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Theme and What is It?
In Coma Ward, two to six players take on the role of patients who have awoken in an abandoned hospital. Players will explore the hospital, searching for useful items and clues to help them understand one of the many unique phenomena players will experience in the course of play. The phenomena introduce diverse and dynamic rules and each features multiple conclusions. Which phenomenon will you face as struggle against the terror of the unknown in Coma Ward?
Coma Ward is a game of exploration in two parts: the prologue and the phenomenon. Throughout, players will make skill checks based on their attributes as they explore rooms searching for clues and items. To begin, players will select a player board and set their attribute sliders. They will receive one strip of neuroses, that will impact the player based on their terror level, as well as a quirk and five quirk markers. The quirks are triggered by out of game actions around the table and there are benefits if a player’s quirk is triggered five times during the prologue phase of the game. There are two sets of stats on the player cards: health, strength, and dexterity at the top, and focus and terror at the bottom. Each of the attributes within a given set is linked to the others. The top set shares a direct relationship so as your health decreases, so too will your strength and dexterity. Focus and terror are indirectly related so as terror increases, a player’s focus will decrease. These stats will be used for a variety of skill checks throughout the game. Any time a player makes a skill check, they roll a number of dice equal to the value of the associated stat. All 5s and 6s count as successes. 4s generate suspense, meaning that the player is able to reroll the 4 and an additional die. In this manner, even a player with a low stat can generate many successes. Each player places their characters in the second floor lobby and the game is ready to begin.
On a player’s turn, they perform any number of free actions prior to taking a main action. These include moving a number of tiles or spaces up to your dexterity, trading items with a willing player, activating a current neurosis ability, using items, and dropping items. As a main action, a player may reveal a tile if they ended their movement in an empty space, rummage on a previously revealed tile, attack or steal from another player or enemy, and finally they may pick up any dropped items on their current tile. Afterward, players resolve any and all end of turn effects before play passes to the left. The free actions are all self-explanatory. When revealing a tile, players draw the top room tile from the stack and resolve any immediate effects.
Whether or not this occurs, a player always makes a focus check. If a player gets three or more successes, they find an item and get to draw from the item deck. Zero to two successes triggers drawing a hallucination card. Should a player choose to rummage for an item, they make a focus check using the same results table, only in the event a player finds an item, they mark the room with a rummage token and it cannot be searched again. The hallucination cards are like an event deck of sorts. They may describe a situation with multiple options from which to choose, or call for skill checks, or even replace previously discovered patient rooms (a basic room tile) with one of the hallucination room tiles that are unique locations, usually with some form of risk/reward attached.
If a player chooses to attack or steal from another player, they will make opposed checks. The active player declares whether they are intending to attack or steal and will roll dice equal to their strength plus the attack bonus from up to two carried weapons or a single two-handed weapon. The defending player decides whether they are choosing to dodge, rolling two plus their dexterity, or counter-attack, in which they roll their strength plus the bonuses from up to two carried weapons or a single two-handed weapon. Both players roll their dice and compare successes. A successful attack deals damage and a successful steal forces the defender to give one item of the attacker’s choice to the attacker. This is the same regardless of whether the defending player chose to dodge or counter-attack. If the defender wins with a dodge, no health or items are lost and they may move away one space. If the defender wins with a counter-attack, they deal damage to the attacker. The defending player wins all ties.
Once three clues have been discovered from the item deck, the phenomenon begins. The final game will have multiple phenomena that can be played, some are cooperative, others competitive. They will all feature multiple roles, each with their own objective and correlating epilogue cards. This means that there are multiple ways for each scenario to end and also that even within the same scenario, the experience is subtly different based on the role you receive. Some of the phenomena are based on classic horror tropes while others explore varying metaphysical and psychological themes. The phenomenon included in my preview materials was a competitive one and each of the player goals was indeed different with some varying drastically.
Coma Ward is a game in two stages with the exploration during the prologue and then the twist of the phenomenon. I have enjoyed this format in other games, most notably the classic Betrayal at House on the Hill, and was excited to see what Everything Epic would bring to the formula in Coma Ward. I was also interested in the theme as I enjoy games that deal with madness and terror and where players see their characters changing in reaction to what they experience. I don’t mind darker themes and was curious how dark they would choose to go.
Quality of Components and Insert
I had access to prototype components and cannot speak to the final component quality.
I am unsure what all from my preview package was final in terms of art and graphic design. The game is aiming for a dark and mature theme and the art in the prototype components reflected that.
My group had a good time with Coma Ward. Exploring the hospital, players don’t know what to expect in each room. The hallucination cards create plenty of opportunities for some light role-play as players decide how to handle the events unfolding before them. We also really enjoyed the suspense rule when making skill checks as there was always the possibility of exploding successes.
Difficulty and Age Range Suggestion
The box rates Coma Ward at 18 and up and this is solely for the thematic content. The game features dark imagery and adult language. The premise is meant to be unsettling and disturbing as your characters become filled with terror. I did not find any of it too be too bizarre, but it definitely ventures into territory familiar to horror and psychological thriller enthusiasts so may not suit everyone. Coma Ward is mechanically pretty simple: you make skill checks based on your character’s stats and the way 4s explode is easy enough to understand. Playing with younger players will depend purely on comfort level with the thematic content.
Coma Ward is firmly planted in the haunted house exploration style of games. It knows what it wants to be and it succeeds at carving out its own niche. The exploration aspect fits well with the concept of patients in a hospital, lost and disconnected. The player is piecing together the reality of the hospital, building it through play, at the same time as their characters. It is at times a dark descent into madness, a psychological thriller taking your expectations and twisting them into something unexpected. This is best exemplified in the hallucination cards.
At first glance it appears that there is not a wide variety, but then you realize that while some have a similar setup, they have different results and outcomes. I also really liked the neuroses and that they shifted subtly as your terror levels increased and decreased. It was a nice twist on having player-specific powers. However, we did feel at our table that it may have been a little too difficult to decrease terror. This was problematic as higher terror leads to less focus and focus is the most common skill test you will be making. It does lead to more hallucinations through failed tests and fewer items which lengthens the prologue, but some players could find it frustrating. While I only got the chance to see one phenomenon, if the rest follow suit in execution there will be a lot of replayability in the final box. Having unique goals for each player was a good touch, but the different epilogues for each of those win conditions sets Coma Ward apart.
Coma Ward tries a few different things to separate itself from other games in this genre. The aforementioned neuroses, the linked stats, folding multiple roles and endings into each phenomenon to increase variability all work well to this end. If there is one misstep, I think it would be the quirk cards. These cards give your character something over which to fascinate but plays out as something for you the player to look for with your fellow players at the table. As an example, I put a token on my quirk every time someone at the table stood up, another got a token if a player followed their advice. In our group we felt some were significantly easier to achieve than others and, while a unique idea of putting meta elements into a game, ultimately fell a little flat for us.
Overall, I enjoyed Coma Ward. It does some new and interesting things for a game of this style and it hits more than it misses. The exploration of the prologue is well done and has good pacing. The phenomena are the biggest selling point for me. If a dark, psychological, horror theme fits your group, then I recommend checking out Coma Ward, now on Kickstarter.