To get into the spirit of Halloween I’ve been wanting a horror-themed board game for a while now, something that would capture that feeling of investigation some and have monsters to face off against. I’m a fan of the Lovecraft mythos but the games I’ve seen and played never really captured that feeling well. And face it, trying to get the essence of a person losing their sanity facing incomprehensible horrors isn’t really something that translates into a game mechanism easily.
Digging around I decided to pick up A Touch of Evil from Flying Frog. It’s a game that can handle up to 8 players with a variety of play modes from a winner take all, working in teams, cooperative, to even a solo game. Overall it’a something that seems to scratch the itch of a horror game for me.
Players are monster hunters in the 18th century, trying to rid a colonial town of a terrible supernatural threat. They can choose 1 of 8 characters each with varying characteristics among cunning, spirit, and combat abilities. Additionally, each has a special ability that allows them to bend the rules some. Checks and combat are a simple matter of rolling a number of dice and counting 5 and 6s as successes.
The players face off against one of four creatures, being either a werewolf, vampire, a locust-summoning scarecrow, or a spectral (headless) horseman. Each monster has unique minions and other game effects that can hamper the heroes. Some are rather interesting like the werewolf that can pass on its curse to other players or the spectral horseman that runs to town attacking all in his way, to more basic abilities that just increase their combat proficiency.
The player’s turn is broken down into 2 steps. They roll a die and move that number of spaces. If there is a monster in a space, they must fight to defeat it (or run away if they survive the initial attack). Afterwards the player has several options from investigating an area to hopefully find a powerful artifact, gather up clues, heal, or attempt to gain equipment within the village proper. All currency in the game is based off of investigation tokens. Players gain them by traveling around the woods outside the town or by beating villain minions. As a nice rule, if a player flubs and rolls a 1 for movement, they gain an events card to offset the low roll.
When players have enough allies and items, they can try and beat the monster in a showdown. They attempt to track the creature down to its lair and begin an epic fight trying to whittle down the creature’s wounds and survive. If they fail they are knocked out, returning to the center of town next turn minus some resources.
After each player has a turn, the monster gets to play a mystery card. This may initiate an event like adding one of its minions to the board, or it will undertake a special attack. Additionally the monster may be able to move the shadow track. This is a countdown of sorts. When it reaches zero everyone loses. Additionally the shadow track dictates the investigation cost to find the creature’s lair. Earlier in the game, it’s more expensive while the cost to investigate the lair decreases as the shadow track approaches 0.
For the most part, that is the game. Players try to move around the board and successfully employ their skills with tests of cunning and spirit, or fighting lesser monsters at certain locations. They slowly accumulate special items, or buy equipment in town, gathering up allies until they feel they are powerful enough to fight the main villain. The tweak to this is the village elders.
The game starts with 6 village elders. Players can enlist up to 2 of them to help in the final battle with the monster. Most are immensely helpful, improving the combat abilities of the hero. More importantly, they can also soak up hits. The player has to be careful though as if the village elder is killed, the shadow track will move down. This isn’t as clear cut a choice selecting the village elders however. Each elder has a randomly assigned secret, some are beneficial or don’t significantly alter their abilities, however about a third of the secrets hides that the elders are actually evil. Pick the wrong one and you can suddenly find the monster has another minion in the fight.
To ensure you aren’t selecting an evil village elder, players can pay investigation to see where their heart lies. This information is useful, as opposing players can call out evil village elders during a showdown, allowing them to join the monster in the final battle. This entire portion of the game really makes it for me. You want to spend the time investigating the town elders to seek out potential allies, or find out which ones are best to turn on other player’s if needed.
The Good – What stands out are the variety of play modes for the game. You can play it as a coop (or solo), working as teams, or everyone out for themselves and this variety adds a lot of replay value to the game. It’s a fun experience gathering up resources to fight the monster. Additionally the shadow track an effective clock on ending the game which helps ramp up the tension. When village elders die, not only are the players potentially losing an ally but the shadow track drops down, ever closer to zero. This helps capture that feeling impending doom for the players and pushes them to act quickly.
The components are top notch. The cards are thick and coated in plastic. The counters are made of nice cardstock. There are several well sculpted plastic figures to represent the hero pawns, even an audio track CD is included in the game. The board has an antique map look to the layout of the village and surrounding areas. The card art is done rather differently using actual photographs of costumed characters. There are more hits than misses with the depicted photos and it portrays the gothic horror theme fair enough.
The Bad – The game is roll and move. Even with the event card bonus rule added for rolls of 1, it can be frustrating at times not getting to the location needed due to poor die rolls. The combat and task resolution is a little simplistic, where you simply want to roll as many dice as possible to get more successes. Games with high number of players when not working as teams can drag sometimes. And while there are plenty of heroes to try out, there are a limited number of villains which may not provide enough variety in how they interact with the rest of the game. Additionally the art overall is alright, yet some might find particular cards lackluster as the photographs can be a little campy.
The Verdict – A Touch of Evil is an enjoyable game. What really stands out are the variety of play styles, from a standard coop to a free-for-all where everyone tries to be the hero and take down the monster themselves. I feel what works best for the game is the competitive team mode. For me it captures that feeling of an old 60s-70s Hammer film in a colonial setting. The potentially twisted village elders, the snooping around particular locations, the slow accumulation of equipment and allies until you can have the final big fight against the creature, it all works well as a horror game and is great fun. If you’re looking for a horror board game that isn’t quite stuck in the Cthulhu-theme rut, this is a great one to pick up.