Creeping along corridors,
Stepping over traps,
Darting through secret doors,
And stabbing friends in backs.
Avoiding the Vampire,
Missing the moat,
Playing with swords,
And trying not to gloat!
My soul is my own,
At least for a while,
Until that friend of mine,
Steals it with a smile!
Damnation: The Gothic Game...
Way back in the dark distant past that was 1992, Robert Wynne-Simmons and Nigel Andrews released a game called, ‘The Gothic Game,’ which featured many of the, then, popular game mechanisms, namely player elimination and roll to move.
The game was retailed as a limited edition, hence it is a fairly rare commodity to own these days, and BGG lists only 105 owners of the game. Despite its rarity, though, it did gain a somewhat cult following, and even sparked a few real-time adaptations played around real-life castles, how cool is that?
But I digress; let’s jump back to the now, because we’re about to relive some of the fun, and suffering, that this game embodied all that time ago.
Damnation: The Gothic Game is the fully licensed 2nd Edition from new designer, Kris Rees, and I’ve been lucky enough to get a prototype to the table, so, what’s it all about?
To start with it’s a competitive, player vs. player, murder your mate, kind of game. You’re all nasty, evil villains cast into the depths of hell, and are damned to be resurrected each dusk in the hellish realm of Dracula, or at least his castle anyway.
The object of the game is simple, to survive, and be the last one standing.
How do you do this?
Well, firstly, you can sidle up next to another character and claim the power of adjacency, which means, come their next turn, you’ll decide which direction they’ll be moving, and this can be a lot more deadly than it sounds – they may end up triggering a trap, entering a not so nice room, or even leaving themselves open to become vampire food!
Alternatively, you may go for the more traditional method of trying to hack their head off, but first you have to find a weapon that is suitable to do so, which means you too, have to enter a room…
The majority of rooms are standard rooms, meaning you just draw a card from the room specific deck. Okay, that sounds easy enough, but wait… Some of these cards are really not very nice at all!
In the Dungeon you might find rats, and they will inevitably have a chew on your toes; In the Courtyard, you might steal across the Thug, who will endeavour to beat you up; In the Great Hall there’s the possibility of stepping on some hot coals, forcing you to jump into the Moat – more of that shortly; And things just wouldn’t be complete without the possibility of encountering the Iron Maiden in the Torture Chamber, which means… well, game over man!
Of course, there are plenty of good things to find too, such as the Nightingale’s Song that gains you health and a fate token, or the Vicious insult that allows you to double the movement of a player you have the power of adjacency over, and then there’s a more than adequate supply of weapons, which you’ll need if you want to bring an end your foes.
Other rooms, the non-standard ones, include the Dark Tower, which can only be entered if you’re in possession of a soul, and I don’t mean the one that belongs to you. Here you can find some very helpful things indeed, so it’s always worth trying to deprive an unsuspecting foe from their soul to pay it a visit.
There’s the Great Spiral Staircase, which sees you endlessly moving down towards an early grave; to move up, simply roll a six and try to exit from one of the doors, and by doing so you’ll receive the reward of somebodies lost soul.
What about the Moat? Ah, the Moat, woe betide anyone who enters its murky depths. Not only will you cause yourself some damage falling in, but you’ll also miss the rest of your turn. Come your next go you’ll have to roll to escape and you could climb out into the Cemetery, the Vault, or pop your head through a secret door; or you could end up sliding back in, causing yourself more damage! You get three shots per turn to clamber out, so the odds are in your favour, and if you could just roll that secret door, well, that opens up a lot of sneaky chances for backstabbing!
Finally, there’s the Vault, and this, of course, is the domain of the Vampire!
Entering whilst the Vampire is slumbering will see you take a hit to your health, but this may be for the best, as you’ll become the Vampire, free to stalk the castle and chow down on anyone you can catch, at least for a short time anyway.
Your time as the vampire is limited, and you’ll have to return to the vault before the counter runs down, otherwise you’ll meet an agonising, and probably dusty, end!
So you see, this isn’t a very nice game, and I mean that in the best possible way. It is out to kill you, to torture you into submission, to grind you into the dirt, and that’s before you introduce the other players, who are also out to get you – talk about paranoia!
Anyway, that’s the game in a nutshell, I’ll wrap up by giving my thoughts on the prototype – please bare in mind that this is a game still in development so things may, in fact are likely to, change as things progress into the Kickstarter.
Man, did I like the look of this game. The Artwork is very atmospheric, and resembles those horror comics I used to read as a kid (still do when I have the chance!). Hats off to the artists, Anca Albu and Hueala Teodor, who have captured the theme spot on.
Talking of theme, it felt like I was creeping about a gothic haunted house kind of place rather than a plane of Hell, but that’s no bad thing, and the flavour text of the cards I thought was excellent; we found ourselves reading them aloud at every opportunity.
