SAFe 2017: Christopher Brown Welcomes Me to Slaughterville

My second day at Save Against Fear (SAFe) was one where I was beginning to feel the pressure of wanting to experience everything. The kind of giddy glee that makes you wish you could split up into multiple copies or use some level of time-travel to attend other tables in tandem with yourself.

I had a chance to play an early version of Project Biomodus with the creator, which looks and plays like Shadowrun, Fallout, and Mad Max raised a child together and it got into heavy metal There was a local event called “Character Sheet: An Exercise in Utter Chaos,” which was an RPG session where everyone got a character sheet created by a random word generator run by a Game Master with a stack of RPG modules and an absolute dedication to the insanity about to unfold. I played a six-foot tall twerking raccoon aligned as “True Stupid” who could summon segways. It began with the defeat of a dragon made of Shrinkydinks and ended with the party bikini-waxing a sigil of doom off a lawn, then flying off into space in the Winnebago from Spaceballs. It was fundamentally silly, and I’ve never laughed so hard at a gaming table in years.

I discovered another booth in between my antics, one that was promoting the board game Welcome to Slaughterville. Since October is the season of indulging the horror genre, I got a look at the demo table and spent some time talking to its creator, Christopher Brown.

Regular set up for Welcome to Slaughterville

Evil For All Seasons

The game was successfully crowdfunded via Kickstarter back in 2015 and on the surface appears to be a standard horror-themed board game with the players working together to face challenges and monsters, with exploration or encounters represented by revealing cards and acting out the events written on them or rolling dice to resolve scuffs with said monsters.

You choose characters based on horror or urban fantasy stereotypes: the Nerd, the Jock, the Hottie, the Monster Hunter, etc. Each of them have various stats which determine how many dice are rolled to resolve certain encounters like Nerve, Perception, and Combat. Each turn involves moving, exploring a location and handling an encounter which can yield rewards like stat-boosting weapons and allies. Essentially a horror-RPG module in a box.

Games like A Touch of Evil and Elder Sign have done this before, using the themes of twentieth-century Gothic Horror and Lovecraftian Cosmic Horror to make them stand out, but what makes Welcome to Slaughterville particularly amazing is its modular nature. In addition to characters to choose from and locations to explore, the main threat of the game, the Villain, is chosen as well. Each Villain in the game adheres to certain horror story cliches. The Slasher is an ersatz Jason Voorhees or Michael Meyers, The Serial Killer is a ringer for John Doe from Se7en, The Redneck Cannibals are a combo of Leatherface’s family and the mutants from The Hills Have Eyes, and so on.

Each Villain having their own special abilities, a dedicated deck of cards, and unique win conditions. The Serial Killer wins once a set number of turns pass with cards and abilities revolving around running out the clock, the Zombie Horde wins if all players are turned or if any of the location decks run out of cards with abilities that are all about destroying cards, which limits the players’ resources.

As long as you read the basic rules (the manual is only about eight pages total including visual aids), Welcome to Slaughterville is a pulpy horror game for all occasions. Want to survive the zombie horde? Take out the Zombies, shuffle up the decks, and go for it. Want to feel like anyone at anytime can turn against you? Sounds like a job for the Body Snatcher . There are six different archetypes out of the box; chances are one of them will strike your fancy.

And why was all of this effort put into making a jack-of-all-trades scenario-driven horror game? According to Brown, it was simple: convenience. There are plenty of horror games out there that appeal to a certain theme or style, but having to keep individual copies of that game, then having to dust it off, set up the board and pieces, and re-familiarize yourself with the rules – which can easily vary from game to game – can be exhausting and usually not worth the effort. Alternatively, the rules in Welcome To Slaughterville are universal, with any and all changes made clear on the Villain of your choice, and after about two games the ins and outs will be second nature.

Pictured: Me (left) and creator Chris Brown (right)

Everchanging Shadows

In fact it is due to this modular style that Christopher Brown has been working on expansions and updates to the game. New villains like The Dream Demon, (clearly a homage to a certain razor-fingered maniac) and a social deduction-flavored encounter where one of the players at the table is possessed by the spirit of the Jack the Ripper have already been added; Brown was even actively beta testing other new Villains for the game. These included the iconic (and public domain) Dracula and Cult of Cthulhu. Sadly, I wasn’t involved in these playtests, but it’s a testament to the flexible core that has been established.

It must also be said that the game won some awards. The statewide Let’s Play PA, a local event where the latest in gaming tech and talent gather to show off their projects, hosted Welcome to Slaughterville in 2015. The game took home “Best Tabletop Game” and, much to Brown’s surprise, “Best in Expo,” beating out other major productions on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One at the time. The version of the game I took home at the end of SAFe wasn’t this original version but an early 2017 reprint, which included updated artwork by George Rubio and some rules changes. Even still, it shows how dedicated Brown is to supporting his vision, and considering the solid quality of the game pieces, cards, and game boards, there are plenty of fans willing to vote with their wallets for it.

Which does lead to small wrinkle to what should be a glowing recommendation for a board game (consider it a companion piece to another writer’s certain Fanatical Five): the availability of the game itself. While the initial 2015 and 2017 releases of Welcome to Slaughterville were successfully crowdfunded and shipped out to supporters, the only other distributor of copies outside of Rubio Games dropped the game all together from its store. Also, despite having quality and acclaim, you won’t exactly find this game on any Amazon lists anytime soon. Christopher Brown has been working diligently on rebranding with Laughing Rogue Games and working on a shop page to start making more copies of the game. It is still a work in progress, but it is projected to go live by the end of the year, possibly along with a long gestating sequel…

Welcome to Slaughterville is the board game embodiment of the adage, “A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.” I’ve played some board games before about investigators fighting against the supernatural, some more elaborate and complex than others, but few handle it as elegantly as what I’ve played here. There’s just enough that can be swapped out to keep each game interesting while still allowing for various themes. The creator is passionately supporting an experience that keeps playing around with the rules, and while I could easily nitpick the particulars like how the quality of the pieces themselves feels out of place with a box that seems ramshackle in comparison or how some games can drag a bit into over ninety minutes, there is a lot to love here if you enjoy the cheesy over-the-top elements of horror movies. There are arguably more in-depth games out there more dedicated to a specific theme of horror, but for something that’s easy to pick up and  enjoy, this is something to keep in the weekend board game rotation.

The minute that store goes live, or if you find a local brick and mortar store that may have some leftover stock, go for it. It’s a trip into the unknown you won’t regret.

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