Time: 30 minutes
Favouritefoe rating: 8/10
The descent from baroque to bloodcurdling is a fast one! And, as any horror movie lover will attest, reeeeeally bad things go down in haunted hotels. Just ask Wendy Torrance!
In a race to build the most horrifying hotel, poltergeists and poisoned perennials means points. As such, if your motel isn’t full of spooks shaking their tails to the Monster Mash, your TripAdvisor rating is going to tank harder than a veggie burger at a vampire convention.
With this in mind, dear readers, there is only one question I have to ask; are we ready to check in even if that means we can never check out?!
True to the tile-laying genre, this game is easy to set up and simple to learn. Once players have chosen their own coloured lobby door, it’s a case of pile ‘em high and draw them fast!
Or is it?
Now, I will say from the get-go that I was expecting a simplified Halloween themed Carcassonne-esque territory building experience with a frisson of Kingdomino framing thrown in for good measure. The pattern matching ethos and 5 x 5 hotel footprint being easy, perhaps lazy comparisons on my part.
That in itself would make this a fun game, of course. But, whilst those two cardboard veterans bear little resemblance to the theme, objective, and atmosphere of this game, its own hidden depth and versatility make them worthy shelf buddies.
Please don’t be fooled by Louis Durrant’s wonderfully spooky-cute Scooby-Doo styling and the game’s simple central mechanic, however. Just like those big hitters of the genre, Dead & Breakfast is a box concealing hidden think. A puzzle requiring players to balance objectives and plan ahead; floors, guests, and vines all vying for attention.
But players cannot deliberate in isolation. Nor do they have free completely reign over the designs of their horrifying Hiltons. Cleverly reminiscent of the restriction over tile choice in Patchwork, players can only choose their next horizontal or vertical window tile from three of the six available in the communal carousel. The limited pool having been set by the preceding player’s choice (and pleasingly identified by a giant spooky ghou-ple!). This trick can lead to players being unable to lay a window tile in their tableau, forcing them to fill in gaps with smaller square wall tiles.
And the hellish hate-drafting doesn’t stop there. When a player completes a row, they are able to take a guest from the five waiting patiently to collect their room keys and place it somewhere in their hotel.But, choosing a guest who is going to maximise end-game bonus point scoring when your hotel is only a half-way house is hard enough. Add to that a burning desire to tempt those VIPs away from your opponents, and to limit the number of flowers your fellow hellish hoteliers can score, however, and this game goes from (Edvard) Munch to brain crunch!
Overall, I really enjoyed this game. It was fast, fun, and made me think harder than I was expecting.
And, whilst spatial skills and forward planning are key, the ability to patch missing links in the ivy through strategic placement of guest tiles and wall tiles offers a great in-game opportunity to turn the tables on the leading player.
The flowers are also a clever trick. That players may be competing for the same colour blooms, and then can only score them when linked back to the lobby doors, makes every tile selection decision even more important.
Having now played a number of times with both my young son and my husband, Dead & Breakfast is a game which works on different levels. Whilst our mini-meeple focusses on completing his hotel, we grown-ups tackle the multiple scoring options found in the guests, flowers, and frustrating each other’s pick of the windows tiles. Whatever we do, however, we leave the table smiling in the knowledge that we had a great time doing (and failing to do!) it together.
Now, this game won’t keep you up at night as you try to work out what you could have done better (although the ghoulish design might affect your peaceful dreams!). Nor is it a sprawling, economically driven campaign that will see you through another full day in Lockdown life.
But it isn’t intended to be either of those things. And I believe the family-friendly appearance and game play of Dead & Breakfast are its strengths. However, I do also accept that they could mean that this game falls off the radar for a lot of players. Which s a shame when you consider the popularity and value of games which offer versatility around a game table.
As with most tile layers, replayability is high because luck of the draw means that no round will ever play the same. Whilst you may become very familiar with the guests, goals, and grid formation needed to win, your tactics will always be dictated by the combination of windows and guests in the communal pools, as well as your opponents’ own spook-tastic strategy.
And, should the time come when you are in need of an extra layer of motel madness, the game also includes 8 bonus challenges which give additional points at end-game scoring if you can satisfy the objectives as you go about constructing your hellish hotel.
One final thing I would like to mention is the box itself and not just because the scoring track is actually printed on it. In an inspired way, the size of the box and the use of a single, small insert means that the chunky tiles and wooden components fit snugly inside their cardboard home. No slippage, no bumped edges. Spook-atisfying on so many levels!