Horrific: Terror in the Cards is a schlock horror-themed strategic cardgame for 2-6 players, designed by Karl Lepp (of Plunder fame), Edward Boudreaux, and John Kornberger. While Plunder is (according to Karl) "strategy light", Horrific is quite a bit deeper, relying on planning and anticipation, skillful use of your "reserve", and sound knowledge of your deck and the deck(s) of your opponent(s).
In Horrific, you and your opponents are old-time horror villains inhabiting a town. Your task is no less than to take over the entire town, obliterating all other villains and townspeople who stand in your way!
Horrific shipped in 2005 with six decks, each containing the following components:
One Victory Conditions/Special Rules card (different for each deck)
One "Strategy to Win" card (recommendations for playing that deck)
10 circular cards representing townspeople
Things you'll need to provide: counters to represent your trust pool.
In keeping with the schlock horror theme, all deck and townspeople cards are printed in black ink only. Some card types are repeated in each deck, but as every character has its own unique font the cards don't get repetitive to look at (though the font for Maal, the sorceress, is difficult to read at times). This game doesn't have the tremendous production values of a Magic: The Gathering or Blue Moon, but then again the gameplay inherent is this game's strong suit.
Each deck in the game contains a certain number of what I term “core” cards – cards that form the backbone of tasks you’ll perform in the game (Control Person, Use Control, and Turn Undead). Beyond that, all decks (except for one, Maal the sorceress) also include “special” cards that perform functions unique to their decks. These special cards, along with variance in the number of core cards, are what make the decks (and their subsequent play styles) different.
Below is an example deck (Huati, the Witch Doctor) along with descriptions of the cards in it:
Huati’s Victory Conditions:
Opponent Trust: 12
This character relies on a combination of live and undead minions to meet his goal.
10 Control Person cards (Each card played controls one townsperson)
5 Use Control cards (Used to utilize your minions for various effects)
5 Zombie Powder cards (A special version of Turn Undead only this deck
4 Good Works cards (Each card played restores two trust points to you)
5 Destroy Reserve cards (Used for destroying cards in your opponents’
2 Liberate cards (Return one townsperson an opponent controls to town)
3 Resurrect cards (Turn one undead townsperson an opponent controls back
to living and return it to town)
2 Zombie Curse cards (One opponent loses an amount of trust equal to the
number of undead minions you control)
3 Voodoo Doll cards (Only laid to your reserve. While you have at least
one Doll active in your reserve, all opponents lose
1 trust each turn you lay at least one card into
Horrific is a game that is relatively easy to learn, but quite difficult to master. Each player has five distinct parts to their play area: a draw deck, discard, a "mound", a "reserve", and their minion pool.
Each player starts with five cards in their hands. On their turns, each player has the option of either playing one card from their hand and laying one card to their reserve or laying two cards to their reserve. The reserve is an area where cards are stored face-up on the table. These cards are "free" to play, in that you may play as many of them as you like in one turn, but the drawback to that is that these cards are not only visible to your opponent(s) but they can also be destroyed by your opponents' Destroy Reserve cards. What makes this dynamic even more interesting is the inclusion of cards in other decks whose effectiveness differs depending on whether they are played from one's hand or their reserve (for example, a card costing one trust less to play when played from the reserve). Much of the game's strategy involves placing cards into your reserve and later combining them with cards in your hand for big plays.
Gameplay revolves around the control and use of townspeople to further your nefarious ends. Each townsperson has 4 attributes: Power, Influence, Loyalty, and Value. While you control a townsperson, its values contribute toward your victory conditions. However, there's a trick to this: While alive, townspeople have power, influence, and loyalty, but no value. Townspeople only contribute value when they're undead, but when undead they also "lose" the other three attributes.
The 'Use Control' card in particular "breaks" certain game rules by its functionality and livens up gameplay even further. By Using Control on your minions' attributes (which sends them back to town), you receive other benefits such as the ability to play more than one card from your hand on that turn, regaining points of trust, returning cards from your mound directly to your reserve, etc.
