The game has two players. One is the M.C., who provides the ghosts, atmosphere and reactions of a dark and ghost infested basement. The player is the athletic, young twenty-something who is going to discover that there are worst things than being lost when alone and deep underground.
I played with a full physical set—little folio, sort of like a DVD kit, with two playbooks. If you’re a fellow child of the late 80s/early 90s, it has a hint of the Choose Your Own Adventure books. If Choose Your Own Adventure books grew up to try and kill you. The playbooks were lovely, and I’m a fan of the art for Murderous Ghosts. It’s creepy, intense, and may even haunt my dreams for awhile.
Okay, I’ll be honest. It absolutely haunts my dreams right now.
So, the game is a back and forth exchange between the two. The explorer wins if they escape. The ghost wins if they kill the explorer, or creep them out so badly they have to quit playing. I find it notable that when the explorer has to tap out, there’s an option (“turn to page 48”) that gives a sense of resolving the game. No cold quit without resolution. You’re not penalized by Murderous Ghosts for honoring your emotional health. You don’t ‘win’ as the explorer if you do tap out by the mechanics, but you still win on a personal, emotional level. There’s a deck of cards involved instead of dice, the M.C. and the player drawing, guiding, and discarding throughout play. I liked it as a mechanic, because it gave a sense of guiding narrative without the sort of rage I sometimes experience in a dice based game. Fate is a capricious force, and it suits the game’s tone. The game is absolutely weighted against the explorer—your chances of surviving the game and escaping the ghosts are infinitesimal. As the game began to escalate, I was very much aware that my chances of survival were shrinking every scene.
We had five people willing to play the game, so three shared the M.C. role, and two of us shared the player role. When the player had to declare things out loud, we took turns as the player to share information or define what things we were afraid of seeing happen (“I really, really don’t want the ghost to call my name”). As we made decisions as the player that prompted the M.C. to go to different entries, our M.C.s would switch off narrating. They discussed what atmosphere and ghosts to go for beforehand, so their narrative was synched. It made for a seamless narrative; we were also incredibly lucky that the three M.C.s were all writers and game designers. Their combined narrative experience made for a deeply disturbing, dark game.
Murderous Ghosts was my first experience in a horror game where it felt very real and frightening to explore my boundaries (how long till I might need to flip to 48) without feeling unsafe from those around me to do so. It was a very intense, disquieting game experience for me. I played till the end, dying horribly. The images of the game, both the physical components as well as the narrative described, stuck with me. The setting for our game of it, the details, the dark oil and chains of the abandoned car plant played in loops in my brain.
I didn’t go to sleep the night we played until I locked the door.
If you want your own pdf of the playbooks to experience Murderous Ghosts, $5.00 USD and a trip to http://nightskygames.com/welcome/game/MurderousGhosts will get you what you need. Physical playbooks and the pdf are available for USA, Canada, Mexico, and worldwide.