Ghastly Games by Daphne Strasert: Enchanted in the Moonlight

Game Review: Enchanted in the Moonlight

Monsters are big business right now. I mean, they’ve always been the stars of horror, but recently audience sympathy has shifted in favor of what were, traditionally, the villains. Wanting a little monstrous romance is more common than it’s ever been (Academy Award Winner for Best Picture The Shape of Water, anyone?). So, in the world of games, romance and horror, there must be an intersection somewhere for those looking for a little action.

Look no more. Today, I will review Enchanted in the Moonlight, a dating simulator game for iPhone and Android where you become romantically involved with a monster.

Enchanted in the Moonlight draws inspiration from traditional Japanese mythology and includes ayakashi, creatures that are similar to monsters (and will be familiar to fans of anime). You, as the main character, have a special power that is coveted by the ayakashi. As a result, you have your pick of supernatural suitors. Choose a suitor, then sit back and enjoy the story.

Game Play

Dating sims have been huge in Japan for a while, so otakus are probably already familiar with the concept. Only in recent years have they made their way into the mainstream minds of Western consumers.

If you haven’t encountered the concept, dating sims work like an electronic Choose Your Own Adventure, plus romance. You play the sim on your phone by downloading the app. The game follows a story and gives you, as the main character, choices throughout that effect what happens next.

Most games are free, but you must purchase stories in the app to play through more than the first chapter. Once you choose which character to pursue, you can then follow the story, choosing what you do and say along the way and hopefully bring about a happy ending.

Enchanted in the Moonlight offers six possible love interests: a kitsune (fox), tengu (black bird), werewolf, oni (demon), yukibito (snow spirit), and house spirit.

Game Experience

I’m not going to lie, I’m a sucker for storytelling games. And the stories included here were addicting. The supernatural premise adds an element of drama that I really enjoyed. I’ve bought all the different character arcs at this point, none of which are repetitive in the slightest.

That said, your choices as a character don’t really hold that much weight. There are really only a handful of endings waiting for you, so you won’t do much more than deviate the events in a minor way. I found myself sometimes wishing that I could respond in ways that weren’t offered, maybe smacking a little sense into characters that tended toward the misogynistic. If you’re looking for something complex, there are better dating sim options. However, if you’re looking for some mindless fun and romance, this is for you.

The showcase of the games is the art. There are lovely anime-style images used throughout, with special pictures for important parts of the story. Most games let you save these in a special gallery to admire later.

Bottom line: the premise is a little contrived, the prologue is rushed, the main character is kind of a pushover, and the writing isn’t the greatest. BUT, it’s fun. It’s silly and ridiculous and romantic.

Final Thoughts

Dating sims aren’t for everyone, but they can be a fun escape. If you’re looking for a story game you can play in your downtime, this is a great option. If you want something mindless to enjoy, I recommend it wholeheartedly. I mean, I always wanted to date a werewolf.

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Ghastly Games by Daphne Strasert: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Game Review: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Who doesn’t love pirates? Who doesn’t love undead pirates even more?

In Dead Men Tell No Tales, players take on the characters of a pirate crew and work together to plunder a burning ship, the notorious Skelit’s Revenge. They must defeat the undead crew, find the treasure, and fight the fire to stay alive. Do you have what it takes to survive and win?

Dead Men Tell No Tales is a thematic cooperative board game for 2-5 players and takes about 90 minutes to play.

Game Play

First, choose a character. All characters have different abilities that will help during play (extra speed, fighting power, rum capacity, etc.). Next, board the Skelit’s Revenge and start looking for treasure. You explore the ship, finding new rooms and revealing new obstacles.

Oh, and all the rooms are on fire.

You take damage when exposed to the flames, so as you explore, you’ll need to take time to rest your character—valuable time that could be used fighting the Skelit’s crew. Defeat the crew to find the treasure. Find all the treasure and get it back to your boat to win. Be warned, the fire gets worse and the enemies increase with every turn, so winning won’t be easy.

