Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Occult Chronicles

There's an absolutely wonderful preview of The Occult Chronicles over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun, and you should read it first: Death By Door And Other Humiliations.

Vic's other games have certain things in common. They're all carefully crafted and tightly woven, and the settings are extravagantly interesting. Seriously, has anyone ever put out consecutive games in settings as fantastic as a post-apocalyptic world, Hell, and the Old West? That's so great it doesn't even sound possible when I write it, even though I played all of them.

One other common element of Vic's previous games is that while the gameplay is highly evocative of story, much of that story is left to your imagination. The gameplay is so vivid that the story suggests itself easily, but it's not explicitly spelled out.

That's as good a point as any to begin discussing The Occult Chronicles, Vic's newest game. While much of the game has a familiar (and welcome) flavor, there is one substantial way in which this game is a fundamental departure, and that's in the sense of story. Instead of suggesting story, The Occult Chronicles draws it lavishly, with detailed, wonderfully written text descriptions of encounters and events.

Hmm. I need to back up.

The Occult Chronicles uses board and card game mechanics to tell the story of an investigator of the occult. You are that investigator. As you search through a spectacularly creepy mansion, you will meet various paranormal phenomenon.

This could go very, very badly for you.

You might get injured. You might go insane. In fact, the chances of one or the other happening are quite high, because this is a rogue-like, and it's difficult (in a good way). If you somehow manage to survive, you'll enter the dungeons below and battle an unspeakable evil.

On a side note, unspeakable evil is always far, far more frightening than speakable evil. Really, speakable evil is barely even worth mentioning.

Encounters are resolved with a Tarot-esque card deck, using a system of tricks that relies on both your ratings as an investigator and a substantial dose of luck. That luck, like everything else, must be survived when it turns against you.

It feels like I'm playing a Lovecraft short story each time. And this game does a wonderful, wonderful job with the slippery slope, which gives it a singular quality. Losing the game is usually not quick, or easy. Rather, it is a slow descent into madness or death.

Oh, yes. I like that quite a lot.

The game is in a "buy-in beta" phase right now, and some elements are still being tweaked (in particular, the encounter phase, with resolution by playing cards, is being tweaked), but it's entirely stable, and I haven't run across any bugs in several hours of playing.

Vic's games always occupy a unique place in the landscape, and it's clear that The Occult Chronicles will also occupy its own, unique, space. I highly recommend checking the game out if you're a fan of Lovecraft or Gothic horror or breathing oxygen.

One final note: I apologize for not including screenshots, but the game description page at the Cryptic Comet website is absolutely stuffed with them, so go have a look here. It includes an excellent game summary as well.

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