[Review] When Darkness Falls
- When we first played Zombies!, reactions at the table were
mixed. Some, like me, enjoyed the game but were a little unsettled
about the endgame. Others loved it, while still others disliked
it. I combined the rules with Frag! and found a happy medium
between the two games, but still realized that it was a "campy" sort
of game, and one that only a select group of people would play. So
when I pulled out When Darkness Comes: The Awakening (Twilight
Creations, 2002 Todd Breitenstein), I had this in mind, and was
prepared mentally for the same thing.
But When Darkness Comes was not quite the same thing. For
one thing, it transcended campy, and the themes, while on the same
lines, where much darker and grittier. Also, the game invoked
remembrances of Heroquest, a pseudo dungeon crawler I had played as
a teenager. I found some of the game quite fascinating, such as the
unique skills system, and was impressed with the amount of game that
came in the small box. I enjoyed the game more than I thought I
would, even though I still found two big problems the theme, which
was too dark for my taste, and the rulebook, which is one of the
worst written rulebooks I have dealt with. Despite these hang-ups,
there is a lot of value here for the money, and if the theme doesn't
bother one, and one doesn't mind finding errata on the internet,
this might please a RPG board game fanatic.
There are two ways to play When Darkness Comes, as a
campaign game, where one player acts as the GM and the game is
handled as a dungeon crawl, or with scenarios, where the players
play against one another (or cooperatively, their choice). There
are a lot of rules in the rulebook, so I'll just go over some of the
more interesting ones. Characters can be chosen from six
regenerated individuals, or can be custom built according to rules
in the book. They have seven different attributes: speed dealing
with movement, attack used to fight monsters and do other feats of
strength, dexterity/initiative used to open locked doors, see who
strikes first in combat, intelligence used to search for items,
persuasion for talking to others, medical for healing oneself,
and defense/health for defending oneself in battle and how many
hit points a character will have. Character's stats can be improved
from game to game. Each character also has a variety of skills that
help them fight, threaten others, etc.
The game takes place on a variable tile system, which uses
large tiles that have a grid of thirty-six squares on them. Each
tile shows a building in a town, and the streets surrounding it.
These tiles can be connected to each other to form a town that fits
pretty much every scenario in the book. Each tile has a number of
spaces that are marked with a "?", on which random discs are
placed. These disc range from horrifying monsters, to items that
help the player's character, to guards, to security cameras, to
people who will help the player (if coerced). Players find out what
these discs are by moving onto them, or using intelligence, etc.
On a turn, players can move, using dice and their movement
points. One red die must always be used when moving if a "1" is
rolled, the player must then roll on the "Oh, Crap" table leading
to all kinds of horrible things, however if a "6" is rolled, the
player gets to roll on the "Woohoo" table, giving them benefits.
After moving, the player can do a variety of things (fight, break
into buildings, etc.). Each time a player does one of these things,
they must make a skill check, and roll a certain amount of dice.
Each skill has a certain target level, which a player must roll
equal to or higher. The skill level is (from lowest to highest): a
six high, one pair, three straight, three of a kind, four straight,
four of a kind, five straight, and five of a kind. Each time one of
these skill checks is successfully accomplished, the player earns
victory points (which can be spent to reroll dice, or are sometimes
the goal of a mission). Players can help each other, or hinder one
another. It's their choice, but most scenarios can only be won by
one person. Each scenario starts with some specific rules and
guidelines, but much of it is still random. The goal is outlined,
and the first person to reach that goal is the winner!
The Game Master Rules use the same basic system, except that
a GM runs the game, instead of it being randomly generated. A book
provided with the game gives the beginning of a campaign, but
players are free to generate any scenario they want.
Some comments on the game
1.) Components: One thing that is very striking about this game
is how much you get in such a small box! There are fifteen of the
large interchangeable city tiles, which are good quality, and have
nice artwork on them, as if the players are looking down inside the
buildings that their characters are traversing. There are seventy
disks included with the game, and they are fairly easy to tell
apart, even though a lot of information is included on each one.
There are six regenerated character cards, which are fairly thin,
but I doubt that they'd see much play anyway. Six pewter figures
are included with the game, which is bad for non-painters such as
myself but a treat for those who like to paint. Ten dice are
included with the game (are you listening, Steve Jackson?), as well
as 32 character sheets for building your own characters. A
rulebook, and a fairly thick sourcebook of scenarios and campaigns
are all included. Everything fits pretty tightly into a small,
sturdy box, and everything is covered with descriptive, dark artwork.
2.) Rules: Here the praises aren't so many. I will grant that
there are a lot of rules in a game like this. But some things were
not clear, and indeed the game did not provide a step-by-step turn
example, something that was sorely lacking. One thing I did not
understand from the rules, for example, was what a "6 high" meant.
Maybe others familiar with the system would understand, but I had to
search the internet until I found this answer and several others.
Once I knew the game, I was able to easily teach it to others, but
the skill check system, while unique and excellent, takes a bit to
get used to. And I still think that you shouldn't have to check the
internet to figure out how to play the game.
3.) Sourcebook: When Darkness Comes is obviously modeling
itself after RPGs, and therefore the sourcebook is fairly detailed,
with stories, drawings, and a lot of information. I found it very
useful when playing the game, but I wouldn't have minded if they had
combined the sourcebook and rulebook.
4.) Expansions: There are at least four expansions for the game
on the market currently. The praise for these, while coming from
fans of the game, is high, and they say that the expansions make the
game a lot better. I haven't played any of these expansions, but if
you are the type of person who wants to have EVERYTHING from a game,
realize that you'll be buying a lot, and will have a lot of material
to choose from.
5.) Game, or GM?: We enjoyed the game, but it felt a little
too random to us. Also, many of the skills used in the basic game
translate to the same thing. For example, the skills Threaten,
Bargain, Bribe, Beg, Bluff, Flirt, and Leadership are all almost
identical in their benefits. In a GM run game, the game master can
change them and make some of them better in certain situations. In
the regular game, a bit of the flavor is lost. I prefer the GM
game, because it feels like the whole system runs a little better
6.) Theme: The theme is very, very dark. Not as dark as other
RPGs I have heard about, but it certainly doesn't have much of a
lighthearted feel to it, like Zombies! did. Some people revel in
dark themes such as this. I prefer lighter, fantasy or space-themed
games like Space Hulk or Heroquest.
7.) Fun Factor: The skill system adds a lot of fun to the
game. Also, in the regular game, the uncertainty when flipping over
a disk adds a lot of tension and fun. Combat is very difficult, so
when a monster is killed, players get a lot of satisfaction, and the
whole experience is quite enjoyable.
I will recommend this game, but only if you are an RPG fan,
especially those of the horror genre. I find RPGs fun, and really
enjoyed the system included in this game. And, the value of what
you get in the box is incredible, as the components are worth the
price alone. Alas, if only the rules were better written, and the
theme a little lighter, this game could become a classic. As it
stands now, the game will become a classic, but only with a select
group, and I don't think it will be pulled out at my gaming night
mostly because the theme is too dark.