03 November 2007
Game review: Ghoulash
This week I received a review copy of Ghoulash, Scenario Pack 1. Ghoulash is a pen-and-paper dungeon crawl for 2 players. The company website also refers to it as an advanced version of Battleship, and I would say that is accurate. Both players get an identical scenario sheet with grids on it. Each player places items, obstacles, and ghouls on her obstacle grid which she hides from the view of her opponent. There is a movement grid above the obstacle grid where each player marks her movements as she calls them out to her opponent. As soon as she hits something, the opponent lets her know and her turn is over. In play, my kids sounded a bit like this:
"I'm moving north 4 squares, then I'm turning left and walking two squares until I get to the door. Then I'm going south --"
"Uh, oh! You hit a debris field and got hit in the head with a block of concrete. Take a wound point!"
The bad guy of the game is the ghoul. He would be the equivalent of your battleship, in that you want to sink him. Each ghoul is divided into 6 zones. When you find a ghoul on your opponent's map, she secretly decides which one of those zones is the soft spot. Then you call out numbers one at a time trying to find the soft spot. When you call out the right number, that is a hit and the ghoul splatters.
To win, you either have to meet the goal of the scenario (in the sample, you have to be the first to find the cache of food and return to the shelter) or outlast your opponent. When I say "outlast", I am referring to the wound points. At the bottom of your sheet there is a wound meter. Each time you fire at a ghoul and miss or hit a debris field, you get a wound point. If you rack up 15 wound points, you lose. However, there are first-aid kits hidden out in the field. Each kit can only be used once. The strategy the kids used is to find the kits but don't use them until they were close to death. You can't pick them up and carry them with you, so you have to run back and get them. This is where marking your path accurately comes in handy!
The scenario pack itself resembles a comic book. There is a slick cover and the pages themselves are newsprint quality. The basic rules are in the front of the book followed by enough charts to play each of the 3 scenarios 4 times. They are perforated so you can easily rip them out of the book for play. The book also contains a 4-page comic and special rules for each of the 3 scenarios.
Here you see my daughter M (top right) and my son DJ (bottom left) with 2 of their friends enjoying the game. We found that game boxes set up between the players are perfect for shielding your obstacle grid. The game designer recommends putting the sheet on a clipboard for more portable play.
So what do I think of the game? It plays a little long for me, but I wouldn't mind playing it with my kids every once in a while. It sure beats Go Fish! I don't think I could get my adult gaming buddies to play it; they prefer more raucous games with a party-game feel. M, DJ, and their friends enjoyed it, though; I ended up printing a copy of the sample scenario for one of the friends so he could play with his dad. The kids liked it from the very first play, but reading the comic and the scenario briefings added more life to the game. Now I have more of an inkling of what experienced gamers mean when they talk about a theme fitting with the mechanics. The kids were able to visualize themselves going into different buildings and fighting ghouls. I didn't think Ghoulash would be something that they would play a lot, but both my kids and their friends have requested it several times after the initial play test.
Ghoulash scenario packs (pack 1 is available now and pack 2 is due to be released shortly) are sold at game shops around the country as well as online. At $6 a pack, they are inexpensive enough to make a novel stocking stuffer for your kids. If you want to try before you buy, the game creator informed me that a PDF of the sample game should be back up on the Ghoulash site shortly.