As you can tell from their other games that we've featured on Board's Eye View - Vita Mors and Vitamors Conspiro - Play With Us Design have a predilection for macabre themes. Shi Chen's Soulaween is no exception. The theme is a ghoulish competition for souls. It gives us some attractive artwork but if you scratch away the thinly veneered theme, Soulaween is in actuality an abstract tactical two-player game.
The commendably small box includes a cloth playing mat and 16 chunky wooden pieces: red on one side and green on the other. In the basic game, players take turns to place out a piece anywhere on the 4 x 4 grid. You can play your piece on either its red or green side, and when you play it you flip all orthogonally adjacent pieces. When a player's turn ends with four in a row of either colour, you 'reap' the pieces (remove all four) and score a point. The game is won by the first player to score 3 points.
The four-in-a-row game with flipping pieces offers an interesting filler-length challenge that plays in around 15 minutes but there's more... The game comes with several 'character cards'. Play with Little Death and/or Papa Death, and you have to reap one each of three patterns of pieces: a cloth (2 x 2 square), a needle (straight line of 4, including across the diagonal) and a scythe (a tilted 'L' shape pattern). If you play as Anubis or Osiris, whenever you reap you take a token that matches the colour of the pieces you reaped. When you do this, your opponent's next reap must also be of the same colour. Finally, you can play as Hei and Bai Wuchang. This is a character card with two characters on it and you rotate the card to show which of the two is active. When Hei Wuchang is active, orthogonally adjacent pieces flip is as per the basic game but when Bai Wuchang is active, you instead flip diagonally adjacent pieces. You have to specify at the end of each turn which will be the active character on your next turn.
These different character variants give you plenty to explore and experiment with. If saying so doesn't risk conflicting with the theme, we've certainly found they've breathed fresh life into the game for players who thought they'd mastered the basic game.
Play With Us Design have also come up with a Little Girl mini expansion for Soulaween. This adds two copies of another prospective player character and two sets of tokens (so both players can play as a Little Girl). If you play as the Little Girl you place three tokens out on the mat in any position of your choosing. Pieces can still be played on top of these tokens but they can only be reaped by the Little Girl who placed them, Again, this alters the dynamics of the game, and with two Little Girls you will find the game takes longer to play as it will be notably harder for either player to reap...