Posted on May 24, 2010 by spikexan
Available at Lulu.com
There are many ways to tackle a horror game. What one finds in a Call of Cthulhu game isn’t what they find in Geist. Heck, What you find in Call of Cthulhu isn’t really what you find in Cthulhutech. This is a great thing. Some groups want to spend the night warding off hordes of zombified neighbors while others want to take on the personas of uberpowerful creatures of the night. I mention this because I will be putting Bogeyman (Sane Studios, 164 pages) into a box with other games of a Clive Barker feel.
The chief feature to Bogeyman is that it’s runs off a card-based mechanic rather than dice. In fact, each player needs their own deck while game masters require two (and you want to keep them separate). Beyond that, the typical gaming fare–character sheets, snacks, pens, paper–mostly fill out this game’s requirements. The only bit lacking are the “beads of sweat,” which I think is a terrifically named aspect. These little tokens have many uses, most of which are linked to impulses.
At the core, Desai’s system does some traditional things (cards plus stats are held against a difficulty number) and radical things (players don’t know the difficulty until after they show their card). Here is how it works. Players get five cards and have to go through all five of those cards before being refreshed. Some cards are winners; some ain’t. Players basically get to choose their battles, opting for likely failures at things they don’t care as much about. The only way to get out of this cycle is the Joker, which permits the player to discard and reload their full deck. [One small aside here. The difficulty chart–an important frequent fixture to the game–is damn near hidden as a little bar along the top of page 15. It irked me because I LOVE the way
sidebars are treated throughout the book. For the gritty rules bits in the *surprise* rules chapter, they opt for a sterile green-toned format. I felt like this was off. I return you to your review.]
There are a great many more aspects to Bogeyman’s system; however, our Saturday night playtest primarily focused on the concept and generalized look at the rules.
Another key aspect to the game I enjoyed was one that reminded me of the excellent Wraith: the Oblivion. The Bogeyman in the game are inside the character (persona). They come from three basic moments–sin, madness, or tragedy–and essentially work just as the Shadows did in Wraith. For me, those damn Shadows were the most appealing feature to that game and a mighty fine addition to this game. One change though is that the game master is the “intended” controller for the player’s Bogeymen. Nothing really keeps it from going into the hands of other players (and I firmly believe this is the way God intends it to be). Nobody backstabs like your best friends.
Another cool thing is that there are two ways to take/deal damage. Physical and Social damage are both means of dealing with your enemies. I’ve always been a fan of multiple means of attack, be it CoC’s tendency to kill through Hit Points or eliminate through Sanity or Vampire’s ability to take away Health or Humanity. The more fronts a player has to defend their character upon means the more ways horrors can get to them.
I combine layout and artwork with the system, so here goes. One, there is a nifty little warning about “mature content” at the beginning of this book. TAKE IT SERIOUSLY. If you don’t want to see nudity, then don’t open this book. If you don’t want to see Hellraiser’s idea of erotica, then don’t open this book. Midst the chains, breasts, and jagged teeth of Dan Verkys artwork (along with stock images from a slew of artists), one gets the idea that the art direction got lost somewhere. I’m not squeamish to the images shown, but they get a bit repetitive. The best way to shock is to do it in unexpected doses. The artwork simply doesn’t do this.
On the other hand, the layout for this small press PDF is fantastic. It’s run off of shades of blood red. I won’t bitch about a printer-friendly version because the coloring looks so awesome. I like the fonts throughout the book along with the nicely laid out sidebars. The character sheets (one main sheet, two sheets of questions, and one GM cheat sheet) are strange gray things that don’t fit in the with rest of the book. I’m going to assume (yes, I know the risks) that this is for those cruel expensive printers. Their lacklusterness does strike the reader odd, but seems like an okay trade-off. Nobody frames their character sheets anyway (as sure as I type that some of you know someone who does).
The setting has something in common with the system. You’ll find familiar and radical things within it. The world is basically one close to our world, but touched more by the supernatural. Ghosts, Spirits, and psychics exist, as do dangerous cults. Vampires, Werewolves, and Leprechauns do not exist. There are multiple groups the players can be part of that are quite fresh. The “World Around You” chapter, which explains the setting, is an excellent and thoughtful piece of fiction. The locations important to the setting are also not of the norm, so no rehashing of horrors lurking in New Orleans. I truly like the concept of Misty Hollow, a nice little town you DO NOT want to visit for long (as if you even could).
This is the kind of game that fans of Kult, Wraith: the Oblivion, and Nightbane should enjoy. While the game sells itself as “personal horror,” fans of splatterpunk or the surreal should like the Gigeresque artwork Those easily offended by sexuality or disturbing imagery should just stay away from this book. Being a pure horror setting, it offers little use beyond the genre. I usually find something mine-worthy to cross-genre; however, this book proves difficult. If you want horror, this has it in spades; otherwise, not going to offer much. My final scores for Bogeyman are:
Layout: Five out of Five Dice (Engaging)
Artwork: Two out of Five Dice (Some gems within, but gets repetitive)
Writing: Four out of Five Dice (System may be a little more complicated than it has to be, but is still quite cool overall)
Overall: Four out of Five Dice (Strong Indie Product. Artwork will bring it down for most).
Thanks to Sane Studios for a free reviewer’s copy of their game.
Review by Todd Cash