I have been obsessed with ghosts since I was 5. The first three weeks of pocket money I got when I became five – the official age when you started to get some pocket money in my family – I spent in a book for children with hundreds of stories about ghosts. I can’t remember how many times I read that book, but I remember I had it until I was 15 and I still remember a few stories, so I guess it was a few.
One thing that became very obvious to me from an early age is that ghosts stories tend to be tragic ones. If anything because they involve someone’s death. But I also learned that they make great stories.
Phantom is Ludonaute’s attempt to mix great story with great gaming and for that they’ve come up with a ghosts story.
“Pah! There are plenty of games out there that combine great story and great gameplay” I hear you say. Maybe, but there is a twist to this one.
This game is not just a game. It is actually, a book too. So much so that it comes with its own ISBN. The game is based on the story, but you don’t need to read the story to play the game, or play the game to enjoy the story. It helps, though!
The format is truly lovely. If you haven’t seen the unboxing video yet, you might want to spend a few minutes watching it. This game comes in an A5 size box divided in two parts. The box looks like a book and feels like a book. In fact when you open it, the first thing you have is a book.
Said book has the story and the game rules written both in French and English side by side. Very well printed and very well bound, reading the story is a joy. It just feels right to hold this box in your hand and flip the pages. The story is lovely – more on it in a paragraph or two – and very entertaining, with a great dose of atmosphere that gives you enough to help you get immersed in the game, without becoming a chore to read.
The bottom part of the box contains two decks of cards. And my goodness the cards are incredible. Although a bit on the slippery side, they are the thickets cards I’ve ever seen in a game. Printed full colour and with seriously gorgeous illustrations, one can tell this game has been designed to be played time and time again, which you will want to do if you want to get the most out of it anyway. I was extremely impressed with the decks. And with the illustrations.
The story sets up in colonial times in a mansion where a massacre has taken place. The result of the massacre is that two ghosts, that of a doctor and an American Indian, are competing for the control of the mansion. When a new family moves into the property, they see a way to draw power from the fear they instil in the members of the family.
The game gives each of the two players control of one of the ghosts. They have at their disposal six types of spirits with unique abilities that they can use to lure family members into the home, scare them into different locations within the mansion, steal other ghosts, etc.
During setup, a basic layout of the mansion is laid on the table. This displays the 5 main locations in the property. Each turn, players can place up to two cards. A place and/or a ghost. Place cards add new rooms and aspects to the main locations, for example a gazebo to the garden, and each new place has fear points to represent how scary they are to the family members. Players can also place a ghost, though not on the place they just laid, and carry out its effects. Once the “fear factor” of the combined places and ghosts matches the fear resistance of the family member, said family member is claimed by the player with the highest fear inspiring set of cards. First player to gather 11 points, wins the game. Each family member has a set number of victory points allocated to them.
The game play is rather simple and indeed the game plays in about 20 minutes. Our first game took us about 45 and that included reading the rules, so this could be the perfect game to take to a pub while you wait for your friends to arrive.
Although the game is not without its flaws, I have found it very enjoyable every time I’ve played it. Even if you don’t need to read the story to play the game, it is so accurately brought into the game that it really becomes very easy to visualise in your head what’s happening when you charm someone, or scare them into another room.
The rules will take you a bit to get used to, though. Not because they’re complex -they’re not – but because the translation is not as good as it could be and some meaning is lost in translation. For example the rules call “stock” instead of “deck”, and the word used for location is “apparition”. Once you get round it, and the best way is to start playing the game, everything falls into place and within minutes you’ll be playing without looking at the rules.
The number of family members is high enough that the element of unpredictability stays high, but small enough that you can control who’s left to come to formulate your winning strategy.
There are a couple of aspects of the game that are a bit unbalanced. For example the toddler will give you twice the number of points than any other member of the family. However the two older siblings give you less than any other member. This is to reflect that toddlers are more difficult to scare than pubescents and it is well portrayed in the story, but it could mean that a bad hand of cards will ruin your chances of winning if you invest too much in getting the toddler.
This game benefits greatly from continued play, though. Once you get to understand how many cards are there, how many ghosts of what type and how many different places and their effects, one can start to predict – or try to – what’s coming and device a longer term strategy.
Overall I find this game very satisfying. With stunning visuals and gorgeous theme and atmosphere, the simple mechanics make it perfect for a quick game between games and to bring people into different card games. It isn’t a super deep game that will suck you in and make you spend weeks creating strategies, but it will certainly keep you amused and occupied for many hours.
Very recommended indeed!
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