Ghost Fightin’ Treasure Hunters
- Designer: Brian Yu
- Publisher: Mattel
- Players: 2-4
- Ages: 8+
- Time: ~30 minutes
Times played: at least 20, most with the original German version (Geister, Geister, Schatzsuchemeister) but a couple with a preview copy of the American version provided by Mattel USA
Disclaimer – Brian Yu is my brother, and I’m somewhat biased towards him. However, this familial bias should be balanced out by the fact that I’m still a bit sore that his game won the Kinderspiel des Jahres in 2014 over Flizz&Miez, a game which I helped design myself.
Ghost Fightin’ Treasure Hunters (GFTH) is a great game that is finally making its way to the English-speaking world. It has been around since 2013, and was released by Mattel Germany to critical acclaim at that year’s SPIEL fair. It was a well deserved Kinderspiel des Jahres winner in 2014, and while there was a fair amount in interest in bringing it over to the US, it did not get signed by Mattel USA until just this year, nearly three years after its initial release in Europe.
The Basic Game
In the basic game, the players take on the role of Treasure Hunters, trying to explore a haunted house to find the 8 Jewel Tokens before the house is over run by the ghosts. At the start of the game, the house is seeded with a few ghosts and the treasure tokens are placed in the appointed rooms. All of the player tokens start outside the front door of the house.
Players then take turns being the active player – this means that their player token is the one moving on that turn; however, all players can cooperate and discuss how to move that player. There are five parts to a player turn – always done in this order:
1) Roll the die – There is a d6 which is numbered from 1-6. Each face, EXCEPT for the 6, also shows a ghost token on it. The number rolled here tells you the maximum number of spaces that your player token can move.
2) Reveal a ghost card – If there was a ghost token on the die (again, any result other than a 6), you then reveal the top card from the ghost deck. The deck is comprised of 12 room cards, one for each room in the house, as well as a “Shuffle” card. If you reveal a room card, you place a ghost figure in the stated room. If you have placed the third ghost in a room, you replace the three ghost tokens with a red Haunting token. Check to make sure that there aren’t six Haunting tokens on the board – if so, the game is lost! If you have revealed a room card which is already haunted, the ghost figure goes in the next room alphabetically that is not already haunted. If you reveal the Shuffle card, you take all the cards and shuffle them to form a new deck for the next draw. No ghost figure is placed in this case.
3) Move – Now you move you player token a number of spaces up to the number on the die (though there is no obligation to move at all if you don’t want to move). The hallways have clearly demarcated spaces. You can also enter any room in the house, and moving through a room counts as a single space. You can move through other players, but you cannot end your movement on the same hallway space as another player. Any number of players can, however, share a room. (There is one exception to the movement rule – if you are carrying a jewel token AND you are in a room with a Haunting, you cannot leave the room until the room is unhaunted!)
4) Pick up or Drop off a Jewel – If you are in a room with a jewel, you are allowed to pick it up. Each player can only hold one jewel at a time in their backpack. Once you have a jewel, you keep it until you are able to drop it off outside the house. Your other option in this phase is that drop-off, if your mover is outside the house, you can then drop off the jewel token and get ready for your return to the house for more Treasure Hunting…
5) Fight! If you end your movement in a room which has a ghost or a Haunting, you must now fight it. The active player rolls one battle die if he is the only player in the room or he rolls two battle dice if there is more than one player figure in the room. For each ghost icon that is rolled, a ghost figure is removed from the room. In a haunted room, you MUST have two players in the room in order to roll the dice (and thus, you will roll two dice), and you must have a red Haunted symbol show on one of the dice to remove the Haunting figure.
The game continues around the board with each player taking a full turn. The game is won by the players if all eight treasure tokens are removed from the house and dropped off AND all the players are outside the house. The game is lost if six rooms become haunted before the victory condition can be achieved.
The Advanced Game
The Advanced game builds on the framework of the Basic game – all elements of the Basic game are used, but there are a few extra components and rules added into the game to make it more challenging.
First, the composition of the ghost deck is changed. Six additional cards are added to the deck. There is a “Draw 2 and then shuffle” as well as a “Draw 3 and then shuffle”. As the titles suggest, if these cards are revealed, you draw two or three more cards, and if any room cards are shown, a ghost is added to each of those rooms. If further special cards are revealed, they are ignored.
