Ghost Stories is a co-operative game where players are Taoists that are trying to fend off the Ghosts that are attempting to invade the town.
Designer(s): Antoine Bauza
Publisher: Repos Production
There are ghosts everywhere and they are ready to kill. Ghost stories tells the tale of a hoard of ghosts invading a small Buddhist town. And the Taoists are the only one who can protect these people. Players must defeat the ghosts and last until the final boss arrives. Victory is achieved when the controller of the hoard is defeated. I love the ideas behind ghost stories, but holy hell is this a difficult game.
This is a general overview to provide context for the review, not an in-depth how to play. Some rules may be glossed over or missing.
I have only played this game with two players, but we did implement a variant that mimicked the experience of four players. Both times were extremely challenging. And both times, we lost miserably as the ghosts were just too good.
The game also has different difficulty modes including Initiation, Normal, Nightmare, and Hell. I have only played at Initiation level, and I don’t think I can even dream of going higher.
Ghost Stories is split between two phases: Yin and Yang. The Yin phase is where the ghost will act. The Yang phase is where players will take their actions. There is a Yin phase before every Yang phase. That’s right, the ghosts have just as many turns as the players and they take advantage of them!
During setup, the nine village tiles are placed in the 3 by 3 grid in the center of the table. Each tile should start out on its active side (which will look more colorful than the haunted side). The four player boards are placed along the edges of the village. All four player boards will be in play regardless of how many players are in the game.
The player boards are double sided and offer different special powers to the Taoist of the matching color. Each player should choose which color they want to be and gain the Taoist figure, yin-yang token, and Tao token of their color. Players will also receive 4 Qi tokens and a black Tao token.
The ghost deck is then shuffled and then a random Wu-Feng Incarnation card (or final boss card) is placed 10 cards from the bottom of the deck. I’ll get more into Ghosts later in one of the concept sections. Now, you might be thinking, but that’s a lot of cards! And it is! You’re not wrong. I have always considered a variant that does not use the entire deck of ghosts because it feels like a lot. But I also can’t wait for people to tell me I’m just bad at this game.
Games Rounds: Yin Phase
Step one of the Yin phase is to activate the ghosts on your player board, if needed. The center stone on the ghost cards show abilities that activate during this phase.
Ghosts that have a Haunter ability will have a haunter figure placed on their card when it comes out. Haunters will inch slowly toward to down and drive out the villagers, making the town a true ghost town. I find haunters to be one of the most annoying types of ghosts and they are something I like to prioritize dealing with.
Ghosts that have the Tormentor ability will cause the active player to roll the curse die. This can bring effects like haunting a village tile, bringing another ghost into play, discards Tao tokens, and losing 1 Qi. All pretty bad stuff.
Then you must check if your board is overrun. If all three ghost spaces on your board are full, then yes. Yes, it is overrun. The player will lose a Qi, which is effectively your health, and the Yin phase is immediately ended.
If you are not overrun, a new ghost will arrive. The ghost that arrives will come in one of five colors: red (mountain), green (forest), blue (river), yellow (marsh), and black. The ghosts must go on the matching color player board if able. If not possible, the active player choses there the ghost will go. Black ghosts must go on the active players board if possible.
Any abilities that are in the ghosts’ left stone space are applied when coming into play. If this ghost causes all 12 spaces of the board to be occupied, the active player will lose a Qi. It’s a good idea to always try to have one open space per board but it is not easy to accomplish.
Player Turn: Yang Phase
The first step of a player’s turn is moving. Players are limited in their movement as they can only move one space. Luckily, this does include diagonal spaces but that still leaves a lot to be desired. If all the players move to one side of the board, it will be difficult to address anything that is happening on the other side. You can move onto haunted tiles, so don’t worry about that!
Then a player can attempt an exorcism of request support from the village on their current tile. Requesting help can allow players to bring other players back to life, re-activate a tile, gain Tao tokens, use Buddha figures to prevent ghost arrivals, and push back haunting figures.
An exorcism takes a bit more work. This will allow a player to remove a ghost from a space adjacent to the tile where your Taoist figure is standing. To exorcise a ghost, the player will roll 3 Tao dice. The roll must be several colored faces equal to the ghost’s resistance. White dots are wild and can represent any color. You may use Tao tokens to cover the difference in the loss. Some ghosts have an ability when removed which is listed on the right-hand stone on their card. This could be a curse, or it could be a reward. Or maybe both?
