Vlad Who?

Review of board game The Gothic Game by Pevans

The Gothic Game comes in an almost suitably-proportioned box (it needs to be rather deeper before it is really coffin-shaped), with a quote from Terry Jones (ex-Monty Python) on it. The box is, needless to say, black. Inside is a brightly-coloured mounted board, depicting a rather ramshackle castle. There are pawns for each of the (up to) eight players, plus a large black one representing Dracula. The heart of the game, however, are the 75 cards: half a dozen or so for each of the rooms on the board. The cards represent treasure, weapons, monsters and events - good, bad or just plain disturbing.

The object of the game is to be the last player alive (at which point I think you run gibbering from the castle). This is accomplished less by deliberately killing off the other players (though that's what you're supposed to do) than by ensuring other things get them.

The board shows the various 'rooms' (these include a courtyard) in the castle and the corridors and battlements connecting them. Players start with their pawns lined up outside the castle, ready to cross the drawbridge, and with 100 points of stamina. Get reduced to 0 stamina and you're dead.

Stalking the Corridors

In their turn, players roll a die and move their pawn the appropriate number of spaces along a corridor. They can go into rooms through doorways at any time (you don't need the exact score), but have to stop there. Roll a six and you move six spaces and get to roll again. A number of the corridor squares have special properties. Land on a green square and you may move your piece to any other green square. A square with a yellow arrow forces you into the room you've just been skirting. End up on the oubliette and you're out of the game. And a red square precipitates you into the moat. This is not nice, as you have to roll a die to get out again and lose stamina each turn you're in there (a memorable game at Furrycon had Theo completely dissolve in the moat!).

If you enter a room you pick up the top card from the pack in that room and obey the instructions. This may involve a loss (or gain) of stamina, the acquisition of something useful, or any number of other things (one of my favourites is being stretched on the rack: you lose stamina, but can then move an extra space on every die roll because of your longer legs!).

Behind You!

If you end your turn adjacent to another player (I assume this is only in a corridor), you gain "the power of adjacency". This allows you to attack them (if you have a weapon), disconcert them with, say, a rat down the back (if you have the card), or tell them which direction to move in next time. The rules don't say whether this last is before or after the player has thrown the die. If it's after, this effect can be nasty, if it's before, then it's a matter of luck.

As the object of the game is to knock off the other players, the initial goal is to gain the means of doing so. The rules kindly tell you that the weapons are in the Trophy Room and the Torture Chamber. However, they are some distance away from the entrance and also contain plenty of nasty things. So it's a good idea to visit a few other rooms on the way and see what useful objects you can pick up. Of course in doing so, you run the risk of finding something useless, being sidetracked or falling foul of one of the other players. It's a hard life.

Them As Die...

There are several special rooms on the board. One of these is the great spiral staircase. Should you end up in here, you move down on any die roll except a six and up only on a six. If you reach the bottom you're out of the game. Then there is the Vault. Players can enter this willingly, but the usual ways are being forced in while heading for the Torture Chamber, or getting the wrong die roll in the moat and clambering through the grating. The unfortunate player is bitten by Dracula, loses stamina and becomes a vampire (the black piece fits neatly over the player's coloured one).

As a vampire, the player now has six turns to roam the corridors (not rooms), moving at double speed (the vampire throws the die twice) and killing any other player s/he passes - the player gains stamina and two extra turns as vampire every time s/he does so. If you make it back to the Vault on your sixth turn, the vampire returns to its coffin and you carry on playing. If you fail to make it, you perish horribly as the sun comes up. My immediate ploy on playing for the first time was to head for the Vault. However, things are not easy as a vampire. The other players have ample opportunity to hide in rooms and you can't afford to roam too far or you won't be able to get back in time. This is fun, but it's not a game-winning tactic.

...Will Be the Lucky Ones

Mind you, this is not a game that you particularly play to win. The winner will be determined largely by luck and the game system. The fun is in participating and in the cards. This is one to play after a beer or three and should be a hoot at conventions.

I have a number of quibbles with the game. There are a few grey areas in the rules, which require house rules (such as when you tell another player which direction s/he's moving in). The map is over-illustrated, making it too 'busy'. At first sight it's difficult to pick out where the doors into rooms are; the staircase is another problem area. I can also see that the cards are a limitation on the number of times you can play the game. Once you know what's where and what the effects of the cards are, the game loses its unpredictability - room for an expansion set!

The Gothic Game was designed by Robert Wynne-Simmons and Nigel Andrews and was published (in the UK) as a limited edition by Tolmayax. (There is a bit more about the game on Robert Wynne-Simmons's website.) It is for 2-8 players and takes 1-2 hours to play. Pevans rates it 7/10.
This review was originally published in Games Games Games 74, September 1993.

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