Monday, June 10, 2024

Miseries of the Night turns Sandman into a spreadsheet

 Miseries of the Night is a post card Roll & Write game. I actually just printed it off as a PDF that I laminated. I’m not sure how well it would work as an actual postcard since gameplay requires you to erase stuff as you go along. Still, postcard defines the size of a game, not the actual practice.

The artwork and some of the terminology hints that you are fighting nightmares or dark creatures in your dreams. Very Neil Gaiman Sandman. In particular, your bonus actions being called lucidity really leans on that idea. The game doesn’t have enough fluff to come out and say it. Which I don’t view as a negative since space is extremely limited on a postcard. That that much theme comes through is a triumph.

The actual gameplay is far more abstract. You are guiding a pawn around a grid and defeating miseries which are represented randomly generated numbers. Since you are using a pawn, Myseries of the Night isn’t a pure roll and write. Again, no big deal. Purity tests are only for gatekeeping.

The grid is the 6 x 6 grid with die pips marking off the rows and column that we have all seen before. At the start of the game, you generate three miseries. Roll two dice for the location, and a third, preferably visually different, die for the strength of the misery. Your pawn starts off in any corner.

Each turn, you roll four dice, one of them being the visually different misery die. You use the misery die and two of the other dice to add or strengthen a misery on the grid. The fourth die is your movement. Land on a misery and you fight it, trying to roll equal or higher than its value. Defeated miseries become Xs, which you can’t move through.

The most interesting part of the game is all the ways that you can manipulate things. Overwhelming victories over miseries give you lucidity points, which you can spend for a number of advantages, including moving through  those pesky Xs. You can also sacrifice a health point, yes, you have health, to add a die in combat.

The game ends when you can’t move or you’ve run out of health. The number of Xs on the board is your score.

Okay, time to damn with faint praise.

The actual real problem that the game has is that there are some real rules ambiguity. Do you have to move exactly onto a misery? Does your move end when you move onto one? Can you fight multiple miseries on the same turn? All of that said, which interpretation you go with affects the tempo of the game more than the actual gameplay itself.

A meta issue I have with the game is that the actual experience of the game is very abstract, despite the engaging theme. Which doesn’t have to be a problem in an of itself. I mean, I like Wurfel Bingo and that’s a pure abstract. But I don’t think there’s enough tension without the support of a theme going on in Miseries of the Night.

You are basically trying to not get boxed in. You have enough special powers that the actual fighting isn’t going to be the determining factor. It’s making sure you can keep moving. Which isn’t bad but it’s not enough.

Even with the rules questions, Miseries of the Night holds together mechanically. And I do like how it gives you lots of choices. And I am downright impressed by how much theming they were able to do with so little. However, ultimately the gameplay doesn’t have any tension. Even as I tried out the different rule interpretations, I just didn’t get interested.

Miseries of the Night isn’t a bad game. I do find the postcard format an interesting way to explore minimalism. But there are a lot of Roll & Write games out there that I find more engaging.

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