I think it would be hard for any gamer with kids, especially one who appreciates the Ameritrash style of gaming, to look at a game like Haunted Ruins and not think, where was this game when I was growing up?? I mean, just look at the thing... It's a 3D pop-up board of a haunted graveyard, with moving obstacles and passageways, and you're being chased around by a ghost and a zombie. Being a rabid Scooby Doo fan as a kid, this would have been something akin to a "Grail Game" for me.
I saw this at a Toys R Us when it first came out a couple years ago, along with its Egyptian pyramid/mummy themed counterpart, Treasure of the Lost Pyramid, and it took all of my willpower to not just buy them both right then and there. But they were both about $25-$30 and I couldn't really justify the purchase at the time. Well, fast forward to last week when I was bored and stopped into a Barnes & Noble in California... I had totally spaced the whole "Barnes & Noble game dumping sale" that happens every year around this time and so it was a pleasant surprise to see several copies of Haunted Ruins sitting there for 75% off. It was also kind of sad to see that, because really, this is a nice game and a great production that deserves to be in the homes of many kids who will surely love it. But suffice to say, at that price, it was immediately snatched up and purchased.
Of course, the cool board and theme aside, I had to wonder if the game was any good. That didn't matter to me in terms of making the purchase, though, because I knew that my girls (ages 7 and 5) would absolutely love to just play around with it, making up stories and dialogue while moving the characters and monsters around the board. And that's exactly what they eagerly did for a couple hours after I first showed it to them. But we played the actual game later on and it was quite fun. Short and sweet and with some actual decisions involved. And the next morning they asked to play it again... not just play around with it, which I know they'll do, regardless... but play the game.
Haunted Ruins is a race game where you have to be the first to get your two adventurers out of a haunted graveyard. You have a hand of two cards, and play one on each turn. Most cards involve movement for your adventurers, which allow you to move your adventurers a combined number of moves, usually 6 or 10. So, for example, if it was a 10 move card, you could move one adventurer 7 spaces and the other 3, or one 5 spaces and the other 5, or one 10 spaces. You get the idea... The 6 move cards also include the ability to move one or more obstacles. There are stairs that must be positioned to allow you to get through certain pathways, there are graves that block pathways, and there are bridges that connect pathways. The nice thing about how it works is that you can move the obstacles at any time, so you might move a number of spaces, move an obstacle, and then move the rest of your spaces, which is often crucial for getting onto the bridge or stairs and then getting to the other side. But it's a nice decision point as far as how you want to distribute your available moves, and how the timing of when you do something might help.
Cards depicted are from the Finnish edition, but they're pretty basic: Top left= switch positions with another adventurer; top right= move monster(s) 3 spaces; bottom left= move adventurer(s) 10 spaces; bottom right= move adventurer(s) 6 spaces and move 2 obstacles.
The other main type of cards in the deck are monster cards, which will allow you to move one or both of the monsters a certain number of spaces. When a monster meets up with an adventurer, that adventurer is sent back to the start. So that's a pretty big "take that" element, and when I read that in the rules I was certain that I'd be house-ruling that after playing it, thinking it would make the game tedious and too nasty for kids, but in reality it doesn't have that big of an effect. In our game, my 5 year-old and I played together (so I could help her with reading the cards) against my 7 year-old, and though we sent one of her characters back to the start with a monster, she still almost won, and the character that was sent back ended up being the one of hers that got out. The board doesn't have that many spaces between the entrance and the exit, so you can catch back up pretty quickly. And in theory at least, the monster cards should even out between players.
There is another type of card, with two examples in the deck, where a character can switch positions with any other character. This was also something I didn't like in theory, but realized later that it was probably necessary to include to give everyone a chance. Had my 7 year-old not played that at one point, it probably wouldn't have been as close of a game. It also encourages you to keep a more balanced approach to your two adventurers, knowing that another player might play a card like that on you.
I really liked that there were a few points in the game where as my 7 year-old was making her move, I kind of gave her the "are you sure you want to do that?" look. Sometimes she went ahead with her move and I had to show her afterward where she might have made a more effective move, and sometimes she figured out what I was getting at and made the change. But that is a great indication that there are actual important decisions to make in this game, and things to learn for kids playing it, as far as what moves would be more effective in certain situations.
(the board with a wood piece attached to keep it flat)
Problems with the board?
Some people have complained about the board not laying flat after you unfold it, and someone even made a wooden piece to attach to help with that (as in the picture above). I didn't find that to be a problem, though, as my board laid flat enough once I flexed it for a while... but one complaint I have is that the board spaces aren't always big enough, and the character stands aren't always easy to fit or keep balanced on them. It's not a huge deal, though, but it would have been nice if the spaces were a little bigger, or the character stands a little smaller, or whatever. Still, the coolness of being able to just pull out the board, unfold it, and it's all set up and ready to go, outweighs any minor annoyance at the size of the spaces.
When I play kids' games, it seems as though there are often rules that makes things tedious or wonky in some way, where I wonder if the publisher ever actually playtested the game with real kids. And though I thought the monster attack and switcheroo cards would need house-ruling, in actual gameplay I realized that they're probably fine as they are, with the understanding that sometimes they'll swing the game one way or the other. But one thing I didn't like is that when the monsters move, they are allowed to automatically move one obstacle. I found that disappointing, because a lot of times in the game you have cards that allow you to move obstacles, and sometimes you have no choice but to move obstacles that aren't really in the way of anything, just for the sake of moving them because the card allows you to. So I think it's too bad that you might make a strategic choice to move an obstacle to block a monster from your path, and then the monster can move through it, anyway. So what I'm house ruling is for that to only apply for the ghost (who can move through anything). The zombie stops at an obstacle, and can move it out of the way, but does not move any further. It's a small adjustment, but makes more sense, thematically, and also gives some distinction between the ghost and the zombie, making the ghost a little more dangerous.
The game comes with a nice comic-book style rulebook, which includes a little bio section for each of the adventurers depicted. Of course, when I see something like that, I have to think, well why don't they each have some kind of special ability? Or at least, each team could have its own ability. And certainly, that'll be something I'll try to implement with this. The abilities would have to be very simple and involve mild effects, but I think it could be nice to add a little more character and distinction. Also, you'll notice there are several different symbols on the game board and on the cards... Those only have any bearing on the initial setup, but I think there could be a way to give them some significance during the actual game.
All told, this was very much worth the $7 I payed, and in retrospect, I really should have been happy to pay $25-30 for it, considering how much other games cost these days and the kind of use I know this will get from my girls and from us playing it together. Yes, the Adventurers is a step up from this in terms of component quality and coolness, but this is still well worth having and probably better suited to younger gamers (4-7), and it plays really quickly in about 15-20 minutes, compared to 45+ for the Adventurers. And though I'm not sure how much different the Lost Pyramid game is (I believe there is a little bit of a deduction element to that one, a la Clue), I'll be sure to grab that if I see it anywhere.