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You are a washed-up celebrity relegated to keeping your career alive by co-hosting a ghost-hunting show. A failing ghost-hunting show. Lucky for you, the season finale is shooting at a real haunted location. Unlucky for you, the ghosts there want to kill you and your fellow cast members. Just try to be in frame when the murders happen, it’ll be great for your social media. 

Killer Ratings is a one-shot tabletop roleplaying game (ttrpg) created by Ken Lowry and published by Bannerless Games. The game supports 3-5 players and a game master. Players act as cast members of a ghost-hunting TV show and the game master serves as their director. The team investigates a haunted location, taking turns coming up with descriptors for each new room. Eventually, the ghost becomes enraged enough to manifest and chase the team back through the location, trying to kill them as they run. The players can sabotage each other to influence who the ghost attacks. Once a player dies, they become a ghost too and attempt to kill their former co-workers. 

Mechanics

In terms of character creation and mechanics, the rules are fairly light. A character has two stats (Provoke and Survive) and a class, which the player determines at the beginning of the game. Stats determine the success of actions. The action succeeds when a number at or below the stat value is rolled on a six-sided die. The class is an archetype that provides guidelines on how a character should act, however, it does not have any mechanical effects. All other information about the character is up to the discretion of the player and director. 

The map and characters from my game of Killer Ratings ft “The Horror Inspectors” at St. Penance Penitentiary

Gameplay Experience

I liked the collaborative nature of the game. It was fun to come up with room descriptions as a group. We often found ourselves suggesting story beats and complimenting each other on additions that could only have appeared with all of our brains put together. The experience reminded me of an improv version of the board game Betrayal at the house on the Hill (reviewed by Leather Snow here). The highlight of the game for the players was embodying characters who were absolute weirdos. As a group, we leaned into the social media influencer vibe and laughed coming up with what “viral moments” had led our characters to fleeting fame. From a game master perspective, the gameplay highlight was the ability for players to be directly involved in world-building. 

While my group had fun, there were some aspects of the game that didn’t work quite as well for our playstyle. At its core, the game is centered on the concept that most of the characters are trying to steal the camera time from each other. While interesting narratively, it plays into a common ttrpg issue of players trying to make a game all about them. While we made it work, I could see group dynamics getting out of hand quickly. It also inherently creates player conflict, which may be something some groups are uncomfortable roleplaying. We focused more on the collaborative aspects and had fun doing so.

The biggest issue the players had was that the end game didn’t feel very high stakes. We wanted more mechanically to make the ghost attacks more exciting or suspenseful. From a game master perspective, their biggest issue was that they felt more effective as a more traditional omniscient game master than when trying to give in-character direction as the director.

Conclusions

Overall, Killer Ratings was a fun game and I would play it again with some minor home rules. I would recommend this game for a group that is relatively comfortable with improv and willing to be wacky. If you are looking for a more rules-heavy ttrpg, conflict-adverse, or think your play group struggles to share time, this is probably not what you are looking for. However, it’s a one-shot game with no preparation required, so why not give it a try?

3.8 out of 5 stars (3.8 / 5)

Daphne (she/her) grew up in a game store in Indiana and hasn't stopped playing ttrpgs, video games, board games, and card games since. She is a self-proclaimed horror weenie but loves both campy and cosmic horror. Her favorite horror properties are Mars Attacks and Jason "David Wong" Pargin's books. When she is not writing or gaming she is being a microbiologist, teacher, or student. She can be found on Instagram @daphne.writes.

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The Sinking City Review: Sunken Lovecraftian Lore

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The Sinking City is an open world third-person shooter developed by Ukranian developer, Frogwares, and published by Nacon. In this game, you play as a private investigator who has come to the city of Oakmont. In this half-submerged city you hope to find the cause of your maddening dreams and the mass disappearances plaguing the city.

Inspired by several H.P. Lovecraft stories, The Sinking City is a love letter to Lovecraftian lore. However, it takes the time to condone problematic themes in Lovecraft’s writings which is always appreciated. It has a massive open world that lets you explore the haunting world of a city driven partially mad. The neighborhoods are painstakingly designed and the found objects tell an enrapturing story. Riding a motor boat through flooded streets was mesmerizing. I also am fond of the novel detective mechanics. Even if they are a little basic, they are still interesting and tell a good story. 

A screenshot of gameplay from The Sinking City, showcasing a great character model.

I cannot stress enough that I wanted to love The Sinking City. The premise and the atmosphere were everything I wanted from a Lovecraftian horror game. But, the game just fell flat. Frustratingly enough, most of the issues with the game are simple quality of life improvements. I had consistent bugs, performance issues, and visual hiccups that prevented the game from coming into its own. The enthralling environments were tarnished by enemies appearing and disappearing and character animations not functioning properly. While the character models were exquisite, the dialogue was comically tacky, once again ruining the mood. I also wasn’t a fan of the combat, which felt undercooked in its difficulty and stealth mechanics. The Sinking City feels like the alpha release of what could be an amazing game. But in its current state I found it to be semi-unplayable.

