Wednesday, October 05, 2016

A Monstrous Opportunity

I blog a fair amount about German board games, but the one I'm writing about today is quite literally German: Gruselrunde zur Geisterstunde (or, as Google tells me it translates in English, Horror Round the Witching Hour).

This is a memory game with a light horror theme. 10 cartoon-rendered monsters (a vampire, mummy, werewolf, and so forth) are arranged in an order in a castle hallway, five on each side. Each player gets a few seconds to look at the arrangement before play begins and everything is hidden. On your turn, you get to exert limited control on selecting three monsters, which you then must locate correctly the hall. If your guesses are right, you score 2 points (and everyone else who wagered you'd be right gets 1 point). If you're wrong, only you get to see what was really hidden in your chosen locations, but you must tell all opponents how many monsters you guessed correctly. (At the same time, everyone who wagered you'd be wrong gets a point.) The first player to 10 points wins.

The thing that really sells this experience is how the monsters are hidden. The box bottom itself (and the tray sitting inside it) is a series of tracks in which the monsters are stood up and hidden behind cardboard partitions. And still more thick cardboard panels are used to build a mansion -- four walls and a roof that completely enclose the hallway and the monsters. When you take your turn, you push levers that slide your selected three monsters into view, and then peek through a small peephole in the box to view the hallway... which is spookily lit by a tiny green LED you activate. It's quite entertaining.

The problem is, it's not much of a game. It only takes a round or two for someone to net 10 points. And there will almost inevitably be a tie as two or more players reach 10 at the same time -- because they have stronger memories, or because everyone playing has equally weak(ish) memories. If you're going to play this with children, it's worlds more interesting than a face down matching game like Memory or Concentration. For adults though, it seems to be lacking.

You can tell that the makers knew they had great production value and a weak game, as there are multiple rules variants -- designed to simplify it for children, or turn it into some kind of bluffing game for adults. But none of it seems to me to address what's really missing here. Perhaps 15 monsters to fill 10 slots might have helped, so you couldn't always count on knowing what's in the box somewhere if your memory slips? Perhaps players need to have even less control over which three monsters they must identify on their turns -- maybe it should have been determined by the opponents, or completely at random? Or maybe there shouldn't be that initial peek into the box at the start of the game, forcing everybody to discover where things are hidden in the box over time (and amping the deduction aspect of what your opponents are reporting on their turns).

In short, this is a great gimmick that is rife with potential for house rules. I don't know that I'll ever play it again "as published," but I certainly hope my friends and I can come up with something that breathes some life into it. Because it just plain looks cool. Let's call it maybe a B- as a baseline. How high it goes from there depends on the inventiveness of your gaming group.

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