Off the Grid reviews Ghoulash

Every other week Scott Jon Siegel contributes Off the Grid, a column about card games, board games, and everything else non-digital.

Last time on Off the Grid, we looked at the über-complicated Universal Fighting System. Attempting to ward off a headache, this week I've decided to look at Ghoulash, a dungeon-crawling 2-player paper game that doesn't do much in the strategy department, but makes up for it with easy-to-learn gameplay, and a stylish means of publication.

Ghoulash is best described as a pared down version of Dungeons and Dragons, where both players are DMing for each other. Game boards are sold in Ghoulash "Scenario Pack" magazines, each featuring three unique scenarios, with four copies each. Each scenario features a map of the 2D terrain, and special instructions on top of the basic rules. Both players use copies of the same map at the same time, making the game a race to see who can complete the objectives first.

At the start of each game, players decide where to place items, hazards, and the game's titular Ghouls on the grid. Once all obstacles are placed, players take turns moving, dictating to their opponents where they'd like to move on the grid, with the opponents in charge of telling them when they've encountered something. Both players track the movements and obstacles of their opponents on one copy of the map, while keeping track of their own movements on another.

For each player, the game is technically a one-player experience. The object therefore becomes to make your opponent's version of the game board as difficult to traverse as possible, allowing you to secure a win first. There's not a lot of complexity here, making each play-through a lightweight experience with little depth to unlock. Sometimes, however, this isn't a bad thing. The accessibility means anyone can literally pick up a scenario pack and begin playing; the game requires only a pen or pencil in addition to the packs, garnering Ghoulash bonus points in my book for its minimalism.

My only real guff with Ghoulash is the price per scenario pack. The magazines' interior pages are printed on flimsy newsprint in greyscale, and each pack has a definite "comic book" aesthetic in terms of its size and portability. So why, when comic books cost around $2.99 USD each, does each "issue" of Ghoulash set you back a whopping $6.95?

Final Verdict: Price pet peeve aside, Ghoulash's slick look and unique publishing format make it a good portable option for any casual non-digital gamer. Gamers born and raised on the hard stuff might find Ghoulash to be a bit too simplistic, but they should probably just deal with it and enjoy the damn game. I know I did.

Scott Jon Siegel is a fledgling game designer, a professional blogger, and a mediocre cook. His words and games can be found at numberless, and he's super-excited to be attending the Festival des Jeux in Cannes this week.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.