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Board game Review: Ghostel

Posted by Sian, Jan, 2016.

I was first introduced to Ghostel by Bevan Clatworthy (Tinkerbot Games) at a local board gaming day back in November 2015. It was the last game I played after being accused of being a ‘cylon’ during an intense game of Battlestar Gallactica.

Ghostel was a welcome break and I instantly took a liking to how it played, particularly the way dice are used during the game. Ghostel is soon to be launched with a Kickstarter and I’m privileged to have a prototype review copy to hand.

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Interested to learn how the idea for Ghostel materialised? Read my interview with Bevan Clatworthy, game designer for Tinkerbot Games:

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Ghostel is board game which turns the table on ghost hunting in Luigi’s Mansion. It plays under an hour and can accommodate 2-4 players. In Ghostel, you are a ghost, a minion of Spookie, who needs to scare guests out of Creepstone Manor’s hotel rooms. Players score points by scaring guests and win the game if they achieve the highest score. Each guest has a courage score which you, as a player, would need to meet or exceed by rolling dice and using ‘scare tactic’, ‘Spookie favour’ and ‘terror’ dice cards as you move your ghost around the hotel, represented by the gaming board. 


The rulebook is very comprehensive and has lots of imagery to help explain gaming concepts. The quick start guide also provides a simple overview at the back of the rulebook. Each round, there is a night and day phase. The night phase generally involves players rolling dice to scare guests from their rooms. The day phase involves players buying certain cards, as noted above, to provide various benefits for scaring guests. Thereafter, more guest cards are placed on the board to replace guests which have been scared, before the night phase repeats again. The game ends when the guest deck has been exhausted. 


As part of the night phase, all players role multiple, usually 3, ‘terror’ dice and then take turns to move their ghost and place each of their dice on guest cards. The sum of the dice denotes how scary their ghost is for the round. Generally, a player’s ghost would have to be moved to an adjacent (non-diagonal) guest room, before it can re-enter the room it started in, to boost its scare score with an extra dice. Whilst the gaming mechanic of leaving dice in guest rooms works very well, I also like the idea that players can work together to place dice in the same guest room to help meet the courage score. 

The scoring system for the game is well-thought through: a player who has a higher dice total in a certain guest room will earn points for taking first place. Opponents, who have also placed dice in the same room, may earn fewer points for second or even third place. If it so happens that players tie for the highest dice total in a guest room, they will both earn the top number of points for the guest card. Overall, this means Ghostel provides lots of opportunities for scoring points, which advocates positive and progressive game play. 


Doubling the value of your dice is also possible with the help of scare tactic cards. These may depict clowns or spiders which can be matched to that shown on a guest card. A downside is that phobia icons have poor contrast with the background of cards. Hopefully, this can be addressed before the Kickstarter launches. 


Alternatively, choosing terror dice cards is an opportunity not be missed, as you can’t go wrong with gaining an extra D6 or upgrading a D6 for a D8. Also, Spookie tactic cards also add an amusing element to the game. For instance, the ‘Walk Through Walls’ card allow a player’s ghost to move diagonally across the board. Of course, all the different cards make it easier to scare guests, but Ghostel does limit the number of cards you can buy in the day phase.  


Overall, the game play experience for Ghostel is very special and I really like the progressive stages of the game of rolling dice, placing these on guest cards and then moving your ghost, before points are scored. The character designs for the guest cards are amusing and I like the fact that these are based off the scared faces of real people. Also, I think the element of working together to score points encourages friendly competition, which can be appreciated by both children and adults. Ghostel is not just a game you would play at Halloween. 


As feedback for the Kickstarter, the general layout for the board game is excellent but brighter colours and more contrast are definitely needed so the gaming board and cards do not look so dark. This would significantly improve the marketability of the board game. 

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