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My review of Ghost Stories

Don't believe the haters! One of the best board game purchases I made this year was this gem, Antoine Bauza's Ghost Stories.

From the publisher:
Many fell putting an end to the reign of terror of Wu-Feng, Lord of the Nine Hells. The funerary urn housing his ashes was buried in the cemetery of a village in the Middle Empire. Years have passed, and the cursed legacy has been forgotten by the living. Hidden away in hell, Wu-Feng has forgotten nothing. His incessant research allowed him to locate the receptacle. The shadow of his former incarnation already extends to the villagers, who are unaware of the danger threatening them. Fortunately, the Fat-Si (Taoist priests) keep watch, guarding the border between the dead and the living. Armed with their courage, their faith, and their powers, they will try to return the reincarnation of Wu-Feng to Hell.

My observations after 7.5 solo games (1.5 win, 6 losses):

Physical Engagement: Very Good
• Setting up is sort of part of the game experience as the central village tiles are always randomly placed, and the player boards, also randomly placed, are double-sided with a unique power on each side. Thus, each time you begin, your mind is already engaged by the new "landscape" that emerges before you - and it only takes seconds!
• Little bits and pieces are flavorful and add to the atmosphere and themes of Asian fantasy. The mini golden Buddha statues are adorable! The black plastic "haunters" are 3-D pieces that float their way toward the people you're trying to protect, and they MAKE this game a true fantasy horror experience!
• The ghosts that attack the village are represented by cards with unique illustrations and power mechanics that fit the kinds of undead abominations that they represent. There's no lazy generic imagery here - the Dark Wraith will scare you, the Drowned Maiden will disturb you, the Hopping Vampire will make you laugh, and the Black Widow will enchant you to your doom...

Solo Mechanics: Excellent
• The solo rules do what I love - they use almost all of the pieces and mechanics that the game would use if you were playing cooperatively with 4 people. The 1P adjustments, like being able to access other player boards' special powers for a price, are super clever and never make you feel like you're playing half a game.
• The challenge-level of Ghost Stories is its greatest area of contention. Many complain that the game is too difficult - whether solo or otherwise. My guess is that many of the complainers are not necessarily solo enthusiasts who desperately CRAVE a tough game. BOTTOM LINE: Ghost Stories is difficult to win even at its easiest level (the game has scalable difficulties), but it is NOT impossible to win. In fact, a solo win is almost guaranteed if you play initiate level controlling the blue board with the Heavenly Gust power. I won almost twice in a row with that combo; I did not finish the second game, a test of my theory, because my inevitable win wasn't fun (hence the .5, above).
• One more thing to mention here: this is a pretty easy game to learn, despite what you read anywhere else on the Internet. Bauza opts to lay out all of the rules on the table through a system of symbols. Once you know the symbols, you can play the game without ever consulting the rule book again.

Immersive Aesthetic: Very Good
• Do I feel like there's an ever-increasing force of undead, ghosts, and demons trying to possess innocent villagers while heralding the return of a great evil that I must try, against all odds, to exorcise? YES! Evil's invasion is progressively relentless, and you are CONSTANTLY challenged to prioritize your responses to the threats. Sacrifices will have to be made, but determining which sacrifice is best is nearly impossible - and I love that, too!
• Awesome Asian fantasy horror themes! Lots of freaky art!

Replay Value: Excellent
• I've played this solo, I've played with 4 players, and, once, I played it with 8 players (2 per board making joint decisions) and the results were always the same - we all wanted to play again! There are 10 different incarnations of the big bad Wu-Feng, and you'll want to defeat them all eventually. I've especially enjoyed playing this one late at night. I don't own the expansions nor have I tried the iPad version, but I don't plan on getting any of those. Ghost Stories, as is, will be keeping me entertained for a long time to come!

Get this if you want a tough challenge, can handle losing, and enjoy Asian fantasy themes. Ultimately, it is a board game, a puzzle, and a mini-combat game all wrapped up into one unique tabletop experience. I'm a fan!

Don't get this if you can't handle a game whose random elements might just snatch victory out of your hands just when you're SO close....

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