Come on in weary traveler, make yourself at home. Pay no mind to the odd looking Abbot in the corner or the group of peasants licking their chops as they look you over. Sure it’s a little dark in here, but that’s how we keep our rates so … cutthroat. I couldn’t help but notice your coin purse. Be mindful not to misplace it. Wouldn’t want to you lose it. I swear, if my own head weren’t attached to my neck I’d have lost it long ago. Nothing worse than a misplaced head. Ah, here’s your room. Oh, you might hear some strange noises at night. Old building just settling, pay it no mind. See you in the morning … maybe.
The Bloody Inn casts you as an innkeeper of questionable morals trying to earn as much money as possible.. Rather than earning an honest wage, you’ve decided that murder and theft are more your style. It’s certainly more lucrative. Your plan is to appeal to the darker side of some your guests to help you murder the other guests, dispose of the bodies, and take their money while eluding police suspicion. Your actions may be reprehensible, but no one can say you didn’t work hard for your wealth.
How it Plays
You begin the game with two peasant accomplices, ten Francs, a check, and a barn. With these meager tools you will spin your web of death and collect funds along the way. Every round begins with the first player assigning the guests to their rooms. Some of the rooms are neutral and others are player owned, making the decision of where to place guests less straightforward than it would seem.
Once the guests are all tucked in, the players will take turns choosing from among five available actions. The first action is bribery. You can select any of the guests in a room and bribe them to join your illicit crew by taking the card into your hand where they become accomplices. It’s important to note that every character in the game has a level from 0 to 3. This number represents the strength of the character and how much effort it will require for you to interact with them. The level of the character will dictate how many cards you will have to discard from your hand in order to accomplish your current task. To bribe a level 2 character, for example, you will have to discard two cards from your hand.
Some characters have the ability to build annexes which is represented by a building on their cards. In order to build an annex, you play that character from your hand to the table and discard additional cards from your hand equal the level of the annex being built. Annexes provide some sort of benefit as well as provide a place to hide the bodies.
Which leads us to the actual murdering. Killing a guest works in the same way as bribing a guest except that the target is flipped over to reveal a casket and placed in your play area rather than going into your hand. It’s the first step to robbing guests of their coin.
The Bloody Inn has an odd reverence for the dead in that you can’t actually steal money from the deceased until you’ve given them a proper burial. You choose one of the bodies in front of you, discard characters to help you hide the body and place it under an annex. Annexes can only hold a number of bodies equal to its level. Only once a body has been properly disposed of can you collect the money.
The final action you can do is to launder money. Having too much cash stuffed in your mattress can start to alert suspicion so you must take the time to get it into the bank. You can trade cash, which is more flexible, into checks or vise versa in increments of 10 Francs. Your cash on hand is limited to 40 Francs at any one time so taking this action is the only way to get your funds over that limit.
Once all players have taken two actions, the round ends. If there are any police officers still in the Inn by this point, an investigation will occur. If any player has a body that has not been hidden, they must pay 10 Francs per body to the local gravedigger to dispose of the corpse for them. After the investigation, 1 Franc is paid to players who have guests still in their room and all players must pay 1 Franc per character in their hand in cash. All cards in the Inn are then discarded and play continues until the the deck of cards has been played through twice. The player with the most money is declared the winner.
The Sum of its Parts
Great games start with great ingredients and on its surface, The Bloody Inn should be a game that I love. It has beautiful art, a quirky (if macabre) theme, cards that serve multiple purposes, and a publisher with a strong pedigree. Unfortunately, it’s peppered with enough bitter elements to temper my opinion. But rather than focus on the negative, I’ll give credit to what the games does right and how it’s almost a great game.
