Every three months Gatekeeper Games in North Fitzroy holds Gatecon, their popular mini-games convention. The Others: 7 Sins was the second game that Falk and I played at Gatecon VI after trying out Puppetland, which you can read more about here.
The Others: 7 Sins is the latest tactical miniatures games by CoolMiniOrNot, due to be released later in 2016 or early 2017. With the Kickstarter finished, backers have now received their core set for the game which features all-against-one asymmetrical play, lots of custom dice with pretty fists and shields and tentacles, and some of the most beautifully grotesque minis this side of an H.R. Giger-themed Play Doh competition. It’s heaps of fun to play, though being fairly heavy on the rules it’s hardly a gateway game – unless that gateway is multidimensional and is letting in all sorts of creeping horrors into our unsuspecting world.
In The Others one player commands the forces of one of the seven deadly sins – Pride, Envy, Wrath, Gluttony, Lust, Sloth and Greed – while up to 4 other players take on the roles of the heroes from the Federal Authority for the Interdiction of Transdimensional Horrors, or F.A.I.T.H. There’s a fair bit of religious imagery in the game, which makes me wonder if it’s a hit down at the local seminary.
Falk and I joined forces with Gabe and Sash to play the team of heroes from F.A.I.T.H., while Keith – who we’d just played Puppetland with – took the helm of the forces of Pride. It was Keith’s Kickstarter edition of the game we were using (one of the few in country at the time), and he’d already demo-ed it a few times earlier that day, winning every time as the Sins player. Looking back, the four of us in Team F.A.I.T.H. did not know what we were getting ourselves into … but were we scared starting out? Yessir, and with good reason.
The epic confrontation takes place in the town of Haven (see what I mean about religious themes?), represented by a modular board that can be laid out in any manner of different configurations. For the heroes to win they’ll need to complete a series of missions before the rather ominously-named Apocalypse track runs its course, or before they’re simply killed off by the Sins player, whatever happens first. To begin with the odds are heavily stacked in favour of the Sins player; they have more monsters, access to more parts of the board, a deck of Sin-specific cards that can be played strategically, and the option to place multiple traps across the board. They also have the distinct advantage of being able to anticipate the heroes’ next move by listening to the heroes’ invariably long and drawn-out strategizing arguments, which in our case also descended into fits of angst, complete with the wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth.
But the heroes are no pushovers themselves. If the F.A.I.T.H. players work together as a team, they stand a good fighting chance of defeating the forces of evil. Each player starts with a character that belongs to one of several broad classes, including Leaders, who can enhance the abilities of other players; Brawlers, who are good at melee; Snipers, who, er, snipe; and Fixers, whose ranks include supernaturally-endowed characters such as werewolves and vampires.
Combat is resolved through opposed dice rolls, modified by skills and other factors in the game. Damage is not numerical but instead comes down to the accumulated loss of abilities, which is recorded on a track at the bottom of each character card. Once all abilities are lost the character is dead, gone, finished. This is something the heroes had better get used to: The Others is a brutal game, and even if you end up victorious the heroes can reasonably expect to lose one or two of their teammates in a standard game.
Perhaps the most novel and interesting aspect of the game is the mechanic of Corruption. Located on the heroes’ character card directly above their abilities track is their Corruption track. There’s two ways players can accumulate Corruption – through damage sustained in combat with the minions of Sin, or voluntarily as a means to temporarily boost their abilities into the realm of superhuman powers. When players voluntarily choose to accept Corruption they move their counter one space further along the Corruption track, with the result that for that round only they can use any and all of the extra abilities on their abilities track that lie to the left of their Corruption counter. As their Corruption level goes higher, the extra power they can draw upon can be truly memorable.
However, there’s a cost to pay with Corruption. Of course there is! Once your Corruption track is completely full, any further Corruption you receive in combat automatically counts as physical damage – and you can’t use those extra abilities any more, either. Characters who use up their Corruption too quickly will rack up the damage very quickly, making their chances of survival much, much lower.
I liked the idea behind this mechanic. “Corruption” is fully in keeping with the game’s dominant themes of temptation and sin. By giving players the choice to supercharge their character for short term advantage in exchange for possible/probable long term destruction, a whole new level of strategy and risk management is added to the play. It also added for some impromptu roleplaying from Keith, who as the Sins player was constantly tempting the heroes to try some “tasty, tasty Corruption.” “It’s like the devil sitting on your shoulder whispering that it was ok to do some bad things if it meant that you got thru the encounter,” he told me later. “I think it drives home how useful and treacherous the corruption mechanic is to players.”
