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Subject: First Impressions from Origins rss

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Nate Rethorn
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My family/friends and I were able to play a full game of A Touch of Evil: The Supernatural Game with Jason Hill, the designer, at this year's Origins Game Fair. The game isn't scheduled to be released until sometime in September, but Flying Frog productions had a preview copy available to try out at their booth. Below is an overview, a list of components, a summary of the rules, and my general thoughts and impressions about the game after one play. This is my first review, so if you have any questions or there are any elements that I didn't explain clearly, please ask and I'll try to help you out.

Note: One thing that I should have done is take notes as we were playing; unfortunately, I did not. Therefore I'm going off of my memory and some post-play input from other players in the game. There might be a few unintentional mistakes in regards to specific names/locations/titles, but I'm nearly positive I have most of the gameplay correct. If you notice anything mistaken or inaccurate, please let me know and I'll fix it right away.

Also, we only played the basic version of the rules, not the advanced version--which would understandably be a bit difficult to work with on a convention floor. All of the rules I refer to are the basic ones, but I got the impression that there's quite a bit more heft to the advanced game.

Overview: A Touch of Evil: The Supernatural Game is a semi-cooperative/competitive board game set in early 1800s America. The town of Shadowbrook has been invaded by various supernatural monsters who have terrorized the village's inhabitants and laid waste to the surrounding countryside. The game can support up to 8 players, each taking the role of an "outsider" hero who has come to the town to defeat its evil villains and their minions. Unlike Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game, there are no rules for playing more than one hero at a time. Our game was with four players, and each of us became very invested in our own hero's actions and destiny. A big reason for this is that there are no character "deaths," but rather knock-outs which ensure that you remain attached to your own hero instead of drawing a new one every time you lose a battle to the Villain (and in our game, that happened quite a bit).

According to Jason, this game can be played either cooperatively or competitively. We played the competitive version, where the heroes are racing against each other to become the first one to defeat the Villain in a one-on-one showdown. In a cooperative game, however, the heroes work together to defeat a stronger version of the Villain. If they choose, players can take turns rolling dice for the villain, although Jason did a nice job as GM for the game (and I can see how this might be a popular variant).

I think the gameplay and strategies would be quite different for each variant, since many of the cards used in the game can have different effects depending on if you want to hurt a fellow player or help yourself. I don't know if it's a fair comparison, but this element of gameplay reminded me of Munchkin, where you can give bonuses to yourself or other players to help defeat the Villain (cooperative) or stack those bonuses on the Villain to make him more powerful when battling another player (competitive). This feature in A Touch of Evil works quite well, and provides great flexibility in allowing you to choose your own style of playing. I believe Jason also mentioned that there would be rules for team play as well, but I don't know how similar that would be to the LNoE system.

Components: Just like its sister game Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game, A Touch of Evil: The Supernatural Game is absolutely stuffed with gaming goodness. The board is folded, not modular, and has the look of a faded parchment map from the 1800s. At first I was a bit dubious due to the mostly monochromatic color scheme (I tend to like my boards bright and colorful), but its appearance quickly grew on me. It definitely fits the theme the designers were going for, and it's very clearly laid out and easy to read. There is ample space for everything going on, and the heroes never have to worry about bunching up in the same location. The center of the board contains the town of Shadowbrook and its various locations, each of which has some text on it to give the player instructions. This type is a bit on the small side, if I remember correctly, but it doesn't get in the way of the board's aesthetics. And it's pretty easy to remember what each town location does once it's been visited, so I don't think too many people will have problems with it.

Eight hero figures and their respective character charts are included. Just as before, the sculpts are highly detailed and very attractive, and the figures themselves are of the same sturdy quality as the LNoE heroes. These are the only miniatures included in the game, but that's all that A Touch of Evil: The Supernatural Game really needs.

