Ghastly Games with Daphne Strasert: Space Station Zemo

Game Review: Space Station Zemo

Introduction

In the distant future, a group of survivors is stranded on a doomed space station. There’s only one escape pod left. They must compete with each other and the perils of their environment to activate and enter the last remaining escape pod before someone else does.

Space Station Zemo created by InQuest. is a strategy board game for 2-5 players and takes about an hour to play.

Game Play

Before you can play Space Station Zemo, you must first make the game. All the materials are free in PDF form online (you can get them by searching, but Board Game Geek has them collected here). They are designed to be printed on card stock and assembled by you. We were able to put it together in about an hour (depends how much you care about the look of the final product)

Once you have that together, it’s time to play.

Choose a character: Chuckie the Zombie, Floyd the Droid, Mush the Abomination, Pete the Cook, or The Rats (literally just a lot of rats). Each character has a special power that will help you to win the game. You then choose a secret access code for your character (three letters, either A or B, to limit options).

The Space Station is composed of rooms and hallways with the escape pod at the center. The winner of the game is the first person to successfully enter the escape pod OR the last character alive.

Each round consists of a movement phase and an action phase. All players move their characters first, then decide what they want to do (fight, pick up an item, push a button, etc.)

To enter the escape pod you must first set your character’s access code (each character secretly chooses one before the game starts) by visiting each of the three code rooms. You must also have a Pod ATM Card. This can be found by visiting rooms in the station. Each room has a card that you can pick up. Some cards are traps that kill you. Others are items that help you kill others. As you navigate the board, you’ll have to fight the other characters as they try to accomplish the same task.

Game Experience

Space Station Zemo is fun and ridiculous. The characters’ special powers change the strategies of gameplay, making it more fun (some can teleport, others leave explosive polyps, a few change form). We assign characters randomly when we play because certain people are TOO good at playing a particular character.

It’s disappointing that there is no manufactured version of the game available for purchase because I would love to have a real board and game pieces. The quality is the only real drawback that I can see.

Things can get messy quickly in a game where you’re playing against each other and the board itself. Game effects such as an open airlock and a security bot are just as deadly as fighting other characters.

Final Thoughts

I highly recommend Space Station Zemo. The rules aren’t as complicated as those of others that I’ve reviewed here. It still isn’t a children’s game, but it is suitable for younger players and for those who are interesting in getting into more strategy-based games. Since the game is free, the only investment is time—a perfect tradeoff for game players.

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Ghastly Games: Gloomhaven

Game Review: Gloomhaven

Beware, casual game player; Gloomhaven is not for the faint of heart.

As a player, you enter the fantasy world of Gloomhaven, where the hallways are dim, the monsters terrifying, and the stakes higher than your life.

Gloomhaven is a roleplaying game for 1-4 players and takes between 1 and 2 hours to play.

Gloomhaven plays very much like a campaign of Dungeons and Dragons. That’s the point, of course.

First, players choose a pre-made character. Choose wisely, because you will be growing with this persona through many encounters to come. As you defeat enemies, your characters gain experience, opening them up to new abilities.

The game’s rules act as the Dungeon Master, guiding your group through an encounter to defeat the enemy and collect the treasure. Attacks do damage, both to you and opponents. Your team will need to survive this in order to get the treasure that is your ultimate reward.

If you’ve ever played Dungeons and Dragons, the play style will feel familiar. All players have hit points that track their health. The characters and antagonists take turns moving and making attacks. Each player has a number of attacks and movements that they can use, represented on cards. Players must rest in order to reuse cards.

Gloomhaven is complicated. I can’t really do it justice in just this article. You’ll have to consult the rule book for that. Those who have played RPGs before will find the process familiar, but it still requires some adjustments. If you’re playing with newbies, just know that the time required to explain rules is nontrivial.

Whether you enjoy this game really depends on what sort of gameplay you enjoy. If you like the combat portion of role playing, then Gloomhaven will be hours of fun for you. If that sort of thing isn’t really your cup of tea, then you’ll likely find the game tedious.

Gloomhaven is complicated. Gloomhaven is intellectually involved. Gloomhaven is… a ton of fun. If you enjoy immersive role-playing games—specifically the combat experience—then Gloomhaven is really the game for you.

Ghastly Games with Daphne Strasert: Mysterium

Introduction

There’s been a murder at Warwick Manor and only one witness can help investigators find the culprit. Unfortunately, that witness is a ghost. A special team of psychic investigators must interpret visions the ghost gives them to solve the mystery before the murderer gets away.

Mysterium is a cooperative murder mystery game for 2-7 players and takes about 45 minutes to play.

Game Play

Players form a team of investigators trying to solve a murder. The goal of the game is to find the perpetrator, location, and murder weapon.

One player has the role of The Ghost. They know which suspects the players must find. They have a deck of Vision Cards that they use to guide the other players.

