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The Shining Creates An Impression - Review

Hot
MB Updated April 18, 2020
 
5.0
 
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The Shining Creates An Impression - Review

Game Information

Game Name
Publisher
Players
3 - 5
There Will Be Games

 An impressionistic, sure to be divisive design from Prospero Hall.

Hobby gamers, you probably aren’t going to like Prospero Hall’s take on the classic Stanley Kubrick film, The Shining. It’s too simplistic, too minimal, and it’s not anything like other popular horror board games at all.  There really isn’t that much to it in terms of rules – it almost feels like a jumped-up version of some of those really stripped down Japanese games that were popular a few years ago. Nobody gets to be Jack Torrance, and it doesn’t retell the story of the ill-fated caretaker and his family.

But what Prospero Hall has done is really something unique. Rather than go the Jaws route and structure the game’s narrative around the film or take the Villainous pathway and practically soak the game in loving detail, what they’ve aimed for is almost impressionistic, which is wholly appropriate given the more internalized, interior horror of the film. It’s a game about how The Shining feels more than about The Shining itself.

This is evident in the production, which is as expected tasteful, highly stylized, and thoughtful. The box is covered with the iconic Saul Bass logo and the David Hicks carpet pattern seen throughout the film. As you open the box, you are greeted with a rulebook that looks like one of Jack’s numbingly repetitive missives. The folded board is backed with a lovely painting of the Overlook hotel. The first player token is a plastic room key tag, of course labeled for room 237. The atmosphere creeps in before you even play the game.

There are two ways to go about playing. One is a straight co-op game with the players, representing caretakers signed on to manage the Overlook apparently AFTER the events of the film. The goal is to survive 4 rounds while being psychically buffeted by the hotel’s malevolent, unseen forces. There is a “hidden traitor” mode as well, wherein one player is working at cross purposes against the players on behalf of said malevolent, unseen forces.

Each round starts off with the players dealt two cards. These are kept face-down, and they have a value range printed on the back. You don’t know what the card’s actual value is- just an idea of how high or low it could be. There’s an event card every round – some of these are wildly disorienting at first glance. You don’t expect a card covered in text to have the same direction repeated over and over again on it, but there’s that atmosphere, that Shining feeling, again. If two of the same color are drawn back to back, it ends the round giving an uncertain meter to how the game proceeds. Players move around the rooms of the hotel to gather finite Willpower tokens, which may just be numerical or they may be weapons. Whiskey is a multiplier. Do you dare risk the elevator, which requires a die roll to see if you take a hit?

When the round ends, the cards are flipped over to reveal the shocking, horrifying visions that you have seen in the hotel. I love this moment. No, you aren’t actually going to be shocked or horrified, but the process again speaks to a strong thematic sense of fear, madness, and uncertainty. I also love that the images are a combination of the visions of the past that the Torrance family witness as well as things that the Torrance family undergoes in the film. This has the neat effect of making their story part of the hotel’s larger history that you, a third party, are encountering.

If your Willpower total equals or exceeds the amount on the cards, you are stable. But if you fall below, you immediately move to and attack one of your fellow players. If you picked up Willpower tokens with weapons, they make you more dangerous as whatever tokens you have make the attack die faces with weapons deal damage. I think this is a brilliant touch- getting the high-value weapons makes you a risk. But if you move to the Hedge Maze, you might just weather the madness alone in the cold as you can’t move back into the hotel from there during this phase. If just one player loses three health, it’s game over.

With a Corrupted player in the mix, suspicion will become rife as players question why a player has moved to a specific room and how they have used that room’s function. Are they burying the better Willpower tokens? Are they wasting them because the supply is limited? Are they lying about the event card they got to preview? Only one accusation can be made per game, so you’ve got to make it count. I love that the Corrupt player can be grievously wounded and still stalk around the hotel.

This is not a game of heavy decisions or multi-faceted gameplay with interlocking mechanisms. It is not  a game where the story is told in flavor text and card titles. The intent is to generate an experience that creates almost an interpretation of The Shining, cast in impressionistic details. It boils down the conflict of the narrative to a person-versus-self concept, and embeds that in the simple mechanisms of drawing tokens against an uncertain timer to beat an unknown number. Did I get enough tokens or am I going to lose it when I see the old lady in the tub or the dude in the bear suit in room 237? Am I the threat or is it my friend sitting next to me? You become part of the nightmare of the Overlook Hotel, just as Jack Torrance does.

I knew right away that this would be Prospero Hall’s most divisive game to date, and so far the comments I’ve seen online are bearing this out. I think the design is totally solid, and I appreciate the impressionistic rather than baroque style with which it approaches the subject matter. But I also get that some folks are going to bounce right off the “too easy” gameplay and they are also likely to find the game wanting for specific detail. And, perhaps, some of these detractors will read this very review and feel like I am excusing the lean design.