Getting into the game mechanisms, there’s a few things that are going to set some gamers teeth rattling – player elimination, roll to move, and the odd miss-a-turn.
In reverse order; missing a turn is usually backed up by thematic reasons, and turns happen quite quickly, so as long as your not stuck in the Moat for too long, it isn’t too much of an issue at all.
Rolling to move is something frowned upon these days, but you do still see the odd game resurrect this mechanism – Shadows of Brimstone – and maybe this one has more reason to do so than most. Roll to move was a core mechanism of the original, and Kris wanted to remain true to its heritage, but being fully aware of the consternation this may cause, he has tried to add his own twist.
When rolling the d6 to move you also roll the Castle die, which can have one of the following effects: add or subtract 1 from your move total; stop at, and trigger the first trap you encounter (ouch); draw a Castle card, which isn’t usually too punishing and may even prove beneficial; or no effect at all.
Also, just to make things a little more interesting, 6’s are exploding, i.e. roll a 6 and you roll again, adding the results together, and if this too is a 6, then do it again. There are also other things, like Heirlooms and items/events drawn from various decks that can effect your movement in some way, as well as the character’s power – more about the characters shortly.
On the whole, I thought the movement had been tackled rather well, and it comes into its own when you have power of adjacency over someone. Deciding which direction a player should move their character doesn’t sound that exciting, but in reality it’s rather good fun, especially if you can land them on a trap, or better still, right in front of the Vampire!
Lots of games still employ player elimination, it’s all about balance. You don’t want to be sitting on the sidelines for the majority of the game watching everyone else having fun. Fully aware of this, the game employs the ‘Deathknell’ cards, which are revealed when someone is eliminated, and they force the game along to a closure, often by making things more deadly than they already are.
To some extent I found them successful, but there were times, when down to the final 2-players, that the gameplay slowed right down and became an inevitable cat-and-mouse game. Both the remaining players keeping their distance, waiting for the perfect time to strike or the other player to fall foul of some card or other.
To be honest, I don’t mind player elimination, and mostly it’s okay here, as long as you can handle the fact that, sometime, you’ll be eliminated solely by game mechanisms rather than the good play of others, or your own ineptitude!
The characters are interesting. There are currently six of them to choose from, and include names like, the Stranger, the Collector, the Aristocrat, and the Wanderer, and each has 4 talents, of which two are unique to that character.
The talent has to have a fate token on it in order to activate it, unless it is a passive talent. The 2 standard talents include re-rolling any die/dice you have rolled, and rolling a d6 to add to your movement. As with all talents, once activated the fate token is discarded.
The unique talents are varied, but each character has a passive and an active one. There was some debate about the balance of the characters, as it was felt that certain unique talents were innately more powerful than others. There’s a possibility that this may be deliberate, as the characters are randomly chosen before the game, and then during set-up, the player going first gets to choose which character they want to play. Going first has a disadvantage, that of good chance that following players will land next to you, and thus claim the power of adjacency.
I would have liked to pick my own character, and I would like to see some thematic flavour text on the character cards, a little bit of his or her story – why are they here? On the other hand, though, you’re not likely to stay alive long enough to get attached to them!
One can’t complain about the variance of the room cards though, there’s a lot of interesting things to find and use, and as I mentioned, the flavour text is excellent. Some of the Relic weapons, which, unlike other weapons, can be used repeatedly, I though were overpowered, and once I had one I steered clear of entering another room, thus increasing (hopefully!) my life expectancy by not having to take a chance on drawing a dastardly card.
Taking on the role of the Vampire was fun, especially if you could reach the vault from a long way off by using the exploding die mechanism. Watching everyone run away, or at least try to, holds a humour all of its own. At this point the game turns into a one against many, as the other players concentrate on keeping away from the vampire rather than hunting one another. This often leads to them entering a room, and taking the associated risks, as the Vampire cannot under usual circumstances join them there, but once in, they have to come out again!
Playing 3-6 players in under 90-minutes, it takes familiar concepts used in many mass produced boardgames, such as Risk, Monopoly and Frustration, and adds an atmospheric theme and cut-throat game mechanisms.
The game will feature a few different game modes, including team-ups, a ‘Classic’ mode, which closely resembles the original ‘The Gothic Game’, and a mode that removes player elimination, which is currently under test right now.
So, Overall, I felt Damnation: The Gothic Game, in its current guise, is a game to entice your non-gaming friends into; invite them round, sit them down, add food and drinks, and then suggest they prepare to die!
Simply put – Accept the roll-to-move; Accept the player elimination; Expect to die; Expect to die quickly; Do this, and you’ll have a humorously great time, right up to the last bite!
Hopefully we’ll be hearing more from designer Kris in the run up to the Kickstarter, which launches 24th October.
Till then, you can find out more on the Blackletter Games Website – HERE
Damnation: The Gothic Game BGG page – HERE