Sunday, May 22, 2016

Lovecraftian Thing a Day No.143: A Touch of Evil

Today's item is not the title of a well-known Orson Welles movie, but rather Flying Frog Productions' game of supernatural horror and investigation. Whilst A Touch of Evil is somewhat akin to Arkham Horror, initial impressions might indicate this is more Washington Irving than H.P. Lovecaft - Sleepy Hollow the boardgame, if you like - insofar as the game is set in the early 1800s and has a 'colonial gothic' feel. In any case, the game is premised on players taking the role of diverse investigators seeking to unearth, confront and thwart various supernatural evils plaguing the New England village of Shadowbrook. On closer inspection, Lovecraftian elements do reveal themselves, although they are primarily to be found in the game's two big box expansions: the first of which introduces an antagonist bearing more than a passing resemblance to a Deep One/the creature from the black lagoon, along with a cult worshipping a betentacled Unspeakable Horror from Beyond Time and Space; the second coastal-themed expansion introduces encounters with a kraken and provides more by way of Deep One fare in the form of 'the Children of the Deep'. Afficianados of the classic 'undead pirate' trope will also not find themselves disappointed.

While there are indeed gameplay comparisons to be made with Arkham Horror, A Touch of Evil is lighter and with a shorter playing time, meaning it is more likely to hit my table than Arkham. As with previous entries, production values are also very high here, and the game uses a rather unusual art style comprised of photos of actors in period costume or made-up/photoshopped to look like the various antagonists. Some gamers have taken issue with this, but I rather like the conceit. One downside - indeed a problem I have regarding many modern boardgames - is the inclusion of miniatures in A Touch of Evil. It appears to be a common assumption amongst gamers today that a boardgame's quality is proportionate to the number of plastic miniatures which come packed in its box - regardless of the fact that, to all intents and purposes, miniatures remain functionally useless in in many boardgames. In miniature wargaming, miniatures are meanigfully used to simulate or represent the actual physical conditions of warfare, such as combat range and line-of-sight. Since these concepts are often abstracted (or don't apply at all) in may boardgames, miniatures have no purpose other than to act as glorified counters or markers. In this respect, I find that grey plastic miniatures often detract from the aesthetics of a boardgame, necessitating on my part the painting of the damned things in order to create an aesthetically pleasing experience. Fortunately A Touch of Evil only has 8 miniatures in the base game (and thusfar I have only bothered to paint two of them); these could, however, quite easily have been replaced by something akin to the pleasingly attractive cardboard standee markers found in most of Fantasy Flight Games' Lovecraftian boardgames. Alas, the obsession with miniatures in boardgames shows no sigh of abating, so I guess I will just have to live with it...

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