Next up on my horror in board gaming series is a cult classic of a title – Ouija, Board. Made famous in countless movies, television, and video games, this icon of horror is heralded a classic amongst tweenage children, alternative young adults, and the people behind Blumhouse Productions. Never having played the game myself, I thought it was high-time I did so that I could prepare newcomers to the series for the spooky experience they were in for…
A game stuck between plains of existence
One of the most obvious aspects of the Ouija experience is the developer’s lack of commitment to any one genre. While on paper this seemingly gives opportunity for the gameplay to become experimental and revolutionary, it only leaves the game feeling like it doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. It seems at first that the game is intended to be a minimalistic indie adventure indicated by its limited set of actions the player can perform. There are only two actions that can influence the outcome of the game which come firstly in the form of sliding the planchette (the controller) over the board’s letters and words to type out messages, and secondly in a completely passive capacity where player’s hands are guided by an NPC (non-playable character) to listen to a reply. Needless to say, this design choice is limiting to the overall enjoyment of the game and offers no opportunity for in-game tactics. The game also feels as though it wants to be a JRPG in a similar vein to Pokémon or Final Fantasy with its strong focus on chance enemy encounters. Sadly though, the core gameplay experience advertised is lacking when these encounters are rare, lackluster, or don’t show up at all. Additionally, there is only one enemy type found in-game (ghost-type enemies) making the game again feel like it wants to be a survival horror experience, but ultimately leaves the player feeling short-changed. The one positive mechanic is additional gameplay modes that allow you to play a single campaign or in local multiplayer (no online compatability yet announced).
A transparent narrative
From the get-go you are told that there are spirits out there and that they are waiting to be asked questions. The game wastes no time on set-up and immediately throws the player and their party into the midst of the story at the opening of the box. As most board games tend to do, the narrative is completely dependent on the player’s input. However, here it feels like a rather lazy attempt to force interaction between the players and the beings of the ‘spirit-world’. There is virtually no pre-established world built for Ouija which makes it particularly inaccessible to newcomers and to players who like to be able to lose themselves in the universe and its lore. If one of your party, or yourself, isn’t a particularly strong writer who is able to prepare a campaign for you, you might find the game to be lacking in any kind of compelling or engaging narrative and may find yourselves just sliding the planchette aimlessly across the board. Perhaps there might be a DLC story expansion pack in the near future? Props to the multiple endings (spoilers) though – not knowing if your time spent in-game will see your players irrevocably possessed by a demon of the seventh circle, or see them simply packing the game down and calling it a pleasant evening between friends is a great way to ramp up tension and make way for a possible sequel.
Expanding on the ectoplasmatic experience
While the story is yet to receive its expansion pack, there are a number of different ports of the title that offer some variance on the overall Ouija experience. These are mostly cosmetic changes from the traditionally gothic stylings of the original, but do offer the opportunity for player customisation. Some skins of the game include a Stranger Things version, a version based off of the popular 15-season television show Supernatural, and one based on the personality of musician Ozzy Ozbourne. One rare and controversial skin, popular amongst long-time fans of the series, is the above pictured ‘Girl version’ that was designed to specifically increase the viability of female players abilities to contact the dead in-game. It is hard though to review the customisable aspect of Ouija favourably though when it is common industry practice to re-release the same title with simple cosmetic changes, done first (and more successfully) by competing titles such as Monopoly, Clue, and Trivial Pursuit.
A game better left uncontacted
Overall, my time spent with Ouija was lackluster and disappointing. The gameplay is too simple and monotonous, and very obviously relies on the tried and true method of group-psychological idiomotoring to propel its gameplay. Perhaps if the story was more reliably engaging and didn’t focus so much on just contacting the dead (who, were almost always regretful or vengeful about something in their past life) then there would be more replay value in the title at least. As it stands, Ouija is a poorly designed and poorly crafted game that does the bare minimum to elicit enjoyment from the player. I give it zero Cthulhus out of five. More to be read here.(0 / 5)