Is there anything more thematic for this, the spookiest of seasons, than a game all about paranormal investigation? There have been many games that work off this theme (Paranormal Detectives, Mysterium), but it’s rare to find one that truly seems to understand those who study the occult and the esoteric and treats that work with a decent amount of respect. For that, you must turn to New Mill Industries, a brand new publisher formed from the partnership between Daniel Newman (Dead Man’s Kabal, Rolled West) and Tony Miller (Fire In The Library, Kabuto Sumo).
Their first game is called The Science And Séance Society, and it just went up on Kickstarter yesterday, and they were kind enough to send me a prototype to check out before launch. It’s a two player asymmetric game that mixes tableau building, hand management, and dice placement to replicate a gentlemanly battle between two students of the occult: a scientist with an empirical approach to the supernatural, and an old school occultist using tarot and other more esoteric means to understand that which is unknowable.
The Science And Séance Society a two player asymmetric game that mixes tableau building, hand management, and dice placement to replicate a gentlemanly battle between two students of the occult: a scientist with an empirical approach to the supernatural and an old school occultist using tarot and other more esoteric means to understand that which is unknowable. Each one has their own win condition and strategies to defeat the paranormal, and each have their own ways of messing up the other as they strive to prove who’s approach is best.
The Scientist works through trial and error and the precise manipulation of numbers, which is represented by the rolling and placement of dice. Their goals are set by a selection of cards at the beginning of the game, each with certain combination of dice needed to lock it in and get them one step closer to victory as well as giving them a special ability. They can also use these dice to block the Spirit Medium (the one performing the Séance). Their victory comes from locking in all of their cards before they run out of dice. Of the two, Science is the more straightforward approach. It’s easier to visualize and strategize, even with the inherent randomness of the dice, thanks to the tighter restrictions on the play.
The Spirit Medium, by contrast, has a much more changeable setup. They have to arrange their tarot cards in a certain order (decided at the start of the game) while drawing from their deck. Imitating a tarot reader, they must replace, move, and rotate the cards in their array until they are in correct order. Each card has special abilities that they can use during their turn, and they have special one use only abilities they can use if needed. Fittingly, playing the Séance side of things is often much more frustrating than the Science side, as chance and fate have an even greater effect on you than your opponent. However, you do have more flexibility than the Scientist, and your plays will frequently vary from turn to turn.
I’m always a sucker for strong theme, doubly so when a game weaves theme and gameplay as tightly as this. For as mechanically simple and well balanced as each side is, both the Science and the Séance sides of this game really feel like you’d expect them to. I honestly haven’t played a game that does it so elegantly either. Both sides are solving the same puzzle with different tools, and each is equally likely to solve it first. There’s a good amount of player interaction as well, just enough to keep your from spending too much time inside of your own head. Plus, it’s perfect for gamers in quarantine who might only have a significant other around to play with. It’s not a big game, it’s not an overly complicated game, but I you’d be hard pressed to find a better game for Halloween (or any other time you want to get spooky).
You can back The Science and Séance Society on Kickstarter, where it will run through the end of the month, Halloween (naturally).
Images via New Mill Industries