I considered a snazzy title for this article, like "Ghoulashly Fun" or "Ghoul to the Last Drop", but the game's title already has some sort of play on words (that quite frankly is still beyond me), so that seemed like overkill. Either way, this game is really a simple, easy to learn, down to earth strategy game that is cheap, convenient, and pretty fun.
I considered a snazzy title for this article, like "Ghoulashly Fun" or "Ghoul to the Last Drop", but the game's title already has some sort of play on words (that quite frankly is still beyond me), so that seemed like overkill.
When you play the game, you realize that it's not really as fiendish and sneaky as the perplexing name would make you think. It's really a simple, easy to learn, down to earth strategy game that is cheap, convenient, and pretty fun. You can find the game at http://www.ghoulash.com/, where you can download all the rules and scenario maps, and even order fancy Ghoulash gear. So there you have it, a straightforward review for a straightforward game.
Set in a post-apocalyptic world in which a chemical disaster has killed most people and created evil chemical monsters called Ghouls, Ghoulash is a two-person strategy game similar in design to the popular game "Battleship." Instead of a board representing the ocean and markers for ships, plus hundreds of little pegs that always got lost, or eaten, or vacuumed up by your mom, to play Ghoulash you only need two paper copies of the scenario map you will be playing on, and two writing utensils. You can even get away with one writing utensil, provided you and your opponent both learned how to share.
The web site currently has six different maps, each one a different scenario within the game world. There are also seven scenarios listed as upcoming, so there may be more in store for diehard fans. You can download and print these scenarios from the web using the Adobe Acrobat Reader (a free download), or you can send a self-addressed, stamped envelope and get them by mail. The mail option is a very nice touch I think. I appreciated it even more when I tried to download one of the scenarios on my brother's modem and it took 10 minutes.
Looking at a scenario map, you will see a briefing, which explains the setup of the particular scenario, ghoul battle boxes, which are used when fighting ghouls, a wound meter, which keeps track of your health, and two identical copies of a map grid. These two copies are just like the vertical and horizontal boards on the Battleship game, one is a record of your progress, and the other is your view of your opponent's map, which is kept secret from her.
Each scenario has a different goal, and different rules for setting up your opponent's hidden map. For example, you may have to move from one point in the map to another, or find a hidden item and take it to a new location. The briefing section of each scenario explains what your goal is, and how you will set up your opponent's hidden map.
At the beginning of the game, you place ghouls, obstacles, first aid kits, and other items depending on the scenario, on your copy of your opponent's hidden map. When play begins, one player shows their opponent where they would like to go on their own map. You could go down a street, turning at a corner, and so on. Your opponent consults her map, and lets you know when you have run into something. It could be an area of debris, which causes a wound, a hole, which ends your turn, an item for the scenario, or a ghoul.
When you run into a ghoul, a battle commences. Each ghoul battle box has a picture of a ghoul with six numbers. The person playing the ghoul circles one of the numbers to represent the ghoul's weak point, and the other player calls out a number from one to six, until they find the ghoul's weak spot, killing it. Every time the player calls out a wrong number, the ghoul has attacked and causes one or more wounds, depending on the rules of the scenario.
If you get fifteen wounds, then you have died and lost the game. Each scenario has a number of first aid kits that your opponent will hide on her version of the map, and if you run into one of those, you can choose to use it and heal all of your wounds.
Pretty straightforward, as I promised. Game play is quick and easy too. My brother and I played a game right away and didn't have any problems or questions. It was pretty fun, and only took about 5 minutes. That was the first time.
The second time we played, my brother became diabolical and found an inherent weakness in the game design. In Battleship, where you put the ships is a fairly neutral part of the game. You can shoot into any grid square at any time, so the ship is no safer in one location than in another. Because Ghoulash involves movement from one point on the map to another, and because walls limit movement to designated paths, a diabolical opponent, like my brother, can use this to make the game almost unplayable.
The second scenario we played, my brother filled the starting passageway with holes. So every step I took, I fell into a hole and lost my turn. The first three turns of the game were each one step long for me. Being non-diabolical, I had spread my holes around, and my brother had time to explore his version of the map.
The rules state that only three ghouls can be in one building, which does help to limit the potential abuse. My brother is more diabolical than one might think though. He found a building with a single entrance and exit and put three ghouls in that hallway, followed by several squares of debris, and the item I was looking for in the very last square. By the time I battled my way through three ghouls, took damage from the debris on the way in, and found my item, I only had two wound points left, but the only way out was through three piles of debris, each of which would give me one wound. It was impossible for me to get out alive. You see, he is diabolical!
After that game, my brother and I decided that our own house rule would be that you could not have more than two obstacles in a row, and that any map with a single lane entry or exit could not contain more than one obstacle blocking the way in or out. This still allowed him to be diabolical, and beat me at the next game, but made it a little more fun for me since I didn't have to skip the first three turns or explore a mostly empty map with a few gauntlets of death.
Overall, this is a very creative game idea, which turns out to be pretty fun too. I haven't been playing it non-stop and showing it off to all my friends, but it's worth a try. It's very portable and only costs the price of the paper and ink, or a stamped, self-addressed envelope, so even if it's not your cup of tea, it's hard to complain
I think it would be especially good for younger children, and would be a good game for car trips or vacations. I know I would have enjoyed playing it in the car with my brother when we were younger. He wasn't quite as diabolical then. I might have been able to beat him. At least once.