PLAYlist 48: Gates of Delirium | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Wednesday, September 23rd, 2020  

PLAYlist 48: Gates of Delirium

Oct 31, 2019 By Austin Trunick Bookmark and Share

The sounds of seagulls and the morning tide crashing against the rocky shore awakens you from a sleepless slumber. As your eyes adjust to the New England fog which drifts in from the ocean and swallows the lonely lighthouse to your north, you try to recall how you got here. In your hand is a torn piece of paper covered in handwriting you don’t recognize – the last thing you remember from the night before is following footsteps, but you can’t recall whose. An eerie feeling churns in your stomach. Something is amiss, wherever you might be. You’ve heard rumors of maps that mark the paths to hidden gateways, and have seen ancient runes carved in languages not of this Earth. You ask yourself… how did I get here? Have I been dreaming? And can I collect enough victory points to win this game… before I lose my mind?

Gates of Delirium is a new, H.P. Lovecraft-adjacent strategy game from Jordan and Mandy Goddard and Renegade Game Studios, and plays in a brisk 45 minutes. It’s a spooky Eurogame-style release, which is an uncommon (and welcome) theme among board games of its type.

Up to four players will compete to score victory points by being the… err, first to open gateways into another dimension and unleash the monsters that wait on their other side. While it was hard for us to wrap our brains around the idea that welcoming world-devouring demigods into our reality could be a positive thing, that’s the only real stumbling block we hit in Gates of Delirium’s Cthulu-inspired theming. Where the theme succeeds really well is in its division into “sane” and “insane” phases.

When a round begins, one player will decide whether the round will proceed in a “sane” or an “insane” mode of play. During sane rounds, you’ll be sending out investigators to scour the coastal regions of New England, find pieces of maps and locate the scattered pages of a mysterious tome. With these actions, you’ll be placing some of your ten meeples onto the map, or cards from your hand into your personal tableau for scoring at the end of the game. During insane rounds, you’ll be removing opponents’ investigators from the board, collecting archaic runes, and <gasp!> opening portals to another dimension and awakening the unfathomable evils that wait on their other side.

These dual modes of play are the crux of Gates of Delirium’s gameplay. When a player takes an action — they’ll take two per turn — they do so by playing an associated card from their hand. The cards, though, are double-sided, having a “sane” action on the top, and then an “insane” action when you flip them upside-down. When you play an action, you’ll have to weigh whether its benefits are more worthwhile than using the opposing action on the bottom of the same card in a future turn. You’ll constantly find yourself pitching cards you planned to use later on because a more enticing option is available right away.

All of these actions are a means to an end: popping open portals to unleash the nasty beasts within, and then scoring big points in doing so. When a gateway opens, the player who popped it gets points based on the beast’s value, and then players in the corresponding territory will score additional amounts of points based on their majority standing of meeples in that area of the board. Once an area is scored, all the meeples are wiped away and jockeying for positioning begins all over again.

Gates of Delirium is a constant game of push-and-pull. There’s a limited number of spaces on the board – not to mention, each player only had 10 meeples to work with – meaning that it’s easy for everyone to get all of the information they need from a quick glance at the table. If someone’s close to opening a gateway in, say, the green area, then you bet your bottoms that all of their opponents will be moving their meeples into the green region for a piece of that sweet, sweet monster-popping action. Thus, it’s a game of timing. If you can pull a fast one on the other players, it can provide a sizeable swing in points.

Best of all, the game moves really fast. Because players can only play two out of five actions on any turn, and because it doesn’t take long to calculate how many potential points a move is worth, Gates of Delirium sizzles along quickly. There’s a clever way in which the cards were designed, too, in that the decks thin themselves out as the game’s end nears. (When players collect runes, portals, or map pieces, they’re removed from play.) By the last few rounds, players have little choice but to go at each other aggressively for points. This ensures that the game doesn’t outlast its welcome.