First of all, for a game that is comprised mostly of cards, The Bloody Inn is surprisingly thematic. The twisted depictions of all the characters sell you on the inherent greed that permeated everyone’s actions. One look at the sinister gardener or the emaciated peasants and it’s easy to imagine them as the kinds of people that would join you in your illicit activities. The Bloody Inn also depicts a successful murdering scheme as a difficult endeavor that requires planning. Not only do you have to gather a crew of accomplices, particularly for the large targets, you have to have a place to bury the body while avoiding police investigations. Not only that, you then have to worry about balancing your liquid assets with your long term financial security at the bank. There’s a distinct correlation between your actions in the game and what they represent in the game’s story.
The central system of The Bloody Inn is a strong one. Using cards as both a form of currency to fuel your actions and as the object your actions is a solid foundation to build a game upon. Sure, it’s been done in other games, but lack of innovation doesn’t preclude a game from greatness. Iteration and polish on established tropes are what lead to better and better games. Standing on the shoulders of giants as it were. It’s an established framework from which to build a game upon and one that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed in the past. At its best, It’s a system that lends itself to creating difficult and tense decisions where your hand of cards becomes of sea of choice and the cards you use to pay for your action are painful to let go of. The Bloody Inn is not an example of this system at its best.
The Darker Side of the Darker Side
The Bloody Inn commits a fatal sin. It fails to provide much fun. Instead it creates an atmosphere of constant tension as you struggle to keep your head above water. There isn’t enough room to operate and take advantage of the good things that are there. Drawing character cards into your hands or killing guests, especially high level, can be difficult and will take a few rounds to accomplish. And once you’ve accomplished it, you’re left with a diminished hand and just one more thing to worry about. How are you going to pay this newly acquired character until you can use them for an annex? How you going to keep the police off your back until you’ve managed to bury the body? It’s constant barrage of tension. It’s a game that shackles you and then asks you to dance. There’s never enough freedom to enjoy the rhythms that it creates. And I’m a player who enjoys tension and grit in my games. I want to be challenged and provoked. It makes my accomplishments meaningful and worthwhile. I don’t want my games to let me off the hook when I play poorly. But I also want to be rewarded consummate to the effort I’ve exerted. The rewards that The Bloody Inn doles out are flaccid and unfulfilling.
Building annexes rewards players with a unique ability as well as a place to hide bodies. But there isn’t enough variation between the annexes to garner any excitement. Many of the annexes are slight variations on one another. I want to feel empowered when I’ve managed to build a level 3 annex, not ho hum dullness. When I’ve managed to properly dispose of a Bishop and relieved him of a princely sum I want feel relief and a sense of accomplishment rather than the immediate responsibility to launder my ill gotten gain, but doing that isn’t even satisfying. Laundering money is even referred to as passing in the rulebook because it is such a nonaction. Instead of participating in the game, it is akin to bookkeeping. It feels like an added step of point of tension for little benefit to the overall experience.
Stylistically, one could argue that the constant tension and turning off the screws plays into the theme of a group of innkeepers who’ve gotten themselves in over their heads. On multiple occasions, I’ve seen players panic when police investigator checks into the Inn when they are ankle deep in corpses. The meager two turn rounds don’t allow them enough time to dispose of the bodies. The solution? Kill the police officer and add another corpse to the pile, further compounding your trouble. In a dark comedy, it’s funny. In a game, it’s taxing. Relief only comes at game’s end.
There’s also a bit of a problem with games at 2 and 3 players. With fewer players, more cards are removed from the game and some of the annex powers rely on the presence of specific types of cards for synergy. Your plans can be foiled through no fault of your own.
If it seems like I’m being overly harsh on The Bloody Inn it’s only because I had high hopes for the game as I began reading the rules and I recognize the potential for something really special. If there were some better annex powers and if there were more moments of relief, I can’t help but feel that I’d be writing a very different review. I want to write a different review. I want to write about a game that is as fun and and satisfying as everything a first impression would leave you to believe. I wanted to check into The Bloody Inn and come out richer, not a victim buried underneath a vegetable garden.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Asmodee for providing a review copy of The Bloody Inn.