Guest Post: We Were Playing it Wrong: Ghost Stories

Today we have a guest feature from a fellow gamer and friend of the site, Chippen N., who talks about his experience with Antoine Bauza’s co-op game, Ghost Stories. – Ed.

Ghost Stories
Ghost Stories, by Antoine Bauza, 2008, 1-4 Players, illustrations by Piero

The Basics: Ghost Stories is a game by Antoine Bauza, a designer with a great personal track record that includes notable games such as 7 Wonders, Takenoko (Editor’s note: Takenoko is one of prior victims) and Hanabi, all of which I’ve played and own, and all of them are games I go back to regularly. Ordinarily I don’t keep track of who designs what, but when I made the connection between Ghost Stories and all of Bauza’s other fun games I became very interested in giving Ghost Stories a try.

Ghost Stories is a fully cooperative game where players take on the role of Taoist Priests or Monks defending a small village from a horde of ghosts.  Why?  An urn possessing the mortal remains of an evil sorcerer, Wu Feng, resides in the village and apparently the angry ghost of Wu Feng would like them back.  You all will need to work together, using unique special abilities for each Taoist, and plan actions carefully to maintain a proper balance.

The game board is comprised of a random 3×3 grid of tiles, each of which allows a player present on the tile to take an action.  Each player’s character also has special abilities, and there are 3 spots for ghosts.  While the game states to randomly assign the player colors and the abilities I’d suggest you start out by selecting each and save the randomness once you have a few wins under your belt, which may take some time.  Ghost Stories is a difficult endeavor.

The core of the game is simple enough.  On a player’s turn they draw a ghost and place it according to the ghost’s color: yellow, blue, red, or green.  There are also black ghosts that go in any available spot the active player chooses to place them.

The player may then move and choose to use their current tile’s ability OR to exorcise ghost(s).  If they choose to exorcise the ghosts they roll 3 dice and compare the strength of the ghosts, represented by dots of the ghost’s color to their roll. Players can boost their roll by spending tokens called Taoist tokens which are acquired through a variety of ways throughout the game.

The ghosts can have abilities that effect the players or board when they come into play, during the turn of the player whose board they are on, and/or when they are defeated.

Balancing the abilities of the ghosts is important as you can lose 3 different ways: If all Taoists are dying, if 3 tiles are flipped to indicate they are haunted or if the deck runs out with an Incarnation of Wu Feng.  Being that this all revolves around Wu Feng’s attempt to get his remains back he will send one or more incarnations which are stupidly difficult ghosts that have special requirements to defeat.  The only way to win is to survive the hoard until the last incarnation of Wu Feng arrives and send him back to Hell AND survive and any departing curse that might occur.

What we did wrong: First, my partner and I started by having every ghost with on turn effects trigger every turn. This escalated the game to unwinnable in 4 rounds.  On turn effects should only trigger for the ghosts on the current player’s board.

Second, during the ghost arrival step we initially were drawing the ghosts and placing them even when our player boards were overrun.  The rules on ghost placement are pretty simple but some of the penalties became confusing during the first few games. The in-game aids help quite a bit in clarifying when to place ghosts, and we might have avoided some confusion if we’d checked them more often.  Ordinarily, on a player’s turn if their board has all 3 ghost slots filled they take 1 Qi damage and do not draw an additional ghost to place.

Additional confusion came when I thought that if the board the ghost should be placed on was full that player would take Qi damage.  Properly played in this case the ghost should be placed on the active player’s board.  If no spot is available, the player places in any available spot of their choosing.

Lastly, while this wasn’t done wrong it was overlooked as an option.  During an exorcism, the players are capable of defeating 2 ghosts from the corner tiles if two ghosts are present.  In order to do so, the exorcism roll in combination with Taoist tokens, player abilities and tile abilities must meet the difficulty of each ghost to defeat both.  To this end, we found that placing the weakest ghosts on the corners made it more manageable as players could defeat two ghosts with one action.

Conclusion: Ghost Stories takes worker placement, resource collecting and push your luck styles and puts them together in a cooperative game that will have players stressing over their desperate collective situation.  Players will remember the exact moment where things went south and rejoice in the triumph that bought everyone some breathing room.  Everyone that I talked to about it said that it’s the most difficult game they’d played and I can see why.  I’m a fan and if you enjoy working together this game can bring spirited reactions to your table.

Guest Post: We Were Playing it Wrong: Ghost Stories