As my kids age into the territory where games become a viable pastime with them, and I begin to explore the options that are out there, kids’ games are going to become more of a staple with me.
I have tried some Haba offerings, like First Orchard, Glitterluck, and Monza, but none of them made me–as the adult player–step away from the board with a satisfying experience. They are too short, quite a bit random, and a bit one-dimensional.
To be fair, if a four-year-old can play them–they weren’t meant for me. Except, I’d argue, they kind of are. I’m the one with the money, making the decisions as to what games to buy and which ones to pass over.
Wouldn’t it be great if there were a game that could distill the core of an advanced experience into something that doesn’t feel quite so random, quite so blah?
I began to hear rumblings about Ghost Fightin’ Treasure Hunters succeeding where other games had perhaps not. And I was intrigued. But, did it live up to my hopes? Yes, and no.
Treasure in Haunted Halls
Time: 30-45 minutes
The basic premise of the game is that there is treasure to be had, but that treasure is also protected by spooky spirits that must be sent packing before it can be retrieved.
Also, there are big, red ghosts that can cause players to get stuck in a room if they are holding a treasure, until they team up with another player to defeat them.
Additionally, the mechanics are simple: roll a die, move. Roll a die, fight ghosts. Pick up some treasure, if applicable. Draw a ghost card, and see where a new ghost appears!
The only hurdles for the younger set are reading numbers and letters (the rooms are marked by letters, and the move die has numbers) and counting spaces. But, an adult can easily help with that, or use it to practice those preschool/kindergarten skills with kids.
A Familiar Vibe…
On the whole, it feels like “Forbidden Desert Jr.” or a “My First Pandemic,” as far as gameplay goes. You combat the ghosts (comparable to removing disease cubes/sand tiles), and try to fulfill the victory condition of escaping with the treasure.
Naturally, there’s a bit of a toy factor, here, to appeal to the kids. The ghosts are cute, and my daughter enjoyed placing them around the haunted house to have haunted parties, or wearing them like finger puppets and saying “boo!”
The Good, the Bad, and the Spooky
I appreciated what this game attempted: taking a classic gaming concept akin to Pandemic, and distilling it down to its simplest form.
I was not bored in the way that I am when I simply roll and see what happens. And then my kid rolls and something random happens, and eventually one of us wins because the dice put us out of our misery.
I think particularly for a kid (and a grownup, to be honest) who likes to win, this entirely random structure of most kids’ games is particularly distressing. The average kids’ game just sort of plays itself, and you’re along for the ride.
Not so, here. There is still a lot of randomness in what room the ghost goes in and in the roll of the dice, but you are making real choices that affect the outcome. There’s even a more complex game that ramps up the difficulty with locked doors, extra ghost card draws, and having to collect the treasures in order. How you conduct yourselves in overcoming these obstacles makes a difference. And makes a more fulfilling game.
While you’re doing some simple strategizing, it still doesn’t take long to realize–as an adult, anyway–that there is optimal gameplay and what that gameplay is.
On the whole, this didn’t detract from my experience, but I think the game lasted a bit long for my daughter, who just wanted to celebrate her win after a certain point, even though there were two treasures left.
Run in, fight, and run out. Repeat. This wasn’t helped by the game requiring you to play as four characters at any player count!
We even pulled two characters from our game, and still won, even if we were almost overrun by ghosts. All that to say, requiring four characters at lower player counts seemed superfluous for victory in the basic game, and probably stretched things out unnecessarily, even if it meant the game was more balanced between players and ghosts.
Also, my daughter was miffed that there was only one girl to play as, and three boy characters. I can’t fault her, there.
The game had a nice theme, and sold it via clever art that game each ghost a personality that went along with the room they haunted.
The little backpack slots to hold the treasure were a nice touch, implying that you’d need your hands free to fend off the ghosts. And the translucent ghost figures were a bit of a coup, really. My kids couldn’t wait to play with them.
The Final Verdict
I really wanted to give this game an unabashed endorsement, my “Recommended” sticker. But, my major pet peeve in cooperative games of not really scaling for different player counts got in the way of that.
If you are playing with four, then the problem is solved. But, not balancing the game for fewer players is the fly in the ointment, as sometimes, younger players don’t have the patience for controlling several characters.
Nonetheless, it’s such a leap forward over other games that I had as a kid, that I cannot help but approve it for you all to play. There’s fun to be had as an adult in the form of a few choices, and fun for the kids too.