Quick Look: A Touch of Evil: 10 Year Anniversary
Designer: Jason C. Hill
Artists: Gaël Goumon, Jack Scott Hill, Jason C. Hill, James Ma, Matthew Morgaine
Publisher: Flying Frog Productions
Year Published: 2020
I will admit that when I first heard about A Touch of Evil (AToE), I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
My first encounter with its name had been on a Shadows of Brimstone discussion board (also made by Flying Frog Productions, or FFP for short) some years ago, and at the time, I didn’t really take the time to look into AToE much given that I was inundated with the sheer amount of content that Brimstone offered—which happens to be one of my favorite tabletop dungeon crawls.
So the AToE series remained largely off of my radar until just a few weeks ago, until the staff of FFP were kind enough to send review copies of an entire collection of games that takes place in the AToE world.
Given that I had very favorable experiences with those two deck building games, I walked into the AToE 10th Anniversary Edition expecting nothing less than grandness—especially since FFP had characterized the Dark Gothic series as a sort of smaller, younger sibling to AToE. And given what I saw when I first opened the box, I was prepared to be spellbound…
But first things first—what is AToE about?
On the most basic level, it is about investigative survival horror.
Taking place in an identical setting to Dark Gothic and Colonial Horror, AToE is set in a colonial town of Shadowbrook in the 1600’s, which is facing unexplained deaths and happenings in the countryside as a supernatural evil commences a takeover of the area. Given enough time, that evil could take over the entire land, so it is up to you and your companions to bring an end to the enigmatic force that is invading your home in either a fully cooperative game, or semi-competitive mode of play (where there can only be one victor, but players must still collectively work at abating the villains that plague the land…).
At a first glance, AtOE : 10th Anniversary Edition boasts nothing but superlatives in terms of production quality. As is explained in greater detail in its Rulebook, this new edition includes all of the latest consolidated errata and rule tweaks from the past 10+ years under one binding.
As for the game materials themselves, they are purported to take a number of components of the original game up a notch given that this is an Anniversary Edition.
Even so, quite a lot of even the “basic” materials that are available in even the non-anniversary edition immediately took me by surprise (the beefed up contents available only in the Anniversary Edition will be denoted by an *asterisk*).
—The quadratic board itself sports a nice, glossy look, but is rather surprisingly small. Not that this is a bad thing necessarily, but it did give me the (false) impression that the game would perhaps not take up a lot of space once set up. Still, it is aesthetically pleasing, and clearly denotes the town of Shadowbrook and its environs and pathways, which include the four “Corner” locations of the Windmill, Abandoned Keep, Manor, and Olde Woods as well as a centralized town area.
—*Instead of standard cardboard, Health and Investigation Points are represented by wonderfully tactile blue and red resin coins/markers*
—*There are 4 Resin Miniatures that can be used to represent the Corner Locations of the board, all of which look fantastic. To tell the truth , they are so good, I am immediately tempted to steal these away and use them exclusively for for my DnD sessions…*
—*Likewise, there are 6 Resin Busts representing the Town Elders, as opposed to cardboard*
—While all of the original base game contents are included, ATOE Anniversary Edition also includes *several extra Villains to go up against from older expansion material, and includes a new *Epic Villain, The Spectral Horseman (including its own miniature!) and its own set of escalated danger cards, for adventurers who want to take the difficulty up several notches*
—An official Touch of Evil Music CD for added thematic immersion—big kudos for making physical media, which I am always a big fan of.
—8 Unique character minis with corresponding hero boards.
—Tons of monster and villain tokens and sheets. Also, many decks of cards for items, locations, etc.
—An Evil Tracker board with corresponding resin marker. The “Depth Tracker” is an extra from shadows of brimstone to compare with the similarities in ATOE
— A very functional storage insert, that has a place dedicated for all components, and even leaves room for future materials.
Note that virtually all of the cards, boards, sheets and tokens exhibit glossy sheen that make it stand out from the competition in the visuals department.
The Gameplay : Taking it for a spin.
Being that AToE was initially described to us as a more epic adventure when compared to its younger siblings of Dark Gothic and Colonial Horror, we made it a point to play many games of AToE over the course of more than a month before summing up our thoughts in a review—as, true to their word, Flying Frog Productions made a game that is much bigger in scope than the deck builder games they created within the same game world.
