"West of Arkham, the hills rise wild, and there are valleys with deep woods that no axe has ever cut." That's the opening line to H.P. Lovecraft's classic story, "The Colour Out of Space." It's also the inspiration for the title to one of my favorite boardgames, The Hills Rise Wild. As you may have guessed, The Hills Rise Wild is yet another game inspired by the mythos tales of H.P. Lovecraft. However, instead of playing gentlemen adventurers, you are controlling factions of hillbilly cultists.
According to the designer notes by John Tynes, this game went from initial idea to publication in just six months (in 2000), which is blinding speed in the boardgame industry. It's even more impressive when you consider that Pagan Publishing didn't do boardgames, they published role-playing supplements for Call of Cthulhu. Oh, and a "quarterly" magazine called The Unspeakable Oath, which came out maybe twice a year. Even so, The Hills Rise Wild is a solid game with decent components, at least by 20th century standards.
The Hills Rise Wild is a miniatures skirmish game for 2-4 players, playable in about 45 minutes per player. There are modular map sections, and every character has unique stats. The miniatures are actually more like Cardboard Heroes, printed on glossy cardstock and designed to fold up into isosceles triangles depicting front and back views of each character on the long sides. Yes, that's kind of cheap compared to fancy plastic or metal miniatures, but the artwork is decent, and matches the humorous artwork on flat counters depicting unique corpses of each character. And the cardboard figures have key stats printed on them, for movement and defense.
Speaking of movement, The Hills Rise Wild includes a small tape measure. The attractive 9" square cardboard map tiles are all modular. To avoid cluttering them up with gridlines, players simply use the tape measure to measure their moves. A typical character has a movement rate of 5, which translates directly to 5" of movement on the table. Most players quickly adapt to the tape measure, though a few get very fussy about it and complain about the lack of properly marked squares or hexes. The standard board layout is a 4x4 grid of map tiles, yielding a 3' x 3' battleground.Combat is very straight-forward. Ranged attacks all have a specific range in inches, and most have limited ammo. Melee combat requires base-to-base contact between enemy figures. There are a few simple, common sense attack modifiers, for facing, partial cover, the offense bonus of the attacker and the defense bonus of the defender. Once you have calculated the net modifier, roll a 20-sided die. 12 or better hits, and a 20 lets you skip the normal damage roll and go to the Brutal Damage table. I love the Brutal Damage table, because every result has an amusing name, like I Give 'Em a Beating or Daddy's Home! Most brutal damage results also involve a high damage amount and possibly a permanent disadvantage for the target, like reduced movement speed. Normal damage results tend to be less exciting, but can still result in knockdowns, stunning or even a knockout blow. For you Space Hulk fans, there is an optional overwatch rule.
So far, none of this is particularly amazing for a miniatures game. Where THRW comes to life is the cards. Unlike most games, where cards are held in your hand until played, THRW cards start out face down on the map tiles. 12 random shack cards go on the shacks scattered about the map, and then 4 more random mansion cards go on the mansion near the center of the board. One of the cards in the mansion is the Necronomicon. You can win the game by taking the Necronomicon back to your home square and then summoning your deity. But you can't get into the mansion until the magic seal has been broken. One or maybe two of the shack cards will allow you to break that seal. The rest of the shack cards are mixture of traps, weird encounters and valuable items. My favorite is Ol Besse, a rusty old gatling gun that deals out serious damage until it jams.
Another great thing about THRW is the characters. There are four factions of cultists to play, including ghouls, deep one hybrids, the notorious Whateley clan, and some nasty druids. Each faction has a particularly powerful leader, plus five less powerful cultists. Some have guns and a few rounds of ammo. Others fight with melee weapons, like pitchforks, knives and claws. One "cultist" is an old hound dog, while another is a big retarded guy, and neither of those characters can use items or read the Necronomicon. Every character has a special ability that can be used just once per game, and a few have an additional ability that is always available. Some of these abilities are really fun, like the druid who can shoot around corners with his spell, or the stabbity guy who can attack everybody within 1".
THRW has a very dark sense of humor to it. There is a blurb on the box, in the style of '50s horror movie hype, "They said it was just a game, but the first rule was murder." A lot of the cards and brutal damage descriptions are titled with phonetic spelling to encourage a hillbillly pronunciation, like "thuh" instead of "the." And some of the encounters have the same flavor, like when you find some fresh vittles to snack on, or uncover the moonshine stash. As mentioned previously, you can win by summoning your deity with the Necronomicon, though the rules note that your deity destroys your cult right after killing all the other cults. Or you can just win by killing all of your enemies.
There was an expansion called The Reanimated, which would have included a fifth faction of Herbert West and some zombies, but it never got published. I know they made it, because I saw the full-color prototype at the Pagan Publishing booth at GenCon one year. When I asked about when it would come out, the Pagan folks said that they needed $17,000 to cover the print run. Seems like they could now spend a tiny fraction of that amount to convert their prototype into some pdf files and then sell it as a print'n'play download.
The Hills Rise Wild isn't perfect, though it is one of my favorites. The game plays best with a full set of four players, but the real threat of player elimination means that 3 hours might be too long for some. The factions are pretty balanced, except that the Marsh clan (deep one hybrids with webbed feet) are a little slower than the rest. And of course the four-player limit can be a problem for some groups. Even so, this is one of my top ten favorite boardgames.
Shellhead is a member of Fortress: Ameritrash.