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vs. Ghosts
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/04/2017 03:52:30

An review

This game clocks in at 64 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 58 pages of content. It should be noted that the pages are laid out for the digest-size (A5/6’’ by 9’’), which means that, if your sight’s good enough, you can fit up to 4 of the pages on a single sheet.

So, what is vs. Ghosts? To put it simply, it’s a game hat lets you play in a Ghostbusters/Supernatural-esque scenario; whether you prefer grim realism or a fun, kid-friendly Scoobie-Doo-esque playstyle depends on your personal taste, though the often really FUNNY text herein and the comic-style artwork does emphasize the less serious takes on the tropes.

The GM (Ghostmaster) is…the GM. To play, you eed one deck of playing cards, sans Joker. Character creation is simple: A character has 5 Attributes:

Offense and Defense are used to attack/defend in physical combat. Mental is the attribute for knowledge, willpower, etc. Physical is the Attribute used for feats of strength, endurance, etc. Investigation is used for noticing clues, research, etc. You assign the following values to these attributes: 6, 4, 4, 3, 3.

You also get to choose Gimmicks: There are Good and Bad Gimmicks and you can have up to 4 good gimmicks. For each Good Gimmick, you have to take a Bad Gimmick, and when you take more than 2, you have to lower one Attribute by 1 for each additional Gimmick – I assume this refers to Good Gimmicks – otherwise, each Gimmick beyond 2 would cost 2 Attribute points, one for the Good and one for the Bad Gimmick. These include Attribute modifications and other tricks and include classics like allergies etc. on the Bad Gimmick side.

A character begins play with 10 Health, which represents how much damage you can take.

The core mechanic of the game is as follows: when performing an action, you draw a number of cards equal to your appropriate Attribute score. The highest card’s value is compared to the target value of the difficulty of the task – if you equal or exceed the target value, you succeed. Otherwise, you fail. As cards are drawn and used, they’re put into the discard pile. When no more cards can be drawn, that pile is shuffled back into the draw pile. Jacks are equal to 11, Queens 12s, Kings 13s and Aces as 14. However, low cards are better when dealing damage, so aces count as 1 there. A dice-based alternative is provided, but personally, I’d suggest sticking to cards here.

When multiple characters use teamwork to best a challenge, the highest score is used and +1 card is drawn per assisting character. Opposed actions are resolved by drawing and comparing the highest value.

Combat is divided into Turns, which are not precisely codified – they could last an hour or a few seconds, depending on your needs. Typically,a character may move and attack during his turn. Other actions, like drawing weapons etc. can freely be taken. Initiative is determined by drawing cards. Ties of the card-values are resolved via the Physical attribute, and if that still ties characters, we go clockwise. Surprise is represented as a free attack. A character can move a number of units equal to his Physical attribute. Ranged combat determines its difficulty by range. Melee attacks are resolved as a contest between Offense and Defense.

A character takes a penalty to all attributes at 50% Health and 1 Health and 0 Health equals death, unless playing with an alternate rules for death at -1 or below. If you succeed in hitting your foe, you take a look at your Offense cards: Each card that managed to surpass the target’s Defense lets you draw one new card. The value of each of these new cards is then compared to the damage cap of the target: Each card that has a value BELOW the damage cap then inflicts 1 Health damage. Character recover 1 Health for every 10 hours of uninterrupted rest. If a physician attends the character, he may also draw a card – if it’s a heart, he gains an additional Health. Situations may instill bonuses or penalties to attributes.

Equipment is gained at the start of each session: In initiative order, the players name one equipment and then draw a card: If the card drawn is equal to or exceeds the equipment’s value, the character gains the equipment; otherwise, it’s a failure. After a maximum of 4 successes (or one failure), the next player may draw. 4 successes do net a bonus card, though. Old equipment is kept. This also includes living space, transportation, etc. – just fyi. And yes, you can get less reliable vehicles, for example. Weapons come with values and damage caps, range modifiers etc. and the section also includes ghosthunting equipment like lucky totems, aura analyzers, etc….and yes, these include e.g. spirit containers.

