Friday, November 18, 2005

A Frightfully Good Time (Fearsome Floors review)

I joke with my wife that Halloween is my favorite holiday. Although it has more to do with the free candy pilfered from my children’s trick-or-treat bags than anything else, I still enjoy the haunted houses and other assorted freakiness. In an effort to keep the spirit of Halloween alive for a few more weeks, out of the closet came Fearsome Floors from German board game designer Friedman Friese.

Fearsome Floors is basically a lightweight racing game with a campy horror theme. Players are navigating character tokens through a monster-infested dungeon, hoping to escape the dungeon before being eaten by the fearsome Furunkulus, or other equally frightening monsters. The winner is the first person to get three tokens out of the dungeon. If no one is able to get that many free, then the winner is the person with the most out at the conclusion of the game with ties being broken by escape order.

The dungeon is represented by a game board that is much like a grid, with artwork depicting bones and bloodstains dispersed throughout the dungeon. Players start in one corner, and over the course of the game, attempt to elude the monster while making their way to the exit in the opposite corner of the board. To keep things interesting, the dungeon is littered with blocks to hide behind and blood slicks to slide over.

Each player controls three or four character tokens (depending on the number of players), each with a movement value on each side of the token. The sides add up to seven, so in two turns, each character will move seven spaces. Players alternate moving tokens, until everyone has moved all of their pieces. Then a tombstone – one of the monster’s movement tiles – is flipped over indicating how far it will move during the turn. Two special tiles allow the monster to move until he has eaten one or two characters.

The monster’s movements are predetermined. Before moving, the monster checks left, right and forward. If he sees no one, he takes a step forward and checks again. If he sees a character, he turns towards that character and continues walking. He always checks before taking a step and always moves towards the closest character. If two characters are equal in distance from the monster, the monster is confused and does not change directions.

Complexity: One of the strongest attractions to a game like Fearsome Floors is its simplicity. The game takes less than five minutes to thoroughly explain and the rules are straightforward and easy to understand. Yet despite its simplicity, the game provides great strategic opportunities. The simple method of monster movement makes it fairly easy to predict where the monster will go, but it also makes devious planning and trap setting possible. Also, all of the walls are marked with letters of the alphabet. If a monster runs into a wall, it will then be teleported across the board to the matching letter. Leading the monster through a wall can provide a nasty surprise with disastrous results for unsuspecting players.

Additionally, the game provides several advanced tiles. These tiles replace the blocks and range from crystal blocks (which the monster can see through), rotating tiles which rotate the monster 90 or 180 degrees, and two sets of additional teleporter tiles available for monster use only. These advanced tiles offer some interesting ways to make the monster wreck havoc on unsuspecting victims.

Length: Fearsome Floors consists of two rounds of seven turns each. During the first round, eaten character tokens are returned to their owner and can be used again. Characters eaten during the second round are gone forever. With a maximum of 14 turns, it is a relatively short game – lasting just 30-45 minutes. Even with seven players, the full complement supported by the game, play time is under an hour. And it packs a strong punch in such a short amount of time.

‘Take That’ Factor: There is a balance between getting out quickly and interfering with your opponents. It’s a lot of fun to watch other players strategically hide behind a block, only to gasp in horror as you move the block to reveal their cowering character to the monster. You really have the opportunity in this game to foil other player’s carefully laid plans with devious "monster-leading traps."

Fearsome Floors is a must for any games library. It’s light-hearted fun with a great horror theme. It’s easy to teach and easy to learn, yet hard to master. The variable set up of the blocks, slicks and teleporters keep things fresh. The game system has a low enough amount of luck to reward good play, yet enough inherent chaos to keep things interesting, making it a good "gateway" game between the casual gamers and the more hardcore. If the theme doesn’t make you squeamish, I’d also recommend it as a good family game. Even your youngest can join in the fun, as they will enjoy moving the monster and eating the characters.


At 5:07 AM, November 19, 2005, Blogger Ben said...

What is that rating scale you use in the base paper? I kind of liked it. Argh! I forgot to grap my issue before I left work today. Now I'll have to wait all weekend to see you in print.

At 5:11 AM, November 19, 2005, Blogger Ben said...

Great review. I really enjoy this game, and I hope we keep bringing it to the table. We might even get to the advanced set-up some day.

At 1:16 PM, November 19, 2005, Blogger Rob said...

looking forward to trying it

At 1:51 PM, November 19, 2005, Blogger Rob said...

by the way, Furunkulus... sounds like it comes from Furuncle... a badly infected hair follicle (ie a big angry zit).

At 4:54 PM, November 19, 2005, Blogger Ben said...

I actually searched Google for the word "Furunkulus" after reading it on BGG yesterday... very strange.


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