Have you ever heard a noise in the middle of the night that you couldn't track down the source of? Got a cold chill and felt like someone was watching you? Perhaps you have actually seen something you simply couldn't explain. This is the idea behind the board game SKEPTICS.
|Designer(s)||Jon Usiak||Artist(s)||Jon Usiak||Publisher||
Usiak Games and Designers
In SKEPTICS, you are paranormal investigators, who know that ghost and other supernatural entities exist, and your goal is to collect the evidence needed to convince those skeptics who doubt you. You and up to three other players will enter into a building with information about a phenomenon that has been occurring. Your goal is to explore each room to find clues and collect hard proof that the ghost is indeed real.
Screen from Tabletopia which is almost exactly the look the actual components will have, which you can try for yourself on Tabletopia.
Box and Components
The base game comes with four investigator tokens, a double-sided board offering two locations to investigate, six ghost cards with their own challenge making each game different, a clock used to track game time and trigger environment events and the ghost hour, various item cards to help with your investigation, numbered room cards used to spawn the ghost at midnight, three unique sets of dice to be used for actions, and other cards/components that will be used throughout the game.
On the ghost card and spread across the board, there will be icon sets that represents a type of challenge players must complete; depending on the challenge type, players will be using one of the three sets of dice to roll the specified icon sets (sort of Yahtzee style). To win the game, the investigators much complete all of the icon sets on the ghost card before the room deck runs out.
I won't go into all of the details of the game; I want to provide enough information to peak your interest so you may consider checking out their website and the Kickstarter page when it goes live later this year.
Players will start on the entrance space on the board and going clockwise around the table, players will use three actions to explore the rooms and uncovered proof of the paranormal. Once all investigators have taken their actions, the round ends; the clock will advance to the 3rd/6th/9th/12th hour inching ever closer to midnight. Once the clock strikes 12, the ghost hour begins, the ghost spawns in a room determined by the room card deck, and strange events trigger. The Ghost hour will last only one round and the ghost will disappear. Investigators will attempt to track the ghost down and begin trying prove its existence, while dealing with whatever environment event triggered that hour. Once the ghost hour is over, investigators will continue collecting items and evidence to support in their investigations.
There are eight types of actions players will get to choose from and most actions may be performed multiple times in the same turn.
Move/Run - You are able to move between adjacent spaces that are not blocked by a wall, door, or other obstacles. The board provides a red border around most spaces and subtle guide lines that will tell you where are valid movements. Each space moved in this way will cost one of your three actions. However, if you choose to use all 3 of your actions to move, you are able to move a fourth space for free (Run).
Unlock - Certain doors on the board will be locked and will require a certain number of keys icons to be rolled on the green key dice. Typically, a player will roll three of the green key dice, but later in the game, players may access to additional dice. If you roll and meet the required symbols, the door token is removed, and you may free move into the room (without spending an action to move). If you do not and still have actions remaining, you may attempt to re-roll the dice; see the Dice Rolling section below for more information.
Search - Most rooms have blue icon sets that represent suspicious areas that may hide clues of the paranormal. Similar to the unlock action, you will take three of the blue clue dice and spend actions to attempt to fulfill the icon set. If successful, you pick up and remove the search token on that space to reveal either an item, special item, clue of the paranormal, or nothing. If you don't meet the required symbols, you may re-roll following the rules mentioned in the Dice Rolling section below. Some icon sets will require more than three dice to complete; these will require magnifying glasses, or items to solve (more on these in the Tools of the Paranormal Investigator section).
Solve - Once a clue token is revealed from a Search action, a clue card will be drawn containing icon sets that must be solved to obtain evidence of the paranormal. An investigator may attempt to solve the clue while in the same room as the revealed clue card. Dice rolling follows the small rules as already mentioned. If unsolved, the clue token will remain in the room until someone is able to complete it. Once complete, the investigator will take one of the available evidence tokens at random. Each ghost requires specific evidence tokens to be collected to unlock the special seance action, which I will discuss in the Tools of the Investigator section. Collecting evidence also increases the success of Pull Ghost and Summon actions.
