed, or if in the thick of the game you forgot, then the card was disposed of unused. We mostly pulled cards from 15 minutes and down, which served as a catch-up mechanism of sorts. I don't know if we just didn't shuffle the deck properly or else the game is stacked with these low-time cards, but they added another wrinkle and played heavily into my ability to catch up with the other two.
6.) Fun DVD: Watching the "Gatekeeper" on the DVD insult other players, drool or talking in a disgusting manner, and punish other players was fun. There were many times when we knew he was about to speak and the person who either just finished his turn or was about to take it would throw the dice at the next player and point to him, just so he wasn't picked on! In general, it was a good experience for laughs though some of the jokes were a bit lame.
What I Didn't Like about this Game
1.) Unclear Rules: The rules to this game are pretty simple, but there were situations that came up because it was our first game that required us to check the rules (can players on the same space duel or must someone land on a duel space; resolving the "Well of Fears," etc.) and yet we couldn't stop the movie. Not just because the Gatekeeper would have yelled at us, but because it might have messed up the game track. Thus, we lost precious time checking the rules when we should have been playing.
2.) Replayability: I don't see the same group of people playing this game again. Sure, the DVD may contain different tracks with the ordering of events changed but in general I don't see this level of entertainment holding up over time. Once you have heard the insults, they won't be fresh, and a roll-and-move game can only be interesting for so long. I can see playing this with new people just to see their expressions when they get insulted, but for the game itself? No.
3.) Hard to See: the board is a bit hard to see in dim light, which is how they recommend playing the game. It isn't fun to not be able to see what you are landing on.
4.) Black Key: Apparently the single black key operates like an "Old Maid" card in that the bearer cannot win no matter what. That nuance didn't play out much in our game as the holder was given an order to discard from the game one of his keys, and he picked the black key. Gone… just like that. I don't blame him one bit, but after that there was no fear of stealing keys from one another.
5.) Unfair Ending Scenario: To win the game, one collects all six colored keys and then runs to the center to pull out their fear from the Well Of Souls pot. Now, we all generally folded our paper the same way to make them indistinguishable but I don't think the rules said to. It just happened that we did, resulting in I think about four pulls from the center pot before the player correctly got theirs. But, if players- intentionally or not- don't fold their paper identical they are at a distinct advantage when it comes time to draw their "fear." This isn't right.
I really enjoyed playing because it was late and we were all in the right mood for it. I doubt I would play it again though because there are much better games out there. I came closest to winning the game because I pulled my own fear out of the Well with one second left on the television, but we never would have pushed the correct button on the remote control in time. It didn't matter as we all had a good time. It is tough to recommend this game for others when the novelty isn't the game itself but the DVD that is playing. Perhaps playing a better board game while a Comedy Central Celebrity Roast is playing in the background would better the experience. I don't know. In sum, it was fun while it lasted but I would be afraid of having to play it again.