You walk alone down a dark corridor, footsteps muffled on an ancient red carpet. Candles burn in the gloom, their light muted by the cold and damp. You pause, as a familiar figure glides across an intersection – it was someone far worse than Dracula…
It was your friend.
The Gothic Game, a game of murderous mayhem for friends, is getting a revamp (pun intended) from the original game edition from 1992. Soon we will see Damnation: The Gothic Game!
What was the Gothic Game?
Originally dreamt up in 1966 by Nigel Andrews & Robert Wynne-Simmons, the Gothic game didn’t get an official release as a full board game until the early 90’s, when the game was published with full artwork board by Angela White. The game-play is described as a battle royale of player elimination.
The game took place in Dracula’s castle and involved fast paced action, with the last player standing as the winner. Much like a game of Cluedo, players travelled around the board using a maze of corridors and rooms, making discoveries and collecting items with which to kill others or defend themselves. Players could end up in the moat, stuck in the dungeon or in a bottomless pit of doom.
Each player started the game with 100 points of stamina, which were lost when another player attacked them, or they draw a card from a room they entered and set off traps or suffered supernatural events. If they were lucky, they’d find a weapon or armour of some sort.
To top it all off, Dracula could use an unfortunate player to roam the corridors of his castle draining others of blood and eliminating them from the game!
The Gothic Game had a great feel to it, from an age where the objective was to have fun with family and friends. It was easy to learn and fast to play, with scope to outwit your opponents or throw yourself into danger to not give them the satisfaction of killing you!
Even when Dracula assumed a player, that player had limited turns to kill and get back to his vault. The more Dracula killed the more time he got to roam and hunt, making a terrifying prospect a legitimate game tactic!
But all of this passed quite quickly, and the Gothic Game was lost to the annals of time. And that was it for decades – a limited edition board game that was popular, fast and fun.
We have been fortunate enough to play the old version of the game. But what about the upcoming revision by Black Letter Games (BLG)? BLG has assumed the rights of the game and plans on kick starting in late October (suitably, near Halloween).
I was even luckier, because Summoned Games invited me over to trial the revised version of the game, and I’ve got the chance to write up the review! There’s a chance to get your hands on the old version of the game, which I’ll give you the details for later on.
First though, let’s take a look at the new, darker and grittier Gothic Game, Damnation: The Gothic Game!
First off, it’s a hell of a lot darker than it once was. Reading the top paragraph of the rule book makes it pretty clear:
“Damnation: The Gothic Game takes place on a plane of Hell where Count Dracula holds dominion. Here, a group of villains from the Victorian era find themselves damned for all eternity.”
It gets worse, as the introduction unfolds: each dusk the villains are both resurrected and cursed – cursed to have no memory of the day before, stuck in endless horror of stalking and stalked by one another, presumably for the terror and violence they caused in their lives. Already this game sets the tone quite clearly: you’re not good people and you’re not getting out. It makes perfect sense for a board game where you pay the same game over and over again, and yet retains its charm!
You know we mentioned Dracula? Well the art for Damnation: The Gothic Game has been brought to life visually by two Romanian artists, that of Hue Teo and Anca Albu. We’re impressed with how much (un)life they’ve brought to the graphics and art of the game. We could go on and on about it, but you can see for yourself what they’ve managed, just read on!
Character cards did not exist in the original version of the game. It is a sign of game development over the years, as Gothic turns from board game for all the family to a game that is heaped in atmosphere. These nameless anti-heroes fit particular character archetypes from the Victorian era, adding layers to the dark and Gothic vibes.
We have the Gentleman – dashing, refined, but is this gentleman all that he seems? The dark Stranger from a foreign land, and the Mystic a traveller driven from her homeland who conceals a terrible power.
These are just a few of the six playable characters in the game so far. Frankly, these changes make the game more colourful and characterful (obviously), lending the game that extra personal dimension compared to the original which provided simple coloured, plastic meeple!
Characters have some special abilities and a wound tracker, and we’re told there may also be the introduction of a sanity tracker too – even more ways to die!
Players would roll a dice and work out in what direction they want to move, but now there’s a special extra dice which can make the game harder or easier: roll a candle symbol and your character may move one space more or less, which can be the difference between falling into a trap or not.
Or roll the castle symbol and draw a card from the special Castle Deck… hoping to god you don’t uncover more horrors!
Or you could roll the dark circle, where you trigger the first trap you come across regardless of how far you could move past the trap space!
The new version of the game adds literal variety in the form of card decks. No, don’t get put off, this isn’t a deck building game. These new decks are used to create tense moments at the roll of a dice or provide solace as the night unfolds.
The obvious deck are those found in each room which are unique to that room. When a player enters the room they draw a card, which may be beneficial or utterly crushing. And be warned, these decks are not huge or countless, and cards drawn are placed back into the deck after use… it pays to keep your attention on the other players!
New to the game are the Heirloom deck and the best deck in my opinion the Death Knell deck!
Heirlooms are provided to the players at random at the start of the game. They are given three, which are made up of trinkets and curiosities to help you win the game.
The Death Knell cards are randomly placed face down on the board. When a player is eliminated a random death-knell card is turned over by that player. In rare situations they may be saved, but likely it will hinder those players still alive, such as Hunters Moon; a curse that means players to the left cannot use protection cards to prevent incoming damage. Nice!
