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Reviews - A Touch of Evil: Something Wicked
 
by Lee Valentine


Something Wicked expansion box

A Touch of Evil: Something Wicked expansion

Published by Flying Frog Productions
Designed by Jason C. Hill
Contents: Quad-fold game board, 4 plastic Hero miniatures, 4 Hero placards, 4 Villain placards, 4 Villain Minion Charts, 1 large terrain effects reference card, 120+ game cards; numerous full color die-cut counters; full color rulebook.
1-12 players
$39.95

Flying Frog Productions' newest release is Something Wicked (SW), an expansion for their game A Touch of Evil (ATOE). You can read my review of ATOE here.

There are a lot of goodies inside SW. I'll start with the familiar, the new Heroes and Villains.

The Heroes
There are four new Heroes in SW. Each includes a high-quality miniature and a character placard. Each also has a capsule write-up in the rulebook to ground players in the thematic elements of these new characters.

Brother Marcus, a wandering monk, is probably the most powerful new character. He has a high Spirit and can use it to when rolling Fight Dice right from the very beginning of the game. He also can spend Investigation to cancel Mystery cards. While his low Cunning and Combat are detriments against contests and Minions that require those attributes, overall, I think he's probably one of the single most potent characters in the game.

Valeria is a vampire that has the power to regenerate damage after defeating Minions. As the game goes on she acquires Investigation every time the Shadow Track moves toward Darkness, making her incredibly wealthy, particularly in co-op games where players can take their time planning a Showdown. She has certain restrictions on equipment she can carry and use, so her vast wealth is most powerful in cooperative games where she can pass along her purchases to friends.

Eliza, the Witch Hunter, gains bonuses to fight many denizens of darkness. She also has to power to injure herself to gain bonuses in a Fight or other test. Lastly, she gains Investigation when she “outs” a Town Elder as an Evil Elder.

The fourth and final new character, Captain Hawkins, is the most mechanically interesting one in the expansion. He can spend Investigation to summon up and move around Militia tokens. He can even force them to fight with Minions, and he gains Investigation when the Militias that he directs win those combats. He is probably my favorite Hero from SW to play. He really shakes up the game's mechanics and adds a lot of tactical thinking.

The Villains
There are also four new villains. Each one includes a round token with a picture of the Villain, new Minion counters and Minion Event charts, and new Villain character placards. This expansion also includes round Villain character tokens for the Necromancer (from Hero Pack One) and the Delion Dryad (a free, downloadable web expansion character), allowing players to use these tokens to randomly select which Villain they are going to fight. Two terrain effects placards are also included as well, because two of the villains generate growing terrain effects that alternately add to or even replace the effects of spaces on the game board.

The Gargoyle is the weakest new Villain. He has the power to turn characters (including the Heroes) into stone, and to animate stone statues. He is the first character who can actually kill (rather than merely KO) a Hero, but the odds are pretty low that this will occur after the early game. In general, the mechanics behind the Gargoyle usually make it trivial to avoid most damage he rolls against you, and I find that he is by far the easiest of the 10 Villains released to date to beat. His Minions, however, are extremely tough (being stone statues).

The Banshee is tougher than the Gargoyle, and gains a variety of growing combat bonuses over the course of the game. She includes a unique Minion (called the Groundskeeper), who frequently escapes in combat to live to fight another day. Overall, while the Banshee is tough, she is mechanically the least interesting Villain to date.

The Bog Fiend is ATOE's equivalent to the Creature from the Black Lagoon. The Bog Fiend regenerates damage very rapidly. He also causes random sections of the board to sink into the swamp, eventually replacing normal board effects with penalties against the Heroes.

ATOE has been frequently compared to Arkham Horror, and the new Villain The Unspeakable Horror completes that comparison. His name is inspired by Hastur, and his tentacle-covered appearance is clearly inspired by Lovecraft's Mythos creatures. The Unspeakable Horror has enormous combat statistics to begin with, but characters can spend Investigation to gain bonuses against him. He also generates Gate Tokens and Void Tokens to be investigated by the characters. These make exploring the board increasingly dangerous and also usually come with a cultist or extraplanar monster in tow. As a result, the Unspeakable Horror has more combat-worthy Minions on the board at one time than many of the other Villains.

The Minions in this set are often quite tough, particularly early in the game. Some Villains also have Minions that regularly move around the board, which is a refreshing change from the all-too-often static minions common in the base ATOE game.

A New Board
In addition to the requisite new characters, SW comes complete with the new Echo Lake expansion board. Echo Lake connects via a road space to the Crossroads space on the original Shadowbrook board. There is also a secret passage that can be used between the Manor and the Monastery for a cost of 1 Investigation, allowing for an alternate quick trip between those two Corner Locations.