One interesting note about the exorcise action is that it allows you to target both spaces you are adjacent to when standing in the corner of the board. I do think there is some strategy to only filling up adjacent corners and having players focus on taking out two ghosts at once. Extra actions are something that should never be given up!
Concept: Yin-Yang Power
Each Taoist had their own Yin-Yang power which allows a player to receive aid from a villager. This is regardless of where the villager is, a player does not have to be on the tile to receive aid when using this power.
The power also has the ability to flip a haunted tile back to its active side. Some ghosts will give a yin-yang tile as a reward so it’s important to keep that in mind. I like to use the yin-yang token before getting rid of the ghost that would give me another one. I only have one and I will try to use it wisely. Otherwise, that’s even more actions that you would waste!
Concept: Player Death
When a Taoist runs out of I, they are dead. All of their possessions are lost, and their figure is placed lying down in the coffin. Play continues and the eliminated player may still strategize and help the other players. Their player board resolves like normal.
Just because a player is down does not mean that they are out. Using the special villager action, another player can bring someone back to life! It’s magic! I do like how they tried to avoid player elimination though.
The game will end with either the players winning or being defeated. The players win if they are able to exorcise the last incarnation of Wu-Feng (the big boss). That’s it. You got one way to win.
The players can be defeated in multiple ways. The first is if everyone dies. Can’t do much if you’re all dead. The second is 3 locations in the village are haunted. This is one that I really struggled with because ghosts are very good at haunting.
The last way to be defeated is if the deck of ghosts is completely exhausted while the incarnation of Qu-Feng is still in play. This means players only have 10 turns to defeat the final boss or else the game is over. But, honestly, it’s more likely for all the players to die or for the village to be too haunted.
Who Will Like it?
Ghost Stories is a great game for players who prefer co-operative games but still want a massive challenge. These ghosts are a doozy. I would also recommend this to players who do not mind losing the game. If you always want to win, I think Ghost Stories might be a little much.
What I Think
Even as an experienced gamer, Ghost stories proved to be quite the challenge. I don’t mind a good challenge, and I have gotten used to losing board games, but ghost stories took these experiences and turn it up by 10.
What did I like?
I love the story and narrative that Ghost Stories is trying to tell. The push and pull of resource management with the immediate threats on the board is such an interesting balance. I think this game works best with four players because you need that flexibility for moving around the board. You cannot isolate any part of the game without major consequence.
What didn’t I like?
This game is too hard. I hate to say it, but I really believe that. In the games that we played, we barely got through half of the deck, let alone the whole deck. The RNG could be brutal and the fact that ghosts have multiple ways to spawn more ghosts makes it near impossible to keep up.
I don’t mind some controlled spawning, but the tormentor dying will randomly bring more ghosts onto the board which means who knows how many ghosts will spawn! And while getting rid of the ghosts with the tormentor ability might be desirable, the haunter abilities can make you lose faster so they must be addressed ASAP.
Ghost Stories can be a fun game but expect to lose. The RNG of the deck will screw you one way or another. Either the ghosts will be difficult to exorcise, to the tormentor dice taking away anything you need and giving you more challenges. Or maybe the Tao dice just don’t want to roll the color you need.
Rulebook/Learning the Game
The rulebook itself wasn’t bad. There was a little confusion about certain scenarios but further reading made those questions clear. I know that I thought that exorcising could be done diagonally because movement, which is also adjacent, could be done diagonally. This is not the case.
But otherwise, the rulebook is straight forward with good examples to get you through the game smoothly. Or as smoothly as it’s going to be for a game that hates you.
The first play I had of this game was rough. We played with two players using only two figures on the board. The amount that we were limited just due to spatial constraints really hindered the game and brought about our defeat at a rapid speed.
The plays after that weren’t much better. We had gotten better at balancing the board state and trying to defend the town. But the ghosts still were able to outpace us in growth. I felt like I was grasping for straws while they were just strong. There wasn’t any build up and I felt just as strong at the beginning as I felt when we lost.
I don’t think will come as too much of a surprise since everything I have previously mentioned in this post. While I can see why others might like it, it’s not my cup of tea. I love a challenge, but Ghost stories is challenging for the sake of being challenging. I can only go up against semi-impossible situations for so long before it becomes boring because the outcome doesn’t really change.
*See my rating scale Here