My dear unknown friend,
By now you know where my vulnerabilities lie. DIY culture. Small publishers. Quiet horror. Gaming. So when the engaging blog for Supernatural Tales had an entry on Pleasing Terror Games that was developing tabletop games based around the works of M.R. James you know I was more than excited.
Browsing Pleasing Terror’s site I discovered they have three games in various stages of development, (Monsters – Don’t Treat Them Gently!, Cards for the Curious, and Stories I Have Tried to Tell) with one completed and available for purchase, Monsters & Miscreants which they bill as a simple trump taking card game. The artwork, courtesy of Richard Svensson, appears striking and competitive with offerings from today’s corporate game companies and I’d be supporting a passionate two-man operation that loves M.R. James. In the parlance of my people I tore off my pocket trying to get to my wallet.
Quicker than I have grown to expect from previous experience with international shipping the package arrived at our apartment. Our mail woman is consistently amused by the packages she delivers.
As you can see from the photograph Monsters & Miscreants is a slim deck of cards, similar in size and shape to a Pinochle deck.
Included with the thirty cards is a single hand-cut instruction sheet and a larger folded insert which includes the name of each card, the M.R. James’ story in which the creature appeared, and M.R. James’ own description of that character from the very same story. Remember this for it may be important.
Game play is straight forward and refreshingly simple. At the beginning of the game all the cards are shuffled and dealt face down amongst the players. Each player holds their cards so they can see only their top card and no others can see it. The player to go first decides which category she wishes to play, let us say Fright Factor 65 by way of our example, all the other players announce and show their card’s Fright Factor, and whoever has the highest score wins. The winner then collects all of their opponent’s cards, places them face up at the bottom of their hand, and the winning player then chooses the next category off the new Character card. Rinse, lather, and repeat until one person owns all the cards. If there’s a tie all top cards go in the middle, player chooses a new Category from the new top card, and the winner gets everything including the cards in the middle.
Let’s be honest here. This is not Android:Netrunner. When I was play testing this for review two player with my wife Cathleen it had the danger of falling into a game of War. Yet it did not for a gorgeous reason. The passion that led James Drewett to create a game based around the tales of M.R. James, that led Richard Svensson to illustrate them so beautifully, and that led Cathleen and I to geek out like excited schoolchildren in seeing old friends portrayed, that passion transcended this gaming experience. Comments such as, “Oh just you wait until you see…The Ghost With The Burnt Face!” and “Oh! The Ash Tree Spiders are very well done,” were frequent counterpoint to the usual groans, grunts, and foul language that accompanies me having my ass handed to me at a tabletop game by my wife. Svensson’s artwork has the wonderful feel of Creepy covers that translates so well for a card game of this type, the artwork for The Shrouded Protector of the Prayer Books being a personal favorite.
Remember when I said to keep in mind the folded insert that was provided alongside the rules? This is where the insert shines. While the two of us are M.R. James fanatics there were times we were going, “Which story is that from?” Tada! Helpful insert to the rescue. “Stalls of Barchester Cathedral”. Done and done.
I had our friend Naomi over to see how it would play with three people and also what would happen if you were to introduce the game to someone unfamiliar with M.R. James. Please look at that mezzotint. Do you see how I suffer for you dear reader? Hahahaha. With a third the aspects of playing War are lessened as ties become more likely to occur. Also the social aspect of introducing another to the works of M.R. James cannot be under sold. Before the night was out we had found once again the wonderful BBC version of Whistle and I’ll Come to You with John Hurt. Naomi left that night a new fan of M.R. James’ oeuvre.
As long as you play with people who aren’t cutthroat competitors you end up in some quite delightfully zany territory. As an example, Naomi felt sympathetic for The Ghost Girl From The Water who as you can see from her stats, will always have a hard time winning an encounter, yet Naomi was determined. Meanwhile Cathleen had decided The White-Haired Frog Beast must have been in a great story so it was time to read aloud “The Haunted Doll’s House” since neither her nor I could remember all that much of the story in question.
However it’s in a four or larger group that Monsters & Miscreants shines. It’s an “in between” game. If you have a gaming group you know what I mean, those quick, light games you play in between the behemoths to cleanse the palate as it were. In this case it came between Mysterium, a cooperative surrealistic dream interpretation game where you take on the roles of mediums trying to solve a murder in a haunted castle, and Fury of Dracula, which if you love Dracula and gaming simply google a review of that one right now. It’s a classic for a reason.
Monsters & Miscreants’ simplicity allows conversation to fly fast as game play zips along. It’s a social game. In fact more rounds than I expected were played because it flew by as people talked smack, carried on, and you know, were social. You can have a few cocktails and still play Monsters & Miscreants. Consider this the Dominoes, Hearts, or Spades of your themed gaming night. The cards are sturdy, well made, and will stand up to having cocktails dumped on them. If you go to cons the pack will fit easily into a backpack or a pocket, require no extra bits like dice, pencils or meeples, and can be taught in five minutes. With kids or that one friend who looks at your copy of Settlers of Catan and announces, “I don’t do games with all those rules and things,” well, you’re on your own right there son. Children as long as they understand their numbers should be fine.
In all honesty we will probably play around with house rules a bit as we go along. Find something appropriately wacky to let The Ghost Girl From The Water become a contender. Yet as I hope you can tell from what I’ve written above I love this game. I love the fact it simply exists and cannot wait to see other releases from Pleasing Terror Games. Bravo you two, take a bow. You deserve it. I for one eagerly await your future creations.
Now as far as the soundtrack, here we’re in a bit of a bind because I love sharing free content with all of you. However for this gaming night, and especially with the death last week of Robin Hardy, director of The Wicker Man it seems even more appropriate. On the night in question we listened to the excellent collection Willow’s Songs, a collection of vintage recordings of English folk songs that inspired the soundtrack to The Wicker Man. There’s a reason that film holds the position it does and this collection chills as much as the final reveal in that very same film. I did manage to find a track on YouTube to share with you:
Purchase Monsters & Miscreants Here.
This article by Acep Hale