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Board Game Review

The Horror Game Show Review

Contestants find themselves in a dicey situation

When the practised pageantry and directed drama of reality television fail to excite, you’ll need a new form of entertainment. Something controversial, raw, a program that removes the fake veneer and presents you with something real. Well, jaded viewer, you’re in luck because The Horror Game Show promises to spike ratings and Contestants alike. Designed by Sebastian Srebro and published by Bored Games, The Horror Game Show is a competitive combat and exploration game that pits players against each other to gain fans and, most importantly, bring in that almighty dollar.

In a dystopian world that’s grown tired of conventional entertainment, media magnates have concocted a new, violent, visceral show that takes reality TV to a new level. Willing participants enter The Horror Game Show to earn money and fame, but they’ll need to arm themselves and eliminate every other hopeful to do so. Unfortunately for them, the shadowy figures running the game don’t have their best interests at heart, and neither do the vicious Hunters who share the arena with them. It’s Battle Royale meets Family Feud with a bit of Big Brother thrown in for good measure.

Playing with two to four players, you each take on the role of a producer, guiding their roster of contestants through the arena, all while attempting to meet corporate objectives and satiate the bloodlust of the watching audience. Like all TV executives, your overall goal is to make money. You’ll earn money by completing challenges, fighting with other contestants, and fulfilling secret contracts given to you at the start of the game. The player who made the most green at the end of 12 rounds, or the one with the last surviving Contestant, is declared the winner.

The game will take up your entire table, but the components are solid

To start the game, each player needs a roster of contestants, each with their standee, small player board, action cards and stats. This can be done by drafting them or pulling their tokens from a bag blindly. Once each player has an equal number of contestants, it’s time for them to enter the arena. The game board is split up into four modular quadrants, littered with red markers that act as starting points for Contestants or items and traps. Players can take turns placing their contestant standees on these markers, allowing for strategic placement, or their corresponding tokens (referred to as blips) can be mixed in with all the items and distributed randomly. This adds an extra layer to the game, as players will need to find their contestants before they can use them or leave them hidden in hopes that it’ll keep them safe…for a while.

While I prefer to start games with contestants having been revealed, as it gets you into the action faster, it does shorten the game considerably. This isn’t an issue unto itself, as games can last up to two or so hours, but you’ll likely miss the excitement of rounds three, six and nine. In those rounds, portions of the board will either have all blips revealed or explode, killing everyone in that quadrant. This pushes all players closer together as the game draws on, which ratchets up the tension, but you’ll be unlikely to see that happen if you start the game placing your contestants, as everyone will probably be dead by then.

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Each player has their own player board that keeps track of their money and fans, and a smaller board for each of their Contestants and Hunters (we’ll get to them) that slots in next to it. The Contestant boards show their speed, combat strength and critical hit power, which I’ll explain in a moment. Every Contestant has three action cards that affect them, all of which get shuffled together alongside five general action cards to make up your deck.

Each player receives three secret contract cards that will net them cash at the end of the game if completed

Drawing a hand of five cards each, players take turns playing cards to move and interact with the arena. Action cards are dual purpose, with the top half dictating whether a Contestant and/or a Hunter can use their movement to traverse the show floor, and the bottom half featuring text that allows certain Characters to take specific actions, such as boost their combat dice, peek at face-down blips or mess with your opponent’s hand. Cards will either have a play or pause button in the top left corner, dictating when that player’s turn is over. You’re free to use as many play cards as you wish, but once a pause icon is seen, that’s all she wrote, and play continues to the next player.

As you make your way around the board, uncovering items, bolstering your Contestants with weapons and health packs and stumbling upon traps that deal damage, you’ll quickly run into an enemy Contestant. As soon as two Contestants share the same space, it’s on. Combat is resolved with dice, with each Contestant’s power level determining how many are rolled, plus any additional dice added in by equipped weapons. The two battling Contestants roll their die and line them up from highest value to lowest, comparing them from top to bottom, with the loser of each line taking one point of damage. Each Contestant also has a critical hit threshold that, when met or exceeded, will deal damage regardless of the opposing number. Combat won’t always result in death, but, when it does, the winner will take the now deceased Contestant’s standee as a trophy that will net their producer some cash at the end of the game.

Combat is simple and easy to understand, making fights quick and often nail-biting. Win or lose, getting into a fight will earn you fans, and a kill will result in additional fans, so combat is heavily incentivised. Not only that, but you can choose to pit your own Contestants against each other, so you have complete control over the bout. Having multiple Contestants on the board means they’re somewhat disposable, giving you some added confidence to get into as many brawls as possible.

