Got a mansion haunted by ghosts? If only there were some sort of organization dedicated to finding and “busting” ghostly spirits that you could ring up and ask for help.
Lets not be ridiculous! Where there’s a need there’s a business to help you with that need. Who ya gonna call? Well, the Phantom Society, obviously.
How It Plays
The Phantom Society pits players in teams against each other. One team controls the Ghosts, who are wreaking havoc on a mansion, because they’re ghosts. The other team controls the Phantom Society, who wreak havov on the same mansion in order to find and capture those ghosts.
The board is a 6×6 grid, with each square representing a room (with a space beneath each room for hiding ghosts). At the start of each game, teams alternate placing room tiles on the board until it is filled. Each team has 2 stacks of colors with number values ranging from 1 to 6.
Once the board is completely filled, the Phantom Society players close their eyes, look away, or leave the room. The Ghost players then get the chance to hide the 4 different colored ghosts in the mansion. The only restriction is that each ghost must be hidden in a room that matches its color. The board is designed so that the circular ghosts fit in a slot layered beneath each room.
Once hidden, the Phantom Society players return and the search begins. Starting with a Ghost player, teams alternate destroying a room by removing a tile. Ghosts must remove a tile adjacent to a hidden ghost (which means they have to be careful to remember where their ghosts are hidden), or adjacent to a destroyed room that is adjacent to a hidden ghost. Society players can destroy any room on the board.
Each room has a number which represents the value of that room in $1,000’s of dollars. The Ghost players want to deal $45,000 or 45 points worth of damage to the mansion. The Phantom Society just needs to destroy the rooms that have the ghosts in them (ie remove a room tile that reveals a ghost underneath). Once a Ghost is found it can no longer be used to destroy rooms, however, any room the Society players destroy (including ones with a Ghost in them) count towards the destructive total of the house.
Once players master the normal game, they can play the “Master” variant. The only difference in the Master game is that teams bid for the value of destruction. Each team secretly bids between $30,000 and $59,000 – the amount of damage they think they could do as the Ghost players before being discovered. Whoever bids the highest becomes the Ghost team, but the amount of destruction needed for the ghosts to win becomes the lower bid.
Exorcism, or Just a Ruined House?
If The Phantom Society sounds simple, that’s because it really is. Seriously. You hide some ghosts, then take turns lifting tiles until someone wins. And that’s okay, because this is basically a kids game, or at least a very casual filler game.
Most of the “strategy” lies in building the mansion. Ghosts tend to want clusters of large point tiles together, especially near the middle of the board – it’s easier to hide ghosts near the middle and destroy those rooms without giving away too much of your position. Society members obviously want just the opposite – spreading the high point values as much as possible, which will hopefully force the Ghosts to give away their position to get at those rooms, or at least get them to destroy lower point rooms. Beyond that, you can try to group or spread colors depending on what you think will work best to hide or reveal the ghosts as needed.
Of course, you only control 2 of the 4 colors, so it’s not like you can really control the board layout. And, it’s best not to overthink it – the game is meant to move quickly, and building the mansion is not exactly the core of the gameplay.
The real fun lies in trying to find the ghosts, or keep them hidden. It’s an extremely simple puzzle of logic, but it works because it plays so quickly. You don’t have to spend 10 minutes looking at the clues to determine your next move, and really if you’re taking more than 5 seconds to pick your tile, you’re doing it wrong.
I said above it’s basically a kid’s game, and in that vein, it’s a lot of fun to play with younger kids (think 8-10yrs old). No reading or complex strategy is required. In fact, this is a great introduction to deduction games, because it’s so basic. Kids can have fun picking random tiles and trying to find the ghosts, and they’ll slowly pick up tricks and skills to be able to make more educated guesses.
The toughest part of the game is simply remembering where you hid your ghosts. If the ghost players forget, the game breaks down pretty quickly – a ghost player will accidentally reveal themselves, or they’ll flip over an illegal tile without realizing it (making it more difficult for actual deduction to happen). It’s not terribly difficult, considering the size of the board and the limitations of ghost placement, but it can happen. Especially with the younger kids that this game works best with. You can decide if you want to play it strict and teach kids to learn from their mistakes, or you can give them a safety net by letting them write down where their ghosts are, or check for the location of the ghosts if they forget. These options obviously slow down the game, and if it’s a real problem, you can just have them stick with the Phantom Society side of the game.
If you’re playing this with adults, even as a casual filler game, it’ll definitely run out of steam quickly. It may be entertaining once or twice, but it’s not deep enough to provide an interesting challenge you’ll want to come back to. It’s not exactly portable, either. The box is smaller, but not a “lenny” (our term for a game box that can fit in a coat pocket). Likewise, the board itself isn’t huge, but still requires some table space. The point being, it’s not one of those games you can whip out at an airport or graduation ceremony or something, which is often a redeeming quality of the most basic games, such as, say, Martian Dice.
So, stick with the kids. Use it to advance them up the gaming complexity ladder. Kids seem to get excited and have a good time searching for or playing as the ghosts, and it can be enjoyable enough just to watch them have fun. My 8-yr-old nephew actually figured out a few tricks and was able to mislead me intentionally away from his ghosts for the win. It’s a game that lets kids use their minds without overwhelming them. They don’t need to worry about planning several turns ahead or managing more than one element at a time. They can just have fun searching for ghosts. After all, isn’t it bustin’ ghosts that makes you feel good?