Finally, the Castle Deck, which as mentioned before only gets drawn from if you roll the necessary dice. These cards are random encounters, such as a ravenous wolf hound (which may or may not savage you or an opponent, if you play your cards right).
Once again, the new edition is adding many modern layers to the older Gothic Game, but in doing so it’s not taking away some of the charm. It felt nice to play the game, but the feeling was improved by the breadth and depth of these new decks.
Don’t get me wrong, the old game is full of charm, but by today’s standards it lacks that personal feeling of involvement. According to the Damnation: Gothic website, there are in total 130 unique cards, presumably portioned out into the many various rooms and play decks. Layered up like an onion – prepare for tears!
Game Board Revamp
Although the layout is similar, the artwork is vastly updated and improved. The addition of the cemetery adds a location outside of the castle itself, which carries with it risks and rewards of its own. Then there’s the Dark Tower, which can only be entered if you’ve claimed another’s soul (token)!
The board is littered with secret passageways, and trap points. What we found fun about the traps is that trap tokens are placed face down at random, so it’s unlikely you’ll have the same setup each time, unlike in the original. Step onto a trapdoor and find yourself drowning in the moat. Trigger a classic trap, the Pendulum, and lose half of your health. Or worse still, discover the Oubliette and end the game for yourself!
The artwork is second to none and instils the dark and seething dread that the game evokes so effortlessly: lonely narrow corridors and dark and mysterious rooms filled with thinly veiled threats all add to the atmosphere. This is a game for dark and windy winter nights.
Fate Tokens & Character Talents
Characters now have some extra abilities with which to survive! Fate tokens are added to a character sheet, providing some universal one-off abilities. Each character has at least one unique ability. The extra layers provide a bit of variation to the game, which is never a bad thing!
Yup, not only can you kill each other with an array of weapons, you can steal their soul too… and use them in a certain place in the castle to unlock new cards, items and abilities… harvest them as much as you can, you’ll need them win! You can trade soul tokens for extra fate tokens, or as mentioned earlier, gain access to the Dark Tower.
There’s a lot we could talk about here, so we’ll pick a couple to give you an idea of the mayhem and suffering you can inflict on your friends!
The first is our favourite – The Vault. This is the lair of Dracula. When a player enters the vault and Dracula is not already in play, they become the beast! This can be an entertaining venture for the players – Dracula has a limited number of turns to roam the corridors of the castle, hunting for the other players. If he passes over a character, he gains more blood and a little more time to keep hunting. If he gets back to the Vault in time, the player assumes their normal role, perhaps a little dizzy and unsure why their mouth is filled with the tang of blood!
The Great Spiral Staircase. This bad boy is a slippery slope to death. If a player ends up in this room, they can only use their movement to travel down the staircase. At the bottom of the Great Spiral Staircase? Death, instant and inexorable! The only way to escape this room is by rolling a six on the dice, which you can then combine with your normal dice roll. You could be there a while!
“The Power of Adjacency Compels You!”
But why would you want to enter this room? Well kids, life isn’t always fair. A player can invoke the power of adjacency over players they pass in the castle corridors. This essentially allows them to decide the direction in which that player must move on their next turn… like a horrible pit of death!
Battle in the Darkness
When in possession of a weapon card, players may target each other to perform attacks, dealing damage to their victim. Of course, the target player can use items to defend themselves in the form of equipment or action cards. So be careful who you target – they may be more than they seem!
Not all death comes from Dracula, traps and hidden rooms – the players are here to be the winner, the last player standing. Naturally, this will involve direct conflict with each other.
What we would like to see…
We played the prototype version of the game, but there are few things we’d like to see:
- Reference cards, which may reduce the amount of rule book referencing.
- More character choices, but in honesty, we’re just being greedy!
- Sudden Death Mode for the final players (optional).
- Someway of making doors more visible (a simple standee could add a bit more dimension!)
- Some different ways to play or ways to win (which BLG say they may be looking into!)
- Expansions: extra rooms to tag onto the board or replacement tiles for extra variation and playability!
This game is fast paced, amusingly adversarial and filled with graphic, bloody fun. It can be quite a quick game to play, although we found towards the end with just two players left it can become a face-off (later we learned we had not played some things correctly, however). That said, there are hundreds of ways to die in Dracula’s hellish domain, and he is just one of them!
Overall, we think the game is set to receive a lot of interest over the next few months. It looks great, it feels great and as we mentioned several times already, there’s so many layers of interest to keep even the most jaded tastes interested.
There’s a lot going on in this game, but it’s not too heavy to take the fun out of playing. It is definitely a game for friends and family, although some of the concepts are a little more grown up.
Want to Win a Copy of the one of the few remaining Original copies?
If you want to see some of the mayhem played out, you can check out Summoned Games on YouTube. They are offering an original copy of the game, from 1992 as a prize. To enter, you just need to subscribe, comment on the video and / or like their Facebook page. What’s more, it is open to anyone anywhere in the world – they’re willing to ship it anywhere in the world.
We’d like to thank Summoned Games for letting us take part in the early game, and of course, Blackletter Games, for creating an amazing revamp of the original Gothic Game, and having faith in letting us see, play and review the game before its release and kick start.
We’re reliably informed it will be available for pledges late in October, and be in the region of £40-£50 (though this is still to be confirmed).
That’s all from me, enjoy your weekend!
@FerrisWrites on Twitter