The Echo Lake board features three new "corner locations", including the Inn, the Monastery, and the Forgotten Island. Since the Echo Lake board takes more time to get to, it starts with Investigation on all the "dangerous spaces" and the Corner Locations around Echo Lake are both more harmful and more profitable than some of the Shadowbrook locations.

The Inn grants free healing or free Investigation, plus an exploratory card draw. It has a lot of tests that grant Investigation, but it's a very dangerous place to visit overall.

The Monastery has a deck for exploration, but also has a Monastery Items stack (to buy holy items in a fashion similar to mundane items that can be purchased at the Shadowbrook Blacksmith shop). While the Monastery has legitimate holy men in it, it's an unsavory place because its ancient system of tunnels is home to an unholy cult that worships the Unspeakable Horror.

The Forgotten Island has some interesting sources of Investigation and a few interesting items, but is just plain harrowing overall. At the Forgotten Island there are three tests which, if failed, can turn your character into a werewolf that hunts the other players. Finally, it takes more movement to get to than other spaces and is quite difficult to escape from.

Since there is a carrying limit of one item from each corner location, the new board effectively increases the character carrying limit by three items. This, in and of itself, creates a reason to visit the board. The Monastery Items deck includes a wide variety of boosts for characters like Brother Marcus, who is made wildly more powerful after stocking up at the Monastery.

Components and Packaging
The components are of the same high quality as the base ATOE game set. Flying Frog continues to impress in spite of being a small company. The art is as good or better than the art from the base game. Unfortunately, the Mystery and Event cards had a slightly different trim size than my ATOE game, meaning that it's pretty difficult to riffle shuffle those decks now. With other expansions this was less of a problem, because there were relatively few of these cards, but now it's a more serious concern.

The miniatures are of good quality, but there were a couple of problems. First, I had only one significant physical problem with the miniatures: Eliza's character has a musket and it's long and thin enough on the miniature that it can become bent out of shape when jostled around with other miniatures. Second, in terms of quality of the sculptures I felt, as I did with Hero Pack One, that the sculptor is just plain running out of ideas. For example, the vampiress Valeria has a miniature where she is wielding a dagger; she doesn't have a bat on her shoulder, no high collar, no fierce claws, etc., making her look rather un-vampire-like.

The artwork on the outside of the box is attractive, and makes one eager to open it up. Inside the box, a plastic insert gives every stack of cards its own home, but the expansion lacks plastic bags to separate the minion counters by Villain. The web expansions plus Hero Pack One managed to add enough new cards into the original board's decks that the cards are effectively overflowing out of the base game's box. SW has enough card wells to act as overflow housing for the base game. If you do that, however, then you have to carry around two huge boxes just to play the base game, and three boxes (ATOE, SW, and Hero Pack One) if you want to play with all the expansions. It might be possible to rubberband the cards, toss out the plastic inserts and package everything in one box. Since I don't want my cards damaged, and since I want a modicum of organization in the boxes, I haven't done this. But I have abandoned the original boxes altogether and put them in new boxes. For instance, I now have all the cards in a corrugated cardboard CCG storage box.

Rules and Play Balance
This expansion is fairly quick to put into play. While some of the Villains and their Minions have some new rules, most of the new rules required to play the expansion were minimally intrusive if you already knew the rules to ATOE.

There is a greater focus on the cooperative mode of play in this expansion. There is a new co-op chart with many varied effects on it. With no purely beneficial effects on this new "Advanced Co-Op Chart" it certainly is more difficult to play against than the original co-op chart (which granted free Investigation and no downside 1/3 of the time). The Advanced Co-Op chart duplicates many Mystery Card effects such as "Murder!" and "March of Darkness".

In spite of the new innovations to co-op play, the game's mechanics do not scale particularly well for different numbers of players. Two player co-op can still be particularly tough, but some of the Villains still become just plain easier when there are more people to deal with them. In part, this is because only the Villain's maximum wounds increase with each new co-op player, and each new player adds a bunch of new powers and a whole hand of Event cards. So, multi-player co-op is somewhat better, but not perfect. Even after this expansion, ATOE is still a game best played as a two-player co-op, in teams, or, as it was primarily intended, as a competitive game.

There are now official solo play rules. They aren't all that different than just running multiple characters simultaneously through a co-op game, except that you keep all Event cards in one combined hand.