Pick Up, Give, or Exchange an Item - Speaking of being well equipped, investigators will collect items throughout the game that will aid in their investigations. This action allows investigators to manage their items since each player may only hold three item cards, unlimited special items, and one magnifying glasses. The action's name basically infers what this action can be used for. I will touch on items later.
Prove - Once the ghost has spawned on the map, the investigators will have one round to reach the ghost before it disappears. The ghost will re-spawn on later rounds but time remains limited. Once an investigator shares a space with the ghost, they may beginning proving it exists by completing icon set (again following the Dice Rolling rules). Investigators will select which icon set they will attempt prior to rolling. Once an icon set have been completed, a cube will be placed on that icon set indicating it has been proven. Investigators are able to complete multiple icon sets assuming they have the available actions remaining. Once all icon sets have been completed on the ghost card, they have proven the existence of the ghost and win the game.
Pull Ghost - There may be times when the ghost spawns in a room that is far from the players. Investigators may attempt to pull ghosts closer by rolling a number of the white summoning dice equal to the number of evidence tokens they have collected from completing Solve actions. If any of the rolled dice reveal the summon symbol, they may pull the ghost closer to their space (with some restrictions). The pull action can be performed multiple times (actions permitting), but if an investigator rolls no summoning symbols, the ghost immediately disappears until its next re-spawn event.
Summon - Once investigators have collected at least one evidence token, they may attempt to summon the ghost during non-Ghost Hours. The investigator will take a number of white summoning dice equal to the number of evidence tokens they have collected and roll. If any of the rolled dice reveal the summon symbol, they are successful at summoning the ghost. The investigator will take the summon token and draw a room card. The summon token and ghost will be placed in the revealed room. It's Ghost Hour ability will not trigger, but its lingering effect will be active. The summoning investigator may also pull the ghost 1-2 spaces closer, following Pull Ghost action restrictions, for free and without needing to roll the white summoning dice. It will remain on the board until the start of the summoning players next turn or until the Ghost Hour begins, which ever occurs first.
Similar to Yahtzee, you are able to lock any number of dice and re-roll the rest by spending additional actions. Once you change actions, run out of actions that turn, or complete the challenge, the locked dice will unlock and further attempts will require a complete re-roll of all dice. There are some challenges that must be completed in a single roll, which is further discussed in the SKEPTICS rules. Also, re-rolling in this manner is typically only applicable to the Green lock and Blue clue dice; white summon dice don't usually get re-rolled unless specified otherwise by a card or ghost ability.
Tools of the Paranormal Investigator
Over the course of the game, you will gain access to a number of tools that will help your investigation. These tools fall into a few basic categories.
Magnifying Glass - Each of these will give you 3 uses to add a single die to an action; this will stay in your pool until you are either successful with that action or you stop taking that action (whether by choice or running out of actions). This item is always available to pick up or replenish uses on at least one space on the board by using the Pick Up action.
Items - These typically give you an ongoing perks such as one free action of a specific type on your turn, an extra dice for a roll, or the ability to carry additional items. An investigator can only carry three items at time.
Special Items - These typically offer a single use powerful ability such as moving to any room in the building. In most games, there will be only three special items placed within the building to find. Each ghost card has some recommended special items to use, but this is not required.
- Investigator Aid - Investigators, who occupy the same space, provide each other with a single bonus blue clue die for completing Prove actions; this is limited to only a single bonus die regardless how many investigators share the space. There is also a limit of five clue dice for any roll regardless of aid and item bonuses provide.
Séance - Once the investigators have collected the evidence tokens that match the séance symbols on the ghost card, they can perform a séance to summon the ghost to the space of the first player. This will provide a time for all of the investigators to team up to complete as many prove actions as they can. Once all investigators have taken their turn after the séance, the ghost will disappear and return to normal game play. Seances are only usable once per game and come with a few restrictions as to when they can be performed.
Threats to the Paranormal Investigators
SKEPTICS is not a game where your investigators can be injured, but there are plenty of things that can happen to impede their investigations.
