Before I begin this review, I will firstly point out that I am reviewing a prototype which has relatively finalised artwork but the component and board quality may not represent the final version.
Damnation is a 'Battle Royale'-style board game for 3-6 players in which each player plays a villain who, on his death, has been sent to a special plane of hell, Dracula’s Castle, to fight other such villains in an eternal showdown. The game is designed by Kris Rees and is published by Blackletter.
The component quality and the artwork from Anca Albu and Hueala Teodor are above average. The card stock and tiles are fairly representative of the quality in many hobby board games produced today; there are definitely better examples, but there are also a lot worse. The rules are also currently a draft and there are some errors and issues that the designer is still working through. They do need some component pictures and examples but they are well laid out, simple to understand and relatively short in length. So far so good.
So what about the game play? Well, this is unashamedly, what is described derogatively as an 'Ameritrash' game. It's a highly interactive player-versus-player contest with a high dollop of luck and minimal mitigation. Although the rules incorporate variants for those who don't like player elimination, the object of Damnation: The Gothic Game is to be the last one standing, so player elimination is pretty much the soul of the game.
Imagine if you will, the game of Cluedo (or Clue if you are from the USA) with the Clue Manor given a horror re-theme. Swap the deduction mechanism for player interaction and add some basic asymmetric player powers and, hey presto, you just created Damnation: The Gothic Game. On a player's turn they roll two dice for movement (Yes, it’s a roll and move game). One die is a simple d6 and determines the spaces that a player can move to and 6’s explode (ie: you get to roll and add this to the movement result). The second die is a custom die that has four different faces: a candle indicating that the player can add or subtract 1 from the movement die; a dark circle which means the player will trigger any traps they move through (normally you only trigger traps that you land on); a face that indicates an event has been triggered and requires the player to draw a card from the Castle deck; and a blank face that indicates that nothing happens and the player simply concludes their movement.
The next phase of a player’s turn is dependent upon the location of their character. If your character is adjacent to another player’s character then you get to control that player’s movement on their next turn. It's not entirely clear, thematically, why. If a player has a weapon and is within range of another player then they can use the weapon and damage that player’s character. Once a player’s character loses all 10 health they are eliminated from the game. Given that a game can take 90 minutes with 6 players and the first player could easily be eliminated in the first 30 minutes that could be an hour sat twiddling your thumbs. This is often the problem with games that have player elimination.
Players gain cards at the start of the game which provide them with special actions, weapons or protection against attack. Each player gains three cards at the start of the game and they get to take a card when they enter certain rooms. Finally, there’s a vault and if a player enters it they can turn into a vampire for six rounds. In that time, they get double movement and if they move past another character then that character is instantly eliminated. However, if the vampire doesn’t return to its vault on the sixth round then the vampire player is eliminated.
Other than a few wrinkles that is pretty much all the rules. For a game with high levels of randomness the playtime felt too long. There were also relatively few meaningful decisions for the player to make. If this were a 30-minute game then I think you could forgive the randomness and player elimination and just enjoy the ride. However, in a game that can take up to 90 minutes, these factors could well put off a lot of players.
(Review by Jason Keeping)