The rulebook itself is reasonably clear, although some of the cards could have been clearer. For example, the Gargoyle turns Town Elders to stone "instead of killing" them. This would suggest, for example, that the Shadow Track wouldn't move two steps toward Darkness like it normally does when a Town Elder dies, but that's not the case (the Shadow Track still moves). That little nugget is not in the rulebook, it was answered online by the game's designer. A number of other effects are ambiguous or murky, but this has become fairly standard with Flying Frog's games; they have CCG-like card interactions without the monstrous CCG tournament rulebook to help guide you through the nuances. This means that some things are just left unanswered unless you ask the designer online. Thankfully, Flying Frog's staff hang out on online forums looking to answer questions as they have time. A lot of the vague areas are themselves uncommon, and as such, I suspect most players will decide how to handle them on the fly and just "house rule" things.

Play balance was fairly good for most of the new cards and effects. The Gargoyle seems all too easily beaten every time I've gone up against him. The Unspeakable Horror is very tough by comparison, but there is a card combo which seems to have slipped by without playtesting that lets Brother Marcus wipe the floor with him. I feel that Brother Marcus is perhaps a bit too good, particularly when he has access to the upgrades available for purchase at the Monastery. This is primarily due to his ability to cancel Mystery cards, plus one Monastery item (the Burning Censer) which allows him to re-roll all his Spirit dice once per turn, making him amazing in combat and at passing non-combat tests.

The one major downside to this expansion is that some things become a serious dicefest or card draw fest. The Gargoyle rolls to hit you, then he re-rolls all his misses, then you get a special dodge roll unique to him to avoid damage, and then some items may let you re-roll those dodge dice. Whew! Similarly, the Gargoyle's Minions have special rolls to avoid damage. With the Gargoyle in particular, the Showdown's dice rolling can get pretty intrusive.

The Unspeakable Horror has tons of Minions on the table at once, and some of them move around randomly, requiring card draws from the Lair deck to determine the new locations of the creatures. Having five such creatures on the board at once requires five new card draws per game Round. These card draws are less distracting than the dice rolls, however, because the players sit around tensely waiting to see if they'll be the victim of one or more monster attacks.

Arkham Horror Comparisons
Inevitably, now that The Unspeakable Horror and his cultists exist, players will renew comparisons to Arkham Horror. I have only played Arkham Horror with one expansion board: Kingsport. In ATOE, the Echo Lake board represents more interesting and challenging places to explore. In Kingsport, the board seemed to exist primarily to tie up all of one player's actions each game. By comparison, the SW expansion for ATOE is a big winner. Arkham Horror, with its various expansions, is probably more thematically tied to the Mythos than is ATOE, but ATOE is cleaner mechanically and with a little more excitement for each player. Some of the decisions in ATOE are less obvious than they were when I've played Arkham Horror. I also like the fact that in ATOE, and particularly with the SW expansion the Minions of each Villain are thematically and mechanically tied to that Villain, creating a little more flavorful gaming experience than I got in Arkham Horror from drawing monsters from a cup that were unrelated to the Great Old One we were facing at the time.

Conclusions
Overall, perhaps the Gargoyle aside, I do feel that I got my money's worth out of SW. It adds some interesting new mechanics, and a lot of new Heroes, Villains, and Minions to try out. While some of the effects are more mechanically intrusive than those found in the base game, they are usually steeped in theme. This expansion will give ATOE players plenty more to experiment with to keep their games fresh. I am a real fan of A Touch of Evil; it is definitely my favorite board game for solo play. While I had my reservations about the price point on Hero Pack One, I am, in contrast, very happy with my purchase of Something Wicked. For me, it's probably in contention with Pandemic: On the Brink for my favorite game expansion of 2009. While Something Wicked shows some real moments of out-of-the-box thinking on the part of designer Jason C. Hill, I do not know that it is so different as to make you like ATOE if you didn't already. As such, I strongly recommend this expansion to fans of ATOE - either buy it or put it on your holiday "want list".

For Retailers
Expensive board game expansions and add-ons are usually riskier to carry than a stand-alone game. By definition, sales of the expansion will usually be lower than sales of the base game. Flying Frog has some fanatical followers, however, so if there are fans of the frog that frequent your store, Something Wicked could you make some easy money. Ideally a Halloween (or even fall season) display of this game will be what makes the sales flow easier. It has a lot to offer, and showing the game off is the best way to sell it short of outright demo'ing it.

Lee's ratings:

Overall: B+
Gameplay: B+ (really interesting stuff, sometimes intrusive mechanics, and one potentially dud villain)
Rules Clarity: B+ (good for most things, but lacking on less common rules questions)
Rules Complexity: Mid-weight (particularly in co-op mode playable by one experienced player helping out a small group of novices)
Component Quality: A- (great components, with some problems with the trim size of cards)
Packaging: B+ (insufficient bags, but a good storage solution overall)
Retailer Saleability: B- (expansions sell less than base games, and this is a $40.00 expansion from a small company; could rise to a "B" if hand-sold to ATOE players or if displayed)

 
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