This is a game where you get to play a dead girl stuffed into a box. You lurk in an abandoned mansion moving hiding place to hiding place and giggling as you go. Those other people at the table are stuck in your house, doing their damnedest to get the hell out before being devoured. To do so, they of course need to open these enclosures and scavenge for items, but if they find your terrifying toddler specter, well, then they’re now a broken body stuffed into the box as well.
Won’t you come and save me?
You’re having one of two reactions. This is for my peeps nodding along who’d rather watch Blair Witch or It Follows than something that’s actually good.
Harsh, I know, but I’m mostly joking; those are quality horror films.
Those of you who let out an audible gasp? You can check right out. You don’t even need to scrounge up a set of keys and locate the trap door to escape like the poor fools in this game.
The rest of you that are still here – you can go ahead and check out as well, because this one’s a dud. Sure it’s a bit Ringu and has a stellar concept, but it feels more like a made for TV movie. You know that warning they used to toss up, the one that said “This film has been modified from its original version. It has been formatted to fit this screen and edited for content.” This game needed that message front and center. It feels cut up and stripped down in a concerted act of violation.
But damn, the concept.
Things start off sounding promising. The players who are the lock-ins alternate taking turns desperately searching for a way out. Before you perform an action you must place a little disc atop a small tower of discs. If the thing collapses, the Hako Onna player gets to interrupt and stumble about like a cackling doll drunk on blood and Absinthe.
I’m the dog who gets beat.
This stacking mechanism is pretty clever conceptually. It’s a thematic representation of carefully tip-toeing about as you avoid creating noise. There’s even a little half-sphere on a couple of the suckers, causing you to strategically orient the disc in interesting ways for future play.
But already there are problems. This system is as challenging as it is gnarly. Many players will struggle to reach the vertical limit of even two or three placements, constantly causing a collapse and internalized frustration which is quickly externalized.
Fortunately this deterrent was realized and a set of alternate cards is included. In a more mundane process, you flip a random selection and assess the total noise value revealed. At 11 volume the trigger is fired and the possessed girl gets to do her thing.
Some players will immediately cotton on to the stacking mechanism and display great prowess. Even then, it’s not as wonderful as it promises.
The issue is that this delicate maneuver really hampers the pace of play. It will form a significant bulk of actual playing time as participants spend up to a minute orienting the disc and carefully sliding it into position. Everyone will wipe their brow and let out their breath for the tension has subsided.
Then you get rewarded with your turn. Which is a single action. So you move one space. Then we do it all again.
He who tries, will be wasted
Maybe you don’t move a space. Maybe you instead look into one of the hiding places in your room. These boxes and cupboards consist of face-down tokens. You’re trying to find one of several paths of escape such as identifying the one weapon Hako Onna is weak against, deducing the combination to the safe so that you can nab the keys and hoof it, or most likely finding the slightly creepy doll and returning it to the deceased girl’s pile of bones in the basement.
That sounds neat, right? Multiple paths to victory, all narrative driven and containing their own subset of strategic requirements. Again, the meal looks much more appetizing than it tastes.
These vectors are wildly unequal in attainability. The doll path has proven much easier to accomplish than the others and is solely responsible for the player victories I’ve seen. It’s simply too many actions and far too risky to pursue the other goals. Bummer.
Let’s move on.
This is a one-vs-many game. The adversary is a twisted undead girl who plays by her own rules. Her turns, while less frequent, are more robust. She will gain and play power cards that she amasses over the 60 minutes of play, allowing her to perform nefarious tricks and lay devious traps for the players. She will also move room to room by having the players close their eyes as she shuffles around tokens in the dark. Both of these actions sound enticing and certainly contain a possibility of eliciting tension. But you guessed it, both fail to really deliver once again.
The power cards are strange. They offer a capability of dramatic play and surges of strength, but you will likely earn so few, particularly early in the game. The intruders must find tokens that contain pages of your diary in order to unlock the use of these cards, so it means you are unlikely to draw anything worthwhile for a large portion of the relatively short playtime. If you do draw a card that you are unable to use you must put it back on the bottom of the deck likely never to see it again.
Even worse, drawing cards require you let out an audible scream – which I dig – and then point to the tile you’re currently in. This is bad, of course, and something you don’t want to do too often as it gives the players an idea of where you are. If Jennifer is searching the second floor while Timothy is scrounging around the basement, you’d likely much rather them not know which you are closest to, particularly near the final act when things get dicey and risks are higher.
That reverse hide-and-seek mechanism is similarly a bit pale. The notion of peeking at a tile with the possibility of your instant death sounds very tense and extreme, but it’s ultimately limp. The issue is that death is not a penalizing sentence but a liberation. Instead of sitting out and watching the resulting mayhem ensue, you replace your meeple with a counter so that you may hide among the clutter of these ancient hoarders just like the Hako Onna. Now it gets harder for those that remain since they have two little devilish fiends scurrying about between closets.
Feed my eyes, can you sew them shut?
There are moments in Hako Onna where joy is lifted from the detritus. Players will occasionally feel a bit of a jolt and experience a touch of anxiety. The problem is that these moments are scattered and of lesser impact than a trip to the dentist or an outing with the in-laws.
This game’s audience is squarely one infatuated with the gimmick that does not mind a more methodical and laid-back tempo. If you need a bit of respite to relax between a few scattered scares, then this one may prove comfortable.
For the rest of us, play is continually hampered by that slow pace of placing disks and performing incremental progress that can barely be felt. It boasts the ambition of a Nyctophobia, but none of the follow-through. The game keeps scuttling along like a body limping across the floor and you keep sitting there, waiting for the pace to pick up. No vomit is flung nor heads twisted, it’s more of the same shuffling and tip-toeing until your feet are sore and your brain is sapped of life.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
If you enjoy what I’m doing at Player Elimination and want to support my efforts, please consider dropping off a tip at my Ko-Fi.