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Reviews - Torches & Pitchforks
 
by Matthew Pook


Torches & Pitchforks cover Torches & Pitchforks - The Card Game of Monster Movie Mayhem
Published by Green Ronin Publishing
Designed by Luke Matthews & Adam Conus, with Chris Pramas
Illustrated by Rich Werner
$24.95

Better known for their d20 System roleplaying games and supplements (three of which made our Christmas Gift Guide for 2003), as well as the d20 System bending superhero RPG, Mutants & Masterminds, Green Ronin Publishing has done well for itself. Last year, the company brought out their first card game, Torches & Pitchforks: The Card Game of Monster Movie Mayhem, designed for two to five players, aged twelve years and up. Appropriately, it was brought out just in time for the annual festival of ghosties and ghoulies, Halloween.

The theme for the game, as the title suggests, is the perennial favorite: the ordinary Joe up against a dangerous and horrifying foe. In the case of Torches & Pitchforks, the ordinary joes are townspeople who have grown tired of their blood being drained, their children abducted and their teenagers turned into werewolves. Indeed, they are not only tired, they are angry -- though not too angry, if you know what I mean? The problem is that the town is located right next to the dark and foreboding area of the Moors, to which all of the monsters you can think of are irrationally attracted -- as well as to the town itself. So being angry, the townsfolk have gathered together in mobs to save the town. Not just one mob though; while they want to save their town, each mob wants the glory of doing so to itself.

Each player controls one of these mobs, sent out to defend against the rampaging monsters or to actually hunt the Moors in search of monsters to destroy. The game consists of a 24-page 4 by 5-inch rules booklet and almost two hundred cards. Rich Werner pleasingly and humorously illustrates both cards and rules, though it's a shame that the cards weren't done in full color; the game's box shows how great the cards would have looked. The rules are deftly written, clear and simple, and well served by examples. The cards are divided into the following:

  • The 60-card Monster Deck, consisting of 12 Event Cards and 48 Monster Cards.
  • The 106-card Mob Deck, containing 60 Action, 30 Enhancement and 6 Townsfolk Cards.
  • 30 Townsfolk Cards.
  • 2 Rules Reference Cards.
The Monster Cards include six unique creatures, such as the "Creature From The Tide Flats," "Irvingstein's Monster," and the "Wicked Witch Of The South-Southeast." The Rules Reference Cards give the Order of Play on one side and a handy index to the rules on the other.

At the beginning of the game, each player receives six Townsfolk cards, which make up their Mob, and a hand of five cards from the Mob deck. These six Townsfolk cards are placed face-up in front of the owning player. A Turn consists of five phases: Draw, Attack!, Hunt!, Recoup, and Discard. In the draw phase, a player refreshes their hand back up to five cards, and can then use the next phase to Attack! a monster flipped from the top of the Monster Deck. If their Mob successfully kills the monster, the player places it onto their score pile, otherwise the Mob is forced to flee immediately.

Occasionally an Event card is flipped from the top of the Monster deck, and this has an immediate effect. Event cards include "Arms Shipment," which allows players to equip their Mob with weapon cards held in their hand; "Mass Confusion," which forces all players to pass their hand of cards to the left; and "Swords into Ploughshares," which forces all townsfolk to discard all currently held weapons. If an Event card has been drawn or a Mob has successfully fled from a Monster during the Attack! phase, they can go up onto the Moors and Hunt! for any Monster currently roaming there. Should one or more Townsfolk get killed during the earlier Attack! or Hunt! phases, one of them can recover to rejoin their Mob during the Recoup! phase. Players can also put down any Defense and Enhancement cards during the Recoup! phase. Finally, a player can get rid of any cards from their hand in the Discard phase.

Combat occurs during the Attack! and Hunt! phases, and is a simple matter of adding up the strength value of a Mob -- the number of the Townsfolk cards currently alive, plus bonuses from any Enhancement and Action cards played -- and matching it against the Power of the Monster faced. Opposing players can play their own Action cards to adversely effect an attempt to do in a Monster. If the total strength exceeds the Monster's Power, the Mob wins the fight, but it if is equal or less, then the Monster wins. When this happens, the Monster can kill a number of Townsfolk equal to its Kill Rating. These dead Townsfolk are turned face down and lose any Enhancements currently attached to them. Dead Townsfolk return to their Mob during subsequent Recoup! phases. The Monster card is then placed in the Moors area in the middle of the table where it remains until a Mob hunts it down.

The alternative to facing a Monster is to Flee! Doing so will lose a player up to six cards from their hand, determined by rolling a six-sided die (not included in the game). If the player has enough cards to discard, their Mob successfully flees, but if they do not, the Flee! attempt fails and the Mob is forced to Attack! And in doing so, probably lose and have several members of their Mob bumped off. Since Townsfolk can recover from dying ("I'm not dead yet!"), it may seem like failing to defeat a Monster has no consequences. But a Mob will be weakened until all of their dead Townsfolk can recover, making it less likely for that player to score points.

The game ends when a player's score pile reaches thirty or more points. These points are made up of each Monster's Strength value, with Giant Rats only having a rating of 4, Ghosts 5, and uniques like "The Glob" and "Vlad the Inhaler" having 14 and 15, respectively. Of course, players will be trying to prevent each other's Mob from attaining such scores, while at the same time improving their Mobs with more Townsfolk -- there are an additional six Townsfolk in the Mob deck, and Enhancement cards that are either Weapons to be wielded by the Townsfolk or Leader cards that provide benefits such as allowing the Townsfolk to carry two weapons instead of the one. A Mob can have only one Leader card, and this is lost if the townperson it is attached to is killed off. Otherwise, those are the only limits imposed on Mob construction.

Conclusions
Torches & Pitchforks is a fun little game that works better with more players, as this allows for more interplay. Its pleasingly simple play is not dissimilar to that of Steve Jackson Games' Munchkin line of card games or the B-movie card games published by Z-Man Games, such as Grave Robbers II: Skippy's Revenge. Certainly fans of either of these game ranges should enjoy playing Torches & Pitchforks, though it shares a stronger resemblance to the B-movie games in that both employ plenty of pop culture references. That said, such references are not as strong in Torches & Pitchforks as they are in Grave Robbers from Outer Space and its ilk, making Torches & Pitchforks better suited for playing with younger players.


 

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