In each round, the Ghost gives each psychic detective player one or more cards that the player uses to determine which suspect to guess. After each psychic has made a guess about the suspect, the ghost reveals if they were correct. Once a psychic finds their suspect, they then move on to guessing the location, then the weapon used in the murder.

The psychics only have seven rounds to find their group of suspects, locations, and weapons. If they do that successfully, the ghost gives one final set of clues that lead to the ultimate perpetrator.

MysteriumGame Experience

There are two different experiences of play: that of the ghost and that of the investigators.

As the ghost, you have the fun of guiding the other players, but also the responsibility if your clues lead them down the wrong path. Since Mysterium is a cooperative game, you become the most important person to the success of the team.

As an investigator, you are responsible for deciding where the clues point. The ghost can only provide you with an abstract picture clue, they can’t tell you what pieces of that picture apply. The fun for you is to draw commonalities between the clues and see where they lead.

Your game play with Mysterium is only as good as the people you play with. The first few games can be a real struggle as you try to understand how the people you play with think. But it is a lot of fun to discuss with others and play to the way they think.

Mysterium is a visually stunning game. The Gothic theme runs throughout. The art of the clues is magnificent. There are so many details in the cards to keep you interested in the game for many games of play. Each game changes based into the clues and the people playing.

Final Thoughts

If you loved Clue as a child, Mysterium is a great game for you. There isn’t the certainty of Clue, but you don’t have to worry about the monotony either. The hints are more subject to interpretation and knowing the people you play with is essential.

I really like Mysterium for the ability to replay over and over without having the same situation appear twice. I enjoy playing the part of The Ghost, but it’s fun to rotate that responsibility. I highly recommend playing this and think it will make a good inclusion to any game collection.

Book Review: Revenge of the Vampir King by Nancy Kilpatrick

Book Review: Revenge of the Vampir King by Nancy Kilpatrick

Content Warnings: This book contains graphic descriptions of rape, domestic abuse, and torture.

Revenge of the Vampir King (Thrones of Blood Book 1) by [Kilpatrick, Nancy]In Revenge of the Vampir King, Nancy Kilpatrick blends horror, paranormal fantasy, and erotica to explore the relationship between love, tragedy, revenge, and what it means to be a family.

Through the centuries, an immortal war has raged between the Sapiens and Vampirii. The world is bitterly divided between the two races.

After a successful attack against the Sapiens, the Vampirii return with an unusual prize: Valada, the daughter of the Sapiens King.

Hell-bent on the ultimate revenge, the Vampir King Maorte devises a hellish plan of manipulation—make the princess fall in love with him and betray her father—never suspecting that he will fall into is own trap.

As dark secrets are uncovered, new alliances are formed. Valada and Moarte must learn to trust each other in order to settle old scores, bring about lasting peace, and save their kingdoms and, perhaps, themselves.

The plot is gripping, seamlessly pulling the reader along on a tense journey. The pacing is excellent, with no time to become bored. There are plenty of twists and turns, with shifting allegiances. One thing is for certain, you never know exactly what will happen next. Each new conflict feels enormous, raising the stakes ever higher.

The characters are complex. Each has a multitude of motivations. Flaws and strengths motivate each and motivations are clear and realistic. This gives the book a sense of real-world conflict. Characters aren’t evil for evil’s sake (though some are undeniably evil).

Valada, who has suffered under a lifetime of abuse, struggles to orient herself in her new position, constantly doubting her place with others, but never herself. She’s a strong heroine and saves Moarte every bit as much as he saves her.

Moarte is a man of two worlds. Though he leads the Vampirii, he is half Sapien as well. Reconciling those differences may bring him to conclusions that have profound ramifications for his life and his kingdom.

Kilpatrick forges an ambitious, unique world, fearlessly diving into fantasy world building without looking back. Revenge of the Vampir King is all the better for it. We are thrown right into the world, rather than given a hesitant introduction. The universe is immersive from the start. There is clearly a rich history, leaving plenty to discover throughout the plot and in future installments to come.

Kilpatrick’s writing flows well. There are moments of profound description and lovely prose, particularly with regards to the romance. She accomplishes the difficult feat of getting out of the way of the story itself and leaving the reader to be sucked in, as if they aren’t reading at all.

Filled with dark themes, Revenge of the Vampir King challenges the standards of romance, pushing the limits of love with blood and betrayal. If you’re looking for a book that you can’t put down, this is a sure bet.

Book Review: Billette Hall by DL Jones

Book Review: Billette Hall by DL Jones

In Billette Hall, DL Jones spins a unique story of love, betrayal, and terror against the backdrop of slavery in the Deep South.

The slaves of Mason Creek face an uncertain future when they find that the plantation owner plans to sell them at auction. Relationships forged through years of hardship strain under the possibility of being torn apart. When their fear of separation comes to fruition, the group escapes under the cover of nightfall with the help of an escaped slave, Marion, who plans to take them to Billette Hall and reunite them with their loved ones. On the way, they must elude dogs, slave catchers, and a mysterious mud-covered murderer who uses his axes to leave a bloody trail of horror.

