We’re baaaaaaaaaaaaaaack! After a short hiatus, we’re back at it with a new review for a game that is near and dear to our hearts. A little background before we begin — you’ve all heard the story about how we got into gaming. (If not, shame on you. Go back and read our blog post entitled, An Introduction.) After we decided that gaming was definitely our thing, we decided to hit up our FLGS Kryptonite Kollectibles to browse their gaming selection. A game that immediately caught our eye was this beauty:
I picked up the game and immediately started to giggle. I have never, at that time, seen a board game that used the art of real people! We were intrigued and needed to know if the art on the components contained this art as well. After a quick look around, this became our first board game purchase not only as a couple, but as new board gamers as well.
In A Touch of Evil, players work either separately or together to find and defeat the evil villain threatening the colonial village of Shadowbrook and its surroundings. So the first choice that must be made is whether to play the game cooperatively or competitively. We have always enjoyed working together as a team with the cooperative game, which makes the final villain much hardier and harder to beat. If you play the game competitively it becomes a race to see who can find the villain’s lair and defeat it first, before the evil overcomes the town. Speaking of which, the next step in setup is to determine which villain you’ll be hunting for by drawing one of the villain cards at random (or just selecting one). The base game comes with The Werewolf, Scarecrow, Vampire, and Spectral Horseman, and expansions add even more spooky and supernatural foes to face off against.
Next, each player must assume a role of one of the town’s heroes, ranging from a playwright to a drifter to a schoolteacher, each with a unique set of skills and stats that will be used to combat evil. There are 8 different characters included with the game, and while the instructions say you can play with as many people as there are characters (meaning expansions add the possibility to play with even more), we’d recommend limiting the game to 4-5. Once everyone has selected a character, either by picking them, dealing them out randomly, or (if there are enough characters) dealing two out to each player for them to select from, they take that character’s card and mini, along with some dice to be used for combat and skill checks. All the characters start in the center of town unless otherwise noted on their card.
The last step of setup involves separating and distributing the various decks of cards included with the game. Four decks are shuffled and placed next to their corresponding locations near the corners of the board (thus why they’re referred to as “corner locations”). In addition, there are Mystery and Event decks that are shuffled and placed near the board — the former represents bad things that happen as evil grows stronger while the latter are beneficial cards kept in players’ hands that can be played at various points throughout the game. Next there is a deck of Lair cards corresponding to each named space on the board. These cards are used to determine random locations for in-game effects and also will tell you where the villain’s lair is when you’re ready to face off against them. Finally, there are six cards placed along the edge of the board, representing the elders of Shadowbrook. Each of these non-playable characters also receives a face-down Secret card representing something that elder is keeping hidden. It could be a little secret, such as cowardice or drunken debauchery, or they could be hiding an evil secret, in which case they join forces with the villain for the end-game showdown!
Once you’ve completed setup, you’re ready to begin the game! A Touch of Evil is played out over several rounds, until the players either defeat the villain or until the Shadow Track (which begins at 20 and can decrease in response to villainous actions or Mystery cards) reaches 0, in which case all players lose. During each round, every player will get a turn, starting with a randomly determined first player and proceeding clockwise.
On a player’s turn, they first roll a 6-sided die to determine how far they can move. They may then move up to that number of spaces, or stay in their current space — though by Lingering in their current space they risk being attacked by one of the villain’s minions if they roll a 1 on a die roll (separate from the roll for movement). Once a player has moved (or not), they then must fight any minions on the space (with combat mechanics described in detail later). Provided they win the fight (or if there were no minions on the space), the player will then encounter the space. For the aforementioned corner locations, this means drawing the top card from the corresponding deck to see what they find. It could be a helpful item or ally, a test of one of the player’s skills, or an enemy to fight. On other spaces, players may be able to draw Event cards to help them later in the game, and in some of the town spaces, players can train their skills, heal wounds, or buy items to help them with the challenges they must face. After encountering their space, there are optional actions players may take, such as investigating one of the town elders’ secrets or buying a Lair card to find out where the villain is hiding out.
