In April 2019, a town called Malice, a newly launched Kickstarter popped up on my radar. Having enjoyed other Monkeyfun Studios games, I read the pitch and pledged my money. Fast forward to the fall of 2019. The book arrives at Chateau Modoc and reading commenced. It wasn’t until recently that I was able to assemble a local group to give it a whirl and while our story went off the rails ever-so-slightly, it provided me with some interesting insights into what this game is trying to do.
The game features a Nordic noir theme and is inspired by television shows such as Twin Peaks, Broadchurch, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. If you’re familiar with these or others within the genre, you likely have a sense of where the designer wanted to take the game. The game focuses heavily on creating a shared narrative. As written, the game has no gamemaster but does include suggestions for those that would prefer a more traditional game experience. We opted to experience the game as it was designed to be played, GM-less with it’s shared narrative and impending doom.
a town called Malice uses a modified version of the Story Pillar System created by Jason Olsen and Protaganistic Industries for their game Home by Dark. The Pillar System provides the framework for Malice’s being. Kizzia has clearly been influenced by other story games as well. There several modified Fiasco (Jason Morningstar) -like elements in use and will be easily spotted by Fiasco fans.
This framework allows the game to focus on the narrative while using dice to resolve scenes and the Final Confrontation. The pillar system in Malice uses three index cards to represent the “Body”, “Event”, and “Darkness”. It is these three central things that will ultimately drive the game and be pivotal in its final outcome.
I don’t want to make this review a thesis on the rules, but I want to talk about a few of the rule concepts that are involved to give you a sense of what you’re getting when you buy this book.
The Pillars – Every game of Malice has the following: a favorable event that the players need to further and promote for the benefit of the town, a Darkness that looms in the wings and influences everything in town, and a body. There is always a body found at the start of each game and players must learn who the person is and what killed them. A good Malice framework has all three pillars connected to one another. At the start of each act, each card receives a set number of dice. At the end of each scene, depending on the intent of the Spotlight Player and the success or failure of the resolution roll, dice could be moved, removed or added.
Act – A game is played over two acts. Each act has a number of Scenes equal to 2x the number of players. In short, each player will be the Spotlight Player twice in each act.
Spotlight Player – When you’re the spotlight player, you’re in charge of the scene. You have the final say as to what it is you’re are going to try to do and who’s involved with you. The Spotlight Player decides which Pillar their scene will focus on, which player (if any) are in the scene with them, and where the scene takes place. A Spotlight Player’s scene, in terms of the narrative, can be concurrent with another scene, a flashback, or moves the story further along a timeline.
Scenes – Scenes are “turns” in the game and each player gets two in each act. As mentioned above, the Spotlight Player is in control, but this is a shared narrative. At the beginning of each scene, the Spotlight Player announces the intent of their scene. Do they want to attempt to try to further the upcoming event? Do they want to learn more about the body that was found? Do they want to attempt to diminish the Darkness’ influence? Another type of scene to resolve are relationship scenes. These focus on the positive or negative relationships the Spotlight Player has with another player. They may also add one other player (for free) to the scene. If they or another player wishes to be part of the scene or if a new civilian (NPC) needs to be added to the town to make this scene work, character points must be spent. All involved in the scene hold “in character” dialogue and play the scene to a natural stopping point. Once reached, the scene needs to be resolved. To do that, the Spotlight Player builds a Resolution Pool and rolls it against the scene’s Opposition Pool. (3 in Act 1, 5 in Act 2)
Dice Mechanics – Malice only uses D6s. They are only rolled in two situations. The first is to resolve a scene. The player’s Resolution Pool is built as follows: 1 for each player involved in a scene, +1 for each new civilian added, +1 if held at a new location, and +1 if a Special Item was added. Once the pool is built, it’s rolled against the static Opposition Pool to determine the scene’s outcome. All dice rolling a 4 or higher are successes. If your roll has equal to or more successes than the Opposition Pool, you have succeeded; otherwise, you fail.
Character Points – Players start each act with one character point; others may be earned during gameplay when attempting to resolve a relationship scene or by performing actions in the name of their personal goal. This is a resource a player spends to add things to a scene like additional players, new civilians (NPCs), new locations to the town, or Special Items. Points may also be spent to purchase additional “personal” dice that are added to the Resolution Pool of any scene in which the player participates. Any player may spend their resource points to add any of those things to their scene or any other player’s scene, keeping in mind that the Spotlight Player has the final say. Character points not used during the game have the potential to influence the Final Confrontation at the end of the game.