Billette Hall tells a horror story inside a horror story, exploring the atrocities of slavery with the added heart-stopping action of a murder thriller. Slavers wield whips and chains. Slave catchers wait in the trees with their dogs and guns. The Mud Covered Man stalks the characters through their journey, waiting behind every page to plunge us back into terror.

Jones spares no gore when detailing the gruesome attacks. The story contains historically accurate details that bring it to life. The characters have meaningful relationships with each other that drive their behavior and ultimately their fate. Characters have deep reactions to the situation around them, tempered by the fear that punctuates the story. Billette Hall is soaked with death and no character, no matter how beloved, is safe from the rampage.

Those interested in the slavery era in the United States will appreciate this underrepresented premise in the horror genre. Billette Hall contains plenty of twists and turns for horror addicts. I promise you’ve never read a book quite like this.

Book Reviews: Tales from the Lake Volume 5

Tales from the Lake Volume 5
Review by Daphne Strasert

Once a year, Crystal Lake Publishing releases an anthology of the best stories the horror community has to offer. It is a pleasure each and every year, but has been getting better with time and notoriety. This year’s collection was curated by Kenneth W. Caine, pulling stories from over 750 submissions into a thoughtful and harrowing book of dark desires and hidden horror.

Though the stories in Tales from the Lake Volume 5 are not themed in the traditional sense, they form a cohesive unit. Threads connect each to the others as if the authors had conspired to give the anthology its unique flavor.

Of the many excellent contributions, some stand out to me as spectacular.

“A Dream Most Ancient and Alone” by Allison Pang features an unlikely friendship between a young girl and a mudmaid who lurks in the remnants of a nearby pond. Their relationship deepens despite the chilling nature of the creature. Pang’s novel take on the subject matter and vivid, emotional writing give the story an extra edge to make it stand out in the anthology. The ending that will make you shiver for all the right and wrong reasons.

“Twelve by Noon” by Joanna Parypinski brings true fright to the collection. The tense, terrifying tale of a group of lost teenagers and the sinister farm where their car breaks down packs all the punches of a blockbuster horror film in the short story format. Personally, I’d like to see a whole trilogy of movies based on Parypinski’s fantastic concept, hopefully with all the suspense intact.

In “Starve a Fever” by Jonah Buck, dread builds from the start and drags you along through every backwoods turn. You can’t stop reading, even as you fear you know what will happen. Buck possesses an extraordinary imagination and incredible storytelling ability.

My favorite story in the anthology, and the one that I found personally most chilling, was “The Boy” by Cory Cone. Cone’s description of a mother’s worst nightmare come to life is morose and moving. He takes the reader on a journey of madness and terror as you fear for the woman, the boy, and the outcome that you both hope for and fear. Madness lurks everywhere and love makes monsters of us all.

Tales from the Lake Volume 5 is an exploration of the lost and found. Whether losing someone before their time or keeping a loved one long past theirs, the stories explore the horror of finding what was meant to stay hidden.

Book Reviews: Fantastic Tales of Terror: History’s Darkest Secrets

With history, unless you saw it for yourself, you can’t know if a story is strictly true or if it has a darker story lurking in the shadows. History may contain any number of untold mysteries and secrets. Perhaps communist werewolves reached the moon before Apollo 11. Maybe a sinister creature actually caused the Hindenburg disaster. Who is to know? Except… maybe you.

Allow me to introduce Fantastic Tales of Terror: History’s Darkest Secrets, a horror anthology by Crystal Lake Publishing. Inside you’ll find stories of famous events and historical figures told through the grim lens of 23 spectacular horror writers. The anthology includes both established and emerging authors, guaranteeing that you’ll find an old favorite and someone new to love.

The settings extend from the prehistoric to the near-present, subjects from the pioneering inventions to mythic figures, and themes from comedic to disturbing. All, however, are incredible feats of imagination.

Though each piece is worth reading in itself, several stood out as exceptional among the rest.

“Mutter” by Jess Landry (a contestant from the Next Great Horror Writer Contest!) explains the events that led up to the Hindenburg disaster and gives a wondrous origin story for one of America’s most famous cryptids. Lanrdy’s writing, as always, overflows with vivid description and excellent characterization. She hides an amazing twist in the story and brings everything to a thought-provoking close that stuck with me long after I set the book down.

Mort Castle’s story, “Rotoscoping Toodies”, reveals a surprising past for Walt Disney and some of his most successful works. The life-like characters and interesting premise drew me in from the beginning. But the true reason this story stuck with me was the dark ending and horrifying implications.

Lastly, “Sic Olim Tyrannis” by David Wellington was my favorite inclusion. In a market saturated with zombie stories, this was a refreshing take on an old and over worn genre. Vivid descriptions brought the setting to life and Wellington managed to imbue the story with emotion despite using no dialogue.

If you love history, dark tales, or both, Fantastic Tales of Terror: History’s Darkest Secrets is an engaging and worthwhile read.