The Phantom Society
- Designers: Frederic Colombier + Herve Marly
- Publishers: iello / FunForge
- Players: 2-4
- Time: ~20 minutes
- Ages: 8+
- Times played: 6, with review copy provided by IELLO
The Phantom Society is a neat deduction game in beautiful packaging. As the story goes, there are ghosts haunting an old hotel, and these pesky spirits are destroying hotel rooms left and right. The Phantom Society has been called in to save the day – they are trying to find the destructive ghosts before the whole hotel is ruined. In the game, some of the players take on the role of the ghosts while the rest take on the members of the Phantom Society. The goals of each side are asymmetrical – the ghosts want to destroy rooms of summed value greater than 45; the Phantom Society wants to find the ghosts before they hit that total.
The hotel is represented by a 6×6 grid of spaces, representing the different rooms of the hotel. There are 4 colors of rooms, and a ghost that matches each of the 4 colors. In setup, each player gets a set of nine rooms in a single color (values varying from 1 to 6), and players take turns placing a room onto the board until all the rooms are filled. Once the hotel rooms are in their place, the Phantom Society players go get a drink in the next room while the ghost players place the four ghosts somewhere hidden on the board. (The rules actually say that the Phantom Society players should just close their eyes… but then the ghosts have to whisper, and that’s no fun…) The ghosts go underneath the room tiles so that their location is secret. Each ghost must be placed under a room that matches its color. These ghosts will never move during the game, so be sure to remember where you put them!
Once the ghosts are in their place, the game can begin. Turns alternate – first the ghosts go and then the Phantom Society. On a ghost turn, the ghost player devastates a room with a ghost he controls (if you play a 4p game, that means that there are 2 ghost players, and each ghost player specifically controls 2 of the ghosts). Initially, a ghost can devastate any room that it is orthogonally or diagonally adjacent to. Later in the game, as rooms are removed from the board, a ghost skips over any empty rooms and devastates the first tile it comes across in any of the 8 directions. So, if a ghost starts in the middle of the board, it can choose any of 8 rooms to devastate. That chosen tile is removed from the board and the value of the room (between 1 and 6) is added to the ghosts’ total, and now it is the Phantom Society’s turn.
On their turn, they try to choose a room where a ghost is hiding. They have to deduce where the ghosts are by the pattern of rooms which are devastated. For example, on the first turn, they should have at least a 1 in 8 chance of finding a ghost… because they know that there is at least one ghost which is directly adjacent to the room initially devastated. The Phantom Society player chooses a room, picks it up from the board, and sees whether or not there is a ghost underneath. If a ghost has been discovered, that room tile is discarded from the game AND the discovered ghost is essentially out of the game. That particular ghost can no longer devastate rooms. If there is not a ghost under the room tile, that room tile is placed in the ghost’s scoring pile, and the value of that room counts towards the goal of 45 points… (I guess thematically that the heavy handed Phantom Society does such a thorough job of tearing the room apart to look for the ghost that the room is destroyed anyways?)
The game continues to alternate between ghosts and hunters until one of the endgame conditions is met. At the start of the game, the ghost players must alternate turns with each other – and remember that each specifically controls two of the four ghosts. However, later in the game, if one of the ghost players has had both of his ghosts revealed, the remaining ghost player takes all of the ghost turns. Again, the game ends when either: 1) the ghosts have 45 points of damaged rooms OR 2) all of the ghosts have been discovered.
There is an advanced version of the game which adds some bidding to the start of the game, but it does not otherwise change the gameplay. In this version, each team is given a set of bidding cards which allows them to make a bid between 30 and 59 points. There cannot be ties in the bid because one team can only bid even numbers while the other team can only bid odd numbers. In the setup, the board is seeded per the regular rules, though at this point, each team does not know their role in the game. Once the rooms of the hotel are in place, each team confers and makes a secret bid on how many points they think they would be able to score as the ghosts. The bids are revealed – and the team which bid the HIGHEST amount gets to play as the ghosts. Their victory condition will be the number bid by the other team. Thus is team A bids 52 points and team B bids 47 – Team A will play as the ghosts and their goal for winning the game will be 47 points. Team B will be the Phantom Society, and their goal is unchanged – they must discover all 4 ghosts before the ghosts get to the target value.
My thoughts on the game
The Phantom Society is a quick paced game which is a nice introductory deduction game. Like the major Funforge release from last year, Tokaido, Phantom Society is a beautifully done game that is lighter in complexity. It has gone over well with the boys as well as with gaming novices here. The artwork, as I have come to expect with FunForge games, is beautifully done and brings out the theme (see Tokaido, Isla Dorada and Illusio for other beautiful games from this design house).
The game plays quickly as each turn doesn’t take very long. Early in the game, there isn’t a lot of discussion, but once more information is known – based on the rooms removed from the game, the Phantom Society players usually can discuss their plans. Of course, when they talk, the ghost players can hear the conversation as well, so they may not always want to give away all of their theories when deciding where to search!
I like the way that the 4p game gives each ghost player only two of the ghosts. This somewhat limits the moves each ghost player can make, and it helps the Phantom Society deduce the location of the ghosts somewhat. I’ve played a few games of this as a 2p game, and the ghosts have won every time. It seems to be very easy to disguise your moves as the ghost player when you can choose from a room adjacent to any of the four ghosts… much harder to hide you intent when you can only use two of them.
When you play the basic game, you know your identity from the start – and this affects where you want to play your rooms. The ghosts would prefer the high valued rooms to be in the center of the board because they are more easily reached. However, if you play the bidding variant, that goes out the window because you don’t know which role you’re going to play until after the bid!
Though the rules don’t say to do so, we’ve made it a habit to write down the locations of the ghosts for reference later in the game, because the boys often forget where the ghosts are… and it’s a sad day when one of the ghosts accidentally reveals one of the other ghosts!
Thoughts from the other Opinionated Gamers:
Jennifer Geske: This game is Ghostbusters themed Battleship and is a fun 20-minute game. I like the production quality, theme and even the occasional ‘doh!’ moments by teams. Depending on how much table talk there is, you can start to figure out how the other players think and choose your actions accordingly. I prefer to not over-think it and just enjoy the mayhem.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers:
I love it!
I like it. Dale Yu, Jennifer Geske
Neutral. John P
Not for me.