There are four main attributes on a character chart: Cunning, Spirit, Combat, and Honor. Each has a numerical value which can be upgraded through the course of the game by playing certain items, allies, and events. The attribute used most often is Combat: this merely tells you how many dice you can roll when fighting a minion or Villain. Hits occur on a 5 or a 6, and both heroes and Villains (and their minions) have a certain number of wounds they can take before dying. Of course, all of this can be modified in one way or another, but that's the general idea of how to take out your opponent.

The game includes four different villains, each with its own character card that more or less serves the same purpose as a scenario card in LNoE. In addition to character cards, every villain has a unique minion chart, which details the creatures that the villain can send out to harass and fight against the heroes during the game. These minions are represented by glossy character tokens; the two we played against were some kind of evil hound and ghost soldiers--both minions of the Headless Horseman Spectral Horseman (our villain for the game).

There are quite a few other bits, including lots of upgrade tokens for Cunning, Spirit, and Honor, as well as wound tokens (a carryover from LNoE) and a track that looks quite a bit like LNoE's sun track but serves a rather different purpose than a game clock. There are also going to be Investigation tokens (these serve as the currency in the game), but Jason explained that they hadn't been printed yet. Instead, we used blue glass beads, and I rather liked the visual effect they provided. I'm tempted to get a set of my own as replacements.

Finally, there are cards--lots of cards. A Touch of Evil: The Supernatural Game is chock-full of them, much more so than LNoE. There are:

--item cards to buy in the store which give you upgrades to your character chart
--mystery cards that are drawn and played every round, usually spelling trouble for your heroes
--event cards that can be kept in your hand until needed
--lair cards which must be used to force a showdown with the Villain
--four decks of location cards (which I'll get into a bit later)
--town elder cards, which are played at the top of the board before the game starts
--secrets cards that are placed face-down beneath each town elder before the start of the game

Having so many different decks can seem a bit daunting, but it's actually quite easy to get the hang of how and when to draw the right ones. Also included in the game are turn summary cards for each player; this is a nice gesture which greatly helps in player comprehension.

The only component I didn't get a chance to look at was the rulebook; I'm not sure if it was even on the table. But I'm very impressed with the quality and number of components here.

Rules Summary: I'm going to try to keep this lightly detailed, because the more in-depth I get the more certain I am to get something wrong--and I don't want to give false impressions about the game to anyone.

The object of A Touch of Evil: The Supernatural Game is to gather a hunting party (comprised of town elders and your character) and summon the Villain to a Showdown in his secret Lair. At the start of the game town elders are each given a secret (unseen) card, meant to represent the dirty secrets that they might hold. Some of these are harmless and have no effect on the game, but others might reveal that an elder is in fact working for the villain. When you choose elders (up to two) for your hunting party, their secrets are revealed to all--and if an elder is in fact a member of the dark side, his stats are immediately added to the Villain's. Therefore it's important to make sure you only choose "clean" elders to join your party. There are several chances throughout the game to secretly look at elders' secrets ahead of time, which should help you in making a wise decision.

To start a turn, the first player rolls a d6 to determine the number of spaces he may move. On the board there are four corner locations, each with its own unique deck of cards: The Manor, Windmill, Ye Olde Woods, and Abandoned Keep. Paths lead from the town of Shadowbrook out to these places, and there are several locations in the town itself that you may travel to. If you choose to head off to one of the corner locations, you must resolve the encounter by flipping over the top card of that location's deck and reading it out loud. These locations have more risk involved than staying in the down, as you're much more likely to be forced to fight a minion or two (or even an assassin). However, if you can manage to defeat your opponent, the rewards in turn are much greater, usually granting you some amount of Investigation. Not all corner cards are harmful; several give you upgrades or bonuses, or allies that you may play without having to go through an opponent first.