But here’s the deal. I don't think this game is as immediately arresting as Jaws or as likely to be as frequently played as Villainous. But I am much more impressed with a game that can create an atmosphere and a sense of setting with less than I am with a game that throws the kitchen sink at it. This could have been a Mansions of Madness or Betrayal at the House on the Hill kind of exercise with tons of cards, tons of tokens, miniatures of all the characters, and so on. But it also doesn't need any of that to create its own unique take on The Shining. I think it’s just a tremendous idea to cast the players as “new” caretakers, feeding into and witnessing the Overlook Hotel’s legacy of tragedy – which expresses the internal themes of the film beyond the scope that most board games reach for. That’s a much more compelling, if outcome than a game that simply applies setting to mechanisms and calls it a day.


Editor reviews

1 reviews

Rating 
 
5.0
The Shining
A chilling, lean semi-sequel to the Kubrick classic that may not appease hobby gamers.
MB
Top 10 Reviewer 69 reviews
Michael Barnes (He/Him)
Senior Board Game Reviews Editor

Sometime in the early 1980s, MichaelBarnes’ parents thought it would be a good idea to buy him a board game to keep him busy with some friends during one of those high-pressure, “free” timeshare vacations. It turned out to be a terrible idea, because the game was TSR’s Dungeon! - and the rest, as they say, is history. Michael has been involved with writing professionally about games since 2002, when he busked for store credit writing for Boulder Games’ newsletter. He has written for a number of international hobby gaming periodicals and popular Web sites. From 2004-2008, he was the co-owner of Atlanta Game Factory, a brick-and-mortar retail store. He is currently the co-founder of FortressAT.com and Nohighscores.com as well as the Editor-in-Chief of Miniature Market’s Review Corner feature. He is married with two childen and when he’s not playing some kind of game he enjoys stockpiling trivial information about music, comics and film.

Articles by Michael

Michael Barnes
Senior Board Game Reviews Editor

Articles by Michael

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Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #308314 19 Mar 2020 13:54
There was a fan-made board game about The Shining made years ago, and Stephen King apparently liked it. It was available as a free PnP game, but it looked to me like a thematic mismatch focused on gathering weapons and fighting topiary animals. This new game looks better, but I think I would rather try before I buy.
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #308317 19 Mar 2020 14:36
Before someone posts some tired wishy-washy “I already have ________, so I don’t need this” bullshit that, by the way, you could have just as easily NOT posted, I will say that I would love to give this game a go. I don’t have it (yet) and it’s unlikely I’d get to play it anytime soon, but it’s a light waiting at the end of the tunnel for me.
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #308319 19 Mar 2020 14:42
Hrm. So, every opinion I've seen on this game before this, including on TWBG by Frohike, has been somewhere between indifferently and resoundingly negative. I get the "impressionistic" approach, even if it is, as you say, a complete departure from everything else Prospero Hall has done to date. But I'm wondering if this isn't an indication of "We had the license, but we couldn't make a decent game out of it, so here's the stripped-down version. Contract completed!"

You mention that the immersive quality of both Jaws and Villainous ("lovingly detailed") are kind of the hallmark of PH. You could make the same argument for Funkoverse and Horrified, given the high artistic quality of the boards and the attention to detail for the dozens of powers/monsters so far revealed. Their overriding philosophy seems to be that attention to detail, such that when you play the Evil Queen in Villainous, you're immersed in the world of Snow White and it feels like a brilliant translation of character and film. The Shining doesn't sound like that; either from Kubrick's more external, dynamic perspective or King's internal, the-horror-of-knowin'-stuff perspective.

I contrast this with something like Wavelength. The latter has become a hit, not just among "gamerz" but also the norms, not for its relatively simple game play, but for the experience that it provides for group interaction (a HUGE factor in any kind of board game experience, IMO.) Is someone going to come out of a play of The Shining feeling like they just played a round of bridge (take the risk of bidding for x number of tricks, etc.) or like they experienced the weirdness of Room 237 or Danny's horror at seeing inside the mind(s) of the hotel and his father? I mean, bridge can be exciting, if you enjoy it. But it's not The Shining, which depends on the atmospherics (stranded up in the mountains in a seemingly haunted hotel with an unstable father and knowing how all of this is going to go down but not being able to do anything about it) to make the story work. Is there THAT much tension in game play to engender the kind of visceral dread that both characters in the story and readers/viewers get with book/film?

