A few weeks back I asked for indie game designers to get in touch, so that I could try to bring some smaller, more interesting games to your attention. Board games are booming right now, but I always feel that one of the best ways to support a scene is to get right down around the foundations of it and scratch around for little nuggets of gold. This week I want to tell you about a little indie card game called Giallo.
Giallo is a genre of film – we could debate all day about what constitutes a Giallo film. In Italy it's a thriller, but outside Italy the defining elements are more specific. Giallo must be stylish, bloody, sexy, artistic. This little card game draws on Giallo as a theme, presenting 25 different victims who must be murdered at a moment of the player's choosing. Let me explain how it works.
Each player in Giallo is a killer in a movie. In each movie, five scenes are played out, each culminating in the death of one of five victims. At the end of the movie, after the scenes are over, the player who has accumulated the most Fear tokens is declared the true villain of the film. The first player to be lead villain in three films is the winner. You have to create a trilogy of Giallo films in which you are the murderer.
A film is five victims, placed face-up in a stack. You can always see who the next victim is, and that's important, because murder brings great benefits. Every victim has a special power that can later be used by the victim's killer. Some victims also have particular traits that might feed into a player's motives, turning them into some high value meat.
Each player (of up to 4) has a hand of cards. Four of these cards are Suspense cards, used to build fear. Three of the cards are Murder cards, numbered 1-3. And one card is a Motive card, explaining which kind of killer the player is. The game plays very simply. Each player plays one card from their hand face down. The cards are revealed simultaneously. If everyone has played a Suspense card, the scene continues and the fear starts to build. If someone has played a Murder card, they instantly kill the victim and claim as many Fear tokens as they've played Suspense cards this scene. If more than one player tries to murder, the highest value Murder card wins out.
Okay, so picture it. Me and you are playing Giallo. There's a Gravedigger on the table. If you kill him, you can later use his power to dig a past victim up from their grave and use their special power. He's a very valuable victim. So do you murder him right away? Will your first card be a Murder card? Are you behind on Fear right now? Should you try to build some suspense first, by playing a Suspense card and hoping I do the same? But what if I play a Murder card? Ask yourself this – how much does Rab want that Gravedigger? Is there a power among the dead victims that Rab needs? Should you play a higher value Murder card to beat mine?
Giallo is a game of timing, and of pushing your luck. The different victims fling a lot of variables into the mix, because most of the victim powers are very very strong. You're either going to want those powers for yourself, or want to find some kind of victim power that can protect you. For example, the Gangster can extort Fear tokens from other players, but the Widow can let you squirrel tokens away for safekeeping. The Puppeteer can let your opponent swap hands with you (which is brutal if your opponent only has low value Murder cards left) but the Doctor can change the whole make-up of the game so that low value Murder cards beat out high value ones.
In playing the game, we felt that maybe it wasn't very well balanced. There were a few moments where someone would say, “That's ridiculous. We're screwed now.” But then the game would throw up something that allowed an escape from the situation. I like very much that the game's victims are more than just fodder – and I like that the value of each victim changes depending on each player's situation. If you're behind, you might want to kill one particular victim. If you're ahead, you might want another.
The Motive cards can be played at any time. They're a one time deal, one and done, and they give you a Fear bonus for killing victims of a certain type. It's interesting to watch what kind of victims your opponents are going for. If they're all beautiful? It's likely that your opponent likes his victims dead and lovely. It's another thing that changes how you gamble with suspense before the kill.
Giallo took me by surprise. It's a small game, only about 60 cards in the whole thing, but it packs a fair bit of punch. It's not a perfectly tight design. In a few places it feels a bit niggly, but as you get to know how the game works and the value of certain victims, everything evens out nicely. There are some genuine moments of excitement as players build up suspense, never knowing when your opponents are going to pull the knife.
The theme is great too. It's a lovely little production at the moment, but I would love to see this one picked up by a major publisher. I think it could be developed a little further, and you could really go to town on the artwork and components of this one. The dream would be to see this game with film stills on each card. Hey – if it ever does get a polished up reprint – can I please shoot those photos for the cards? I am raising my hand here.
Look out for Giallo. I liked it a lot. Check www.ciaogiallo.com – the game is only available from Gamecrafter at the moment, explaining its highish price. I really hope some publisher picks this up.