We’ve mentioned how Gates of Delirium lands its sanity vs. insanity premise, but the visual design also plays a big part of evoking the Lovecraftian theme. The game looks very nice, with great monster art and evocative illustrations on the cards (even when it’s reused over and over throughout the decks.) The portal cards are collected in a very cool-looking way, fanned onto the table until they form a complete, circular portal shape. (When a monster is summoned, it’s plunked right down into the center of the portal.) On top of it all, the sanity token is big, heavy, and made of wood, and makes a satisfying “thunk” noise when it’s slapped down onto the tabletop. This is a really cool production.

Now, we know the Lovecraft theme isn’t exactly something new to the board game arena. I could easily think up half a dozen others before resorting to Google and Boardgamegeek, and that includes several classics — Arkham Horror, Mansions of Madness, 7th Continent — as well as re-themed takes on popular favorites. The majority of these games, though, revolve around adventure and exploration, or battling otherworldly monsters with the rolls of dice and equipment card modifiers.

Where the Lovecraft theme isn’t common, however, is in the Euro game area. If you’re interested in more strategic territory for your tabletop gaming, then Gates of Delirium will be a breath of fresh air. (Hey, it’s not about farming or the other thankless occupations of 16th Century German peasants!) Instead of opening up gates to other worlds, this game could have easily been about — I don’t know — opening up new trade routes out of Venice. Instead, they went with a theme that’s not one you see in this sort of game, and executed it in a manner that’s pretty evocative. Pushing around meeples has never been this spooky, and our shelves weren’t exactly teeming to this point with spooky Euro games to play during the Halloween season. (That is, unless you spend time to overthink how scary short the life expectancy of a 16th Century German peasant farmer actually was.)

Gates of Delirium is available from Renegade Game Studios for an MSRP of $45.

For this special All Hallow’s Eve column, we’ve eschewed the typical Halloween party playlist in favor of something pretty different. (Not that there’s anything wrong with “Thriller,” “Ghostbusters,” or “Monster Mash,” but we wanted to give you something to listen to that won’t feel out-of-season when you bust out Gates of Delirium during the eleven other, non-October months.) Occult rock is a smaller subgenre that sprung out of the folk rock music of the latter psychedelic era. Sure, bands like Black Sabbath and Blue Oyster Cult delved into some spooky, supernatural stuff within their lyrics, but they didn’t go as full-on into the paranormal theming as Coven, a Chicago-based rock group who formed in the late ‘60s and claimed to actually practice witchcraft. Their debut album, 1969’s lengthily-titled Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls, went so far as to dedicate almost the entirety of its second side to recreating a somewhat cheesy “black mass,” with chanting and all that. Thankfully, the rest of the record offers songs that are more musically interesting, including the creepy “Coven in Charing Cross,” included in our YouTube playlist above. Unfortunately for the group, a 1970 Esquire article baselessly blamed spooky hippie bands such as Coven for the Manson murders, and the band’s label pulled their album from circulation.

Our playlist includes cuts from other, similar bands of that era, including fellow Chicago-based acid rockers H.P. Lovecraft (appropriate here, right?), the U.K.’s Black Widow and Comus, Writing on the Wall of Scotland, and Greek prog rockers Aphrodite’s Child - the latter of whom were formed by future Blade Runner and Chariots of Fire composer Vangelis. Some of it may sound cheesy now, sure, but all are worthwhile curiosities – and seasonally-appropriate, to say the least!


Previous PLAYlist columns: Terror BelowThe Estates, NobjectsMemoir '44 & New Flight Plan, Bubble TeaUndoGizmosImhotep, Hex Roller, The Table is Lava, Happy Salmon, The Quacks of QuedlinburgThe ClimbersNEOMCrusaders: Thy Will Be DoneReykholtPandemicEverdellKingdomino, CitrusHistory of the World, Altiplano, Pioneer Days, Crystal Clans, Jurassic Park: Danger!, PhotosynthesisIce CoolFood Truck ChampionArs Alchimia & LemuriaA Game of Thrones CatanTroyesTwilight Imperium: Fourth EditionFlip ShipsNMBR 9UnearthEscape from 100 Million B.C., Orleans (plus Trade & Intrigue)Whistle StopCaverna: Cave vs CaveTwilight StruggleHonshuBärenpark, Notre Dame & In the Year of the DragonYokohamaClank! A Deck-Building AdventureVillages of ValeriaNew York SliceWatson & HolmesHanamikoji.


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