Environment cards that are drawn at midnight and typically have a major impact on the round; some cause new threats to spawn requiring the investigators to shift their focus, cause investigators to drop their items, summoning different forms of restricted movement, or require additional icons to be rolled for some actions increasing their difficulty. Occasionally, you will get lucky that a card is drawn that will not have a triggered effect, but that is rare and typically only happens in the early midnight hours.
Each ghost have two unique abilities; one that will trigger once it appears at midnight (Ghost Hour Abilities) and another that will remain until it disappears at the end of the round (Lingering Effects). Ghost Hour abilities typically have an affect on the area near the ghost such as causing doors to slam shut and re-lock or cause objects to appear in the spaces around itself forcing investigators to waste actions to get to them. Lingering Effect can disable certain actions or add additional icon sets to be completed to prove its existence.
Worse yet, once all of clue tokens have been revealed, the ghost will begin appearing at the end of each round quickly burning away at the limited number of room cards remaining. This is the point in the game where things can quickly go from being in favor of the investigators to requiring every ounce of coordination and quick thinking to race against the quickly dwindling clock.
The Conclusion of the Investigation
If your investigators are able to successful prove all of the icon sets on the ghost card before the deck of room cards run out, the investigation will have been a success and skeptics world-wide will have a difficult time disproving the existence of ghost and other paranormal entities. However, if the investigators were unable to complete the ghost's icon sets, the investigators will be ridiculed by the skeptics they sought to convince.
Pictures from Prototype
Note: All components shown in this article are prototypes and have already undergone a number of revisions. Pictures from the Tabletopia show all of the updated graphics and dice.
I have been playtesting this game since October 2019, and I am very pleased with the overall product. It is hard to deny this game borrows some great mechanics from many popular games, but it does it in such a way that it creates it own unique experience. There is a lot of luck involved with this game when you consider much of the game involves Yahtzee style dice rolling and luck of the draw in terms of what room the ghost will appear in, but the game offers items that help mitigate some of this luck. It provides opportunities to roll additional dice and re-rolls to improve the successful of each action, and there are also actions that summon the ghost to you and allow players to work together. Some people may simply be turned off by the luck side of the game, and that is fine. It may not be for everyone. I think this game will resonate well with those who love the theme of ghost hunting or who enjoy dice mechanics mixed with exploration. There is definitely a market for this game if enough people find out about it during its Kickstarter campaign.
Amanda (another writer for this website) has been a big fan of the ghost hunting shows for over 15 years now and has gone on a number of ghost hunts at locations around our state. She said the game does a nice job gamifying the field of ghost hunting, and the items the designer has selected are suitable for how they are used in game.
I am impressed by the quality of the prototype; it is obvious this game wasn't just tossed together to make a quick buck. There is a lot of thought and care that has been put into the creation of the artwork, components, and the layout of the rules. The artwork is very clean and fits the setting of the game well, and it is consistent across all of the game components. From what I have seen of the mock ups of the final versions of the components of the game, I am definitely looking forward to seeing the final product.
There is a good bit of replayability with the included doubled sided map, six ghost cards, combinations of special items that can be selected for each game, and the number of environment cards that allow each game to play out different depending on how many come out during a game. The designer has mentioned some ideas for additional maps, ghosts, and cards that could be included with future expansions if this game is successfully funded on Kickstarter later this year.
I plan to run demos of this game leading up to the launch of the Kickstarter and during the campaigns duration. Time permitting, I plan to record a rules walkthrough and a game play session to provide a better feel for how the game flows.
Playthrough with the Design, Jon Usiak
How to Play Walkthrough with Dan from TheFandomentals
We initially received a prototype of this game to provide playtest feedback well before we started writing reviews. Since then, I have been involved with the designer providing mechanics feedback and helping as an editor. So I am involved in the development of this game to a degree and will be receiving a finalized copy of the game for my involvement. My opinion of the game is very positive and was prior to my direct involvement. However, if it feels like I am being bias about the game, please use this article to understand how the game plays and where to seek additional information.