Moving through the arena can be treacherous, especially with Hunters around

As you shuffle about the board, swinging bats and 2x4s, you’ll earn more and more fans, to a total of nine at any given time. Fans can be turned in at any moment to be converted into money, reroll a die, secretly look at a blip on the board or purchase Intrigue cards. Intrigue cards fundamentally alter the game in some pretty fun ways, such as moving an opponent’s characters, exchanging dice during combat and pulling a weapon from the stack of discarded blips. Most of these cards can be played at any time, even out of turn, so seeing them squirrelled away below another player’s board feels like staring at a loaded gun. There are enough unique Intrigue cards in the deck not to know what’s in play, making for a fun and often surprising mechanic.

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Throwing a bloodied spanner in the works are the two modifiers introduced at the start of each round: Events and Challenges. Challenges give everyone a task to complete during that round, such as get into four fights or have six fans at the end of the round, with money being reward to those who complete it. Events alter how that round operates by messing with the rules. Events can be a simple as each player discards an Action card, or as devious as making all fights to the death, with combat repeated until only one Contestant is left standing. Put together, the Challenge and Event cards make each round feel different, injecting variety into proceedings. The base game comes with a good number of both cards, so repeated plays will feel new for quite some time.

Contestants aren’t the only folks wandering the grimy halls of the Game Show. Hunters are powerful characters that players can hire to cause chaos in the arena. Once introduced, Hunter’s Action cards are added to your deck and shuffled, becoming another playable character on the board. While these Hunters aren’t taking part in the contest and therefore don’t count as Contestants, their power and expendability make them perfect for mowing through your foes and protecting your squishy leading men and women. Some of the Hunters feel a little too strong in places, but overall, they strike fear into everyone and mix things up nicely.

The game board keeps everything moving along nicely

You can’t just splash the cash to wrangle a Hunter, you’ll need the media’s attention first. At the start of each round, players will take turns betting on how many cards they will discard to gain the Media Attention token. The player that discards the most Action cards will not only go first, but they’ll be given the ability to hire a Hunter or introduce an already hired Hunter to the arena. This will leave them with fewer moves for that round but might give them a leg up in the long run. It’s a clever risk-vs-reward mechanic that kicks off each round interestingly.

The review unit we received is a prototype, so much of the artwork and components are still being determined, but the presentation is very promising. The art is purposefully grimy and edgy, leaning into the grindhouse horror of the 1990s, which I really enjoy. The player boards are large, and the whole game takes up a lot of space, so be sure to take this one to your kitchen table. The player boards resembling an old TV unit, complete with dials to track fans and money, is an excellent touch. The component that needs the most work is the rule book. While none of the language is confusing or contradictory, it all seems out of place and random. Trying to clarify a rule can take far longer than it should, mainly because there’s no rhyme or reason to placement. However, it will undoubtedly be refined during the Kickstart process, so it’s a minor complaint.

Even with his menacing kitchen knife, things aren’t looking good for the contestant here

Final Thoughts

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While I’m not quite ready to bin off regular TV shows in favour of a vicious blood sport, being a part of a tabletop version of one has turned out to be rather entertaining. Simple and satisfying dice combat and a cheeky bit of exploration make for a solid framework that The Horror Game Show expands on with round modifiers and overpowered Hunter characters. The game variants could do with a bit of balancing, and the rule book needs refinement before the final version hits shelves, but those minor gripes don’t take away significantly from a fun brawler.

A Kickstarter campaign for The Horror Board game is currently live and can be found HERE.

Review copy supplied by the publisher 

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The Horror Game Show Review
Live And In Claret
The Horror Game Show combines quick and easy dice combat with risky exploration and choice-based gameplay to give players an entertaining tabletop experience that only needs a bit of refinement.
The Good
Combat is quick and easy to understand
Hidden items/characters add jeopardy to exploration
Round modifiers keep the game fresh
Intrigue cards mix up encounters in a fun way
The Bad
The rule book is a bit messy
Certain Hunters feel a bit overpowered
The two playing methods aren’t equal

The Horror Game Show Review
Live And In Claret
The Horror Game Show combines quick and easy dice combat with risky exploration and choice-based gameplay to give players an entertaining tabletop experience that only needs a bit of refinement.
The Good
Combat is quick and easy to understand
Hidden items/characters add jeopardy to exploration
Round modifiers keep the game fresh
Intrigue cards mix up encounters in a fun way
The Bad
The rule book is a bit messy
Certain Hunters feel a bit overpowered
The two playing methods aren’t equal
Written By Adam Ryan

Adam's undying love for all things PlayStation can only be rivalled by his obsession with vacuuming. Whether it's a Dyson or a DualShock in hand you can guarantee he has a passion for it. PSN: TheVacuumVandal XBL: VacuumVandal Steam: TheVacuumVandal

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