3 Games in 3 Hours, Part 2: Haunt the House, Growl – Review

If you caught part one, you’ll remember I spent a couple of hours forcing children to labour for me in the playtesting mines to review some card games, and am now telling you about it. Part one covered the game Zoomaka – a fun and competitive one about building up your zoo and stopping other people from building theirs, while they try and do the same to you. It was also the only one that was a final product game. Now in Part two, I’ll be covering Haunt the House and Growl, a reduced version of a final product and a pre-Kickstarter version respectively. These will be shorter reviews since what I played isn’t the final version of these products. But close to it, so here we go.


Haunt the House

This game of ghosts (the players) scaring ghost hunters out of their thoroughly haunted house recently completed its Kickstarter campaign with full funding and then some. On their Kickstarter page – and the developers website – they offer a stripped-down version of the full game as a print-and-play, and since I was on a roll with the games while I had two young playtesters here, I included it. Why wouldn’t I have? Because we’ll be covering the full product of this game next year (as the developers Kids Table Board Gaming is sending it to us for review once it’s ready and published), I wasn’t initially going to cover this smaller version. The full version has more rooms and phantoms apparently.

I won’t lie – my own kid saw the artwork for this game while I was first having a look at it, and wanted to play it immediately. That is why it got printed out with the others. While I wasn’t sure if I would be covering it right now, I basically regretted it at the time because there was so much cutting out. Even the minimised version was over 40 pages to print just of card front and backs (plus two pages of tokens), which then had to be cut out and put together. The whole putting-the-front-and-back-in-a-card-slip suggestion for print-n-plays is great if you have a place you can buy card slips easily. I have no such luck, and so after a quickly abandoned attempt at gluing them together, I just laminated them (NOTE: the card backs were provided in colour, but to save money I just printed them in black and white, which is why they look that way in my photo). All this is to say, the proper product must have a lot in it and be awesome for the stripped-down version to involve this much content.

Kids Table Board Gaming

The gameplay

This isn’t so much a card game as it is a board game that largely involves cards. The game involves Room tiles for a haunted house, Ghost Hunter cards, Scare cards (organised into four decks, one for each player), Phantom cards, small adventuring gear tiles, and skull tokens. For the printable version I used, I had to supply four objects for markers. As you can see from my photo, I used four large flat skull beads FTW, but that was all. The Room tiles are shuffled, and a certain number (which depends on the number of players – there were three of us playing it first time around) placed face up in the middle of the playing area. The Ghost Hunters are shuffled and placed face down in a pile, and a Ghost Hunter placed on each room tile. The Ghost Hunters are each marked with what ‘scares’ it takes to make them flee the haunted house, and what adventuring equipment they carry with them, to match the adventuring equipment tiles.

Once a player has their Scare card deck, it is shuffled. Five cards are then drawn to make up the player’s hand, and the rest placed face down to be their draw pile. The aim is to use scare cards in your hand to match up to the type and number of scares needed to defeat a particular ghost hunter: a combination of chills, bumps, creaks, and moans. Players can place a visible Scare (face up card) and invisible Scare (face down card) each turn under whichever Room and Ghost Hunter they’d like to target with those cards. Players can place cards under any room/ghost hunter on their turn, and while visible Scares must be relevant to the ghost hunter they’re targeting, invisible ones might be relevant or might have nothing to do with it – just bluffs.

When a player thinks that between the visible Scares, likely invisible Scares, and Scares in their hand, they’ve covered the right type and number to defeat a particular Ghost Hunter, they can use their turn to yell “BOO!” If their estimation on the correct constellation of cards is correct, the player who called it wins that Ghost Hunter card and its associated adventuring gear trophy tokens. When this happens, every player whose cards had already been placed and contributed to the BOO also receives a skull token. The Room tile is replaced with a random new one, and a new Ghost Hunter placed on it. The other Rooms continue as usual until their turn. False BOOs – where you thought you had the right cards but the invisible Scares proved you wrong – are processed the same way except that no-one is rewarded and the player doesn’t get the Ghost Hunter.

All players whose invisible Scares were part of defeating the Ghost Hunter put their markers on the Phantom cards pile. These markers stay there until the player who gets to claim the Ghost Hunter has finished distributing the used Scare cards back to their deck holder’s discard pile, and giving out tokens. The triumphant player then takes their pick of the top two Phantom cards, and each other player with a claim then receives a Phantom card of their own. The Phantom cards have special actions and uses if you choose to play them – either to benefit you, or in some cases attack another player (these particular cards specify that they can be left out of the deck if you don’t want an aggressively competitive game, which is nice). Some benefit you if they’re left unplayed, lending an extra strategic air to deciding on their use. The game ends when one of the players has collected four Ghost Hunters, whereupon the collected skull tokens, adventuring gear tokens (as well as the gear icons on the Ghost Hunter cards), and Phantom cards are added up for points to see who wins.

It is suitable for ages 8+ and 2–4 players, with a play time of around 30 minutes.

Kids Table Board Gaming

The opinion

Use of the Phantom cards isn’t actually required for the game – the rules explain that they can be left out for a simpler/beginners game, and introduced in subsequent games to up the ante a bit. This was actually very helpful, since I was worried about the initial game dragging out with rule checks since it comes across as rather complicated for a kid-friendly game at first. But in the end, gameplay was surprisingly smooth and easy once we got started. The first run through was the simpler version without the Phantom cards, but later on with just two players we went through with the Phantom cards, forcing me to think about my playing tactics more.

The Room tiles each have their own actions as well that can be played. For the most part we ignored them while we got the hang of the game, and generally forgot to check what they were when putting a new Room tile down anyway. I think with adult players they’d be considered more equal in importance with other aspects of the game to increase involvement a bit, but it was good that extras like that – similar to the Phantom cards – could be comfortably left out to streamline gameplay for kids and first timers.

