I feel like now would be a good time to provide a more detailed overview of what The Stifling Dark is all about, since we’ll be hosting our first public playtests at Gen Con Online in less than 48 hours. As mentioned in our first blog post, The Stifling Dark is Ethan’s baby. The goal? You guessed it: create a horror board game that would bring true tension to the table. Hopefully you’re getting used to hearing that phrase, because it’s not going away any time soon.
The horror board game market isn’t quite as saturated as many of the other game genres, although chances are you’ve played at least one type of horror board game (haunts, anyone?). While hidden movement is by no means a new mechanic, a lot of games that utilize it turn into min-max games. You’re either constantly trying to calculate where the opponent is because you know exactly how far they can move, or you know where they were X number of turns ago.
So, what did we do to get around that? In short, we (1) gave our adversary a very large area in which they could start, (2) gave them variable movement with bonuses based on certain actions they take, and (3) do not have them reveal their position unless they attack or their opponents find them. The variability in movement alone is enough to solve the min-max problem, but we also threw in two additional nuggets to help decrease the chances of the adversary’s opponents being able to track our adversaries.
We’ve been through a number of different iterations of our first adversary, affectionately known as The Stalker. As the name implies, he builds power by watching his opponents from a distance, before eventually deciding to reveal himself to attack the Victims. The more he stalks, the more powerful he becomes. The clock is always ticking though, since the longer he waits to attack the closer his opponents will be to escaping!
The primary goal for the Victims is to escape the map through completing one of three different objectives. They can try to take the “easy” way out by fixing up a car and driving out or repairing and opening the gate, or they can face The Stalker head-on. Each objective requires them to find certain items and take a number of actions with those items before finally being able to escape.
One of our favorite mechanics comes into play when the Victims try to find The Stalker. Each Victim is equipped with a flashlight they can use during their turn, which will be represented with a transparent piece of plastic in the game. The flashlight has lines on it that indicate line of sight, so the Victim must maneuver the flashlight to its optimal position in order to see the largest number of spaces (or sometimes a much smaller number of spaces to cover a blind spot).
Flashlight usage is not always a guarantee, however! Certain actions that you take, like using an item or interacting with an objective, will prevent you from using your flashlight. This forces the Victims to choose between getting one step closer to escaping or attempting to reveal The Stalker, which stops him from stalking you and getting more powerful.
As you’ve probably inferred, line of sight also plays a big role in how The Stalker is played. If he has line of sight to a Victim on his turn, he may place a spine chill token on that Victim (and any other Victims he has line of sight to). This is the Victim’s warning that they are being watched. They then have one turn to break line of sight before becoming stalked and therefore increasing The Stalker’s power.
The Victims’ main two options once they get a spine chill are to try and work together to flashlight The Stalker or run away and try to break line of sight. They can break line of sight by simply sprinting away and hoping they get far enough, or they can run into a building and lock the door behind them. You always have to be mindful of windows though, since you can’t block those and The Stalker can regain line of sight through them on their turn.
Hopefully this provided a nice overview of how the game is played, although don’t hold us to this exact description since the game is still actively being developed. We’ll dive into specifics aspects of the game (such as flashlights) in more detail in future blog posts, so don’t forget to check back every once in a while! I’d love to keep writing about the game, but it’s time to go put in another playtest before Gen Con.
See you around!