Seems a bunch of nosy kids and their dog are snooping around an old haunted house again. No it’s not Scooby Doo and Mystery, Inc., investigating spooky monsters. It’s the local neighborhood children daring each other to go into that decrepit eerie mansion down the street. Are you bold enough to brave the ghostly halls and collect as many spookies as you can before being spooked yourself?!
How to Play
Spookies is a dice game where you push your luck venturing further into a haunted house. The more you risk going further up each floor the greater number of “spookies” you can earn. But you also risk a bigger fall when failing – and then it’s you who goes bump in the night…and down the stairs!
Spookies consists of a haunted house board, five character pawns, some dice and a stash of spooky tokens worth between one and five points. All five characters start outside the spine-chilling manor’s gates and the spookies are piled off to the side face down.
On a turn you roll the character die to determine which pawn to move. You must roll him or her (or it, in the case of the pooch) attempting to get to the next floor – or in the door, if still outside the house. You choose how many dice to roll, from two to four, while creeping up the stairs and must roll at least the value printed at the next level. To get in the house, you have to roll a 5 and then each floor above increases on up to 11 to climb in the attic, which has to be really scary, right?
The catch is that while you may roll three or four dice, you can only combine your two highest results. If successful, your bravery is rewarded by collecting spooky tokens based on the number of dice you rolled and according to the level reached. The less dice you roll, the more spookies you earn. Likewise, the higher you go up in the house, the more ghosts there are to nab. After climbing the next floor you can choose to keep with the same character earning more and more spookies as you climb the creaking stairs.
Or if you’re too frightened you can stop any time. That’s because if unsuccessful you’re the one who gets spooked, falling all the way to the floor whose value equals your highest roll – but not before dropping a number of tokens equal to the difference of your failure. There they lay waiting for the next intrepid (living) soul as a bonus for successfully reaching that floor next – but only with two dice in doing so!
The hunt for spookies continues with each player alternating turns, taking risks with greater and greater ghoulish encounters. Or not! In any event – do or die – the spectral shenanigans close when the pile of spookies empties. Then everyone turns their tokens over and the player with the most points wins. And the next time an old residence is haunted from the beyond, you know who they’re going to call.
Possessed or Ghostbuster?
Push-your-luck games have unprecedented potential as ambassadors for our hobby. They’re accessible to a wide range of ages, move relatively quickly and don’t involve a lot of mental investment. Most of all, though, the euphoria and groans generated through success and failure in bold gambles create exciting anticipation, plenty of laughs and an intangible fun factor that few board games manage. Even when it’s not your turn, you’re fixated on every move that each player risks, torn between rooting them on and reveling in their misery. Can’t Stop and Incan Gold are two of the genre’s standard-bearers. The latter benefits from simultaneous play, but both are popular with non-gamers and casual crowds. It won’t scare off those stalwarts, but thanks to its setting and art Spookies should assert itself well, especially for families.
As a risk taking dice game with cartoony art, you’ve probably deduced this isn’t a strategy game with any sort of depth. Yet the combination of forcing you to move a particular character while allowing you to choose the manner in which to venture forth creates an interesting dynamic that’s unique. It has a roll-and-move feel – roll a certain character and move him/her. Yet you totally own the spirit in which you gamble. If the token is already in the upper stories, one might bemoan such bad luck in needing to hit higher and harder numbers to move on. That player likely will hedge his bets and throw all the dice. However, another will relish in the challenge, thankful for the opportunity to score more points, rather than slowly starting from outside the house and nabbing a paltry snag of spookies. That player very well might take a bold risk.
Spookies really excels in balancing adequate rewards and penalties as you ascend higher and higher into the mansion, making your basic choice of dice both meaningful and interesting. The rewards for risking it with two dice increase at a greater rate as compared to tossing three or four. Beginning with floor three, rolling two dice can potentially nab you more spookies in success than you might have to drop in failure. At least them’s the odds. If it wasn’t, then the conservative approach would usually win out diminishing the table’s progress, stifling the building excitement.
That crescendo of success generates the design’s fun. It’s hard to put a finger on such sentiment and explain it in concrete terms, but Spookies has got it. Especially when someone is on a streak and chaining several floors together. Getting in the gate and into that first floor are easy. Or are they always? Then you need a 7 to keep going. The odds of getting that with two dice may be in your favor, but can you afford to stop your momentum now? You keep it up by nailing that 8 next. The table gets nervous as you agonize over what to risk for going 9. You hit that with ease, punctuating it was a triumphant dab (yes, dads dab, too). But that’s not all, next turning everyone else white with terror as you reach 10! Or instead maybe it all finally comes crashing down as you tumble several floors, unburdened by a stash of your hard-earned spookies in the process!
You might laugh and cheer when someone fails a roll, but it’s not necessarily because you’re mean. It’s mainly motivated by the knowledge that now there’s a small pile of point tokens just laying on the floor ready for the next person who reaches that level to pick up. Those bonuses add to the anxiousness and building buzz, yet in a very interesting manner. First, it will likely induce more conservative play if a character must climb several levels to reach the extra tokens. So any individual in that scenario might opt for the four dice in order to ascend quicker and with some surety. However, you only win the bonuses when using two dice to get to that floor. So now players in that position often take greater chances than normally accustomed since the reward can be exponentially larger. The design of these penalty bonuses is simple and brilliant.
Also with those spooked spookies often lying about and piling up, the board’s advantageous spaces are constantly evolving. Between the normal reward and bonuses, there will be instances where you can win more spookies on a lower level than higher one. Positioning can be critical in that case with the advantage going to the player lucky enough to roll the right character to begin a turn. The majority of designs in this genre generally keep all players on a relatively level playing field. The changing board then feels quite unique in that regard.
All that said, despite its simplicity and child-friendly art and setting, be prepared for some kids to struggle with Spookies’ push-your-luck spirit. Obviously all kids are different, but on average they tend to take less risks. The fear of failure – and dejected response to it – is more acute than in adults, even in light games. So it’s not an aversion to the design, but rather the genre. They can certainly play since the rules are easy and the game simple. However, it would not be surprising if your young gamers needed to warm to the concept. Hamming things up yourself goes a long way to easing their comfort level and enjoyment.
To be sure Spookies will prove thrilling in many settings – casual gatherings, as a filler for experienced gamers and for young players and families. It will have greater staying power with the latter, however. Technically, it’s no more a kids design than other push-your-luck titles. Spookies isn’t “dumbed down” for a younger audience in any way since the genre as a whole is already very accessible vis-à-vis complexity, or lack of. Yet given its publisher, setting and artwork Spookies is undoubtedly geared toward casual play and younger gamers. As such it works like a charm, moving along at a whimsical pace. Giving players very basic, but important choices that impact their progress and rewards (or penalties), that micro angst really takes a back seat to the design’s intrinsic excitement as the table cheers in wild successes or howls at unfortunate failures!
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank HABA USA for providing a review copy of Spookies.