A Bone-Chillingly Spooky Adventure.
I’ve had my eye on Vagrantsong for a while now, and even tried to score a review copy without success, but it was pretty pricey in NZ and only managed to get it when a secondhand copy came up for sale. I was attracted by the wonderfully different theme and art, but I’m happy to report the gameplay appears to do it justice.
Vagrantsong is basically a combat game set on a ghostly train occupied by a succession of spooky ‘haints’ (an alternative spelling of ‘haunt’). The whole style of the game is a bizarre blend of 1930s Disney cartoon, Haunted Mansion, southern Hoodoo and the Silver John stories of Manly Wade Wellman, and it really works. I’ve only played the first scenario so far but there was a moment in the descriptions that gave me a little creepy shudder.
You play vagrants who have hitched a ride on this cursed train. There’s an array of special actions and items (‘junk’, in this case), and you pay ‘coins’ to use them. The haints are activated with a token draw system, but what they do depends on one of two ‘moods’ that they’re in. In general gameplay is pretty straightforward, enlivened by event paragraphs and story moments, but instead of combat you’re trying to save the ghosts by returning to them their lost humanity, as the ghosts try to drain yours.
I’ve often said there aren’t enough ghost games (ones not aimed at kids anyway). Someone had a unique thematic idea here and it’s been carried it through beautifully. The artwork is perfect, bringing to mind the old ‘Steamboat Willy’ Disney cartoon; the use of printed acrylic standees is inspired; and the production is excellent (save for an insert which doesn’t accommodate the components properly, and a poorly written, unnecessarily confusing rulebook).
Hopefully the scenarios will sustain interest throughout, but I have high hopes as the reviews I’ve read have been very positive, and an expansion has been released recently. What I’m really hoping for are lots more of those chilly, creepy moments – that’s almost vanishingly rare in a boardgame, so I think it’s a great achievement to get one in my first game.