Murderous Ghosts

Vincent Baker (creator of In A Wicked Age, Dogs in the Vineyard to name a couple) just released a new game, Murderous Ghosts (currently in pre-order phase). I was fortunate enough to get to playtest the game along with 205 other people.

In the span of a couple weeks I was able to play through the game 4 times. Although thanks to busy lives and such I didn’t actually get to play it in person. I played 3 play-by-email games (two where I was the GM, one where I was the player) and I ran one game over Google+ with Hangout.

I’ll start off by saying I’m not normally a big fan of horror. I don’t so much dislike it as generally there’s plenty of other options that appeal to me. But, I’m a big fan of Vincent’s games and I’m always up to playtest something new. I was especially interested since it’s a game for just two players and is designed to be played in a short amount of time (20-60 minutes).

The game is really quite simple. There are two playbooks — one for the GM, one for the player. Each one has instructions to follow that are specific to each role. The resolution mechanic is done with a deck of cards — the GM draws cards face-down occasionally throughout the game as the player gets closer to escape. The player does most of the drawing and always draws face-up. Depending on the value of cards in their hand (Aces are 1, numbers are face value, face cards are 11), there are 3 outcomes: high hand, low hand, or bust (too low or too high). Generally, a high hand means things are going well for the player, low hand means things are okay, but could be batter, busts tend to be pretty bad news.

The game plays a bit like a 2-player choose your own adventure. Each playbook is broken into sections. And based on what happens in the game, you may do some particular action, draw a card, turn to a different section, or tell the other player to turn to a different section.

The layout is plain and simple and the text isn’t embellished. It makes it easy to follow and there are some helpful headings and margin notes to help you along — always do this, make a decision here, etc…

Each game I played in created a pretty cool, compelling story. The 3 pbem games I did took somewhere between 1 & 3 days (not counting a weekend break for one). The one game that took a bit longer was due in part to great luck on the player’s part, and he managed to eventually escape un-murdered! The Google+ game took right around 25 minutes. Even better was that they were all extremely different. For the 3 games I ran, one centered around a dead bride’s ghost that had been strangled and drowned, another was a factory worker that had been electrocuted, and the third centered around the ghost of a person that tortured animals as well as all the various animal ghosts — that one was probably my favorite.

It’s even more fantastic when you consider there’s no real prompting as to what type of ghost(s) to use. Part of the premise is always the same (the player is an urban explorer), but other than that it’s really wide open as to what you come up with.

It’s also worth nothing that a number of people reported success in playing with people that either never role-played before or just do it often. Even more impressive was the number of those thrown into the GM’s seat and how well they did. That speaks volumes about the ease of getting into the game.

I really can’t recommend this game enough, and that’s coming from someone that’s normally not a fan of the genre, but there’s something really compelling about the gameplay. The flipping pages, not knowing what might be next or where the other player might tell you to turn. Very clever and a lot of fun!

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