And we did find that given the length and complexity of AToE, it did take us much longer to digest our feelings on the game relative to Dark Gothic and Colonial Horror.
With that being said, at its heart and core, AToE is not a difficult game to learn from a friend, but it can still take several play throughs to gain an adequate sense of the game’s flow if learning directly via the Rulebook.
For the purposes of this review, I am mostly talking about the (semi) Competitive Mode of play, as this is foundational to the Cooperative and Epic modes of play, which build upon the basics of the Competitive mode.
The game starts out simply enough. Each player chooses one of 8 unique characters and their respective character board, which sport varying abilities for each character. Each character also has a preset number of stat modifiers for abilities such as Combat, Spirit, Honor, and Cunning, which represent the base number of dice they can roll when performing an associated Skill Check.
The board is set up, with varying decks of cards placed in an appropriate location—the Windmill, Manor, Abandoned Keep, and Olde Woods corner locations have a corresponding deck of cards that are shuffled and placed next to their location, along with an appropriate resin terrain miniature exclusive to the Anniversary Edition of AToE. In addition, a Mystery, Event, Lair, and Secret deck (and discard) pile of cards are shuffled and maintained in their own respective areas. An Item deck of cards is left face up to represent items that players may purchase when in the town’s Blacksmith area.
The Evil Tracker board, numbered from 20 down to 1 is set, with the marker placed in the highest numbered spot of the board.
In addition, 6 double-sided (green and red sides) Town Elder Cards are placed along the top of the game board (representing a sort of NPC/Ally types of characters), along with the appropriate resin bust statue, and one Secret card placed faced down next to each Elder, representing something each Elder wishes to keep hidden from the rest of the town. As the game goes on, Town Elders may acquire more Secrets, some of which may be very dark indeed…
Players will also decide upon the form that evil that is plaguing the town of Shadowbrooke takes, and take an appropriate Villain and Minion Sheet, along with tokens that are unique and specific to each Villain.
For example, if you are going up against a Werewolf , you would take and use the Villain and Minion sheets and tokens for the Werewolf encounters, and place the rest of the games’ Villain/Minion components back in the box for another day.
Certain game situations will call for rolling a d6 and consulting the result on the Villain / Minion sheets. Simply roll a die and see what happens as a result of the Villain / Minion attack. For example, some numbers for the Vampire Minion chart may result in wolves or rats being placed in random locations throughout the board, hindering player’s abilities to move throughout the town and demanding a fight before they can reach their destination.
Players will then proceed to take turns, starting with a first player role that will pass clockwise after all players have taken their turns.
The one action that each player MUST take during their turn is rolling a d6 (six-sided) die for movement. After this, the player may move to a location on the board within range of the number rolled, or even stay put on the same spot they started on (called lingering for the thematic purposes of the game—which leads to another d6 roll for a chance that the evil in the land directly attacks the player who “foolishly” attempted to stay and gather clues at a specific location a little too long…)
The true purpose of each player/character is to accumulate clues as to the origins of the evil force invading Shadowbrook, represented by the aforementioned blue Investigation Point tokens. These may be acquired in a number of ways. Sometimes, you will gain them by fighting monsters that appear (denoted by tokens on the board), while others, various Event cards will give you opportunities to earn them via skill challenges or even place them on various game spaces as the result of a random draw—simply land on a game space where Investigation Points were dropped and you may obtain them!
Investigation Points can be used for a variety of purposes. You can, of course, use them for purchasing goods in town, but you can also utilize them to undertake skill challenges to acquire permanent Stat bonuses, Investigate a Town Elder for dark secrets they may harbor (They may be secretly in league with the Villain, and having foreknowledge of an Elder’s alignment can come in handy later) and ultimately accrue enough Investigation Points to acquire a Lair Card that allows you to confront and defeat the Villain of Shadowbrook.
Players will eventually start to accrue a nice pile of Event or Item cards with abilities that provide situational bonuses, one-time exceptions to ordinary game rules, extra moment and more.
Acquiring a Lair Card is essential to taking on the big baddie laying ruin in Shadowbrook, and obtaining this type of card is initially quite difficult (represented by a high Investigation Point cost). As game time goes on, the stench of Evil becomes so great that by the time the end of game nears, it is much easier to discern the location of the Villain and obtain a Lair Card (represented by a now-lower Investigation Point cost, as denoted on the Evil Tracking board).