That being said, the game has an amazing mod community on Steam. They have created community content to fix a lot of the issues I have with the base game, so I recommend checking that out if you already own the game. I have also heard that the game has better performance on consoles instead of on PC, where I played it. So that may be another avenue for enjoying The Sinking City.

Another unfortunate reason I can’t recommend the game at the moment, is current legal battles against Nacon the publisher. Nacon has been accused by several of its developers, including Frogwares, of pirating their game and uploading it illegally to Steam. The legal battles have yet to be resolved, however, it is unfortunate that these accusations have happened twice now by two independent developers.

Maybe one day we’ll have a good Lovecraftian horror game. But, it is not yet that day. 

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

However, in honor of Frogwares please consider donating to a Ukrainian Relief Fund as they actively fight on the front lines to keep their country safe. Additionally, consider supporting their new game Sherlock Holmes: the Awakened.

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Röki Review: Family & Scandinavian Folklore

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Röki is an adventure puzzle game developed by Polygon Treehouse and published by United Label and CI Games. In the game, you play as Tove, a young girl on a hunt to save her kidnapped brother. She must engage with creatures from Scandinavian folklore as well as her own guilt surrounding the death of her mother in order to save her brother from a grim fate.

This is a game with an immense amount of heart. From the art to the story to the sound design, you can feel the soul and care that went into Röki. And for the most part, it pays off. I invested emotionally into all of the characters as I played. I was also enraptured by the depth of the story and character interactions as the game progressed. The gameplay is similar to that of a point-and-click adventure game, where you collect items and drag them onto environmental objects to solve puzzles. The items and environments were intricate and satisfying to engage with the majority of the time. Especially in the first third of the game, I delighted at uncovering little secrets and talking with the inhabitants of the forest. When the game was rewarding, it really felt rewarding.

A screenshot of gameplay from Röki.

Despite its enchanting nature, the middle third of the game was a definite low point. As a game that took me about 10 hours to play through, about 3 of those hours were exhausting. The puzzles were especially tedious, requiring a significant amount of backtracking and/or convoluted solutions. Instead of feeling rewarded for solving the puzzles, I just felt thankful I could move on. The biggest issue wasn’t the solutions or placement of items, it was the annoyance that I knew exactly what I needed to do but had to spend at least fifteen minutes stuck in unskippable animations to complete it.

Röki is a gorgeous adventure game that immerses you in Scandinavian folklore through a combination of story and puzzles. However, if you don’t have patience for unskippable dialogue or frustrating puzzles you may want to try a different game. Additionally, I find the price of $20 a little high for how frustrating a third of the game is. But I would consider it a must-get for puzzle fans during a sale! Find Röki on Steam here.

3.9 out of 5 stars (3.9 / 5)

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Ring of Pain Review: An Addictive Dungeon Crawler

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Ring of Pain is a rogue-like dungeon crawler developed by Simon Boxer and Twice Different. In the game, you travel through layers of a dungeon collecting loot and killing monsters. Each layer holds a series of cards containing enemies, curses, boons, and exits. As a character, you gain equipment, spells, items, and stat increases that help you defeat your enemies (or just run away better). 

Ring of Pain is a fantastic game. I received it in a charity game bundle, but it had sat untouched in my Steam library for a year. On a whim, I decided to try it out, telling myself I would play an hour or two and then review it. I ended up playing for four hours, only stopping because I had prior engagements. Every time I sat down to write this review, I instead played another couple of hours in Ring of Pain. The point of this story is not my weak will, but instead the highly addictive nature of Ring of Pain.

A screenshot of gameplay from Ring of Pain.

The gameplay had a good mix of strategy and luck, making it rewarding to succeed. There are also many viable strategies to pursue, which means there are many ‘correct’ ways to play the game and still see success. As someone who can get frustrated with rogue-likes, I liked how each run was relatively short but rewarding. This meant that I didn’t feel like I was sinking hours into gameplay that led nowhere. Also worth a mention is the absolutely stunning artwork that masters being atmospheric, creepy, and comical. 

My biggest gripe is that I wish there was more diversity of items. I sometimes felt as if I was just getting the same boring equipment over and over again. That being said, the developers have been consistently adding new content to the game since it released. Therefore, my largest issue is being addressed. 

Ring of Pain is a great game, and I highly recommend it for those who enjoy quick rogue-likes with dungeon-crawling elements. However, try another game if you get frustrated by random generation that could be impossible to surmount. 

Available on Steam for $20, I would say the price point is a little steep for the diversity of content. However, it’s a must-get during a sale!

4.7 out of 5 stars (4.7 / 5)

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