There are also two “Blue door locked” and 2 “green door locked” cards. If you look at the board, half of the doors are blue and half are green. At the start of the game (and with every re-shuffle), all the doors are open, and all players can freely pass through them. However, once a Door Locked card is revealed, it is placed next to the board, and all doors of that color are locked until the other color locked door card comes up or when all the cards are picked up for a shuffle.
The other big change is that you use the numbered sides of the jewels in the Advanced game. All the jewels are shuffled and placed face down on the board (so that you can’t see the numbers). Now, once a player moves into a room with a jewel, it can be flipped over so that everyone knows which number is on it. The player still has the choice to pick it up or not. The numbers are important because the players must drop them off in order. That is, the #1 jewel must be the first one removed from the house, and so on in order, until the #8 jewel is dropped off. The winning and losing conditions remain the same other than the restriction on the order in which the jewels can be removed from the house.
My thoughts on the game
GFTH is a deceivingly simple cooperative game that has a fine balance between being easy to learn and play (as you would expect of a Kinderspiel winner) and being a challenging enough game to keep the interest of gamers of all ages. Of course, the two different levels of play help provide a suitable game depending on the composition of the players.
The game certainly has some luck involved – namely on the number on the movement die and the room cards that are revealed. But, despite the variance in the die/cards, the game usually comes down to how the group chooses to manage the ghost threat. Again, the game ends if six rooms are haunted, so the group would do well to work on attacking rooms with two ghosts in it to prevent the hauntings from occurring.
Once rooms are haunted, you also then have to watch out for the cascading/snowballing effect of ghost placement. As ghosts will move to the next alphabetically free room from a haunted room, this allows some rooms to get multiple ghosts placed in them on a single pass thru the deck (otherwise, as there is only one card for each of the twelve rooms, you would generally only get one ghost at most in a room between shuffles).
In the basic game, the grind is more constant. You can pretty much count on one ghost per turn (as you will not place one only if the shuffle card comes up or if a 6 was rolled on the die), and distribution will tend to be more even amongst the rooms as there is only one shuffle card in the deck. In this form, it is more of a time management issue – when do you choose to go for the jewels and when do you choose to fight off some ghosts. Or – do you assign one or two players to permanent ghostbustin’ duties and have the other two work on the jewels?
In the advanced game, you have to be ready for some more variable ghost placement. The multiple draw cards can be brutal as they can drop multiple ghosts down on a single turn. Admittedly, there are also more cards in the deck which do not place any ghosts (the plain shuffle card as well as the four door cards), however, the locked door cards will make it much more difficult to navigate the house, and this in turn makes it harder for you to fight off ghosts in a timely manner as you may not be able to take shortcuts through rooms like you can when the doors are open.
You need to be a bit more efficient at fighting the ghosts in the advanced version because the game will take significantly longer to play. Not only do the locked doors make it harder for you to move through the house to fight ghosts, it also impedes your way to collect and drop off the jewels. To further lengthen the game, you likely have to spend some extra time finding the jewels in the right numerical order and figuring out how to get them out of the house in order as well.
The artwork is beautifully done, as I would expect from Piero. The cover art and card art is soft enough to appeal to children – likely a good thing for a Kids Game of the Year…. The plastic molded pieces are also pretty awesome. The green ghosts are quite cute, and they look like they could glow in the dark (though sadly they don’t) ! I’ve actually seen a few German ladies walking around with them as earrings… The player movers are also well designed with a great amount of detail. I really love how the backpack portion of the mover holds exactly one jewel token.
This has been a game that I’ve had a great amount of success with many different groups. When we play with my regular group, we used the advanced rules, and frankly, there really isn’t any mention of this being a children’s game. It is a very challenging game for us, and has become one of our go-to cooperative games (along with Samurai Spirit). I have also been able to teach this to a group of 3rd graders who were able to play the basic game on their own by midway through the first game – and that’s a wonderful trait to have in a game that can also be played by adults.
Thoughts from Other Opinionated (and non-related!) Gamers
I just finished playing the game four times with my boys (early-mid elementary.) They both loved it, although the eldest preferred to be the “bad guy” – handing out the ghost cards and placing the ghosts onto the board. Gamers will see some similarities to many other cooperative games, where players move around to accomplish tasks (moving gems here) while preventing the buildup of some nefarious force (the ghosts in this case.) We tried the “basic” game first, and with a bit of “grab the closest gems first” and ignoring the ghost build-up we managed to just barely lose. We won our next game handily, so tried adding in the advanced cards, although we have not tried playing with saving the gems in numerical order. We won once and lost once with our version of the advanced rules. I was surprised to see that the game seemed to go about as well with 2 vs 3 players. I had assumed a 2 player game was going to be harder since you had fewer people to carry gems, but the added focus seemed to compensate.