Combat is generally pretty straightforward, being mostly a simple exchange of blows in the form of dice rolls until the death (or escape) of a player and a Villain/Minions. When a fight is initiated by landing on a space with Wolves, for example, a player will roll a number of dice associated with their Combat Skill. If any of the dice is a 5 or 6, it counts as a hit against the wolves, and all damage is allocated to the Wolves in the form of the red health tokens. A second player will then take the role of the wolves, and roll for their damage and abilities, as described on the Minion/Villain sheet, and apply the resulting damage to the confronting player. If the player wins the encounter, they collect a reward. If not, they are temporarily incapacitated and brought back to town for recovery (there is no permanent player death, the penalty is simply being denied precious time for scoring a victory).
Players will generally proceed throughout game rounds as noted above. One point to note is that every time a game Round is completed (with all players having taken a single turn), the First Player marker changes hands and a Mystery Card is drawn. These generally have the effect of triggering Villain attacks throughout the board, and are a likely source of moving the Evil Tracker marker down on its respective board. While it starts on 20, if it ever crosses from 1 to 0, it means Game Over for all players, as Evil has consumed the land.
Gameplay continues until a player has acquired a Lair Card through their investigative prowess, determining the foul origins of the evil besetting the land, and decides to confront the evil directly in its stronghold. In such a case, a player may bring along any items and weapons they may have acquired and also form a Hunting Party that consists of two Town Elders that may help them overtake the Villain in their Lair.
It is important to have researched the secrets of Elders in your journey prior to arriving at your destination however, as now is the time that Secrets are fully unveiled for all to see. If you did not do your homework, you may find that the Elder you brought with you is actually a dark servant of the Villain you are fighting, and will take up arms against you at this stage, also granting a series of bonuses to their master as long as they are alive! This also forces you to divide your attacks, making for potentially a much more difficult fight!
In the event that you are not certain of who to bring with you in this fight, you may opt not to bring anyone at all, but as an added twist, another player who has had the benefit of researching the Town Elders’ Secrets may at this time make an official Accusation that reveals all of a Town Elder’s secrets—and if that Elder turns out to be Evil, it ends up being bad news for the confronting player, as it now forces them to deal with a battle on multiple fronts! This makes it all the more likely that the player who is locked in combat with the Villain will fail, hobbling back to town wounded and crippled, and potentially enabling another player to walk away with victory!
Because while the Villain will eventually regenerate their wounds, this process is not immediate, and any damage sustained in the fight will potentially remain long enough for another player to walk in and land the killing blow, thus becoming the victor of the game!
Because regardless of how many Investigation Points or items you accrued, there is only one winner to this game in Competitive Mode, and that is the person who kills the Villain!
Now those of you who are not into competitive games, you are in luck. AToE 10th Anniversary Edition also sports a fully Cooperative mode of play that builds upon the basics of the Competitive Mode where everyone either wins or fails together. The downside? The Villain has a significant bolstering to their health and abilities during the Final Showdown, and makes it so that if the entire party is ever knocked out at the same time, it is Game Over for every one!
It should also be noted that there is also a special Epic Villain that comes with this Anniversary Edition, the Spectral Horseman! This is a very uniquely challenging Villain that even has a bulk of its own proprietary cards that cannot be found in the core game experience. This Villain even has their own miniature that will move around and terrorize the game board, so players had best be careful if they hope to survive, as the difficulty is recommended for experienced players for good reason, as it helps to know the ins and outs of in-game possibilities well before proceeding to undertake this challenge!
Please note that the above gameplay description is at best a quick, thematic synopsis. There are, of course, exceptions and allowances to the game rules described above, but given the size of the rule book, there is not enough space to describe every rule in intimate detail, as many cards will override the general game rules with effects that remain in play upon use, canceling other rules, etc. With that being said, here is some of the feedback we have to offer in our game play throughs!
—First, regarding the game components. Having come from both Shadows of Brimstone and now Dark Gothic from FFP, I was a bit disappointed that given all the extra attention that was given to other materials in the game, the dice included in AToE are pretty plain. They can easily be substituted with something from any generic old board game.
