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



Andrea Crespi
Lorenzo Silva

Horrible Games

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G@mebox Star



G@mebox author Ralf Togler writes about the game:

Autumn 2004: Me and a friend of mine are sitting in the dark living room of my flat (while my wife is working in the late shift), manoeuvring our space marine in the newest first player shooter video game that I have just installed on my computer. Agog with expectations we are creeping along the floor, moving away from our strange, vandalised arriving point on Mars. All of a sudden, the wall next to us is torn apart by a scary creature right from hell that immediately begins to attack us with its claws. Both of us, although expecting sudden movements, wince like hell by the screak of the creature (maybe we should have lowered the volume before). The game we played was named Doom and it was one of the last video games I have played, and definitely the last ego-shooter.

Obviously, I am nowadays much more engaged in the boardgame world. And there is definitely not enough time for me to play video games any more. In addition to that, I ran out of steam with that kind of game. But I must admit that I sometimes look back at the time when I still played video games.

That's one reason why I was gleaming with pleasure when I first heard about the plans of HORRIBLE GAMES to create a dungeon crawler boardgame that sets you in the same mood and situation of stress as you face while playing an ego-shooter video game. Two and a half year later, I am holding one of the Kickstarter copies in my hands. Alone is the name of the game and the name says it all. At least for the part of the hero player. The game is originally a two-player game, but it can well be played with up to four players. But with any number of players, the hero player always plays alone, and he alone is confronted with the comparable feelings of the video games. All of the other players control the evil creatures that the hero player has to fight.

Having said this, you can easily conduct that Alone is a highly unsymmetrical game, indeed it is probably the most unsymmetrical game I own (ignoring the game master roles in RPG). Adopting the idea of the video games, the hero player starts at an arriving point of a two storey rectangular dungeon, divided into 24 sectors with floors and four rooms on each level. The storeys are connected by two stairways at the middle of the two longer sides of the storeys. The rooms have 2-3 doors respectively that lead to new floors again. All of that is known from start on. There is only one problem: The storeys and rooms are all set up by the evil players behind a screen and the hero players does know nothing about where to find which room and where is is at the beginning of the game.

On the contrary, the hero is placed in just one sector of the labyrinth by the evil players and the only thing the hero player gets, is an enlarged version of this sector with his hero figure. She or he neither knows the orientation of this sector or any of the sectors adjacent to it. To make it even worse, it is completely dark in the dungeon. This on the one hand worsens the visibility of the hero, on the other hand the evil creatures become more powerful in the dark, while the hero is handicapped in the fighs.

Alone is a round and turn based game with the hero and evil players taking turns alternating. Let's start with the hero player to see what he can do in his turn: obviously there is a move action, for the player has to find his or her objectives. Normally in a scenario the hero player has to find 2-3 specified rooms to do some special actions in it, before he gets defeated. And of course the hero has to move to find this rooms. But moving to unrevealed sectors is not always the best choice. Admittedly, you don't fall from the edge of the world when you do it, because the evil players have to add the new sector as given on their hidden labyrinth, but with the room, they also place all elements that are currently in the room. If there is a creature in the room, it might scare the hero with the result of loss of self control, next to health a critical value for the hero.

To prevent moving to unrevealed sectors, the hero can use an explore action that reveals the next 2 adjacent sectors in a chosen direction. Again the evil players are forced to add the corresponding enlarged sectors with all elements in it as given from the labyrinth. But, because the hero is not directly in the same sector of new creatures, he won't get hurt. So, that's usually a good choice before moving, but on the other hand it takes time, and time is a critical factor as you will learn. There is just not enough time to explore everything in the labyrinth, and therefore it is good that the hero player can also use a locate action. With this action the evil players are forced to tell the hero player the distance from the hero player's position to two chosen targets on the map. For example the hero player could ask for a certain creature he has faced before and the final room he is looking for.

The hero player can also scavenge to find items in the sector he or she is standing. Items can be very powerful for the fights and to amplify the one or other action, but again it takes time to find them. Speaking about fights, there is the next action. Of course, the hero player can fight the creatures he finds in the labyrinth. A simple dice roll (normally with 2 dice) determines if the hero hits the creature. Then, the creature stats table tells us, if it takes a wound and when it is dead. Creatures do not immediately strike back, but a hero can usually only perform one action in his or her turn. The only exceptional is when the hero player chooses to take a bullet time, enabling him to perform two actions in a row before the evil creatures can attack. But of course, you will guess it, bullet times are limited by adrenaline tokens, that on the other hand can be used for healing the player (and might be missed for that)...

Last but not least, the hero player can interact with elements of the board. On the one hand these elements are found in the rooms to reach the objectives, on the other hand there are some LCU's (Light Control Units) that can switch on the light in adjacent sectors in one direction from the hero. As said, lighted sectors enormously improve the hero player's abilities, but again: time is precious....

Let's now see how the evil players can react. Comparing to the actions of the hero player, the evil players' actions are quite simple. In reaction to an action of the hero they simply can play one of their hand cards. With these cards the players can spawn new evil creatures, move the existing ones and do some major or minor direct harm to the hero. Most cards have additional effects that make creatures stronger or bend the rules. Of course, most of these actions are carried out on the labyrinth behind the screen, hidden from the hero player.

Now you might think, that this is a boring job, compared to the actions of the hero. But it is definitely not. The evil players have to think out a good strategy to position the creatures at the right sectors, mislead the hero, forcing him to take an uneven course towards his or her objectives. Furthermore, the evil players always have to keep the labyrinth as well as the enlarged part the hero is facing up-to date. Creatures however automatically attack (again with the help of a dice roll) whenever they are in the hero's sector at the end of a turn, and whenever the hero leaves a sector with an evil creature. Moreover, creatures turn off the light again, when they are in an enlightened sector without the hero.

Three or more rounds with eight turns each can be played before the nightmare mode is triggered. This is not the end of the game, but it makes it significantly more complicated for the hero player to win the game, because all creatures become stronger in nightmare mode. As said, time is precious, and the hero player should always try to complete missions as soon as possible.

Much more could be said about the game, but I think you got a rough idea about how Alone plays like. And it plays fantastically well. At the beginning I was a little bit sceptical, if the evil players could share their tasks. But I have to admit that the game even works with four players, because everyone is focused on the next steps of the hero. Although the evil players try to prevent the hero reaching his or her aims, they are engrossed in the match. I seldom played a game with such a deep tension, and remember, the game is not real-time. But it nearly feels like.

Alone truly is something different. The rulebook explains that the game is not your regular dungeon crawler. And it is right. The unrevealed sectors that only gradually come in play, make the game very special. By the way, the hero player should have a good memory, because by changing the storey, all enlarged sectors are taken away for the hero player again...

For me, Alone was a great new experience of playing boardgames. The game probably was an experiment for HORRIBLE GAMES, because up to now it was only available once via Kickstarter. But the next campaign is already scheduled, so I hope that it will make it to the regular supply. A great campaign book rounds off the awesome experiences I made with the game.

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Copyright © 2018 Ralf Togler & Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany