Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Saturday 30 October 2021

Universal Horror Co-op

Monsters have arisen and the village is under attack! Dracula, The Mummy, Frankenstein’s Monster—and his Bride, the Invisible Man, the Wolf Man, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon are all on the rampage and it is up a dedicated team of heroic monster hunters to keep the villagers safe from their predations, find the means to thwart each and every one, and then put an end to their reign of terror! This is the set-up for Horrified, a co-operative board game from Ravensburger, designed for between one and five players, ages ten and up, in which they face the classic foes of the Universal monsters series of films from the nineteen thirties and nineteen forties. If you are a regular player of board games, then you will definitely spot the architecture and design elements of the first classic co-operative board game, Pandemic, but Horrified is far from a drily themed race to find the cure to four different diseases! It is a desperate race to defeat classic monsters, each of which is very different in terms of what they do and what the players need to do to defeat them, it oozes both theme and charm, and its horror is scary, but not terrifying, so it can be played by the family as well as the dedicated horror fan—and both will enjoy it.

Open up a copy of Horrified and the first thing you see is a warning about the potentially horrifying experiences to be found in the box. Of course it is a little tongue in cheek and so perfectly in keeping with the tone of the Universal Monsters, but what is clever is where this warning is placed. Not on a separate sheet of paper or the back of the rulebook, but on the back of the game’s board. It is a clever use of space and points to the degree of thought and detail which has gone into this game. The board itself depicts various locations within a village, a curious mix of the American small town and the European Gothic, so there is a precinct and a mansion as well as an abbey and a tower with an adjacent dungeon. A river runs through the village, connecting a lagoon and the waterfront. At the top of the board is the Terror Track.

The Heroes in Horrified—and there are seven of them—are each represented by a Hero Badge, essentially character cards detailing their abilities and their playing pieces. Each has good illustration, a number to indicate how many Actions he or she can take a turn, and a special action or ability. For example, the Mayor has five Actions per turn, but no special action or ability, whereas the Courier has four and can travel to any location where there is another Hero, and the Professor, also has four and can move any Hero or Villager one space.

The Universal Monsters in Horrified—and there are six of them—are each represented by plastic playing piece of a different colour and a Monster Mat. Each Monster Mat details what the Monster can do and how it is defeated, the latter requiring two steps. For example, Dracula can use his Dark Charm to pull a Hero to his space, and to advance to point where they can him, the Heroes need to visit each of the four locations where his coffins and destroy them, before confronting the vampire prince directly. At least six points of Red Item Tokens are required to destroy a coffin, and six points of Yellow Item Tokens to destroy him. The Mummy has a tablet on which Scarabs can be moved, the number of moves determined by the value of Yellow Item Token used. Move them into the right order and the curse is broken, and the Mummy can be entombed by confronting him and expending at least nine points of Red Item Tokens. However, the Mummy can fortify the curse by turning one of the Scarabs upside down! Perhaps the most interesting Monster to defeat, at least thematically, is that of Frankenstein and his Bride. Both have to taught to live peacefully together, Blue and Yellow Item Tokens being expended to increase their Humanity on a dial for each of them in their respective spaces. They constantly move towards each other, and can be ‘defeated’ if they have sufficient Humanity when they meet, if not, they flee back to their starting positions and the Terror Level goes up by one.

In addition, there are Monster tokens which are added to the game when particular Monsters are selected as the foes. For Dracula, this is his four coffins and for Frankenstein and his Bride, it is the dials to tack their Humanity, but the Creature from the Black Lagoon includes an overlay piece which replaces the Camp location and instructs a player what to do to direct the boat counter—which also comes with the Creature from the Black Lagoon—ever closer to its lair where it can be defeated. Essentially, the means of defeating each Monster is different and requires the Heroes to collect and expend the different coloured Item Tokens.

As well as the game pieces for the Heroes and the Monsters, Horrified comes with ten Villagers. When they appear on the board, they always want to reach their safe locations and the Heroes can guide them there. If they do, then they will be rewarded with a Perk Card. If a Monster reaches a Villager and defeats him, the Terror Level is increased. The Item Tokens come in three colours—red for physical items, blue for intellectual, and yellow for spiritual—and range in value between one and five. There are Markers for both Terror and Frenzy, the former used on the Terror Tracker, the latter to indicate when a Monster is Frenzied. Along with three dice, there five Reference Cards, one for each player; thirty Monster Cards to indicate Monster actions; and twenty Perk cards, awarded when a Hero gets a Villager home. Each Monster Card indicates how many Item Tokens are drawn from the game’s cloth bag and added to the board and gives an event such as ‘Thief’, in which case, the Invisible Man appears at the location where there are the most items and steals them, forcing them to be discarded. The Monster Card also reveals which of the Monsters move on a turn, including the Frenzied Monster—which can mean that a Monster can move and act twice in a turn, how many spaces, and how many dice it rolls to attack. Some Monster Cards can be beneficial, for example, the ‘Sunrise’ Monster Card will force Dracula to flee back to the Crypt, which might be away from a Hero or a Villager, and some might not have any effect, either because the Monster is not being played in the current game or because it has already been defeated. The Perk cards provide single benefits, like a ‘Taxi Ride’ which gets a Hero to any non-water location or ‘Late into the Night’, which grants the current player two further actions.