—While I loved the quality of the printed cardboard tokens, I was bothered with trying to organize the Villain tokens, all of which are double sided. While this isn’t inherently a problem in and of itself, it does become a problem when trying to organize the ample supply of tokens that come in the game, as one side of a token may represent one particular Villain’s chart/minions and the other side may represent an entirely different Villain. Consequently, I can’t simply create one, singular bag for each Villain’s tokens, but rather have to split them up into odd groups. And this is quite lamentable, because the first initial impression upon opening this game is that (seemingly) no expense was spared, but one can see that this is one area where it seems they had to cut corners.
—As for the Rule Book, it can gave a false impression that other expansion material (such as The Coast) was included being that it incorporates ALL of the expansion rule books within it!
This is not at all the fault of FFP, and owning their Shadows of Brimstone materials, I can understand why they opted to do this, as it can be a pain tracking down other printed resources when needing to consult a rule, but nevertheless, I did fill a twinge of sadness when realizing that I would not be able to experience some of the things described in the expansion portions of the manual!
—Randomness. Ordinarily, I do not have much to complain about when it comes to dice-based randomness (I do like Shadows of Brimstone a lot, after all, which has a LOT of associated dice randomness) but for AToE, we found that the randomness wasn’t altogether pleasant—especially during Competitive modes of play. This could only lead me to conclude, that much like a famed Seinfeld episode, there is both “Good” randomness and “Bad” randomness, depending on the context (or “Good” naked and “Bad” naked).
For example, there are some circumstances in the game that may trigger a situation where all weapon cards in town and players’ possession must have a die rolled for each one in the game. Roll a certain number for one person or item and they may get to keep it, while another player may lose it to permanent destruction (removal from the game) I had that happen to me and immediately lost one of my main advantages, which seemed a bit unfair given that I had saved up a ton of Investigation Points to make sure I had the only Musket Rifle in the game. I subsequently ended up getting my butt kicked for every encounter thereafter. Bad naked.
Another player kept rolling 1’s for their movement and really didn’t get to navigate much of the board. Granted, rolling 1’s has an “advantage” in this game in that whenever this happens, the player gets to draw an extra Event card for free (representing their careful perusing of an area), but this essentially left the said player for one game with absolutely zero fighting encounters performed and only the occasional benefit of using accrued Event cards as permitted by their text.
Another player ended up taking on the big boss and claiming victory, leaving this particular player feeling they had wasted an evening. Bad naked.
So our general observation is that the most serious of such aversions came in out while playing competitive games.
The situation felt much more balanced and “welcome” in fully cooperative games since players could somewhat mitigate bad luck more by playing together and using Event cards to prevent damage and other maladies to other players, or pursue tasks separately with a holistic goal in mind. If one player got hit hard by something random, it could be handled much better with collectivistic thinking and playing. Good naked.
With that being said , there are “ways” to offset negative effects of rolls, cards and otherwise bad luck in Competitive mode, but this ironically involves having yet more luck, with a player having previously drawn good Event cards that will circumstantially let that player avoid a bad outcome.
—Not the Frog’s fault in the least, but after being spoiled with optional extras in Shadows of Brimstone, I kinda wish they had a separately sold tracker board just like the one they sell for Shadows of Brimstone given their already similar appearance (see photo). Because I love the artistic overlap between the two series of games!
—The length of game can be quite long, easily running 3+ hours with even a small group of people. Given that the game can officially support up to 8, I would imagine this would end up being too long for most people, which would be good use for the games’ official included Team modes or Basic mode. Team Mode runs similarly to competitive mode but gives victory to a team rather than individual, and can allow for 2, 3, or even 4 teams. Basic mode gives you charts for villains that essentially mean less fights/encounters with more opportunities for easy Investigation Point accrual to speed up gameplay, at the expense of possibly less thematic immersion for the shorter play time
—Compared to Dark Gothic, there is potentially a ton more interaction going on. We couldn’t break play up throughout the day with AToE like we could Dark Gothic simply because there are so many ways to interrupt and negate foes’ actions, you really need to be present to see what your opponent or teammate is doing at all times.
—We were initially misled by the small size of the game board, expecting the game to take up far less space than it actually did. Once things are set up and cards start going into play, make sure you have bigger than a 3×4 table!