If the player chooses to go to a town space however, he or she must immediately draw an event card and may perform the action listed on the space itself. Two of the town locations have tests--one for Spirit and one for Cunning. Each test requires that you roll a number of dice equal to your attribute score; if any one of those dice rolls meet or exceed a target number your Cunning/Spirit is raised one point. The other three spaces either allow you to heal by paying one investigation per wound at the doctor's, draw two event cards and discard one in the town center, or purchase an item card from the blacksmith by paying the amount of Investigation listed on the card. Afterward, you may choose to take any number of actions listed on your summary card. These include buying a Lair card, spending two Investigation to secretly look at one town elder's "secrets" card, paying three Investigation to heal a wound, or a couple of other options that are slipping my mind right now. blush

Each player in turn then moves and resolves his or her encounters until everybody has had a turn. Then the first player flips over the top card of the Mystery deck and reads it out loud, performing the actions listed. Mystery cards describe the evil that the Villain has been doing in the town and countryside that turn, and their effects are varied but almost always negative to the players. Once the Mystery card has been played, the turn order token passes to the next player and the game starts its next turn.

A bit more on the Lair cards: each contains the name of a location on the board and an Investigation cost. To buy a Lair card you must use an action on your turn (there is no limit to the number of actions you may take) and spend the appropriate Investigation cost--not, I repeat, not the cost printed on the Lair card itself (since these are face-down until you buy one).

How do you know how much Investigation to spend on a Lair card? This is where the previously-mentioned scoring track comes into play. It's numbered from 20 to 1, divided up into five sections of four numbers each (e.g., 20-17, 16-13, etc.) This basically serves as a tempo marker for A Touch of Evil: The Supernatural Game: instead of moving the marker down each turn automatically, it is shifted through the use of Mystery cards and other effects--sometimes more than one number at a time. The Villain immediately wins when the marker reaches the end, so the game can become a nail-biting experience when you're three or four numbers away from losing and any card you draw could shove that down even further.

Below each section is a number that starts at 12 for the section 20-17 and drops down to 1 for the section 4-1. I believe the distribution goes something like 12, 8, 3, 1, 1, but I could be mistaken. It is these five numbers which tell you how much Investigation you need to pay in order to draw a Lair card. At the beginning of the game everyone is grabbing as much Investigation as possible in order to gather needed upgrades, making it ruinous to spend most of your hard-earned income on a Lair card that you shouldn't use until later in the game. Currency is very tight in A Touch of Evil: The Supernatural Game (we rejoiced when a drawn card placed three Investigation tokens on every named space on the board to collect at will), and it pays to wait until later in the game before getting a Lair card. The longer you wait, the cheaper it becomes, but you have to balance that against the distinct possibility that you may not have enough time to defeat the villain before the scoring track runs down.

Once you purchase a Lair card, however, you may start a Showdown with the villain by moving to the location listed on your card and paying its Investigation cost. Yes, you have to pay twice--once to buy the card and once to play it. When a Showdown is started, you may choose up to two town elders and add them to your hunting party after revealing their secrets to all players. Remember, if an elder has a dark secret its card is immediately flipped over to show its evil side before joining the Villain, usually adding at least one additional wound space and combat die to the Villain's stats. Both the Villain and Hero roll their combat dice simultaneously (another player may take the Villain's role temporarily) and apply hits to each other on a 5 or a 6. You're allowed to play cards from your hand to help you in the battle, and in a competitive game other players may add cards to the Villain to prevent you from winning (as mentioned before).

If the Villain takes out all of your wounds, you're "knocked out" and must be immediately sent back to the town center where your wounds are fully healed. Your Lair card is discarded as well, which prevents anyone else from fighting the villain unless they also play their own Lair card at the proper location. Believe me, losing to the Villain is a painful process, since by the time you're killed the odds are good that you've just used up all of your bonuses, extra Investigation, allies, and any single-use cards and powerups in your hand. Then you have to start all over again, collecting investigation and buying another Lair card if you feel confident enough to challenge the Villain soon. I was one die roll away from defeating the Headless Horseman Spectral Horseman the first time I fought him in a Showdown, and it took me the rest of the game before feeling ready to challenge the Horseman again.

Side note: At the time, I didn't realize that you're allowed to run away from a fight; I assumed you had to stay in it until the bitter end. It isn't the end of the world if you find yourself hopelessly outmatched, which should negate some of the sting of realizing you're in over your head.