Game Experience

The game quality is very high. There are many pieces, but each is crafted with either hardy cardboard or wood. All character pieces are exquisitely decorated with detailed fantasy art that fits with the theme. The well-made setup makes the game a physical joy to play.

As far as gameplay, Dead Men Tell No Tales is complicated. There are a lot of things happening at once and it will take a few tries to really get a handle on what strategies work. I have never actually won a game of Dead Men Tell No Tales (and we’ve been playing on easy mode). There is a lot going on; between character powers, monster moves, a raging fire, and explosions, you can lose track of what danger is most immediately threatening.

There are many ways to lose, but only one way to win. There’s some serious strategy involved in playing and I cannot emphasize enough that the game is cooperative. You are working together as a team so—depending on who you choose to play with—you may not feel as if you’re making any of your own decisions at all.

As much as I emphasize the difficulty, the game is fun. I promise. Dead Men Tell No Tales is all about moves, finding the best thing to do from a long list of possibilities. But it isn’t just pure strategy either—luck is just another skill in a pirate’s arsenal.

Final Thoughts

Dead Men Tell No Tales is a good game for those who like a challenge and have experience playing complicated games. There are a lot of moving pieces. This isn’t Chutes and Ladders; no one wins for just showing up. You’ll want your wits about you (so, not a great game for drinking) and every move has potentially dire consequences (so, not a great game for children). If you really think you have what it takes to take on the challenge, look no further.

Movie Review: Within the Darkness

Movie Review: Within the Darkness

Within the Darkness is a horror movie written for those who love horror movies. It features a deeply rooted appreciation for the genre and uses the clichés to offer a fresh perspective interlaced with satisfying suspense. Horror Addicts will enjoy the scares, laughs, and twists. It is a special delight for those who are familiar with what has come before in the universe of haunted horror.

Something terrible happened at the Hewitt House. To this day, the ghostly inhabitants act out their tragic demises in an endless loop. For Austin (Dave Coyne), this provides the perfect opportunity.

Austin wants to make it big in Hollywood and he thinks he knows how to do it: a ghost hunting show. The Hewitt House provides the spooky backdrop, but Austin doesn’t believe anything will really happen, so he rigs the results, setting traps in the house to mimic a haunting. He’s helped by his girlfriend Lucy (Erin Nicole Cline) and a crew of skeptics.

But when a psychic medium, Meagan (Shanna Forrestall), arrives to help with the investigation, unexplainable things begin to happen. The crew descends into madness and the viewer asks: what’s really happening at the Hewitt House?

Within the Darkness is a self-aware horror film. The creators were familiar with the genre tropes and embraced them in order to use them in unexpected ways. From jump scares to psychological horror to paranormal events, they play the viewers expectations from start to finish. If you think you’ve seen it all in horror, Within the Darkness just might surprise you.

The Hewitt House has all the makings of a classic horror haunt, complete with long hallways, too many stairs, suspiciously creaky doors, and a lake dock just begging someone to come swim for all eternity. There’s no end to the shadows where danger lurks. Yet in the daylight, the house is a charming suburban fixture, seemingly too young to host anything evil. In a masterful understanding of the genre, Within the Darkness portrays the Hewitt House as quiet enough in the day to make the characters feel like they must have let their imaginations slip after dark.

The film’s central conflict is between ambitious and irreverent Austin and his girlfriend Lucy, who is more inclined to respect powers beyond her control. Their opposing opinions on the house and what exactly is going on inside tear a rift in the crew and amp up the tension as events escalate. Add in terrifying hallucinations and a host of spooky events and the crew stands all on edge.

While Within the Darkness employs a variety of disturbing imagery, one scene in particular stood out. Between excellent acting on the part of Jessie (Tonya Kay) and well-edited shots, Within the Darkness created a truly creepy illusion that stuck with me long after the movie ended.