The two things I noticed most about the design would be the dice rolling mechanic and the change in the game due to the advanced cards. I liked how rolling a single die decided both movement and if a ghost appeared. It also minimized setup – there weren’t multiple decks of cards that need to be managed before beginning, just a single small deck. While cards deciding the location ghosts appear is nothing particularly new, having their appearance (or not) also tied to a die roll added a bit more uncertainty. You could get a sequence of poor (1 or 2) rolls and start to get into trouble, or be saved by rolling 2 or 3 sixes in a row! This is nice in a kids’ game, as a “good run” can be enough to turn the tide for less experienced gamers.
I was surprised at the effect of the advanced cards. I felt the basic game was a little “tight” and was hesitant to make the game harder (particularly with my younger boys.) However, the “door” cards actually cause fewer ghosts to appear, which can give a bit of breathing room. (The four door cards are only slightly counterbalanced by the draw 2 and draw 3 shuffle cards.) As Dale said, the advanced game can cause a bit more of a chain reaction (primarily from the frequent shuffles making some locations appear more often.) Without the requirement of removing gems in sequence, the advance game seemed to just be more complex rather than harder. I would think adding in the challenge of gem-order would make the game appropriately complex and difficult for a regular game night. I could see the randomness of the dice may make a given game go south or be too easy, but it also serves as a great bit of suspense.
I can see how the game has earned its accolades. It has a lot of fun cooperative gameplay packed into a short playing time. The two (or more if you pick and choose like I did) versions make it enjoyable in a wide variety of situations. I’m expecting this game to now become my go-to co-op game for younger players, and a good candidate if I need a fast playing co-op on a normal game night.
Lorna: Fun co-op with a great theme. It’s challenging. My only lament is that the ghosts don’t glow in the dark.
Craig: Geister, Geister, Schatzsuchmeister! (a.k.a Ghost Fightin’ Treasure Hunters) is FUN and deceptively difficult! It’s like a super streamlined version of Flash Point: Fire Rescue will all of the fiddly crap removed and lots of FUN and excitement as been added! I recommend playing the “advanced” game in which all jewels need to be recovered in numerical order and all players out of the house to win. Don’t let the artwork and cute ghost miniatures fool you into thinking this game will be just an easy kids game. The first several rounds feel pretty harmless, but once the ghosts accumulate and hauntings start occurring, people start to realize that the game can be quickly lost. Players sit up a bit straighter at the edge of their seats and begin taking the game much more seriously, but it’s already too late. Trust me, don’t dismiss this game or enter into it thinking that it will be easy… You’ve been warned!
Larry: I’ve only played this once and that was with the original game. And I’m really not a fan of cooperative games. But that one game was challenging, fun, and hysterically funny. It was a very worthy winner of the Kinderspiel and it’s great that there will finally be an English language edition. If you don’t buy this game, Dale will haunt you–even more than usual!
Brian L: I had the opportunity to play this game once while it was in development and had a great deal of fun. So, I picked up the German copy as one of the select games I brought back from my one and only Essen trip in 2013. Since then it has seen fairly regular play across a very diverse audience including family, casual and serious gamers. I was taught and only knew the full advanced rules. And, for my big confession: I have never won. But, I still love the game.
Obviously, it is simple enough for my feeble and aging brain to recall all the rules when teaching it despite my complete inability to read the German rulebook I have. The game has a great deal of luck, but just enough strategy in the decisions that you can nicely second-guess yourselves later. Plus, the decisions about when to dash for gems, when to stay and fight and when to team up or spread out are just enough to keep everyone involved. I’m delighted the game will finally get it’s well deserved English rules version. But, I must say that the title still sounds more compelling in the original German.
Jonathan F.: I really like this co-op, but feel I am missing something obvious. Others who have played it a ton seem to win far more often that I do (almost never). As such, I have not looked for strategy guides or attempted a mind-meld with the designer, but it feels like victory is the elusive treasure in an Indiana Jones movie. How this was considered a game for kids (kinderspiel) still baffles me. If it had had a warrior, rogue, mage, and cleric in a cavern, it would be just as hard. Sigh. Maybe next time I should just use my pieces from Ghost Stories.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Dale Y, Matt C, Craig V, John P, Brian L
- I like it. Lorna, Larry, Jonathan
- Not for me…