Final Confrontation – When both acts have concluded, it’s time to see how the game itself ends. Players will walk through two short sequences that will build resolution pools. One to roll against the Darkness and one to determine if the event is successful. Possible outcomes for each are – win, lose, or tie. Depending on the outcome of each Pillar resolution roll, players should collaborate to epilogue what the result means to the story if a provided playset is not used.
There are several other elements of the game I have not touched on, such as the character-building process, establishing relationships (Heit and Kult), playing without a playset, and a few other things. You’ll have to read the book to learn more.
The presentation of the game rules and examples stands out as among the best I have ever seen. Yes, I know that is a pretty strong statement, but it’s true. As you read, you are sucked in by a guided narration that drips of Nordic noir. The reading experience feels personalized in some weird way. The rules are presented in a very clear and concise way that flows very well. The examples, of which there are numerous, really helps to further solidify the rules in the reader’s mind.
The collaborative nature of the game allows for Spotlight Players to have ownership of the narrative even if it is only during that scene. Despite that ownership, you never lose the sense of collaboration as each of the scenes is played out and ultimately resolved before moving to the next. Other collaborative story games highlight the shared experience in its totality. a town called Malice really shines by allowing each Spotlight Player, during their scenes, to have ownership and veto power without diminishing the shared experience that is central to story games.
As I mentioned, we took the game for a test drive with a small group, consisting of only three players. We opted to use one of the two playsets that were included in the book. This one so happened to be about a town (Malice) located in the far North of Canada with a rising river due to extreme rainfall amounts in a short period of time. Our looming Darkness was a water creature that was snatching and killing townsfolk.
Our game was slow at first as we worked through the game set up and the first few scenes. Once we got rolling though, the game seemed to speed up. I can say we all enjoyed the game setup phase and laughs were had by all. Our town of Malice was like any other town in the Northern Canadian wilds. We relied on government assistance during natural disasters, but due to budget cuts, no assistance was coming this year. A little known fact about our Malice, determined during the setup phase as we named locations and Civilians, it is the manufacturing and international distribution center for an adult novelty and marital aids company. Yes, you read that correctly.
As you can imagine, that now established factoid became an ever-present aspect (if not a joke) during the entirety of the game. It foreshadowed the entire game to include the event resolution wherein we figured out a plan to ride out the flood with the town residents in the adult novelty facility.
All-in-all, we enjoyed the game, the collaborative nature of the storytelling and how the mechanics all seemed to work together.
The physical book is nicely constructed with a well crafted perfect binding that is holding up well to reading and table use. I suspect it will hold up well over time. The book is amazing laid out and includes an overabundance of examples that I really appreciate. The book, however, is not without issues. You may have noticed that each time I present the title, a town called Malice, it is not properly capitalized. There is a design element to the entire cover (and book for that matter) wherein there are no capitalized proper nouns, but Malice is in uppercase. The editor in me cringes at this, but I think it is used to good effect. If you see this on a shelf, your eye is drawn to “MALICE” before anything else.
Overall the arrangement of the material is nicely done but I would have liked to have seen the definitions of Heit and Kult (positive and negative relationships) located before the character roles. So that when reading the various character roles, the terms would have made more sense. The other issue that stood out to me was a number of discrete typos throughout the book. As an editor, I have a tendency to pick up on these, but the average reader is not likely to notice 95% of them.
Let me assure you that neither of my concerns will greatly impact anyone’s enjoyment of the game!
To wrap up this long-form review, a town called Malice is a fun game to read and even more fun to play. Starting on page 1 through to the conclusion of the game itself, I was engrossed in the theme and concepts of the game. Our group enjoyed how everything flowed and worked together, but we did feel the relationship scenes were a little “gamey” in how the final confrontation was affected by the total number of negative relationships left unresolved at the end game. We are planning to play again in the near future, but this time I think we’re going to try to collaboratively create our own playset. That is very much an aspect of the game we all agreed to for the next game.
a town called Malice is a worthy addition to any gamers lineup and I can see this easily becoming one of my top picks in 2020!
Since publishing the original review, we have also reviewed the first supplement for a town called Malice – A Look at acts of Malice, volume one
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