At times, Within the Darkness takes comedic turns, barging into the territory of the absurd. This puts it in similar categories as Scary Movie, though without the cheap pop culture references. It shows a developed understanding of horror films and pokes fun at themes that are often overdone.

In general, I think of this as a parody movie that manages to sneak in some good suspense and horror between the satirical commentaries. Fans of horror who don’t take anything too seriously will enjoy this. It still has the spooky chops for those looking for a bit of fright in their night.

Ghastly Games by Daphne Strasert: One Night Ultimate Werewolf

Game Review: One Night Ultimate Werewolf

Introduction

Someone in the village is a werewolf and the townspeople are determined to find out who. Players all have roles and special abilities that will help them determine who is guilty. But, not everyone is going to tell you the truth. Who’s mistaken, who’s lying, and who is the werewolf?

Welcome to One Night Ultimate Werewolf.

Game Play

The concept for One Night Ultimate Werewolf  is simple. There are two teams: the werewolves and the villagers. The villagers win if they kill at least one werewolf. The werewolves win if they all survive.

It is when we reach beyond that that everything gets more complicated.

Every player draws a character from the deck. One Night Ultimate Werewolf has a lot of possible characters. Some are werewolves, some are villagers, and some have special abilities (looking at cards, trading cards, mimicking the powers of others, etc.). After characters are drawn, everyone closes their eyes players take turns performing their action. Beware, some of these actions might change your character card, so you may not end the game as the same person you started as. When player actions are done, the real fun starts. Everyone opens their eyes and players argue over what happened. Ultimately, each player must decide who they want to “kill” in the round.

In the end, One Night Ultimate Werewolf is all about lying. Players want to keep what they know secret until the information will most benefit them. No one can be trusted, and in some cases, you may not even know that you are a werewolf until all cards are flipped at the end.

Game Experience

The best part of One Night Ultimate Werewolf is how fast gameplay is. Each round is played separately. Even if a player is killed, they still participate in the next round. Characters are re-dealt and the game starts fresh. This means that the game can end whenever you want it to.

The game setup is very simple, with a set of plainly illustrated cards and tokens. The art is charming, with a dark comic style that suits the game theme. All cards and pieces are sturdy and can stand up to some wear, which is good for a fast game where players constantly move pieces.

For a game that is—at its heart—extremely simple, learning to play One Night Ultimate Werewolf is a challenge. If you can find a veteran player, do it. They’ll let you know what information you need to know up front and what you can find out as you go along. Otherwise, you’ll spend an hour at the beginning trying to figure out detailed rules that aren’t important.

Luckily, the creators of the game have made a free app to guide players through the game. I highly recommend downloading the app. It has an easy to use interface and a narrator who leads you through the round. The narrator has a wonderful, soothing voice that I could listen to for hours. It’s an enjoyable experience from start to finish and the app reduces the complexity of the game tremendously.

Final Thoughts

I had this game for a long time before I could convince anyone to play with me. Since the game is similar in concept to the Mafia card game, the friends of mine who were inclined toward more complicated games thought it would be boring. And casual family gamers were intimidated by the number of different rules and worried it would be too complicated. In reality, the game was suited to both groups.

It takes a few rounds to fall into the rhythm of the game. This was the largest obstacle I faced in getting new players to join me. They would play one round and, having not gotten the hang of revealing and concealing information, give the game up for being boring and almost impossible.

However, it is very worth playing. It’s perfect for people who like to run their mouths. I recommend it as an excellent party game.

Book Review: Bad Man by Dathan Auerbach

Book Review: Bad Man by Dathan Auerbach

Ben has been searching for his missing brother, Eric, for five years. The three-year-old boy couldn’t have just vanished into thin air in the middle of a grocery store. Eric has to be somewhere. But Ben has run out of rocks to look under and life doesn’t seem to stop no matter what he does. To help support his family, he takes a job at the very store where Eric disappeared.