The artwork is very fun. Remember, the backs are actually colour, I just printed them in black and white.

I had one enthusiastic player, and one more interested in their phone for the first half, but by the end of the game the consensus was that it was fun. One of them said they were glad it wasn’t too hard (this was after playing the beginner version, leaving out the Phantom cards and room tile actions). Faced with several different card types to suddenly start a game with was a little daunting, I think. The second run including the Phantom cards was just as well liked. I’m interested to see how the extra additions of the full version change the playing strategy, with more Phantom options and theoretically more motivation to follow up on details like the Room tile actions.

 

Growl

This one came to me via a general callout through Facebook from designer Joey Vigour for opinions and constructive critiques. There’re plans for a Kickstarter, but no definite date for it yet, however you can put down your email for updates – in other words, this one wasn’t provided to us for review, it was just an opportunity to play it. While there are likely going to be some gameplay tweaks and the artwork shown is not the final product, the game is pretty close to finished (or I wouldn’t bother including it in this write up). But let me tell you, this one was probably the favourite of my playtesters out of the three games.

The gameplay

This one requires a minimum of four players, so I had to press-gang another person into helping play. However, despite their initial grumbling, they stayed for a second game of it. The game consists of seven large role cards of Humans and one Wolf Zero, and a card deck of Bite cards, Wound cards, Charm cards, Salve cards, Gold/treasure cards, a Hex card, and five Night cards. The role cards are shuffled and distributed face down with one to each player, and only they can peek and see if they are human or wolf. The Night cards are taken out of the deck and shuffled independently, while the main deck is shuffled and five cards are distributed to each player to make their hand. Three Night cards are selected randomly, with one being placed on top of the face down pile, another one a third of the way down, and the last one two thirds of the way down. When the deck is flipped face up, a Night card is now the final card at the bottom.

On their turn, each player decides who to give the top card on the deck to, whether it be good or bad. Once the deck is down to the first Night card, the player whose turn it landed on must play the action on that card (each Night card is different), then each player goes through their own cards and passes one card face down to the players on either side of them. Once you’ve got your cards handed to you from your neighbours, you shuffle them around so you can’t tell which one came from who, and add them to your hand. If you’re a werewolf, you spread as many Bites and Wounds as possible to convert others, although you must guess who is already a werewolf and who is still human and better targeted. If you’re human, you must guess who else is human and try and keep them alive while passing Bites and Wounds to werewolves.

Joey Vigour

Three Bite cards in your hand (even in the initial draw) make you a werewolf whether you were slated as human at the start by your role card or not. However, a Charm card can negate a Bite card as long as you get one in time (once you have three non-negated Bites at once, you’re a werewolf for the rest of the game regardless of what cards you gain or lose afterwards). Three Wound cards in your hand means you die (if you get these in the initial draw, you can redraw your hand), though a Salve card can negate a Wound car. Dead, of course, means out of the game. The Hex card negates all Charm cards in your hand, and the Gold cards are just filler if you’re only playing a game or two, or can be kept track of for points to crown a werewolf monarch at the end of several games (whoever got the most Gold total at the end of the night). The Night cards offer a regular different action interlude to break the game up a bit, and opportunity to surreptitiously target other players.

The goal is for humans to try and make sure at least one human is still ‘alive’ at the end of the deck (the third Night), while the werewolves’ goal is to try and convert or kill the humans. If one human is still alive at the end, the humans win. If everyone is a werewolf or ‘dead’, the wolves win. The gameplay is designed to ensure that you never really know which of the other players is human or werewolf. You can suspect, but often can’t be sure until the end, whereupon Wolf Zero must start a growl, to be joined in by whomever is a werewolf.

Growl requires 4 – 7 players, and has a play time of about 10 – 15 minutes.

The opinion

As I mentioned earlier, there are still some gameplay tweaks going to happen with this, so I can’t say for sure about the final product. We all found this one quite fun, though. The number of players needed, and quick play time (you just have to hand out cards until you hit the bottom of the deck) make it a great party game, and the simple rules should make it playable even after a few drinks.

It’s not specifically aimed at being kid suitable from the looks of it, but the nine-year-olds loved it (these are the ones who turned out to be watching Five Nights at Freddy’s videos last year though, and were surprised and disappointed to be told it was not meant for their age). So much so that after our fourth player jumped ship after two games to return to the computer, the kids insisted on trying it with three players – though it quickly became obvious why this isn’t advisable: Wounds build up quicker, leaving at least one player out of the game before long and two people can’t effectively hide who’s a werewolf and who isn’t. The three player attempts didn’t last long. It’s a testament to how much they liked it that they tried, though. Tried so hard.

The aftermath of game one.

They all agreed that they enjoyed the challenge (in complete contrast to enjoying Haunt the House being easy. Kids, right?) The quick play time meant they could go over and over again. Deciding who to give Bites and Wounds to from the deck was an exercise in morals and apologies (thought it couldn’t give away who was what), while deciding who gets what from the anonymous Night turn swap around was a challenge in who may have let what slip in figuring out who’s a wolf. It’s most fun once you’re a werewolf, I think. I enjoyed passing out Bites left, right, and centre, and usually passing Gold cards to whoever you think is already a werewolf.

Vigour has said that expansions and different themes are currently being worked on, including a sci-fi space station one called Wolf Zero. I’m definitely keeping an eye out for that – spaaaaaaace weeeerrrrewoooooollllvvvessssss. My biggest issue is purely that not everyone can rustle up four interested players at any time (I’m not often in that situation, I must admit). If card party games aren’t you and your social circle’s thing, it could be a struggle finding times to play it. But if you think you’ll be in a situation to use it, then have a look at this one.

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