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Friday 8 March 2024

Friday Filler: Let’s Call the Exorcist

It is always bad when dad brings his work home with him. It is doubly bad when dad is an archaeologist and brings home a collection of rare artefacts from his latest excavation, some of which happen to be cursed. Not only cursed, but possessed by demons. Now, those demons have taken advantage of their situation to find whole new homes for themselves by possessing some of the children. Fortunately, mum has telephoned her friendly local exorcist and he has come round right away. Unfortunately, demons are clever, so neither mum nor the priest can tell which of the children is possessed and which of the children is not. The priest does know that if he can identify which of the artefacts carried the demons into the house, but they are scattered round the house. So, he has set up a scavenger hunt that all of the children can participate in, the aim being to find the right artefacts and dispel the demons! The downside to this is that the demon-possessed children are going to try and stop the priest and the innocent children. This is the set-up for Let’s Call the Exorcist, a hidden role and social deduction game whose theme and art is based on the work of graphic designer, Steven Rhodes, whose work parodies the children’s books of seventies and pokes a sly snook at the social attitudes of the period.

Let’s Call the Exorcist is published by Cryptozoic Entertainment and is designed to be played by between four and eight players, aged fourteen and up. The game is played over the course of several rounds in which the Innocent players attempt uncover the Holy Artefacts and the Possessed players try to find the Cursed Artefacts. Doing so will score points for the side that does so, whilst Blessings will score points for individual players. Mischiefs will disrupt and change the state of the game, sometimes to a player’s advantage, sometimes not. The first person to score seven points at the end of a round is the winner. A game can be played through in roughly thirty minutes.

Let’s Call the Exorcist consists of eight Role tiles, forty-three cards, and forty-five point tokens, plus a ten-page rule book. The Role tiles are divided between Innocent and Possessed, with there being more Innocent than Possessed. The cards are divided into four types—Holy Artefacts, Cursed Artefacts, Mischiefs, and Blessings. All four card types have instructions on them which come into play when they revealed. For example, the Holy Artifact, ‘The Blessed Prepuce’, lets the Chosen player peek at all of his remaining cards in play if it is the first Holy Artefact to be revealed; the Cursed Artefact, the ‘Disenchanted Mirror’ enables the Chosen and the Seeker at look at each other’s Roles; the ‘Consecration’ Blessing gives a point to both the Seeker and the Chosen; and the Mischief, ‘Is That You, Satan?’, forces the Seeker and the Chosen to shuffle their Roles together and deal back out randomly, but lets the Chosen take a peek at one of the Roles, either his own or the that of the Seeker. In general, Blessings will alter the number of points a player has, whilst Mischiefs allow a player to peek at Roles, change who will be Seeker next, or restrict who will be Seeker next.

Let’s Call the Exorcist is played out over a series of rounds, each of which consists of several deals. Each set up for the game and a deal varies according to the number of players. The more players there are, the more cards of each type in play, but no matter whether there are four players or eight, the number of Innocents always outnumbers the Possessed and the number of Holy Artefacts always outnumbers the Cursed Artefacts. Each player receives a random Role tile which is placed down in front of him. He can look at this Role tile when he is given it, but he cannot do so again unless a Mischief card instructs him to do so. Once the deck has been sorted and shuffled—this is the most complex part of play—it is dealt out to the players. Each player is free to look at his hand of cards and describe what they are as much as he wants, and can tell the truth about his cards or lie, but then shuffles the hand and places its cards face down in front of him. Then play begins. This switches back and forth between two roles, the Seeker and the Chosen. The Seeker selects a player, who becomes the Chosen, and any card in front of the Chosen. This card is turned over, and its instructions followed. Once this has been done, the Chosen becomes the next Seeker and can select another player to become the next Chosen. The resolved card goes into the middle of the table. Blessings and Mischiefs go out of play, whilst the Holy Artifacts and Cursed Artifacts add to a running total. Play continues back and forth until a total number of cards equal to the number of players have been revealed. This ends the deal.

To start a new deal, all of the face down cards are collected, shuffled, and dealt back out to the players as before, but this time with one fewer card each. Play then proceeds back and forth between the Seeker and Chosen roles until a total number of cards equal to the number of players have again been revealed. In this way, a maximum of four deals can be played per round, each deal reducing the number of cards a player has to reveal. The round ends when either the last Holy Artefact or the last Cursed Artefact is revealed. At this point, everyone reveals their Role tiles and the side that managed to reveal all of their Artefacts—Holy Artefacts for the Innocent and Unholy Artifacts for the Possessed—wins the round the points. A new round is begun and play continues until a player has scored seven points by the end of the round and thus won the game.

Let’s Call the Exorcist differs from other social deduction games in a number of ways. The most important being that a player’s Role can change from one round to the next. Consequently, there is no successfully deducing a player’s Role in one round and then excluding them from taking action in subsequent rounds. The point of the game is not to win because of the Role a player throughout the game, but adapt to the Role the player has during a round. However, a Role can also change within a round, so a player who begins a round as an Innocent and wants Holy Artefacts revealed in order to win the round, may end up being a Possessed who should instead be attempting to reveal Cursed Artefacts to win. Unfortunately, although a player will know when his Role tile has been changed, he will not know if it has actually been changed. So, he needs to find a way to peek at his own Role tile to find out which side he is now on. Effectively, not only is a player trying to work out what side his fellow players are on, but also potentially, what side he is on. In addition, a player only knows what cards he has in play at the beginning of a deal and again, that can change during play. Although it is possible to keep an approximate track of Roles and cards to a certain extent, the high possibility of changes in both cards and Roles adds a random factor and limits both a player’s knowledge and reliance on deducing other Roles.

The other factor that changes Let’s Call the Exorcist from other social deduction games are the cards and their cards which constantly change play. These also mean that there is always something happening throughout a deal. In addition, the cards are actually fun and reference a wide number of films. For example, the ‘Book of the Mostly Dead’ rather than the Book of the Dead from Evil Dead; ‘That One Ring’ rather than the One Ring from The Lord of the Rings; ‘The Ark of the Coveted’ rather than ‘The Ark of the Covenant’ from Raiders of the Lost Ark; and let’s not forget ‘The Blessed Prepuce’.

Physically, Let’s Call the Exorcist is decently presented. The rulebook is short and easy to read, and includes an example of play as well as explanations of what the various cards do. The artwork, with its bright, bold colours, is excellent, Steve Rhodes’ illustrations are sly and subversive, throwing the card game’s children into a very jolly version of The Exorcist.

The combination of horror and children in Let’s Call the Exorcist is not going to be to everyone’s taste. Others, though, will find it to be a lot of fun, and Let’s Call the Exorcist is fun. Fun and silly and ever so slightly tongue in cheek, Let’s Call the Exorcist is an antidote to all of those other po-faced social deduction games.

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