The night shift plays tricks on Ben’s brain, turning his days into a blur, like the Missing Person posters of Eric that have been copied so many times that the image warped into something that doesn’t even resemble him anymore. Things seem to move when no one is around. Items go missing. Others appear as if from nowhere. The building seems as if it’s trying to tell Ben something if only he could figure out what it is.

The strange occurrences renew Ben’s search, but someone doesn’t want him to find out what really happened to Eric. In small towns, someone always knows more than they say. In this case, everyone has something to hide. Even Ben.

Dathan Auerbach spins a wonderful web of intrigue and suspicion. I sat on edge through the whole book, unsure if I was going to encounter the paranormal or the darkest depths of humanity in each turn of the page.

Bad Man approaches a difficult setting, addressing poverty, abuse, mental illness, and grief in a powerful way. Auerbach doesn’t pull any punches with his descriptions and gives an unflinching account of real-life horror. The characters feel like real people. From Ben’s tenuous grasp on reality to the quiet, sinister nature of the store’s owner, there is depth to every character you meet. No one is safe from the dreadful suspicion in the book. Auerbach masterfully leads readers to conclusion after conclusion, never knowing if they are on the right track.

Bad Man leaves you feeling the way you do in a Walmart at two am. Everything feels overexposed, too brightly lit, too empty, too quiet. It isn’t the darkness that is frightening in Bad Man, it’s the blinding light that reveals that there is nothing there to see.

Auerbach’s prose is a delight to read. He includes masterful descriptions and insights throughout with lingering quotes that you’ll want to remember for yourself. The novel is artfully crafted from cover to cover, each word carefully chosen to draw you in at every turn.

Bad Man may not linger in your nightmares, but the effect is much deeper than that. It deals a slow sort of agony as you face the uncertainty of what happened to Eric and inevitable feeling that there is no happy ending for Ben. Even if Ben gets what he wants, will there ever really be an ending to his torture? The suspense lasts until the last page. It leaves a tingling feeling of dread that claws its way out of your bones and refuses to let you put it down.

Bad Man is a fantastic novel. If you are looking for a dark, atmospheric, gripping book, then make sure to pick up a copy.

Ghastly Games by Daphne Strasert: King of Tokyo

Game Review: King of Tokyo

It’s the mega monster match-up to end all others. Up to six monsters join in one massive fight that will leave the city in ruins. Only one can rule it all. Roll the dice, earn Victory points, and attack your friends to become King of Tokyo.

King of Tokyo is a family game for 2-6 players and takes about a half hour to play.

Game Play

First, choose your monster: Gigazaur, The King, Alienoid, Mekadragon, Cyberbunny, or Kraken (Mekadragon is the best, but you can have your own favorite). Each character has a monster board that tracks the current health and the number of victory points you have earned.

You will want to pay attention to those numbers because there are two ways to win in King of Tokyo:

  • Be the first player to earn 20 Victory Points
  • Be the last monster alive

You gain victory points by rolling matching numbers on the dice, going into or staying inside Tokyo, and through special cards. Attacks from other monsters lower your health and if your health hits zero, you say sayonara and slink back from whence you came.

During play, one monster stands inside Tokyo. While there, every attack they make targets all monsters on the outside. Every attack made by those outside targets them. They can’t heal, but the longer they stay inside, the more victory points they gain. Any time after they are attacked, they can choose to leave Tokyo, throwing their attacker into the city in their place.

King of Tokyo employs dice for the main gameplay. Dice let you attack, heal, earn energy, and gain victory points. Like a game of Monster Yahtzee, you have three rolls to collect what you want and you can reroll as many or as few of the dice as you want.

The game also has bonus cards that you can buy using “energy”. These give your monster extra powers that can boost your gameplay. You earn energy through dice rolls just like everything else, but cards can make all the difference between survival and early death.

