Ghosts of the Moor (Game Review by Brandon Kempf)

  • Designers: Wolfgang Kramer & Michael Kiesling
  • Artists: Scott Hartman & Nate Call
  • Publisher: Tasty Minstrel Games
  • Players: 2-5
  • Time: 20-30 Minutes
  • Times Played: 3 (copy provided by Tasty Minstrel Games)

A roll-and-move game from the famed design team of Kramer & Kiesling?

Ghosts of the Moor is a retheming and re-imagining of the 2005 title, That’s Life. In this re-imagining, the players are adventurers looking for treasures to collect in a swamp. The swamp is a dangerous place though, inhabited by ghastly ghosts.

At the beginning of the game, tiles are randomly placed along the pathway, two per spot until you reach a certain point, then one per spot until you run out of tiles — this will leave some of the spaces empty, but never fear, they will be filled later. Each player will have a team of explorers to control, the number of explorers that each player will control is determined by the number of players in the game.

On a player’s turn they are going to roll the six-sided die, and they are going to move one of their explorers that many spaces along the pathway. The goal along the way is to collect treasure tiles, preferably you want to end the game with sets of treasures.

When you move an explorer off a tile that they are on they will collect that tile if they are the last person to leave that spot. If there are two tiles, the explorer takes the top one.

When moving, you may happen across spaces that do not have any tiles on them. For that, each player starts the game with one wooden plank. You may place this plank down and land on it instead of the empty spot. Why would you do that? If a player leaves an empty spot along the pathway, they will have to pay treasure back to the pathway matching the symbol on the spot that they left. If they cannot pay that specific treasure, they will be able to remove a ghost tile from their collection — this is good, I’ll explain it later — or if they have no matching tile or no ghost, they must give up two treasure tiles. The tiles the players lose will go to the blank spaces closest to the end of the pathway, thus filling them in.

The game continues like this until the last explorer has reached the end of the swamp, and then players will total their points based on the tiles they have collected. Each single tile in a set is one point, two like tiles are worth three points and so on. Ghosts are negative points as notated on the tile itself, and there are also reward tiles for the first players to escape the swamp in descending value from six to two points. The explorer with the most points wins.

Yes, in the year 2018, we had a roll-and-move game released into the wild. A mechanism that has been derided and shunned, and probably rightfully so for the most part. It’s a mechanism that leaves a lot of the game to chance. Ghosts of the Moor is no different there. The roll of the die will be just that, a roll of the die. There is very little control here, outside of your extra plank that you receive to start the game and being able to choose from your set of explorers which one you want to move.

That being said, there are some fun decision making moments in the game. Those planks are valuable and there is even an extra one on the board to start the game that players can get, but beware, if someone else lands on a plank with you, they may try stay a bit longer than you in order to take that plank. Remember, you gain the tile that you leave only if you are the only explorer on it. We’ve had games where one person was using three planks to jump from blank spot to blank spot trying to rush to the end for bonus tiles, but one lucky roll of the die and an opponent will be on that plank with you, squashing your plans and slowing you down. The same goes for the other tiles as well — if you are looking for a specific treasure tile, you may just have to stay longer than your fellow explorer in order to gain it.

The ghosts that penalize you at the end of the game can be gotten rid of, remember the blank tile rule. There are times where you will want to land on a blank tile that you don’t have a matching symbol for so you can ditch that negative seven point ghost that you had picked up. So there is some game here to unpack, not a lot, but some.

The playing area is so small though. The board is compact and the tiles are squeezed onto it and then you throw on 12 explorer meeples and you have a fiddly mess that can be downright annoying to deal with. I never played the game’s predecessor, That’s Life, but it looks like they solved this issue by using bigger tiles and not having the constraints of a board. The icons on the blank pathway spots are dark, and sometimes difficult to see, or even differentiate from the board art itself. If you want to shed off that ghost tile, you have to see where you are landing, so you’ll be staring closely at that small, cramped board looking for icons that kind of just blend in.

Ghosts of the Moor plays quick, and that’s a blessing for this one, as you don’t want this to go on too long with the luck of the dice and the take-that style interaction that can happen on the board. In something this light, that would be a death knell for the game. As it is though, I just don’t know when I would ever reach for this over other games, like Can’t Stop for my dice chucking push-your-luck, or even something like Lost Cities, if I am looking for a set collection game with some push-your-luck elements. I hate that I am writing a lackluster review of a game from the great Kramer & Kiesling, but even the greats have bad days, that’s life after all.

Thoughts from the Opinionated Gamers:

Dale Y: So, I am a huge fan of Verflixxt! And I was excited to hear that this game was coming out.  When I read the rules, it did seem like it continued to use the same waiting game mechanism that I like in Verflixxt! But I wasn’t sure how it was going to work with the multiple tiles on a space.  In my first few games, I tried to race some of my meeples thru the board, and I found out that this wasn’t an optimal plan for me. The issue was that you had to drop tiles off when you reached the empty spaces in the last third of the board.   While it first felt like I needed to avoid all of the ghost tiles, I found that they were actually quite useful to use to shed as you traversed the course. Of course, you have to finely balance the need of them for discarding with the potential penalty of negative points if you’re not able to get rid of them!  Like Verflixxt, there is constant tension between wanting to move forward to get bonuses (or avoid getting ghost tiles) versus waiting behind to actually pick up tiles… however, it just isn’t as compelling – and I think a lot of this is the physical format of the game. I’ll admit that I generally love games to be as small as possible – heck, I have a weird hobby where I try to shrink games down into the smallest containers possible!  But, in this case, the game is nearly unplayable with the components. The miniscule board is cramped, and the dark art makes the icons hard to see. When you place the huge wooden meeples on a space, you can’t fit all the meeples on a space, and when you try to see what’s underneath the meeples, you can’t see a dang thing! This is the rare game that I wish were larger. I’d like both the board and the tiles to be about 3x their current size or the game needs to come with four pairs of tweezers to be able to play it.  Here are a few pictures of our game in action, the can pictured is a standard 12 oz can… (I figured I should clarify that as most of the country isn’t privy to the awesomeness known as Vernors!)

Dan Blum (1 play): I’m not a huge fan of That’s Life, but it’s fine and definitely better than this version. The gameplay changes add even more randomness, which makes it almost completely random with many players. It’s probably better with three or possibly four – I certainly wouldn’t play again with more.

I am also forced to agree with Dale that the physical production really hurts the game – you can’t tell what is going on and (less importantly) it’s also really ugly.

On the other hand, Vernor’s tastes like ginger ale that’s gone off.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers:

I love it.

I like it.

Neutral. Brandon, Dale

Not for me… Dan Blum

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