At the end of each session, a player may remove a Bad Gimmick, improve an Attribute, add a Good Gimmick or take a bonus card from a separate deck – this card can then be substituted for one the player draws at a later time. If it’s a 2, the player can use it to add +2 to the value of a card instead.

The pdf provides simple rules for window-dressing NPCs (bystanders) and Nemesis rivals as well as simple rules for hordes of foes. Extras are NPCs that make a difference, and as such, the pdf provides some sample stats and unique Bad and Good Gimmicks. Ghosts can similarly easily be created. Fear is resolved by drawing Mental attribute number of cards and comparing them to Offense + Defense of the target (OUCH!) or the value determined by the GM. Failure imposes a -2 penalty to all Attributes for a length of time determined by the GM.

This is where we begin with the GM-section: “Dr. Corontze’s Spirit Guide” – which comes in a COMPLETELY different layout, looking like an old, weathered document – kudos for going the extra mile, aesthetics-wise. It also looks sufficiently different to keep e.g. kids from diving head-first in, looking less playful. In this section, GMs learn about the divisions of ghosts, special abilities…and there are some sample ghosts, with sketch-like drawings/stock-art/photos that actually can be a bit creepy – nice array. The pdf concludes with a selection of sample hooks to create adventures.


Editing and formatting are very good – apart from the aforementioned one hiccup, I noticed no glitches on a formal or rules-based level. The language employed is furthermore didactically sensible and makes grasping the system EASY. That’s a big plus. Layout adheres to a nice, full-color two-column standard with kid-friendly, comic-style artwork…apart from the GM-section, which becomes more creepy, though not to the point where it should become problematic for all but the most sensitive of younger readers. Pretty cool! The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Okay, let me come clean first: I didn’t want to review this book. Vs. Ghosts didn’t interest me. At all. I like Ghostbusters etc. well enough, but I’m not enamored with the franchise. Furthermore, it was explained to me as pretty much a nostalgia-trip. Well, I don’t do nostalgia well. Perhaps I’m too analytical or cynical for it, perhaps my excellent memory is responsible – but those nostalgic goggles…they just don’t work for me.

Well, I got the first coupon. Deleted it. The I got another. Ignored it. This went on for a while. Then I finally caved and figured I’d give it a fair shake.

Guess what? My congratulations to Rick Hershey and Lucus Palosaari – this game is actually MUCH better than I anticipated it’d be. Vs. Ghosts is no complexity monster, but it doesn’t try to be – it’s a perfect game for a longer trip, for a relatively quick session – it plays fast and rather well, can easily be modified and while it can carry real horror stories, its RAW focus on the goofier aspects makes it a real good candidate to teach folks how to play. The tactile notion of drawing cards can be fund for kids and the easy teamwork rules similarly can make the game particularly rewarding for younger audiences.

In short: This is a well-made game using cards as randomizer; it’s easy to learn and explain, the presentation is concise and makes grasping the rules super simple. The stereotypes and tropes employed don’t necessarily hit home with me, but that may be because I am probably as far away from the target audience as I can possibly be. In spite of that, I do consider this to be a neat, inexpensive and fun, relatively rules-lite game, well worth owning. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
vs. Ghosts
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/16/2017 17:28:33

"Hey JD, here's another game that uses playing cards for a randomizer instead of dice! You're gonna give it a high score, aren't you?"