Game Experience

King of Tokyo is a fast, fun game. It’s the best game for casual game players that I’ve reviewed so far. The game involves some strategy, but success is mostly left up to luck. In the many times that I’ve played, I have only seen someone win using victory points once. Generally, the game is a battle for survival rather than a race to the top.

My favorite part of the game is the design. The art has a comic book style that suits the theme and pays homage to countless monster movies. Each of the characters is an off-brand monster (Not quite Godzilla, but you know what they’re going for). Over time, players develop attachments to the various characters, so you’ll probably have your own too.

The only drawback that I have for gameplay is that players who die are out for the rest of the game. While that’s how life works sometimes, it isn’t helpful when you want to keep everyone engaged in play.

Even though there is little actual decision making in the game, it often ends in shouting as players try to convince each other to attack or not, risk it all, and possibly knock themselves out of the game. It’s a good time.

Final Thoughts

King of Tokyo is easy to learn and the pay off during play is worthwhile. It would be a good game to play when children are around. I recommend it for anyone who loves (or maybe just casually likes) games.

Movie Review: Apocalypsis

Movie Review: Apocalypsis

Welcome to a world where every conspiracy theory you’ve ever heard seems entirely real.

Apocalypsis introduces a world like our own, but which has followed a much darker path. The American government has implemented an ambitious project of surveillance and control. Most of the population is “chipped”—implanted with RFID devices that allow the government to monitor their activities. Cameras and drones are everywhere and AI tracks the population through facial recognition. Anyone who fights back is a target.

Evelyn and Michael are two such people.

Evelyn (Maria Bruun) is a deeply religious woman who draws her strength from her orthodox faith. She strives to help everyone in need, especially the downtrodden. In her quest for increased enlightenment, she experiences distressing apocalyptic visions while studying the book of Revelation. She sees the End Times in the world around her and becomes determined to act before it’s too late.

Michael (Chris O’Leary), a man with no faith, fights the increasing government control using technology and activism. He seeks to enlighten the populace and save them from themselves if he can. However, Michael knows he’s a hunted man and he wavers between going off the grid to save himself and risking everything to free society.

The film explores the relationship between Evelyn and Michael and their differing approaches to changing the world. Their common goals bring them together, but fundamental differences and deep-seated paranoia threaten to rip the friends apart. All of this take place against a high stakes background that keeps the audience guessing what the heroes can really do and what the final stakes will be.

Apocalypsis takes place in New York, where there are a million places to hide, but no real assurance that any of them are safe. In the city, people are everywhere and it’s impossible to know which ones can be trusted. The setting suggests a near future, where America is a hairsbreadth from martial law and every conspiracy theory you’ve ever heard is taken as absolute fact. You are being watched. You are in danger. The stakes have never been higher.

Michael takes the audience into the nooks and crannies of the city, where he hides like a rat and thinks like one too—survival always foremost on his mind. He showcases the modern side of the city, the underground tunnels and back alleys where he hides from sight, always in the dark, using his computer to fight for him.

Evelyn walks the streets of the most needy, reaching out everywhere she can. The moments of peace that she encounters are within the walls of her orthodox church. There she finds solace in something bigger than herself, a divine benevolent ruler at odds with the paranoid government that rules her on Earth.

Director Eric Leiser takes an artistic approach with the camera. Flashing imagery and overlaying shots create a surreal atmosphere. Evelyn’s visions of the apocalypse are animated, casting a sharp contrast from the rest of the film and heightening the feeling that they are unlike anything that she has seen before.

Apocalypsis delves into the question of religion versus action and what really creates a “good” person. What role does faith play in motivating someone to take action? Evelyn has her faith and good intentions, but is that enough? Does Michael’s single-minded purpose blind him to harm that he may be causing with his zeal?

Apocalypsis is a horror think piece, delving into dystopian and science fiction genres. There isn’t any overt gore or jump scares. Rather, the horror manifests as a lingering sense of dread as you wait to see what happens to the characters and their world. All the while, you question how far Apocalypsis really is from our world right now.