If you're able to wound the Villain before getting knocked out, those wounds will stay on his sheet, making it easier for another player to take him out. However, he is able to heal three wounds every full turn, so another player waiting in the wings to force a Showdown should do it as soon as possible. In no time at all the Villain can be fully refreshed, ready to mercilessly slaughter the next unlucky Hero.

If, however, you put enough hits on the Villain to fill up his wound sheet and all of his allies', you win the game. Evil has been successfully vanquished, and Shadowbrook can live peacefully once more.

General Thoughts:
It took our group about two hours to get through a full game (including rules explanations), which is right at the upper limit of the 60-120 minute suggested playing time. After we thanked Jason and left the booth, all of us turned to each other and said, "Wow, that was a really fun game." And it is. For me, this was the best of all of the games I tried at Origins this year. It's at least as good as LNoE, and one of my friends thinks it's even better. But why?

For starters, the gameplay is engrossing without being too complicated, challenging without being too hopeless, and varied while sticking to a fairly straightforward rules system. We had very few questions about rules or timing elements once Jason explained the game to us; I think Flying Frog has fixed the problems that plagued LNoE's card interactions. There are more cards in this game than LNoE, but they're used for mostly different purposes. Combat is more reliant on permanent upgrades and allies than playing temporary enhancements, and since there is no player vs. player combat (and the villain doesn't have a card deck) you're mostly able to play your cards when you'd like during a battle. This helps to streamline combat, which is important because that really isn't the main focus of this game--it's the buildup required beforehand.

This brings me to my second point: A Touch of Evil: The Supernatural Game is a rich and rewarding game. Since there's quite a bit more to do than merely fighting monsters, your character becomes more well-rounded instead of solely focusing on combat upgrades. You have to worry about which town elders you'll choose for a hunting party--and since you really want to take 2, it's important to devote some time to figuring out their secrets. Because a Mystery card is played every turn, there's always an element of danger involved even though the board may look deceptively quiet. I didn't get a chance to go through the entire decks for the four corner locations, but my initial impression is that each has a different theme involved instead of just being swappable boilerplate decks with different names on the backs.

A Touch of Evil: The Supernatural Game also drowns the player in story, from the parchment-style board to the excellent-looking cards to the theme that augments the game's mechanics without overwhelming them. This would be a hard game to repackage, since so many of the actions you can take feel directly correlated with what your character is doing in-game. By taking control of only one hero for the entire game, it's easier to become involved in what you're doing without worrying about having to start over with somebody new once yours is killed.

It's important to note that this game is challenging, especially when playing competitively. I was ready to take out the Headless Horseman Spectral Horseman when another player put down a card that spelled certain doom for my character during the Showdown. Because of the difficulty of gathering enough Investigation to outfit your character and buy a Lair card, making sure that you know which town elders you want to bring along, and worrying about other players taking you out only after you weaken the Villain for them, there will be a lot of groaning and laughing at the table if you fall short of your goal in a spectacularly frustrating fashion. There's a sense of unity around the table when someone starts a Showdown (unless, of course, you're waiting in the wings to mop up the pieces), and everyone gets into the combat as well, cheering on the player fighting desperately to stay conscious. This isn't a gentle game by any means, but the players' collective energies are focused on defeating the villain and not on attacking each other. I like my cutthroat games, but A Touch of Evil: The Supernatural Game is difficult and fiendish without being antagonistic. I think that's an important distinction to make, because even those of us who lost the game still left the table grinning and wanting to play again. We had a collective sense of accomplishment once we saw the Headless Horseman Spectral Horseman go down in flames after many, many difficult struggles.

I don't want to give this game a rating because it was basically a pre-release, unfinished version and I only played one session of the basic rules. But I know that I'll be pre-ordering it as soon as Flying Frog's webstore puts up the link--and for me, that's a very strong recommendation. I can't wait to play A Touch of Evil: The Supernatural Game again, and encourage even those who disliked some elements of LNoE to give this one a chance. It was loads of fun for all involved, and isn't that what playing games is all about?