"That's not true, come on!! There's plenty of...okay it is true. I give high scores to all playing card based games. BUT THAT'S NOT THE ONLY REASON WHY"

I've been a fan of the "vs" series ever since it was printed on quad-fold, 4" x 4" glossy paper with pulp cowboys on the front panel. It's fun, it's light, and it's simple. Traditionally it has relied on your group's knowledge of and love for the source material to make it really sing. vs. Ghosts looks to action-comedies like (but not limited to) Ghostbusters for it's fun, and it does a lot of things right in making it work. The system is based on the flip of a card - players can also supplement this with bonus cards they have in hands, though replenishing those cards is much rarer than card flips. For a rules-light system it's fairly good. In terms of what characters actually do and how the opposition is portrayed, it nails something that even the venerable Ghostbusters RPG from West End Games didn't always remember, which is that the comedy in horror-comedy normally comes not from the monsters, but from the absurd actions of the protagonists. The ghosts, demons, eldritch beings and cultists in the Ghostbusters films are not overtly comedic (okay, that one guy's accent is pretty funny), it's the reaction of the mundane world to them and the actions of our heroes that bring the comedy. Hence, the ghosts and spirits in vs. Ghosts are presented in a faux-Victorian manner, and the characters and NPCs are presented in broad, cartoony pictures and statistics. Yet the scenarios are largely serious! This demonstrates that vs. Ghosts understands its genre, and presents a bullseye for the players to target. The GM gives a "serious" horror scenario, and our heroes the exorcists (Repossessed), mad scientists (Ghostbusters) or whatever (Scary Movie) go loping in to blow up the bar mitzvah and try to get paid for it at the end.

The areas I would suggest for improvement would be to urge some caution in the use of comedic stereotypes, or suggest ways to subvert and reimagine the stereotypes. We aren't limited by a 22-90 minute presentation format, so we have the freedom to make comedic stereotypes more interesting than television or film. Also, although this is a game that claims to be open content, it literally says "all material" here is designated Product Identity. Oh, uh, okay. You know, you can just copyright your game book if you want? Oh well, nobody pays attention to that stuff but me anyhow.

All in all, you get what's on the cover with vs. Ghosts. I recommend it!

[4 of 5 Stars!]
vs. Ghosts
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Faggianelli L. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/18/2016 19:22:45

Un ouvrage de l'équipe de Fat Gobelin Games que j'ai commandé pour ma boutique, vivement l'essayer et le faire découvrir à mes joueurs qui sont fan de scénario mettant en scène des équipes de "ghost hunter". Voici mon avis préliminaire qui risque d'évoluer après ma lecture finale de l'ouvrage. Je conseille vivement !

[5 of 5 Stars!]
vs. Ghosts
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by James E. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/13/2016 09:17:25

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this product for the purpose of this review.

vs. Ghosts is a full-color 64 page PDF - with 1 page each for a cover, the credits, the table of contents, a request for reader feedback (Give it if you get this product! It really does help them improve future releases!), and the back page, leaving about 59 pages of content. The product itself is based on the vsM Engine trademarked by Phillip Reed, and has been released under the Open Game License (although certain elements of material - art, characters, etc. remain Product Identity - so, basically, the usual).

In a nutshell, the idea behind vs. Ghosts is "Ghostbusters: The Roleplaying Game". This should not be a surprise to anyone, given the theme. XD If I had to guess, it's because of the redone version of the movie coming out - but as explained early on, the point of this product is to suit up and go confront ghosts anywhere they're going to show up. It recommends at least two players, plus a Ghostmaster, in order to properly run the game - plus paper, pencils, and a deck of cards.

After that little bit, we get into the section on the characters. We're asked to come up with a name, a bio (a few sentences will do, and this helps decide what you can do in the game), your attributes (Offense, Defense, Mental, Physical, and Investigation), your Gimmicks (both good and bad), your Health, and finally any Traits (basically, personality quirks and the like that won't have an effect on the game). The system is fairly straightforward, and characters are simply given an array of points for their attributes (no dice-rolling) and a list of options for the Gimmicks. Basically, it's pretty hard to break the character creation system, which may come as a relief to GMs who worry about power playing.

