• Game Review: Miskatonic School for Girls

    by  • June 13, 2012 • Reviews • 3 Comments

    Back when this Kickstarter was still running, I saw the board game and was mildly amused. Since I had some spare coin jangling in my pocket, I donated and waited patiently for my copy of Miskatonic School for Girls to show up in my mailbox. Upon arrival, I was super excited to run the game through its paces but had a bit of trouble finding the time to run it. Well, this week, I finally got a chance to give it a whirl.

    The Premise

    This board game is based on the idea that you are a group of students at a school trying to survive the insanity that your Chthulu cult teachers are trying to inflict upon you. It touts itself as a “Deck building game for two to four players age 12 and up” and was successfully funded on Kickstarter last fall.  Each player controls a “house” which is represented in a classroom with room for your deck that you build in the course of play and an insanity tracker. You build your card deck by buying students for yourself and buying teachers for your opponents. Other players try to send the worse (read: most dangerous) teachers to your classroom as you do the same to them. Win conditions are when you are the last player with any remaining sanity.

    The Box

    The game consists of four narrow, long boards which are handed to each player. The boards have clearly marked zones to put your cards on but are a little slippery. The cards are of good quality. Since I have the Kickstarter version of the game, I got a couple extra cards and some blank cards so I can build my own students, teachers and event cards. There are a lot of different kinds of cards and it’s quite intimidating at first. Four red glass counters are used to track your sanity, also listed helpfully on your board. Most cards have multiple copies so you will see them multiple times in play. This isn’t bad because it means that cards come up more than once and let multiple players have them in their decks.

    The rulebook is fairly thin because the basic game is pretty straightforward. However, my group found the rules confusingly written and not very well organized. An actual play example within the book would have helped out quite a lot. There were a few rules that we had to guess at, especially with certain card effects and timing, but there is a website with a guy helpfully explaining how everything works, including the rules we couldn’t find in the booklet. I still think it’s poor form to require a player to load up a video to figure out a rule, but at least it’s available. But once I knew the rules, I was able to teach a second group of people how to play and it ran pretty smoothly.

    Game play

    The game will always start out a bit slow, especially on the first few attempts at the game. The cards have a lot of information on them for something with so little writing but once you pass through a few rounds, they are much easier to understand. You have friendship, which buys other students, and nightmare, which buys teachers. We ended up calling the draw phase “the hallway” where you met your friends briefly before class and bumped into staff you were going to have to deal with that day. When you met teachers in the hallway, they came to your class and you’d have to draw more cards to represent your BFFs that came to class with you and will help you stay sane during your lesson. Cards can have effects in both the hallway and the classroom so you have to pay attention to when effects are available.

    For example, there are pre-class abilities but almost none of those showed up in our first playthrough. BFF abilities, which occur during the classroom phase were either rare or largely irrelevant to how we played the first game. Teacher effects were frequent and often nasty. They can have effects on either defeat or survival of a round, and it really makes a difference. On my third and fourth games, we saw both pre-class and BFF abilities quite frequently.

    Ideally, you want to get rid of all of your teachers by putting them in the decks of your opponents while putting more students in your own deck. You will always get a teacher in your deck, even if it’s only a substitute and you will always have friends to help you fight them. The longer the game, the more teachers you will have in your deck.

    Playing with four players was quite fun. We fumbled about for the first three to four rounds before we hit our speed and started gleefully driving each other crazy. We quickly learned that while you can usually only affect the player to your left, and if you are starting to go down, you can drag them down with you. Having lots of nightmare points makes you deadly to the next player in the line but also, usually, means you can’t defend yourself very well from all the teachers you probably have. So I went nova and dragged both players next to me down to my level. The player across from me was immune and won because she was sitting across from me. Having lots of friendship helps you survive longer and build up your deck. Cards that go into your locker are generally awesome so snapping them up can help your play quite a lot.

    Card effects can have very amusing effects on play. I had this one student that let me turn each teacher I bought into an aggressive teacher. This means that the teacher immediately attacked the next player’s classroom and was devastating more often than not. Another student lets you steal students that others have purchased that round.

    On the two player game, we got a card which put a count-down timer on play early on so the game was both fast and brutal. We didn’t get to build our decks nearly as much as with the four player game but we made ruthless decisions to kill the other before the countdown got us. I still lost, but it was closer than I had expected.

    My third game let me teach it to an 11 year old and she had lots of fun. I meant to let her win, but the random chance of some cards at the end game took her out but it was a close game. By the end of the fourth game, we were starting to follow the flow and depth of the game.

    Verdict?

    This game looked simple when we first started, especially because there wasn’t much action at the start. But it quickly became apparent that there is a lot of potential depth in the game. I think to get the most from this game you’d have to play it a number of times, just to see all the cards. Putting the nastier teachers into play can speed things up, but it’s a risky move. Once they’re in play, there’s always a chance they’ll come and get you next. But even without knowing that there’s a deeper game, the random chance and amusement of cackling with our madness made it much more fun.

    The rulebook was lacking, so I strongly recommend being a bit patient and go track down and watch the video. There’s additional information there that will also help you get a good pacing for the game. But don’t expect to be very good at the deck building for a while.

    It’s a good game, the art is nice and the play was fun. It’ll take a bit to get up to speed, but I think both novice and experienced players can get some mileage from this game. And also you get to be a girl who beats up cultists. Which is frankly awesome.

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    About

    I am a casual tabletop gamer and occasional larper who likes to hold forth on gaming in general and draws like a crazy monkey who was given coffee by accident.

    3 Responses to Game Review: Miskatonic School for Girls

    1. avatar
      Anna
      June 20, 2012 at 18:52

      This sounds like a good game for some friends of mine. Thank you for reviewing it!!

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    2. avatar
      TristanJTarwater
      June 22, 2012 at 19:21

      We acquired this game this year and enjoy playing it. It’s better played with other Lovecraft enthusiasts, we found, since some of the names and jokes are lost on those who think Lovecraft is some kind of sexy boat. I also found the game to be really well balanced, which made picking cards hard in a good way.

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    3. avatar
      sev
      June 26, 2012 at 19:40

      I passed by this game when I saw it on Kickstarter because in the sample art, the students were all white girls. Did any people of color end up in the final game?

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