Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Simon McGregor

GAMES 2013

No. of Players:
2 - 4



The release of FFG's version of Arkham Horror back in 2006 has brought me to a type of games which I had not yet played before - games based on horror and pulp fiction. Although fantasy books from TSR and adventure movies a la Indiana Jones had my attention since my childhood, I had never touched the books of H.P. Lovecraft or E.A. Poe. However, Richard Launius' Arkham Horror changed this quite, and from this point onwards games with such strange dark settings have found my special attention.

I have first stumbled upon Simon McGregor's Ancient Terrible Things during my preparations for the SPIEL 14, scrolling through Eric Martin's very useful listing of all novelties within the BGG database. The image of the darkly foreboding temple entrance on the box cover instantly caught my eye, and looking at the images of the game components in the database reassured me even more that this was a game I needed to check out.

The story behind Ancient Terrible Things actually resembles an expedition journal of Arkham's Miskatonic University: a group of four adventurers (the Prospector, the Journalist, the Heiress and the Captain) follows a river into a dark jungle, and on their way they come upon different fateful locations where omnious things and creatures can be encountered. A player who masters such an encounter will collect valuable Ancient Secrets (=victory points), whereas a failure leads to the collection of Terrible Things tokens which lead to negative points at the end of the game.

The game runs on a normal turn-by-turn basis, with each player taking a turn trying to explore a location before the next player takes over. At the beginning of the game Encounter cards have been dealt to each location, and these cards come from a semi-random deck which consists of easy, medium and hard cards which have been shuffled in groups and then stacked with the easiest cards on top. At some instances during the game new Encounters will be distributed upon the six locations on the board, but this happens only when all locations have been visited by the players. The Encounter cards show beautiful dark illustrations of the things awaiting the approaching adventurer, and in addition they list one or more useful token(s) which the adventurer can collect if he visits this location.

After choosing a location, the active player first is allowed to collect the benefits available there (tokens and a location-specific bonus) and then he will have to face the Encounter. This is the point where four differently coloured sets of dice come into play, and usually the player may roll the five available green Focus dice in order to match the requirements of the current Encounter card. The cards list different kinds of dice combinations like high numbers, pairs, blocks of three or more dice or even a straight, and the player has a maximum of two rerolls in order to reach the card's requirements. Don't worry, we are not talking about Arkham Yatzhee here - Simon had some quite nice ideas which will vary this seemingly well-known dice-rolling mechanism. So, a player is only allowed to re-roll his whole hand of green Focus dice, unless he spends some Focus tokens which allow the re-rolling of just one dice per token spent. In addition, equipment and one-use Feat cards may allow the player to add blue Feat dice, yellow Luck dice and the red Panic dice, and each kind of dice follows its own rules for re-rolls. So, the Panic dice cannot be-rerolled at all, whereas Luck dice can be re-rolled for free and Feat dice can be adjusted by the spending of Feat tokens. So, depending on the kinds of dice available to the player, he has some possibilities to influence the outcome of his Encounter positively in order to avoid the appearance of a Terrible Thing.

When the player is finished rolling his dice, he can spend the dice to (possibly) solve the Encounter and to acquire additional Focus, Feat, Treasure and Courage tokens by spending different combinations of dice. If the Encounter is solved, the player will receive the Encounter card which will count as victory points when the game is over, whereas a failure means that the card is discarded and the player receives a Terrible Thing marker which will penalize him in the end-of-game evaluation.

Before the player's turn is over, he will once again leave the location in order to return to the Trading Post by the river, and here he may spend Treasure tokens to acquire new Equipment cards which can be purchased from an open display. The game ends when all Encounter cards have been used or all Terrible Things markers were taken, and in the final evaluation the players add up the value of their solved Encounters and possible bonus points from some Equipment cards and then substract the value of the collected Terrible Things tokens. In addition, extra points are awarded to the players who have solved most Encounters of each of the four different types, and the player with most points will be declared the lone survivor of this dangerous trip into the jungle!

While the concept of dice games with options for improving the results certainly is not new, Simon has found a very charming way to combine the traditional dice rolling with new options so that everything adds up to a quite appealing game. As can be seen by the rules outlined above, the players can use different dice, they can get one-time benefits through the use of Feat cards and they can spend their collected tokens in different ways to help them when dealing with an Encounter. Even though the players partly have to rely on their luck when rolling the dice, the use of these different means of improvement nicely helps in mitigating the influence of luck. Unlike other dice collection games like Roll Through the Ages some of the Feat cards included in Ancient Terrible Things even allow a bit of direct player interaction (e.g. stealing tokens or equipment), but these acts of aggression stand in balance with the rest of the game so that no player can get an unbeatable advantage by such an action. In addition, all players will receive a constant flow of Feat cards, and the cards which cannot be used against other players have nice powers of their own.

Some years ago games like Kingsburg or Airships re-vitalized the use of dice in boardgames by coining a new category of strategic dice-games. Over the following years this line has been more or less successfully continued by other games like 1969 or Alea Iacta est, but in general the quality of these games can be measured by the fact how well the authors were able to reduce the influence of luck. Here Ancient Terrible Things is a good example how a well-designed boardgame can make up with a bit of luck when enough care has been put into the other playing mechanisms, and considering the fact that even Richard's Launius' Arkham Horror needs dice to decide on tests and combat, I can strongly recommend the much shorter and thrilling Ancient Terrible Things to all pulp horror fans!

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