While wading through a jungle of game stalls and a swamp of curious gamers at Essen 2014, I stumbled upon Ancient Terrible Things and after one play with perfect strangers, I bought it. I was looking for a dice game that would replace my worn out Dice Town and the fantastic looking Ancient Terrible Things seemed like the real deal. Then again I could be writing this from some rundown asylum, you might laugh to yourself that this is the rambling thoughts of some deranged madman….but then again they may not!!
Horror Dice Game???…You’ve Got to be Joking, I Mean Choking!!
Ancient Terrible Things proclaims itself to be a pulp horror dice game. That is one bold statement to live up to. First of all of the game is very thematic, atmospheric even. with its Cthulhu Mythos orientated artwork on the box, the game board, cards, tokens, everything reeks of the theme. The gaming mechanic is managed through the focus dice, with extra dice and re-rolls exacted from the swag and feat cards. Finally the pulp fiction side comes through the quirky 1930s styled characters, so yes the game does live up to its announcement.
Guns, Daggers!!…and a Torch to Light the Way???
The large gaming board is the first thing that catches your eye, a river flows through the middle of the board and has three encounter locations on either side of river. On the right hand side of the board is the tentacle track or the ancient terrible things tokens. Also on the game-board is the trading post where you can buy equipment to help your adventurer, there is a swag box where the equipment deck is placed and then three equipment cards are revealed, you can’t buy any swag until you have journeyed up the river. On each monster location space there are tokens to collect and in general a monster to encounter, you do not have to kill the monster to collect the location counters, but not doing so will give you an ancient terrible tentacle, giving a potential minus to your end score.
Since the level one tentacles don’t actually give you a minus on your total score, it is a tactic of some players to pass up on killing the monsters and using the dice rolls to take extra tokens instead. These are presented on a player aid, such as a run of 1, 2 and 3 will give you three gold, which could buy you some powerful piece of equipment for later in the game. There are opportunities to gain more courage, feat and focus tokens too, each of which you will really need later in the game.
Killing Monsters???…With Dice of Course!!
Killing monsters gives you more tokens and collecting sets of similar types of monsters, gives you more victory points at the end of the game. This monster type is dictated on the lower left of the card. The game is made up of three sets of monsters, each getting progressively harder as the game goes along. Killing monsters is not as easy as it sounds, each monster has a dice combination set dictated at the bottom of the card, you have to match it with your five focus dice to defeat it and take the booty. This is very much a yahtzee style game mechanic in that you roll the dice and can re-roll up to two more times, but you have to roll all the dice to do so. It helps knowing this in explaining the game to beginners and leads to those stand up and pray dice rolls, that add to the evening’s entertainment. Using the green focus tokens allows you to re-roll individual focus dice.
The Game of Feat??…for Those Magic Moments!!
Dice roll adjustments are made through feat cards powered by the feat tokens, this is the form in which magic plays in the game. These cards are usually three for each character and are replaced when used from the feat deck. Some feat cards will allow you to change dice numbers, while others will give you some blue feat dice to add your dice rolls. Equipment can do the same, giving you an extra yellow or red dice or dice adjustment. Some of the equipment is for permanent use for your character, while a lot are of one use only. This complexity of the extra dice and dice adjustments adds to the favour of the game and combine to take away some of the randomness of the game, but then again it is a dice game after all. With the designer of the game declaring that the luck of randomness is balanced throughout the game, if he only knew my dice disaster moments he wouldn’t say that!!
When Facing that, that Thing!!!…It’s all Down to Courage Right???
The final coloured token is the Courage Token and collecting these means that by landing on the appropriate location, you are able to defeat a monster with a level less that the Courage Tokens that you have. In the final stages of the game this can be a game winning strategy, so ignore it at your demise. So a quick recap on the tokens are:
Green – Focus tokens – allow you to re-roll individual Focus dice.
Blue – Feat tokens – powers your feat cards and means you can increase a Feat die roll by 1.
Yellow – Treasure tokens – money you spend on equipment at the Trading post.
Purple – Courage tokens – can be used to overcome a monster encounter without even rolling any dice.
Gameplay!!…You Won’t Find Me Howling at the Pale Yellow Moon???
Shall I tell you why I bought this game at Essen, without thinking twice about it. Well you know when a game is really, really good, is when you can’t wait for your turn. When other players turns become almost unbearable, as you just want to pick up those gloomy looking dice and start rolling for that next kill, or collect those extra tokens to buy that must have piece of equipment. That my friends is the power of Ancient Terrible Things and it has caused a few problems with other players.
You see, the Captain character starts first, while all the other characters start with one of the extra tokens. If there is a powerful piece of equipment out then is a huge advantage starting first, while killing the monster of your choice and gaining extra power with an equipment card. However if another player lands on one of the locations, he gains the map token and when the next level of monsters come out, he or she will become the next first player. So I had once instance where a player almost rage quit and howled at the pale yellow moon, has he had worked out that when the change of first player happened, he would have to wait seven turns for his next turn. There was nothing we could do to console him, I mean it was such a disadvantage that he won the game!! If I played another game with this player I would make a house-rule that the turn order would remain the same throughout the game.
So is the Verdict on Ancient Things!!…That Terrible???
Two more accusations levelled at the game was that if you continually played the game over and over with the same players, it would become meaningless with all the players doing their own thing and with practically no player interaction. The second was that it should be a game contained all in itself and not need any expansions to address any weaknesses in the game. So as for the first accusation, I personally would not play this game over and over again until it was murdered by familiarity. I have played it a couple of times and I would take it down off the shelf over Dice Town, King of Tokyo and Alien Frontiers. The quality of the game is superb and it has bags of atmosphere over any other dice game I have played so far.
I personally don’t believe there are perfect games out there, expansions are there to develop the flavour and variety of characters, events and game equipment and to balance any flaws in a game. For some there may be some gripes with the game, personally I don’t have many, it isn’t a gateway game, although the yahtzee familiarity might make you think so, but what it does do, is make the game easy to learn, easy to play and adds great fun to the process. There is an expansion planned for February and I for one will be looking out for the extras it will add to the overall game.
So here are of the key factors for picking up this game:
1 – Fantastic theme with high production values and artwork throughout.
2 – Easy to learn rules with a very popular game mechanic, with plenty of variation.
3 – Wonderful player scaling from two to four, although best played with three players.
4 – Anticipation factor is really high with this game – you just can’t wait for your turn.
5 – It is fun and fast with great win or bust dice rolling moments.
6 – The victory honour is hilarious.
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Paul Matthews is a Sales Manager for Gamesquest Ltd, as well as a part-time Board game Demonstrator and Blogger. After several years playing Yu-gi-oh at Tournament level, his latest passion is all things board gaming. Besides playing board games, Paul is a part time author and enjoys reading and archery. Paul has a Degree in Humanities Psychology/Counselling and several Life-skill Degrees in Parenting, Horse Management and Ecommerce.