Since I'm a fan of H.P. Lovecraft's works I was excited to get my review copy of Macabre Tales. I've been waiting for it release for some time now. I was not disappointed.
The download includes two files: one normal one, which includes illustrations as well as the page backgrounds, and then a print-friendly version which preserves the layout but removes the background and pictures. Both versions include the cover.
The book looks like an old magazine, similar to the kinds that Lovecraft wrote for. In fact, the title page features a publication date of October, 1931 and the table of contents features some clever advertisements along the side. So the immersion starts even where most games would be boring.
Next, we're treated to a short story by HP Lovecraft himself. It's a good mood setter.
Chapter One covers Lovecraft himself and his stories and what went into them to make them the classics that they are, listing the tropes involved and explaining each.
Character creation is fairly quick. I was able to build a satisfying character in a few minutes with a little thought. It's simple: pick a package of adjectives to distribute among three stats and then distribute a pool of points among aspects, which are skills and abilities. Think of a few things that are special about your character (numerous examples are given), calculate your two derived values and you have a character. Fast and simple.
Mechanic: I thought this was interesting, since I've never seen anything like it. Instead of dice or cards, like other games, Macabre Tales uses dominoes. Depending on how high your stat is, the domino that's laid down is either read with the lower side, the higher side or both added together. You add an aspect score if it applies and try and beat a difficulty number, which is not revealed to the player (scared yet?).
There also rules covering blanks and double blanks andd doubles. Also, NPC's are presented as a series of difficulty numbers instead of adjectives, which speeds up play.
The game is meant for one-on-one play with a GM (Narrator) and a player, and plays best this way, seeing as how Lovecraft's stories has one protagonist. However, if you'd like to play it as a group, there are rules to expand play.
An addition that really liked was a chapter for players. Most games come complete with a chapter for the GM, to help him along with his duties, but you never really see a player's section. This chapter has a lot of great advice for players, especially in terms of helping the Narrator tell a good story.
On the other side, though, the Narrator's section gives great advice for running a horror story, from content to story structure. There's a lot of good information here, and story even affects the mechanics.
The only shortcomings are minor things, aesthetics, really. The PDF's, both of them, don't include hotlinks in the table of contents, requiring scrolling or typing to get where you need to go.
Secondly, While I appreciate the ink-saving efforts in the printer-friendly version of taking out the illustrations, it's obvious that they were merely covered up, and they do load, which slows down the scrolling some, and then they're blocked out with white once they're loaded.
Lastly, I wish that the game had included rules for alternatives to dominoes, in case the players didn't have any and wanted to play right away. A trip to the store solves the problem, of course, but some options still would have been nice.
All in all, I think Macabre Tales does an excellent job of capturing the feel of Lovecraft's stories, from the games presentation to its play style (I do like the domino mechanic). In fact, I'd go as far to say it does it even better than current and long-time releases that are also set in the Cthulhu universe. This is definitely a storytelling game.