On a player’s turn, they may encounter a minion or enemy to fight, or they may be asked to perform a test of one of their skills. The mechanic for both skill tests and combat is similar and fairly easy. Each character starts off with a value ranging from 1-6 (though more typically will be 2-4) in each of four skills: Combat, Cunning, Spirit, and Honor. The number value of each skill represents how many dice you can roll when making a check of that skill. The threshold for success varies based on the test, but is typically between 4 and 6. This means that when a player with a Cunning score of 3 encounters a “Cunning 5+” test, they will roll three dice, and at least one of the dice has to be 5 or greater to succeed. Combat works similarly, with players and their foe simultaneously rolling dice equal to their Combat score and hitting the other on a roll of 5 or 6. Each hit causes a Wound, and when one of the parties has suffered wounds up to their limit they die, or in the case of player characters they are KO’d and lose the rest of their turn.
Once all players have taken a turn, it is time for the Mystery phase. Players who were previously KO’d are revived at the town center, and the villain heals some of its wounds if it had been damaged. Then, the first player reveals and reads the top card from the Mystery deck, which will usually cause some detrimental effect. In addition, for cooperative games the first player must also roll on the Cooperative Mystery Phase chart, which can cause the Shadow Track to decrease faster, additional minions to spawn on the board, or in some cases, Investigation (the currency of the game) to be placed in a random location. Then, the first player marker is passed to the next clockwise player and a new round is begun.
When players are ready to face off against the villain, they must purchase a Lair card telling them where the villain is hiding out. Then, they must go to that location on their turn and pay the Investigation cost on the Lair card to start a Showdown with the villain. Showdowns work very similarly to the normal combat, though the villain is stronger and tougher than other enemies the players have faces thus far, and they often have special abilities which will help them in combat. In addition, for Showdowns, players form a hunting party consisting of two of the village elders, which can grant them additional abilities, or (if they are revealed to have an Evil secret) will join the villain. The Showdown combat proceeds with a turn for each player involved until either all the players are KO’d or until the villain is defeated, meaning that the player(s) who vanquished the fiend are victorious!
Like I said before, this game is near and dear to my heart for the simple fact that this was our first “gamer” purchase. Outside of that, this game plays well with newer gamers (we taught it to a friend who knew little about modern board games and he caught on rather quickly) as well as seasoned gamers. It plays similarly to Arkham Horror in that you go to a location and interact with it, but it’s more light and beginner friendly. It’s not a game we play a lot, but when we get it to the table it’s easy to pick back up and relearn. The minis are a great addition, but a bit ambiguous; I wish there were an easier way to tell them apart, especially after getting all the expansions together. I guess that just gives us an excuse to paint!
I have been known to refer to A Touch of Evil as “Arkham Horror Lite” (which I know Amber already mentioned), and that is in no way a negative for ATOE. I first played Arkham Horror at a convention years ago, before I was as much into gaming as we are now, and what I remember about that experience is that I was handed a reference sheet with about 14 different phases which described the turn order, and that when I had to leave after 4 hours the game was still going strong. Compared to that, A Touch of Evil is certainly faster and lighter, though with the expansions and the options for advanced play it has enough meat for even hardcore gamers. The “cheesy” photorealistic artwork, which at face value looks like a group of friends who raided a theatre’s costume department, is really part of the charm of this game. What this game’s spiritual predecessor, Last Night on Earth is to B zombie movies, A Touch of Evil is to supernatural horror. It’s like an old movie where the costumes aren’t so great and you can tell the monsters are fake, but that’s part of the fun. As for playing the game itself, it’s definitely a fun adventure where the mechanics don’t detract too much from the story. The roll-to-move mechanic is sure to draw some ire, but when there are named places about 2-3 spaces apart, it really isn’t too bad here. The only other complaint I can think of with the game is the quality of some of the components. In particular, nearly all the cards in the game are somewhat “sticky”/static-y, which can make them a bit hard to shuffle and separate. Those minor gripes aside, A Touch of Evil is a solid game, and serves as a great gateway to the Ameritrash/thematic adventure game genre.