I love horror. I eat, drink, and breathe horror. I have ever since my mom got me this _Encyclopedia of Horror_ book when I was like 6 years old and from the Peter Cushing introduction to the red-tinted black and white film stills throughout, I absolutely cherished that book. But even at that early age, I knew that the Mummy sucked. In whatever incarnation, the Mummy has always been a spookshow second-stringer, classic B-team material to the A-listers Dracula and Frankenstein that made me think more of the horrors of a nursing home than that found in crumbling gothic castles. Don’t get me wrong- I love Karloff as THE MUMMY and Karl Freund’s direction in that picture is second only to James Whale’s in the Universal canon and there’s plenty of merit in Hammer’s Technicolor version of the story even if it seems awful anemic compared to the previous issues of HORROR OF DRACULA and TERROR OF FRANKENSTEIN. And the less said about those god awful Brendan Fraser big-screen video games the better.
So it stands to follow that if the
Now, I’m not going to tell you that the game is awesome and a forgotten classic because it isn’t. But what I will tell you is that the game isn’t nearly as bad as most of the online reports and reviews would have you believe and it seems to me that there’s a pretty severe misinterpretation as to what this game really is and what it isn’t. Fundamentally, CURSE is an odd hybrid of a very light TALISMAN-style adventure coupled with a simple take-that card game but it’s not a horror epic like FURY and it’s definitely not anything approaching a serious adventure game. Nor is it a game of high strategy and sophisticated, “clever” mechanics. It’s easy to have high expectations given the promise of the theme and its pedigree but with a reasonable understanding that CURSE is simply a just-for-fun card game with a board movement element (taking place on a fantastic, 3D tri-level pyramid) you’ll likely find more to enjoy than you might have anticipated.
The object of the game is to be the first player to ascend to the Chamber of Osiris at the top of the pyramid and find some immortality-granting elixir. Classic Mummy stuff. On the way, explorers will have to contend with the titular Mummy, guest appearances by the Egyptian pantheon, traps, getting lost, and a monocled German with a penchant for torture called Otto. Explorers have four lives and a battery of skills (tested with a low-roll d12 or added to combat rolls) and there is a simple economic system based on the collection of tana leaves- a very nice thematic touch.
At the beginning of each round, players bid- yes, bid- a number of tana leaves for the right to control the lumbering mummy for the turn, getting to move him one space if they win the bid. The mummy causes loss of a life or a “discovery”, which is the game’s way of saying “treasure”. A player’s turn consists of playing a movement card which features one or more directions to move or even a set of stairs to move up or down a level. The pyramid floors have spaces with numbers ranging from 1-3 which indicate how many encounter cards can be played there. Encounter cards represent hazards, creatures, and discoveries. A player can also choose to forsake movement in favor of discarding cards to redraw for a better hand and there is the added benefit that discarded cards pay out in tana leaves.
Here’s where it gets a little funky and this is where I think the game loses a lot of people. After you move, each player gets an opportunity to play another movement card on you, so if you’re sitting on a prime 3 space (which guarantees you’ll get a discovery as long as you can weather the encounters) the other players will likely conspire to move you to a less desirable 1 or 2 space where you’ll almost certainly be on the receiving end of hazards and creatures and you’ll reach the encounter limit before you can play a discovery card. So you can, in a 4 player game, wind up three spaces away from where you intended. There’s even a dead-end card that makes you lose a turn. So planning strategies based on movement is right out. Once movement is settled, the other players get to play harmful encounters out of their hands on you that you’ll have to contend with by fighting (which means you can go mano-a-scorpion with strength rolls, trying to outwit the baddie with a cunning roll, or retreating with a speed roll) or passing one or more skill tests. Hopefully, at the end of all that you’ll have a discovery card that will give you a helpful piece of equipment or even the Key of Osiris, which grants you access to the chamber at the top.
As the internet board gaming cognoscenti have presumed, there does appear to be a complete lack of control in the game and that is a criticism that isn’t without merit since other players, particularly in a full-table game, will get to move you more than you can move yourself. I don’t think this odd mechanic is without a thematic basis since it is intended to represent the fact that the explorers are wandering around, completely lost in a very ancient and very dark tomb. There is equipment, such as a map, that lets a player reject movement cards played on them and as long as you make a bee-line for the top from the very beginning rather than loitering around then it at least feels like you can guide your explorer if not completely control where he goes. Part of the fun is the nastiness inherent in denying your fellow players the satisfaction of imposing his will on where he winds up going. It’s not totally random- you are still making decisions throughout the game. A good comparison would be DUNGEONQUEST although player interaction (and interference) is much higher in CURSE.
What emerges from all this is something that more closely resembles a take-that card game than a board-based adventure game. Between the mummy and cardplay, expect players to pound on each other mercilessly and with impunity and throw any notion of developing an elaborate long-term strategy out the window. It just isn’t the kind of game you play to win, and it isn’t the kind of game you play to demonstrate your outrageously superior intellect to your friends. You play through it, and if you win you say “yay” and have a good laugh. There’s plenty of atmosphere and of course the flavor text is great despite a couple of egregious errors in the card descriptions that common sense can easily correct. The possibility for some fun metagame rivalry, negotiation, and nastiness brings a lot of fun to the table so it is definitely something that you’ve got to play in the right spirit and with the right people.
Where it all gets pretty close to going horribly wrong is that by its nature it is the kind of game where other players can play expressly to prohibit a player from winning and it also can hinge on drawing the right cards- if you’re on level two with a key but can’t get a stairs card, you’re screwed. You’re double screwed if every other player has one and they decide to move you down to the first floor. There are some things to mitigate this (including a couple of nifty card effects like switching locations with other explorers and the ability to redraw a new hand every turn if need dictates it) but the net effect is that the game can go on much longer than it ought to and it becomes a matter of hoping to squeak by the other players to secure the win. There’s also increased danger as you ascend since the levels are smaller and it’s easier for the mummy to get around to do whatever it is mummies to make you lose a life. At 45-60 minutes, the game feels just right for the level of depth and style. At 90-120 minutes, it feels like the game has outstripped its potential as frustration and repetition sets in. It isn’t hard to correct this problem by simply playing through the deck twice with everyone losing a la DUNGEONQUEST or agreeing to play to a set time limit. Note too that this is a player elimination game so if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the pyramid.
CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB isn’t a "great" game by any stretch of the word since it can't seem to wrap itself up in a timely fashion, and it certainly doesn’t stand up to the genius of FURY OF DRACULA and it definitely feels like a second-rate GW title but I still enjoyed the game and I think there’s plenty of fun to be had with it. I’m the sort of person that gets a lot more satisfaction from ordering a mummy to strangle some guy than, well, pretty much anything that’s ever happened in a Wolfgang Kramer game and I can’t help but like the game regardless of its fumbles. Of course, anyone who follows the horror genre in games knows that’s really the curse, that horror games are more prone to failure than any other theme. At the end of this long, Egyptian day I believe that fans of DUNGEONQUEST and take-that style games will likely get more mileage out of the game then some of the more “serious” board gamers out there seem to have.
But I still think the Mummy sucks.