2016 turned out to be one of the biggest years for board games. We saw some of our favorite developers hit the shelves yet again with a couple of fresh faces thrown into the mix. It was hard to choose just a couple of games to spotlight on the list, but here is just one that you need to play. Stay tuned for the full list coming soon.
There’s something about London in the the late 19th century that makes it a fertile breeding ground for tales of horror. A real life reign of terror wrapped Jack the Ripper in legend and conspiracy. Bram Stoker created the most notorious vampire of all time while managing the Lyceum Theatre in the city. Modern pop culture mines London for shadowy imagery and gothic mystery.
Board games followed suit, with excellent games like Mr. Jack and Letters from Whitechapel allowing players to try their hand at deduction on the fog shrouded streets. A new game debuted this year combining elements of different board game genres to once again bring something terrible to the streets of London—and challenge tabletop gamers to stop it. This game is London Dread, and it is one of our Games of the Year.
London Dread is a programming game at heart. The first phase of the game asks players to program the movements and action of their investigators as they explore London, discover challenges that must be handled, and do so in the most efficient way possible. It differs from other games of this style because it wants players to work together rather than bounce off each other and cause problems. There’s a lot of bad stuff going on in London Dread and the more the players leave unresolved before facing off against the big bad, the tougher the end game is going to be.
Programming is already a challenging element of a game, but the designers add an evil twist to the programming phase by putting a timer on it. The timer also acts as a default difficulty level. The more time the players give themselves, the easier the game will be. The timer means everyone needs to have their heads in the game. Not a second is wasted as everyone reveals cards and figures out the best balance between efficient travel across the city and arriving with the right combination of skills to take Dread off the board.
Once the planning is done, the investigation truly begins. Players aren’t sitting back and watching the clock; there are dice rolls to be made and resources to be burned to insure victories. Some challenges are pass or fail, others hand out bonuses based on how the dice fall. Players can push their characters using a personality deck but even that’s not a guaranteed victory. Each character suffered some sort of major trauma in their past and if that trauma comes up, that could endanger the investigation. If the players clear all the plot points off the board, the bad night still isn’t over. There is still a villain to beat whose strength is based on the dread left by unexplored cards and failed challenges. Only if the players rally their resources, work together, and have a lucky roll or two will their characters live to see the next dreary London sunrise.
Audio clips of story bites and properly timed music tracks can be downloaded to give game night the feel of an old Hammer horror film. The game also provides a free app for iOS and Android that combines setup, timer, and voice overs into a single slick package.
London Dread offers an engaging experience that will put a chill in players’ bones and a smile on their faces. The combination of familiar elements translate into a unique experience. Players that thrive under stress will love the timed planning, while others who enjoy watching a plan come together will enjoy the heist-movie style resolution phase. Add to that an app that adds some B-movie flair to the timing and you’ve got a great cooperative game that fans of games like Arkham Horror and Betrayal at House on the Hill will enjoy in a different way from those classic games.
What’s your favorite spooky London story? Tell us in the comments!
Featured image Grey Fox Games
Rob Wieland is an author, game designer and professional nerd. He writes about kaiju, Jedi, gangsters, elves, Vulcans and sometimes all of them at the same time. His blog is here, his Twitter is here and his meat body can be found in scenic Milwaukee, WI.