All in all the game plays very smoothly. There's a constant balancing act between using your cards to further your own goal and/or using them to interfere with your opponent. Clever card play, along with inventive combinations, are very satisfying in this game. Most of the decks play very well against each other, and certain ones in particular create very tight, tense games. One arguably unbalanced matchup in particular, though, pits a deck that thrives on undead (Maal) vs. a deck that can't do anything vs. undead (Vlad). Playing this matchup as Vlad, it can be very difficult to win and the Vlad player really has to be on his/her toes. Most folks (including myself) would look at this as a challenge or use that matchup to teach new players how to play while giving them a better chance to win their first game, but balance sticklers might be a bit put off by this.
The game is officially playable by 2-6 players, but I personally enjoy it most with just 2 players, where there's much more of a "duel" feel to the game. Adding players increases game length and it's advisable, especially if you play with the maximum number of players, that you only allow each player to affect their adjacent opponents with cards (to prevent "pile on the leader" syndrome). Obviously this is unavoidable with 3 players - I've had some ridiculously long 3-player games, lengthened significantly by the inability of the "leader" to survive attacks from two players at once. Typical 2-player games last about 15-20 minutes, while 5 and 6-player games can take a couple hours (or more).
All in all Horrific is a great game I love to pull out with a friend whenever I feel like putting my "Strategy Hat" on and don't want or don't have the time to play something long and drawn out. Good times.
Incidentally, a second group of six decks has been discussed but there is currently no ETA for this.
Charles A. Smith
Nice review, though I would have liked to have had more commentary on card quality.
The game looks like DTP... black and white on cardstock. Is the card quality better than that?
Plus, I'm not surprised there's no pictures of individual cards at BGG. The cards are all text. Egads, look the graphic:
Just looking at it hurts my eyes. That's a lot to read in your hand. And try reading your opponents cards upside down. That picture alone would make me flee.
I want to like the game... and I know "gameplay's the thing" and all, but the cards are drab and dry. All B&W makes it look cheap. At about $18 for two faction, it's not Cheapass economy.
It would have been nice to be able to organize cards in your hand with icons. I dunno...maybe it's horror for literary types.
That graphic you pasted is an excellent representation of the game actually, as the cards and townspeople are laid out exactly as they would be mid-game.
As such, what you see is what you get with the cards. The cardstock is thin, but all cards are plastic-coated. I'd definitely describe the cards as "functional": They're very easy to read (though, like I mentioned in the review, the font for the Maal deck is a little funky) and feel good to hold, but you're not getting heavy stock or high art production values here. I can appreciate that some people might be turned off by lower production values, but having played plenty of "low-production value" games, including a number of Cheapass titles, that I've had a blast with, I can safely say I'm not one of them.
There is indeed a lot to read, but personally I'd rather have that information included on the cards than solely in the rulebook (for easier consultation). It only took me a few plays before I recognized most of the cards by their names (Control Person, for example) and only needed to consult the remaining text occasionally on some of the more unique cards. Your mileage may vary.
There really aren't a great variety of cards with which to familiarize yourself. The same cards can be found across all the decks, but differing in frequency. For instance, one character will have more of the 'Control Person' cards than another. So, as far as the cards being "wordy", it's not an issue...you'll know all the different cards within about 5 minutes of reviewing them.
I haven't had the chance to play another person, but have set up and played a few hands myself. The one problem I've found is stalemating. There seems to be just enough balance between decks to stymie each other without ever being able to gain any leads. Maybe it's more because I knew what my opponent (myself) was holding.
I like the concept, theme and uniqueness of the game...just need the opportunity to play it properly with another gamer to get an accurate feel for the game.
By the way, I found my set (all 6 decks) on Ebay when it first came out for $14! Some dude in Alaska was unloading it and no one else bid on it. Yay for me.