Note: this has also been posted on my website, www.ignorantcritics.com
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James Murray
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Thanks for the low-down Nate and well done for remembering everything!

The game sounds interesting and as you state FUN, which is I buu games first and foremost.

How do you feel it would play with just two players?

It's rare we get more players round here, just usually me and my partner Kathy.

Thanks again for the write-up.
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Casey Rogers
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Thanks for posting your impressions! They were great! I'm really liking the sound of this game and I think it may make my x-mas list this year. Yeah, I'm already planning 6 months out!
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Nate Rethorn
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zombie67 wrote:
How do you feel it would play with just two players?

It's rare we get more players round here, just usually me and my partner Kathy.
If you're playing the cooperative game, I have a feeling it might be a bit more difficult than playing competitively. The co-op version beefs up the villain's stats and abilities, and unless there's a way to adjust for a lower number of players I think you could be in for a rather frustrating experience.

However, if you decide to go the competitive route I think two players would be just fine. There isn't a lot of direct player interaction in the game because the only opportunities to say "screw you" come when someone's having a showdown with the villain. Because the final confrontation is one-on-one, you should get much the same experience as if you were playing with four or five players. Most of your decisions during a competitive game don't really take too much into account what everyone else is doing; you're focused on getting your character prepped to battle and defeat the villain before anyone else. It's a race, more or less, which is part of the reason why the game scales so well--at least for the competitive version.

All of this could be slightly changed when you play the advanced rules, but right now I think it would be just as much fun.
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Matt Mac
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From the way you describe it, this sounds like something I could really get into. I have a lot of respect for Flying Frog, but there was still that nagging fear in the back of my skull that it would be a rethemed LNoE or a watered-down Arkham Horror. I feel much better now! Thanks for the report!
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Scott Everts
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MeGrimlockKing wrote:
... or a watered-down Arkham Horror...

Actually I could handle a watered down Arkham Horror. I do like the game but it can be a long experience. I'd like to see something like that game we can finish in 2 hours. A shorter game with the same heavy theme and fun but something we can finish when we don't have enough time for Arkham.
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Paul
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That was a great and thorough review, thanks!

As the info about this game has been quite thin on the ground it is nice to get a good idea of how the game works (although I enjoy LNoE I was also concerned that AToE might be more or less the same game. It doesnt seem so now )

I was on the fence about A Touch of Evil but now I think that I will take the plunge.
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dave boulton
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it sounds a bit like a sortov talisman/arkham crossover form your write up, this is no bad thing! I woudl i have gotten it as a preorder anyways but i am doubly excited now, thanks for teh review its very good, succinct? no good? yes
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Jim McCarty
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I also had a chance to play the game at Origins. I agree: it is a great fun game. Had it been available, I would have bought it on the spot. I really like LNOE, but it is obvious that Flying Frog has taken "lessons learned" and created an even better game. According to Jason the difficulty will scale between competitive and cooperative game play. It also seems possible to play competitive/cooperative with higher numbers of players by playing teams against each other. zombiezombiezombie
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Bren Mayhugh
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I also was able to jump into a game of it while at Origins and I got to say that I was very impressed with the game. It has just the right amount of luck, complexity, strategy and interaction that I look for in a game for my normal gaming buddies. The plot and the feel of the game really puts you into those 1800s sytle movies that has you search for clues to find the evil villian.

I was a single die roll away from defeating the Headless Spectral Horseman but succumbed to my wounds before the fight could be complete. Before the villian had a chance to recover from his wounds, a second player came in to steal the victory.

All in all, I'd would have picked it up that minute if it was on sale and I was only allowed to buy a single board game at the show!

Awesome game and a great review!
-Bren
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Cheers Nate - good review.