I think PH didn't achieve what they wanted with Jaws and my suspicions are that they have the same problem here unless you're part of a very narrow target audience that likes number-crunching and vaguely push-your-luck games. From everything I've read, it sounds like their usual stylistic touches are present (short game is 4 month stay, long game is 5 month stay, etc.) but if anything deserves a "baroque" approach, one could argue that Stephen King's novels do, no?
Frohike's Avatar
Frohike replied the topic: #308323 19 Mar 2020 15:46
I don't think this design was even up to the task of conveying the atmosphere of the film or book beyond a couple of conceits: the "all work and no play" shtick with game text (on the manual and the event cards), and the artwork (though the board itself is too abstracted to really capitalize on this). With a subject like The Shining, there needs to be a little more for players to latch onto, though maybe not your average Target shopper who'll bring this home and throw it in the closet with their copy of CaH. I think it was missing the two-phased approach that PH has used in games like Jaws, and each player should really have their own identity/character/ability beyond "carekeeper" or "corrupted." This design just feels like a missed opportunity to me. One more development pass to add just a little something extra could have capitalized on the atmosphere that it seemingly only banked on with the art. The misconceptions of The Shining as a corruption/illness to counter with Willpower, along with bourbon being the uber-willpower token ("hah, liquid courage, get it?" ... ) also indicate that not much care was given to either the Stephen King or Stanley Kubrick source material.

It's "impressionistic" in all the wrong, phoned in, mass market ways. I don't dig it.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #308341 19 Mar 2020 18:47
Ah, see- divisive! But that's GOOD!

I don't agree at all, I think this game was written up by folks that wanted to do something other than the usual, expected thing because the license deserves something beyond running from an automated Jack Torrance miniature across a map of the hotel.

The implication isn't that the Shining is the corruption. The implication is that ALL of the caretaker players have the Shining - hence the visions they all receive. The corruption comes from the hotel itself and its history. As it should be.

The Whiskey is an important element of the film. Jack's alcoholism, his frequent visits to Lloyd...and it represents drinking the stress of being bombarded with these awful images away. I don't think it's as facile as "liquid courage".

I think it's totally up to the challenge of representing the -feeling- of the film and its themes...but it is true that it does so, like I said, in a rather impressionistic way. Look at the box cover- the Hicks carpet blurs out in a very, shall we say, Impressionist style, doesn't it?

I feel like in some ways this is their most experimental design...the volleyball in Top Gun was pretty out there, but this...I think they went in a different direction than what was expected, and that direction is maybe not as immediately arresting or engaging to most game players.

I -really- wonder what this crew would do with A Clockwork Orange.
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #308342 19 Mar 2020 18:59

Michael Barnes wrote: I -really- wonder what this crew would do with A Clockwork Orange.


First player token is clearly a giant penis sculpture
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #308344 19 Mar 2020 19:02
I was thinking something along the lines of that horrifying Shut Ya Mouth game but with eye clamps instead of mouth clamps..
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #308348 19 Mar 2020 19:54
When challenging for first player, you have to ask: "'New way'? What's this about a 'new way'?"
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #308355 19 Mar 2020 21:48

Michael Barnes wrote: The Whiskey is an important element of the film. Jack's alcoholism, his frequent visits to Lloyd...and it represents drinking the stress of being bombarded with these awful images away. I don't think it's as facile as "liquid courage".


Interesting point. It is possibly the dividing point between King's book and Kubrick's movie. King clearly wanted the emphasis to be on the haunted hotel, but showed some sympathy for Jack, his proxy in the story. It's about the horror of being an alcoholic. In his introduction to Dr. Sleep, King noted, “The man who wrote Doctor Sleep is very different from the well-meaning alcoholic who wrote The Shining.”

By contrast, Kubrick uses The Shining to look at alcoholism from a detached, clinical distance. He plays up Wendy's fear of Jack long before the hotel gets to him, and frowns mightily on Jack's bullshit excuses. Hmm. I just had a disturbing thought... there are possibly going to be some similar dynamics playing out in many homes in the coming months, with dysfunctional families spending an unusual amount of time together due to coronavirus.
drewcula's Avatar
drewcula replied the topic: #308433 22 Mar 2020 10:35
So... When will MB be selling his copy?
Frohike's Avatar
Frohike replied the topic: #308458 22 Mar 2020 22:15
It'll be on clearance soon enough.
drewcula's Avatar
drewcula replied the topic: #309221 13 Apr 2020 18:22
I bought my copy at Target before shit hit the fan.
After some online promotions, and an in-store pick up - I paid $18.
Sitting on my shelf for the past three weeks, my cabin fever wife and I pulled it down last night. I had a starting memory smack me:

3-5 players.

So back on the shelf it went. We played Jaws instead, and it was epic. The Orca had two damaged pieces afloat, and all three crew were in the water and close to death. With one hit point left, Quint dealt the machete death blow.