Friday, December 18, 2009

Arkham Horror meets Brotherhood of the Wolf

Arkham Horror meets Brotherhood of the Wolf, only a lot less fiddly and complicated than that implies. That's how to best describe "A Touch Of Evil", a relatively new boardgame from Flying Frog Productions. The plot is very reminiscent of Brother of the Wolf, complete with muskets, tri-corner hats, an evil monster, and conspiratorial noblemen. The main game comes with four big villains - vampire, werewolf, headless horseman, and evil scarecrow - each with it's own minions and events to shape the play experience of that particular session.

It's got all the flavor of a game like Arkham Horror, without the maze of rules to wade through. The turns play out faster, and there are fewer counter-intuitive rules ripples to have to sort out. It's got the same "build up your character so you can defeat the big bad" dynamic of Runebound or Talisman or Arkham, but without the 3+ hour play time that those games demand. It's got scenario variety, unlike Arkham Horror where every big bad uses the same chaotic pool of events. A Touch of Evil doesn't feature as much as scenario variety as Betrayal At House On The Hill, but then it doesn't suffer from Betrayal's completely random balance issues either.

Overall, A Touch Of Evil is a triumph of storytelling in a boardgame. Despite having lighter rules than the aforementioned games, it's got more flavor, and tells a better story. As much as I love Arkham, it's such a chaotic mess of monsters and gates that there's rarely a coherent story out of it, and Allies are mechanically indistinguishable from Guns or Skills. Not so in A Touch of Evil, where the "NPCs" have secrets, different from session to session, which you must ferret out lest they stab you in the back. Will the Reverend be a stalwart ally, a craven coward, a book-burning demagogue, or a traitorous pawn of evil? That varies from game to game, and has a lot more impact than just being "+2 vs Vampires".

The game has Competitive, Cooperative, and Team options, depending on the play style you and your group prefers. Team up to defeat the monster, or seek to impede the others and get all the glory for yourself.

Have I mentioned that I really like the game? 'Cause I do. The gameplay is sweet.

It is not, however, completely without flaws. So far I've found three, none of which is major. Here's the problem areas, and how we dealt with them in the two games we've played so far:
  1. Tide of Darkness: This Mystery Card can be interpreted in one of two ways. Either you place one monster in 1 space, and some investigation points in three spaces; or they might mean you place both a monster and investigation points in each of three spaces. We were playing the cooperative game, and wanted the bigger challenge, so we placed three monsters. It worked well, but that interpretation seems like it would be a very swingy card in competitive play, shutting off half the board to the player(s) who were already behind in the arms race.
  2. Muskets: There's no rule stopping you from using 2 muskets at once. Setting this up is relatively difficult (much easier in cooperative than competitive play), but seems cheesy. It'd be easy to house-rule this for the sake of reality, but the absence of fiddly corner-case rules about item stacking is part of what makes A Touch Of Evil so much more elegant than Arkham and it's ilk. Since the musket bonus isn't huge, we chose to just hand-wave it and assume the die bonus didn't represent actually shooting, so much as the fact that you were equipped and ready to take a second shot if the opportunity presented itself. The first musket's bonus is the potential damage of a gun shot. The second musket's bonus represents the reduced psychological pressure of knowing you aren't screwed if your first shot misses.
  3. Lair Cards: You can only have one Lair Card, which makes sense, since it represents tracking the Villain to their den of evil. But there's this unfortunate sentence in the rule book that heavily implies you can buy another lair card and discard whichever is worse. Late in the game, the Lair Cards are cheap. In our second game, Sarah discarded about 6 Lair Cards in one turn. Nothing in the rules stopped it, but it felt lame. If swapping Lairs is that simple, you'd never use the more harrowing lairs, at least not in Cooperative play, because someone will always have the spare Investigation points to keep discarding till you get an easy Lair. So we house-ruled this for all future sessions: you can't buy a second lair card, but can still get a second one via the particular Event that gives you a free Lair, which shouldn't come up too often.
If you like flavorful, story-driven boardgames like Arkham Horror, Runebound, or Betrayal at House on the Hill, you should check out A Touch Of Evil. I don't know just yet if it has as much replayability as those games ('cause I've only played it twice), but it's faster and more approachable, which is a huge plus. It strikes me as being the best of the bunch thus far.


Tyler said...

I want so much to try A Touch of Evil, to see how it compares to my beloved Arkham Horror, but I have yet to find someone with a copy.

r_b_bergstrom said...

Forgot to mention this: it plays in 1/2 to 1/3 the time Arkham does. Maybe less. I should have emphasized that in the review. I love Arkham, but rarely find the time for it.

r_b_bergstrom said...

Update: I've played 6 more times now, for a total of 8 plays of A Touch Of Evil. It definitely holds up well over multiple games.

We haven't even started using the Advanced Rules yet - but will be doing so the next time we play (tomorrow night).