Horrified has one win condition and two loss conditions. The Heroes triumph and the players win the game if they defeat all of the Monsters. However, they lose if the Terror Level reaches its maximum level, forcing everyone in the village to flee in horror and allow the Monsters to take over. And they also lose if the Monster deck is emptied and one more Monster card needs to be drawn, the Heroes and thus the players having taken too long to save the village.

Game set-up is simple enough. The Terror Marker is set at zero and the selected Monsters set up as instructed. Then each player selects a random Hero, receives a Perk card, and the sixty Item Tokens placed in the cloth bag. Twelve of these are drawn at random and placed on the board. The rule quickly guides the players through the process, but goes not one, not two, but four steps further. It suggest that the players’ first game be against Dracula and the Creature from the Black Lagoon, any two Monsters for the Novice game, any three Monsters in the standard game, and any four in a challenging game. Thus it eases the players into the game and its play whilst showing them how to make the game more difficult.

A player’s turn has two phases. In the Hero phase, a player expends his Hero’s Action Points to move, guide a Villager to or from an adjacent location (a villager will accompany a Hero and move with him), take a Special Action, pick up Item Tokens or share them with a Hero on the same location, Advance a Monster’s task, or Defeat a Monster. The latter two task are different for each Monster and are given on their respective Monster mats, and require the Hero to be in specific places. In the Monster phase, a Monster Card is drawn from the Monster card deck, and the number of Item Tokens given on the Monster Card placed, its Event carried out, and then any movement and attacks conducted. The latter requires rolling dice, which have exclamation point and star symbols on them. Rolls of the exclamation point active a Monster’s power, such as Dracula’s Dark Charm, whilst rolls the star symbol force a Hero to discard Item Tokens, and if a Hero has none, defeats him, sending him to the Hospital and raising the Terror Level one step!

Physically, Horrified is a well-presented game. Everything is in colour, the board is painted in dark shades with pools of light to suggest that it might be midnight, the Item Tokens and cards are all easy to read, and the rules are well explained. In fact, the rules are very well written, with plenty of clarification and explanation of how each Monster works and can be defeated, along with several good examples of play. A player with some experience of playing board games could easily open up the box to Horrified, read the rules, and be playing within a relatively short time. Plus there is a little advice here and there on playing again, strategy, playing it solo—which is even more challenging, and so on. Another nice touch to the graphic design is the inclusion of an explanation of who the Monsters are on the outside of the inner box, also done in colour. However, the production values are not high as they could be. The plastic miniatures for the Monsters lack detail and the card stock for the game’s various cards is thin and will not stand up to too much handling.

In terms of game play, where in Pandemic, as members of the CDC, the players are travelling the world, visiting cities and treating diseases, and drawing and swapping city cards of the right to cure the game’s four diseases, in Horrified, the players as the Heroes, are moving round the village collecting as many Item Tokens as they can in order to have enough of the right colour to first advance the condition on each Monster Mat to the point where the Monster can be defeated. Hindering the players in Pandemic is the constant appearance of new cases the four diseases, and worse sudden outbreaks where a disease spreads to other cities, whereas in Horrified, the Heroes need to track where both the Monsters and the villagers are, because if the Monsters get to the Villagers, they kill them and so drive up the Terror Level. The Heroes also need to avoid the Monsters themselves until the time is right to confront them directly and defeat them. Of course, if a Hero can get a villager to his or her safe location, that earns him Perk card.

However, defeating two Monsters—the base difficulty in Horrified—is fairly easy. Defeating three, though—the standard difficulty—is challenging. Four is another matter altogether! The difficulty will also vary slightly depending upon the Monsters in play, plus the more players a game has, the more Monster cards are drawn and the more Villagers appear to be taken by the Monsters and so increase the Terror Level. The higher difficulty levels may not necessarily suit all players though, casual or family players potentially finding Horrified too difficult at three Monsters, and more so at four.

Horrified is a good game for a number of reasons. In terms of game play, it is relatively light, suitable for casual players and the family, but offering enough for the hobbyist player as a lighter option. Its theme is really well handled, from the different means of defeating the various Monsters and the inclusion of the villagers from the films those Monsters appeared in, to graphical design and the attention to detail which evoke a sense of nostalgia for the Universal Monsters. It offers a decent degree of replay value too, with seven Heroes and six Monsters to choose from, enabling players to mix and match both. However, it would be great to see an expansion with even more and different Monsters. In terms of value, Horrified is a game you can buy on the high street and specialised game shops, and as a mass market board game, it is not just a good game. In fact, it is fantastic game, because as a mass market board game, it is not only inexpensive, but it combines its theme and its mechanics really well. No longer do we have board games based on intellectual properties that are just throwaway ‘roll and move’ designs, but like the earlier Jaws: A Boardgame of Strategy and Suspense, we have mass market board games designed to fit their themes and make use of their themes, that are readily available and consequently, make you want to play again. Jaws does that, and so does Horrified. Lastly, it is also great to see a horror themed board game which involves neither zombies or Cthulhu, and so Horrified is not just nostalgic, it is also a refreshing change.

Thematically, Horrified is a great piece of design and it showcases just how modern game designers have been able reach beyond the hobby and bring thematically appropriate design and game play to the general audience. Horrified is a light co-operative game that horror fans will enjoy for the nostalgia and the family can play for the fun and the scares.

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