Reviewed by Herb Levy
GATES OF DELIRIUM (Renegade Game Studios, 2 to 4 players, ages 14 and up, 45 minutes; $45)
In a world caught between the natural and supernatural, there is a fine line between sane and insane. That is the line that players must navigate as pages of lost tomes and map fragments are found and portals to monstrosities opened in the new game designed by Jordan and Mandy Goddard: Gates of Delirium.
The game board of Gates of Delirium displays five areas (colored green, orange, blue, purple and white). Placed around the board are two card decks: Gate cards (which show portions of those portals that will release monsters into the game’s world, coded to match the five areas of the board) and Action cards. Both decks are shuffled separately with four Gates cards put on display and five Action cards dealt to each player. Of the 7 Scroll cards, three are randomly chosen and placed face down at their noted locations at the top of the board. The “monstrosities” are represented by discs. These discs are placed in a stack, face up, in ascending order. All players are given a “player journal” (a place to gather the items you collect), 10 “investigators” (meeples) and one unique scoring marker in their chosen color. The randomly chosen start player also receives the Sanity Disc.
Action cards are the key force behind the play. Each turn, you MUST play 2 cards. (At the end of your turn, you always draw 2 cards so you will always have a hand of 5 cards.) These cards are divided into two sections: Sane and Insane. The start player, by flipping the Sanity Disc to either the Sane or Insane side, determines which sections of cards will be played in this round by ALL players! There are three Sane and Insane actions possible.
When playing “Sane”, you may “Collect Lost Pages” (which means adding that Lost Page card in your hand to its spot on your player journal), “Collect Map Fragments” (in similar fashion, moving that card to ITS spot on your journal) and “Dispatch Investigators” (allowing you to move one or two of your investigators to any region on the board).
When “Insane”, a different menu of three action options is available including “Collecting Ancient Ruins” (which acts as Lost Pages or Map Fragments), “Converting an Investigator” (removing another player’s piece from the board and replacing it with your own) and, most significantly. “Building Gate Sections”.
Depending on the Action card played, a player may claim one or two Gate Cards (either from the display or, sight unseen, from the top of the Gate deck). Each Gate requires a certain number of Gate Cards (from 5 to 7). As they are collected, players assemble them in a spiral shape. When the final card required to complete a Gate is claimed, that Gate is now open and everything happens IMMEDIATELY!
First, the top monstrosity disc from the stack is placed in the center of the Gate. The player completing that Gate gets the full amount of Victory Points on that disc. (If a scroll icon is on that disc, a scroll is revealed and its conditions go into effect.) Finally, that Gate’s matching color region is scored. The player having the most investigators there receives the most VPs (as found on the board) with VPs also award to those with the second or third most investigators there. (Here, ties are friendly; ALL players tied receive the FULL AMOUNT of VPs.) Investigators in the scored area are returned to their players and the game continues (unless, this is the final monster in which case the game ends immediately even if this happens in the middle of someone’s turn!)
In making these moves, some cards will display one or two red dots. These dots allow players to collect “desperation tokens” which may be used anytime during a turn to change or modify circumstances. Cashing in 2 desperation tokens allow you to draw two new Action cards from the deck and discard two (to refresh a hand or get rid of cards you feel are less advantageous). 3 allows you to flush the four Gates cards on display and replace them with four new ones in the hope the color you need will appear. Spending 4 allows you to flip the Sanity Disc to its opposite side. (This can happen right in the middle of a round to change the abilities of cards you hold.) Cashing in 5 desperation tokens will give you 3 VPs right away!
With the final Gate built and the matching region scored, final scoring occurs. Each investigator still on the map is worth 1 VP. Any end game Scroll effects (such as a 5 point bonus for having the most INCOMPLETE Gates) is awarded. Points for collected Lost Pages (a bonus if you have pages in number order), Map Fragments (a bonus if you have all four parts to a map) and Ancient Runes are added to scores. High score wins! (Tie? Then the player with the most unspent desperation tiles claims victory! Still tied? Then the youngest player gets the edge!)
A favorite game device is the use of dual powered cards and in Gates of Delirium, this device is used extremely well. Each turn, you have to consider what you are holding and how to best use the cards, either in sane or insane mode. The use of “desperation” counters can be very helpful in modifying the inherent luck of the draw found in all card games – but you need to time their use. For example, if you decide convert desperation tokens to VPs, make sure it is done BEFORE the final Gate is built. Once that happens, NO further action of any kind may be done!
Ironically, in a game where you shift from sane to insane (where you are completely “unbalanced”), a balanced approach is the way to victory. You need to be sane to get your forces onto the board (not only to generate VPs when an area is scored but also gather 1 VP per piece on the board at game’s end) but insane is the way to build gates so that monstrosities are unleashed (earning significant VPs for you). Although the Lovecraft and Cthulhu influence is readily apparent, no explicit references are made to that mythos.
The artwork of the game is atmospheric, in keeping with occult terror of monsters being summoned. Building the Gates, arranging cards into those swirling circular arrays, is a graphic treat. Colors used are strong and easily differentiated too. The use of different shaped meeples to indicate each player’s forces is a nice touch – but the bigger pieces, used for scoring, are a bit too big for that function as they don’t quite fit easily onto the spaces on the scoring track. (You might wish to use one of the regular sized pieces for scoring and count the big one as 2 regulars in placement.) The board, while certainly serviceable, could have been bigger (the box certainly has room for a bigger board) using the extra space for a better scoretrack.
The monstrosities in the game are two sided, with one side having a VP value and all of the others identical. While the game expressly states that monstrosities are to be stacked in increasing VP value, an interesting variation would be to randomly stack the monstrosities, face down, only to be revealed when a gate is completed. This would create a bit of tension as to how much a particular monstrosity is worth and when a scroll will be revealed.
There is method to the madness that permeates Gates of Delirium making for a well crafted game combining elements of card/hand management with a touch of area control in a captivating world of the supernatural. – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy
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