Looks like I'll be picking this one up too when it's out.
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Matt Mac
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ScottE wrote:

Actually I could handle a watered down Arkham Horror. I do like the game but it can be a long experience. I'd like to see something like that game we can finish in 2 hours. A shorter game with the same heavy theme and fun but something we can finish when we don't have enough time for Arkham.

Agreed! If someone could take the gaming nutrition of AH and get rid of the Hungry Man portion size then you'd have a winner on your hands. Not sure where that metaphore came from...
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emperorhand wrote:
Because of the difficulty of gathering enough Investigation to outfit your character and buy a Lair card, making sure that you know which town elders you want to bring along, and worrying about other players taking you out only after you weaken the Villain for them, there will be a lot of groaning and laughing at the table if you fall short of your goal in a spectacularly frustrating fashion. There's a sense of unity around the table when someone starts a Showdown (unless, of course, you're waiting in the wings to mop up the pieces), and everyone gets into the combat as well, cheering on the player fighting desperately to stay conscious. This isn't a gentle game by any means, but the players' collective energies are focused on defeating the villain and not on attacking each other. I like my cutthroat games, but A Touch of Evil: The Supernatural Game is difficult and fiendish without being antagonistic.

I'm not warried about being antagonistic, but I really dislike cutthroat games that amount to people throwing "Take that!" cards at the leader resulting in the winner simply being the person who got lucky and went for the win when nobody had any cards to zap them with.

How is the game in this regard?

Also, the game does sound very similar to Talisman. Do you think that's the case?
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Nate Rethorn
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Trump wrote:
I'm not warried about being antagonistic, but I really dislike cutthroat games that amount to people throwing "Take that!" cards at the leader resulting in the winner simply being the person who got lucky and went for the win when nobody had any cards to zap them with.

How is the game in this regard?

Also, the game does sound very similar to Talisman. Do you think that's the case?
I don't think it's nearly as bad as Munchkin, although some of the mechanics are similar. Part of the reason is that the cards played against you are less important than what you can do on your own. The ones I saw were very balanced and didn't necessarily swing the game in a large direction one way or the other (whereas Munchkin has those "+10 level" or "wandering monster" cards that can make or break a fight). It just so happened that during my turn I was literally one die roll away from either beating the Villain or dying, and the card played on me (although small in effect) was enough to alter the battle's outcome.

In addition, it's not likely that you're going to have a large hand of cards, so there are fewer opportunities to be able to throw something at another player. Because the Villain can be so challenging to defeat, it might be in your best interest to hope that he'll take out your opponent without help--since you might want to use that card to aid your fight instead.

This is only for the competitive version, of course. You won't need to worry about any of this with the cooperative game.

As for Talisman, I haven't played it so I'm not really able to make a good comparison. Sorry.
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Alex Dial
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Yargh! Must . . . own . . .

I'm feeling a sharp pain in my wallet with all these great games coming out. Makes me feel a great swell of pity for those of us who have to explain to wives (or parents) where our money goes. . .
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I hadn't really considered this until someone mentioned it here. I am almost definitely buying this game as soon as it comes out. Should I postpone my Arkham Horror purchase? Do they really occupy the same type of gaming niche?
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Matt Mayse
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From what I have seen and played of AToE, it does have that "build then beat the big bad Boss" feel of both AH and Talisman, but where Talisman is strictly beefing up your character and fighting minions to ultimately get to the Boss, AH has several methods to win the game other than just facing and beating the Boss at the end. AH is a much deeper cooperative tactical and strategy game with many elements and twists/turns that potentially change the way you approach the end-game. I would recommended to any gamer to have AH in their arsenal of games, but AToE is definitely a much lighter fare than AH for those that don't have the time to pull AH out teach a new player or actually play for several hours. AToE is easily deeper and much more engrossing than Talisman's approach to beating the Boss, giving it a higher level of elemental gaming goodness than Talisman and its varied number of available clones. Definitely, save up and buy Arkham Horror, but I recommend buying this one when it comes out to at least give you a taste of what's to come when you do make your AH purchase...
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