Saturday, 4 April 2015
A Touch of Evil Boardgame Review
A small group of heroic individuals with the courage and strength to fight have arrived in town. Some just passing through while others have come with a purpose; but all will be put to the test as they race to save this cursed town from falling into darkness. It will take a cunning mind and strength of spirit to determine who is friend and who is foe... to solve the mysteries and hunt the beast to its lair. But the secrets of Shadowbrook run deep. Gossip and rumours run rampant and these few heroes may soon discover that they are outsiders here and this town is already so rotten from within there is little left to save.
Each player builds up their character with Allies, Items and Event Cards in preparation to hunt down and defeat the villain in a Showdown. In each Game Round, every player (starting with the First Player) takes their Hero Turn in order, moving clockwise around the table. Each Hero's Turn is comprised of these three phases which must be completed in order - Move (the result of 1d6, although you can stay put if you want), Fight Enemies in your space and finally, Take Actions. Actions may be taken in any order and most are optional. The only Action that is mandatory is Encounter the space. If in a corner location this means drawing a card from the appropriately named deck (Abandoned Keep, Olde Woods, The Manor or Windmill). If in a named space read the text listed for that space. You will either draw an Event Card or a Mystery Card. On a road space there are no Encounters. The other possible Actions are Collect Investigation (Investigation counters are the currency of the game and can be used in various manners such as buying Items or paying to heal Wounds), Heal a Wound (costs 3 Investigation, unless at the Doctor's where it only costs 1 Investigation per Wound), Look at a Town Elder's Secrets (costs 2 Investigation), Buy a Lair (cost listed on Shadow Track) or Start a Showdown (cost listed on your Lair card). Once each Hero has finished there is a Mystery Phase in which the Villain gets to unleash some evil on the Heroes in the form of drawing a Mystery Card and reading it aloud. At the end of the Mystery Phase, the First Player Marker is passed one player to the left and a new Game Round is played. ATOE is played in a series of Game Rounds until the Villain is defeated or the Shadow Track moves into Darkness (it starts at 20 and certain events cause it to count down. Below 1 is considered Darkness). Below is a picture showing the game set up at the very start of the game.
I absolutely love this game. It is fast-paced, fun to play and easy to learn. The rules are well laid out and take you through basic play before moving on to advanced play. I play solo thanks to the solo play rules that appear in the game's first expansion set, Something Wicked. If you are a solo player like me I highly recommend you buy this expansion set.
What I particularly love about all Flying Frog Productions games is that the production values are just amazing. The board, done as a series of drawings on parchment paper, looks gorgeous. It is very atmospheric and evocative of the time. The cards are the thickest cards I've ever seen and are incredibly robust. The character record sheets for the heroes and Villains are printed on very thick card. All artwork is based on photos of real life props, actors and actresses and so look stunningly realistic.
Playing solo, I have played with one Hero, two Heroes and three Heroes. These are the numbers recommended you play with in the solo rules. I have won with each of them and lost with each of them. Some combinations work better than others but to be honest, a lot can depend upon the draw of a card or the roll of the dice. Advanced play is tougher than basic play but more rewarding if you win.
One element of the game that I do like is the Shadow Track. A similar device is used in Flying Frog's zombie game, Last Night on Earth. This means you only have a limited amount of time to defeat the Villain which creates tension and a sense of urgency. Note that the Shadow Track does not move down every turn and indeed certain Events can force it to move back up.
The Town Elders can help or hinder you. Each one harbours at least one secret. Heroes have the option of uncovering these secrets. This is important because once the final Showdown begins the Heroes may recruit up to two Town Elders to aid them in their fight against the Villain. Clearly, you want to know that the Town Elder you chose can be trusted. If however, a Town Elder harbours a dark secret, he or she will join forces with the Villain in the Showdown. Again, this is a very cool game mechanic that adds another level of uncertainty to the game.
All Heroes have four Skill stats - Spirit, Cunning, Combat and Honour. The higher the Skill the better it is. All four Skills can be raised during the game either by training, attaining certain Items or Event Cards. In addition, each Hero has their own unique Ability or Abilities. Finally, Heroes have a number of Wounds (usually 3). If ever these reach 0 then the Hero is Knocked Out. It is exceedingly rare for a Hero to die in this game but Knock Outs are a constant risk. In solo play a Knocked Out Hero recovers very quickly in the Mystery Phase. Otherwise, they must miss a Turn before returning to play.
Are there any negative points about this game? For me, no. A couple of minor points need mentioning. The cards have a tendency to stick together making it very hard to shuffle them properly but if you slot them into transparent card protector sleeves they shuffle far easier. Plus you protect your cards from wear and tear or unfortunate drinks spillage if you're daft enough to allow drinks near the game.
With just four Villains to chose from, games will inevitably feel repetitive but this can be easily countered by buying one or more of the expansion sets. There are currently four expansion sets. Hero Pack One and Hero Pack Two. These small sets offer four new Heroes and one new Villain each along with a few extra cards. Something Wicked and The Coast are much bigger expansion sets with a new game board each that can be added to the Shadowbrook board or combined to make a gaming area three boards wide if you fancy an epic game. Both also offer four more Heroes, four more Villains and a load of extra cards and counters. I have them all so my gaming options are now vast. I'll review these expansion sets later but for now I just wanted you to now what's available.
Some people have remarked that ATOE is very similar to Arkham Horror and I agree, there are similarities. But ATOE is its own game with more than enough differences to allow it to stand on its own. It is quicker to set up and plays faster than Arkham Horror. It also takes up a lot less room on your table.
For me, I am able to immerse myself into the Heroes I'm playing and each game tells a story where the ending is always in doubt. Sometimes good triumphs over evil and at other times evil wins. But even when I lose the games have still been fun and an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours. The setting is unusual but works very well and brings to mind old Hammer Horror films and more notably, Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow or Stephen Sommers' Van Helsing. These two films perfectly capture the flavour of ATOE and are highly recommended to get you in the mood for a game.
I have deliberately kept quiet about the figures for the simple reason that I plan to review them next time. Suffice to say, they are superb!
A Touch of Evil is currently available for £44.99 from Amazon UK.