From there, the game moves on to explain the core mechanic of the game - your deck of playing cards. When players perform an action, they get to draw a number of cards matching their attribute score, comparing the highest card drawn to the number they're trying to beat. Being better in a given area specifically gives you more chances to overcome a problem, so it'll probably help if the party diversifies their focus. Face cards increase in number (from 11-14), with Aces normally high but dropping down to 1 for dealing damage (this is a good thing in the game).

vs. Ghosts suggests limiting challenges of their actions to things that could determine the success or failure of the game (i.e. can they actually jump between buildings to catch a fleeing ghost?), with anything less important assumed to succeed. Characters can work together (which provides an extra card drawn for each player assisting) or oppose each other (highest attribute wins). The game provides target values for each challenge - this is left to the Ghostmaster's discretion, but an Average challenge has a target value of 6, while a Very Hard challenge requires drawing a King. (Remember, players could draw six or more cards per-challenge, so their odds of success can actually be pretty good.)

Here, I should add a note - in most games, the technique of card counting (trying to figure out what's left in the deck and what the likelihood of drawing something is) happens to be illegal. However, it's specifically allowed here, and players are encouraged to try and keep track of the odds of their success. It's also possible to play this game with dice (a d12 and a d4), but it really will go better if you can use playing cards.

At this point, the game dives into the combat system, and it will be easy to learn if you've ever played an RPG before. Each turn, characters can move, attack, and do miscellaneous actions (talking, drawing weapons, etc.), taking place on six-foot squares or hexes. Melee attacks, unsurprisingly, are fairly easy to land, while ranged attacks use the higher of the target's defense or a number based on their distance. 24 feet is about the maximum for most normal ranged attacks, but the GM is permitted to double, triple, or even quadruple the effective range of a weapon when it would be sensible to do so (like using a sniper rifle).

Taking damage does affect a character's performance - at half their health, they take a penalty to all attributes, and at one hit point, they take another penalty. Zero HP means you're dead (or, optionally, unconscious). Characters can regain health by getting a full 10 hours of uninterrupted rest, and if a physician tends to them, drawing a Heart card heals an additional point.

Next, the game explains the equipment. Players can buy a maximum of four pieces of equipment each session. Some equipment is free and they can just take it, but other equipment has to be drawn for - if a player fails, they can't get any more fancy equipment at all, but they should have at least four pieces with a cost of 0. Equipement is mostly just for flavor and fluff, and includes things like clothing, living space, work space, and transportation. The most important equipment is probably your weapons - well, that and ghost-hunting gear, anyway. Drawing particularly well can lead to things like mystical tomes of knowledge or special weapons, but it's more likely their gear will be fairly mundane. (Don't neglect having stuff that can actually hurt ghosts, though... seriously, that's important.)

At this point, we're only about halfway through the PDF - fortunately, the rest is easier to summarize. After talking about the equipment, the game offers advice for the Ghostmaster on running games, rewarding players, creating important NPCs, and so on. A few examples are given to make this easier to understand. The game also explains how to create the ghosts that the players will be hunting (which is, of course, a little more challenging) - there's an entire separate section of the book, with a different art style and everything, dedicated to the ghosts and offering samples the GM can use in their first few games. Ghosts are divided into 7 divisions, which loosely correlate to their level of power and the threat they can pose, and have various spooky powers like possession, telekinesis, or coming back over and over again.

The game wraps up with about two and a half pages of adventure hooks that you can use to start planning out a game. You will need to do at least a little planning and preparation in order to make your game succeed, although experienced GMs will be able to wing a lot of what happens. Since the amount of preparation needed will vary by group, I have no universal advice here - although you may want to look into Realm Works if you enjoy adding a lot of detail.

Anyway, as this game was based on another system, it looks quite solid to me. Play seems like it will go fairly quickly once everyone knows the rules, and people are encouraged to have fun and work together in order to succeed. I did notice a few typos throughout the document (fortunately, nothing serious or confusing), but overall, I think this looks like a pretty good game for a family or group of friends that wants to go hunt ghosts. I'd give it a 4.5/5 overall, rounded upwards.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
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