If used carefully, Corruption can tip the balance of the game towards the heroes. It’s just a question of knowing how far to go … Ultimately, the four of us on the F.A.I.T.H. carried the day – but only by the smallest of margins. It seems to me the only way the heroes can really hope to win in The Others is through close teamwork and a willingness to sacrifice some of their characters to the greater good. (Players on the F.A.I.T.H. team who lose their character aren’t necessarily out of the game – as long as there are spare characters left they can choose another one and keep playing).
We talked about this a lot after the game. “I really think my favourite part [of the game] would be the teamwork,” said Gabe. “I think the strategy behind the cooperative aspect of the game is next level. Having played Zombicide in the past, I’d say this is a step up from that from the cooperative aspect of the game.” Falk agreed. “The game has so many dimensions,” he said. “It was really fun strategising, I think we took long, long processes to prepare any round that we played. It was great, and it worked out well in the end.”
The other side of any asymmetrical all-against-one game is that one player has to go it alone. I suspect being the Sins player could get a bit lonely after a while, and it wouldn’t suit everybody’s playing style or preferences. As I mentioned earlier, Keith had been demo-ing The Others the whole day at Gatecon VI. “So, you’ve run it a few times today?” I asked.
Keith: Yes, yes I have.
GvP: So, you like this game – ?
Keith: I love it. I love this game!
GvP: What do you love about it?
Keith: Um, well, I would like to play, at some point, as part of a team! [all laugh] But demo-ing it for other players such as yourselves is to get people interested, because if nobody knows how to play it’s kinda hard.
The other aspect of the game that our group enjoyed was the rich thematic feel. I’ve read some other reviews of The Others that suggest the game suffers from the lack of an overarching campaign, and while I tend to agree I nevertheless feel that the thought and effort that’s gone into the design of the game – especially the minis and the innovative Corruption mechanic – more than make up for this shortcoming.
The playing experience is also almost unremittingly suspenseful and tense. I can’t imagine this will appeal to players looking for a light, fun experience in their games, though our group certainly enjoyed it. “I felt an overwhelming sense of dread,” Sash said during our discussion after the game. “No matter what decision you make, something bad is going to happen. It’s a very overwhelming feeling. But I enjoyed it [laughs].”
“We were all full of despair,” Falk agreed. “But it was really fun trying to work out all the possible alternatives. And as was commented on, the sense of dread all the time was there throughout. It’s a great horror game.”
“I definitely agree with Sash on the aspect that no matter what you do, you’re f–ed,” said Gabe. “Constantly feeling like you’re about to lose, but then winning in the end, is pretty exciting. I did not expect to win.”
What was interesting was that as the solo Sins player, Keith had a very similar experience. “The players had cleared out most of the monsters,” he said, analysing the endgame strategy that had resulted in the defeat of the forces of Pride. “So, the F.A.I.T.H. team had cleared out most of the monsters in the town of Haven. It felt pretty one sided to me! [the rest of us laugh in disbelief] You guys were like, ‘No way, Sins player, we’re gonna stop your cultists, your worshippers, your acolytes, no more cards for you! We’re gonna take on these monsters as a team! You did good. We started at perhaps 7 o’clock actually playing, now it’s almost 9 o’clock. That’s almost two hours. In two hours, we only took two rounds, and then it was over. This game can be as short or as long as it needs to be.”
Perhaps my only real reservation about the game is the price. It won’t be cheap. The Kickstarter base set with the core rules and minis for 2 Sins is currently going for around $70 USD (~ $90 AUD) on Ebay, but for the entire game with all 7 Sins you’re looking at $300 USD ($400+ AUD). Even taking into consideration lower retail prices once the game hits stores, it’s gonna be a hefty outlay for many players. I guess one way around this is for a playing group to chip in and buy a set collectively, which then raises the question of who gets to take the game home … and in a game that features the sin of Envy, that’s just asking for trouble.
I would definitely play The Others a second time. And probably many more times if I had more time on my hands. If you like fast moving, combat heavy miniature games, you’ll enjoy this one. So I’ll leave you with this, our group’s final summing up of The Others: 7 Sins:
Keith: Aww, everybody hold hands! [all laugh]
Gabe: Ok, let’s sing Kumbaya.
Keith: But remember, you threw your people under the bus when it was required!
Gabe: Yeah, i.e. me. [all laugh]
GvP: That’s right – and we did it well.
Sash: Don’t forget the poor werewolf [played by Falk]
Keith: The werewolf was put under the bus too!
Sash: He fell on his blade …
Gabe: But we still had one [character] to spare.
Sash: Which means we were one token away from losing. Pretty close.
Gabe: That’s how close it was. It was very close.
Keith: Oh, that makes the win sooooo much better …
Sash: Yes, let’s savour it.
Keith: Because it will be your last! … So, if you guys want to play some more, I’m happy to set up a new board. Because there are other missions. This is just the introductory mission.
GvP: You know what? We need to eat.
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