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Ancient Terrible Things: An Overview of My Encounter

For awhile, we were definitely up the creek without a paddle...want to test your luck as well? (All photos of Pleasant Company Games product were taken and edited by KristaG unless otherwise stated)

For awhile, we were definitely up the creek without a paddle…want to test your luck as well?
(All photos of Pleasant Company Games product were taken and edited by KristaG unless otherwise stated)

I happened across this game at a swap meet at my local game store a few weeks ago. I must admit, I am usually not big on the Lovecraftian horror theme when it comes to gaming (I feel it is a bit overdone at this point, though I do own a few and love the genre otherwise), but the artwork drew me in like a moth to a flame. At the same time, the theme is much more subtle in Ancient Terrible Things than in many other similarly themed games. Due to all of these things, Ancient Terrible Things hit the table the very same day as I picked it up!

Originally a Kickstarter, Pleasant Company Games released the first edition of Ancient Terrible Things in 2014. The 2-4 player boardgame comes with a game board, d6s of four different colors (green Focus dice, yellow Luck dice, red Panic dice, and blue Feat dice), Character cards/reference cards, specified tokens (Courage, Treasure, Feat, Focus, Modifier, Terrible Thing, Map, and Battered Journal), cards,

The Heiress, while not one of my favorite characters to play, is one of my characters as far as artwork goes.

The Heiress, while not one of my favorite characters to play, is one of my characters as far as artwork goes.

Character pawns, and a rulebook. All of these components were surprisingly amazing quality (some Kickstarted games are hit or miss even once they’ve hit mass-marketed production) and seem to be made to last. I adore the Character pawns, and as I’ve stated before, the artwork really drew me in. I love, love, love the gritty, highly stylized, almost graphic novel worthy feel of all of the art involved in this game.

Setting up the game isn’t as time consuming as I originally thought it would be. First one creates the various decks (the Ominous Encounters deck, Swag deck, and Feat deck) as outlined in the rulebook and then places them in their assigned spaces on the game board. Once this is accomplished, one card is then dealt from the Ominous Encounters deck to to each of the six Fateful Locations starting with the lowest numbered Location (the Sinister Chateau) and up through to the highest (the Yawning Chasm). Each of these newly placed cards has an icon located near the bottom left of the card that denotes the Encounter Type. These icons coincide with the four different resource tokens: Horror with Courage; Pitfall with Focus; Artifact with Treasure; and Villain with Feat. These Encounter Types determine which resource token is placed on each Fateful Location. To finish setting up the board, the resource tokens are places in their respective Fateful Location; the Achievement cards are placed in easy, visible reach of each player; the Focus dice (green d6s) are placed in the middle of the board; the Trading Post is dealt the top three cards from the Swag deck; and the Expedition Track is loaded as detailed in the rulebook.

Set up sounds complicated, but once you can visualize it, it is actually much easier to understand.

Set up sounds complicated, but once you can visualize it, it is actually much easier to understand.

As many of my readers may have noticed, my usual game group as of late has dwindled a bit and currently only consists of myself, my Player 2 and the occasional inclusion of our Player 3. This being the case, I am really glad to see how many of the games we love are able to scale down or up as needed. Ancient Terrible Things happens to be one of them and, thus far, it scales beautifully and without adding “ghost players” or random gimmicks in order to stay balanced. Before beginning to play, one player must be chosen to pick their character first. However, this doesn’t mean that person is necessarily going to be the first player! This, honestly, was slightly surprising during our first game, but also made it much more fun. This is determined either by a dice roll or by deciding who amongst the group has “most recently faced arcane horrors in far flung places.” Starting with the first player, each player takes a Character mat and the related character token. If the Captain card is chosen, that player gets the Map tile. It not, the last player to choose a character gets a the Map tile. (Note: The Map tile designates who is going first for the round.) Each Character mat includes a quick reference guide, a place to store stacks of tokens, a picture of the character and their name (The Prospector, The Captain, The Journalist, and The Heiress), and which starting token they receive in addition to their initial set of resources. Players then place their pawns on the River Boat and choose either an easy or difficult scenario on the scenario card.

Each player places their pawn on the River Boat for the beginning of each round while the board is being refreshed.

Each player places their pawn on the River Boat for the beginning of each round while the board is being refreshed.

Each turn consists of seven phases: the Riverboat phase, Explore phase, Desperation phase, Encounter phase, Terrible Thing phase, Trading phase, and Refresh phase. Now, I must admit that this looks rather daunting on paper, but several of these phases are actually entirely optional or only take place during certain circumstances – such as the Riverboat phase. A player’s turn actually goes by fairly quickly once they get the hang of it.