—Although incredibly immersive and detailed, the miniature terrain sets for the 4 Corners of the game board can obstruct game board text, making it so you need to lift the pieces up to see what is underneath while getting acquainted with the game (most obvious with the Olde Woods). A solution to this would be a bigger game board, but given how much space the game ends up taking once you get into it, the smaller board ultimately makes more sense. Consequently, I might just prefer to use the 4 corners terrains for all sorts of Role Playing games.
—Additionally, there can be a lot of ongoing game effects in play at once, making it hard to keep track of them all, whether from Mystery cards, Event Cards, or Villain or Elder abilities.
—The glossy finish on cards looks beautiful, but can cause cards to stick for a few play throughs before gradually getting easier to handle and deal out.
—I found the variation in selectable characters and their respective abilities rather dull. Yes, they each have something about them makes them unique, but I found their counterparts in Dark Gothic and Colonial Horror to be much more exciting.
Now for the Strong Points:
—Theme and Variations. One of the strongest reasons to buy AToE 10th Anniversary Edition that I can think of is for family gatherings. While I personally did not find AToE to be as polished and engaging in the gameplay department as it was in terms of component quality, the fact remains that other people that I played with enjoyed the game quite a lot. And I must add that the whole point of buying a board game is not necessarily to find a game that can be all things to all people, but rather to find games that bring people together. And I would put AToE in this category.
Because face it, we have probably all had to debate someone on whether or not Die Hard is actually a Christmas Movie. And regardless of your opinion on the subject, the point is that we all know someone who enjoys a certain type of thrill on a particular kind of Holiday. Want a game particularly well suited to Halloween? Choose to play a AToE with the Scarecrow villain. How about those relatives looking for a ghostly Christmas tale? Bring out AToE and choose to use Krampus (a type of evil Santa) or Nutcracker Villains.
The best part of selecting a Villain is that their Minions, associated tokens, and randomizer sheets, are very well themed to the occasion. The Nutcracker for example, may leave behind seemingly innocent Christmas presents that explode in your face or erupt with toy soldiers that attack you just as often as they bequeath you with genuine gifts, and the Krampus will be looking closely to see which of the players has been Naughty or Nice…and punishing you accordingly!
For more generic occasions, simply choose a standard Villain like the Vampire or the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow fame.
—Fans of classic literature such as Dracula and Sleepy Hollow or other vintage horror flicks will definitely appreciate the many references to the past (the vampire’s classic mist / wolf forms, for example).
Also of worthy note…
—All of minis are outstanding and well worthy of painting in my future. Enough said.
—Once you are very familiar with the game, the Epic Villain variation is truly a beast to take on! In our experience, this encounter is the most fun to take on in cooperative mode.
—Overall production quality is quite excellent.
—Especially notable cooperative experience, we enjoyed more than competitive surprisingly
—Soundtrack really sets the mood and sends a tingle down the spine.
Flying Frog Productions may be a small company, but it can never be said that they skimp out on opportunities to fully flesh out a gaming experience. AToE : 10th Anniversary Edition overall feels quite complete as a whole.
As stated earlier, a game cannot be all things to all people, and this is why I elect to have many games in my collection, because ultimately they are meant to be a social experience. Is AtOE my favorite game from FFP? Not for me ; from a gameplay and fun perspective I would personally rate Dark Gothic and Shadows of Brimstone substantially higher than AToE.
So while I may rate this department around a 6.5-7 (maybe slightly higher for coop mode) for AToE due to some of the randomness involved, a number of the people I played with actually would give the gameplay and fun factor of 8+. So keep in mind that your own mileage may vary as you read my final scores, and to thine own self be true if this is a genre or style you feel particularly called to…
Given that the base (non-Anniversary) edition of AToE was one of the first games produced by Flying Frog Productions, I find that given the benefit of time and hindsight, I can more fully appreciate the way they have developed throughout the years. AToE may not be perfect to me, being one of their first offerings, but given the subsequent games I have played from FFP, I am happy to see where they have learned and adapted to make some of my absolute favorite games of all time. And I would still say that AToE is great asset to have around for all those family gatherings—we all know someone who would love it, I am sure, even if it isn’t always our own cup of tea.
Theme : 9
Fun : 7
Variation / Replayability : 8
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Jazz Paladin- Reviewer