As previously stated, the first phase is the Riverboat phase, which only happens when the board needs to be refreshed (filled with new Ominous Encounter cards and tokens). Next comes the Explore phase. Exploring is simple, though multi-parted. A player moves their pawn to any Fated Location (full or empty) of their choice, collects the resource token if there is one, and then chooses to take – or not to take – the location specific Location Action. The Desperation phase is another one of the optional phases and is, for the most part, exactly what it sounds like. Players may choose to spend their accumulated Courage tokens to overcome the encounter through a “Desperate Act” instead of actually dealing with the demands of the card itself. I find that the Desperation phase has both positives and negatives to it. On the one hand, a player gets to automatically add the card to their score pile, but they miss out on earning potential other perks that come from dealing with the encounter otherwise. Personally, I tend to skip it as I like reaping in the side benefits from my encounters as well as all of the dice rolling fun!

An example of an Encounter being overcome. It's not as easy as it looks sometimes...

An example of an Encounter being overcome. It’s not as easy as it looks sometimes…

If an act of desperation is not performed, the character and player must encounter whatever being it is that they have come across while on their travels. To do this, it involves rolling dice and hoping to match or exceed the needs explained on the card. Some of these are easy (such as rolling a pair of matching dice of 3’s or higher) and some are ridiculously complicated (five of a kind or a straight starting at 3, for example). However, there are buffs and such to help increase your odds of overcoming Encounters as you play the game (including switching out the green Focus dice for those of a different type or lowering the needs of the Encounter by 1) and each player gets up to two re-rolls to try and get the correct combinations. Once settled on a final dice pool, the Encounter will either be won or lost and all left over dice can be spent on collecting resources by matching combinations on the Scenario card. Should a player win the Encounter, the card is placed in their score pile and then move on to the Trading Phase. If they don’t beat the Encounter, however, they must enter the Terrible Thing phase. Terrible Thing tokens will count against you at the end of the game, so losing your encounters can become a bad thing very quickly. During this phase, the player collects the bottom most token off of the Terrible Thing track before moving on to the Trading phase.

After finishing their encounter, each player eventually makes their way down to the Trading Post where they have the option to buy Swag with their hard earned gold. These Swag cards can be anything from dice buffs to ways to reduce the number of Terrible Thing tokens a player has at the end of the game and I highly recommend shopping at the Trading Post as much as possible. The final phase is the Refresh phase. During this phase, players refill their hand by drawing Feat cards from the Feat deck until they have three cards in their hand and then they un-exhaust any used Swag cards in order to prepare them for the next turn. Play moves to the next player and the rounds continue until either the Ominous Encounters deck empties itself or the last Terrible Thing token is removed from the track. Once either of these two conditions are met, the game ends and The Unspeakable Event has occurred.

Coins can be used to purchase Swag cards, which tend to offer a myriad of buffs for the player that owns them!

Coins can be used to purchase Swag cards from the trading post, which tend to offer a myriad of buffs for the player that owns them!

The Lost Charter Expansion! New Encounters, Characters, and mechanics! (Image from Amazon.com)

The Lost Charter Expansion! New Encounters, Characters, and mechanics!
(Image from Amazon.com)

Ancient Terrible Things is a game that has a friend of mine going, “Oh! I liked that one!” every time I bring it up in conversation. It is one that we can’t stop raving about and, as I later discovered, it even has an expansion already! Pleasant Company Games released Ancient Terrible Things: The Lost Charter just last year in 2015. In the expansion are 54 new cards including more Swag, Achievements, Ominous Encounters, and Feat cards as well as cards that introduce new mechanics like Character Obsessions, and travel ready locations. There is also a new dice type and new rules to include a fifth player (with an all new character) or to play solo. While I have yet to play with The Lost Charter, it is definitely on my list of “games I may buy myself for my birthday this year” as it is one that I honestly hunger for and have a great interest in.

All in all, I feel that if you come across Ancient Terrible Things in your local game store, somewhere online such as Amazon.com, or even at a yard sale, swap meet, or thrift store, do not hesitate to pick it up! This is a great game for horror game enthusiasts as well as those like myself who tend to be more reluctant to dive in to games with such themes. Don’t like this particular theme at all? Pleasant Company Games recently completed their Kickstarter for Snowblind: Race for the Pole which is a game with very similar press your luck mechanics yet a very different theme. It is one that I, also, will be keeping an eye out for at my brick and mortar stores in the next few months. Ancient Terrible Things is easy to pick up once you wade through the rulebook and see it in action instead of just reading it and though it claims to take an hour to play, it really depends on how many players you have or how quickly they can make their decisions during their turn. We have had several shorter games and several longer games (though I must admit, I rarely noticed when the game ran long as I was enjoying myself far too much). I feel that this game may have been one of the best purchases I’ve ever made and is one of the few times where I can say choosing a game based on its cover and artwork has been a most excellent decision!

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