Phenomenon 1

“Rabid” is the number 1 phenomenon of Coma Ward. Whether from pure random coincidence or through people just wanting to play the first Phenomenon because traditional logic dictates “number one is first in order,” a lot of folks have played Phenomenon 1.

What’s in the box?

Inside the box, you’ll find a Phenomenon Rules Sheet that gives an explanation of what clues you found, a breakdown of recommended player count and estimated play-time, someone’s rambling prose, instructions for what to do with the rest of the box’s content, and some rules for how the game has shifted. You’ll also find two solution cards (one “paper” and one “Serum for Virus B9”), ten “Ravenous Diseased,” and two Epilogues.

This Phenomenon is a cooperative one and players need to inoculate themselves and one another with the serum and kill the Ravenous Diseased to survive the phenomenon.

The Ravenous Diseased are pretty tough enemies. When you attack them, you need six or more successes. If you fail to damage a Ravenous Diseased, they infect you and you will become one of them when you die.

Unlike other enemies in Coma Ward, when you hit them you deal damage equal to your Attack Value. So, Unarmed Attacks would deal 1 damage and any attacks made with weapons would deal the damage rating listed on the weapon card(s).
Granted, the text of the card does a horrible job communicating this and I’ll get to that.

To find the Serum for Virus B9, you’ll need to find the Paper. The Paper is an interoffice memo for hospital staff and is placed face down on the space where the first Clue was discovered.

Where’d you steal THIS from?

You know this is about zombies, right? The initial draft of this phenomenon featured a straight-up rip off of the opening of “28 Days Later.” You all wake up, you’re scared and confused, and also there are zombies doing zombie things.

Wisely, the publishers of Coma ward said “Danny… Zombies are overdone. Can you make this less derivative?”

I’m sure they phrased their request differently, but memory is mercurial and I’m writing this so I’ll recall it however I want.

In fact, I recall right before that the publisher telling me I was the best designer they’d ever worked with, I was the most handsome man alive, and I would be getting a bonus check big enough to purchase an Elon Musk rocket so I could escape the planet before we’ve drained this blue marble dryer than a 20-year old raisin.

Where was I? Oh yeah, the publisher wanted me to re-theme this phenomenon. They suggested replacing the zombies with demons or giving the zombies unique attributes.

I just said “what if they’re insane technophobic terrorists who created an airborne virus that removes the higher cognitive functions of the human brain and turns everyone into gluttonous violence monsters. When the concentration of the virus becomes too diluted to spread through the air, it spreads through saliva, because rabies or whatever?”

The idea came to me in an instant and it seemed like a very natural transition. The publisher liked the idea. They weren’t the ones writing it and if I could convey the concepts on the limited space of a single paper and some 2.5″x3.5″ cards then I had their blessing.

Honestly, I cannot express how much creative freedom I had while working on this game. It’s insane. Imagine “Lord of the Flies” but everyone gets along and the boar is the king.

This is the worst game I’ve ever played and here’s why…

The Ravenous Diseased are terribly designed.

I don’t mean they are “unbalanced” or “unfair” or “too hard to fight with only two players.” I mean the language of the card is inconsistent with every other enemy in Coma Ward.

Why the language of the Ravenous Diseased is so different is a fun story. But, that’s not what we’re here for.

So, how would I fix the Ravenous Diseased? Easy. I’d change the text to this:

Ravenous Diseased
At the end of the round, after each player has taken their turn, each Ravenous Diseased moves 2 spaces toward the nearest player on their floor. If there are no players the same floor as a Ravenous Diseased, they move towards the nearest player on another floor. Ravenous Diseased use the stairs because they don’t trust machine and elevators are scary when you’re a member of a technophobic terrorist cult. Ravenous Diseased use the stairs the same way players do.

If Ravenous Diseased enters the same space as a player, that player makes an Attack Check.
0-5) The snarling lesion-covered figure lunges at you and bites you with yellow teeth. You scream and pull back a crimson spewing arm. -3 Health and you are Infected.
6+) You dodge the hideous figure and share some thoughts of your own…violently… by attacking them. Deal damage to the Ravenous Diseased as if you attacked a Player with this check.

Whenever Ravenous Diseased is dealt damage place that many tokens on it. If a Ravenous Diseased ever has 5 or more counters on it, it is eliminated and removed from the game.
The Ravenous Diseased may be attacked. To do so, you need 6+ successes on your Attack Check. You deal damage to the Ravenous Diseased as if you attack a Player with this check.

That’s the only thing I would change about this phenomenon.
Sure, this change takes away the option for players to Dodge the Ravenous Diseased. That makes sense, though. These are rabid zealots driven to murder and societal collapse and you’ve just woken up from a real long confusing nap. Like it or not, they will MAKE you fight them.

Anyone who’s visited r/the_donald knows what I’m talkin’ ’bout.

Okay, so it has A FEW cool things going on.

Conceptually, this phenomenon is pretty cool. Its influences are obvious, but not directly ripped-off. Which is apparently hard to do in the world of board games.

Epilogue A is one of the few “good” endings in Coma Ward. In fact, this whole phenomenon has a very sardonic, yet playful, tone to it.

Epilogue B is one of my favorite epilogues in all of Coma Ward. It isn’t the only misanthropic ending. Heck, it isn’t even the most nihilistic.

This is also one of the easiest to learn/pick-up-and-play Phenomenon in Coma Ward. It also offers some great open-ended options for strategy.
Players with larger parties an split the group. One set of folks can keep exploring the Hospital, looking for weapons, while the other set gets the serum and starts inoculating everyone.

Players with smaller groups can stick together to try and position themselves so they are in range of as few Ravenous Diseased as possible while trading items to keep the weapons in the healthiest player’s hands.

I’d say it’s my Xth favorite

So, how do I rank this particular phenomenon against the others of the core set? 

Rabid is probably my 9th favorite concerning narrative and general concept. It’s just zombies with a fresh coat of paint. It’s not as “epic” as Zombicide, but Coma Ward doesn’t star Roddy Piper, so that makes sense.

As far as gameplay goes, I rank this phenomenon as my 11th favorite in the core set (3rd from the bottom). The poor directions on the Ravenous Disease just mixed too many people up and hearing that some folks didn’t have a good experience knocks this one down several pegs.

Granted, with my corrected Ravenous Disease text in the section above I’d bump this phenomenon to my 8th favorite. Not the best or most innovative game. But, there’s some avenues for strategy and player freedom in here. That’s what Coma Ward’s all about.

There ya go, how I feel about Phenomenon 1, Rabid.
Feel free to leave some feedback. 

Phenomenon 13 (KS Exclusive/The Green Box)

“All That We See Or Seem” is the 13th phenomenon of Coma Ward. It’s the phenomenon people have seen the most if they watched the play through video on the Kickstarter page or read any of the previews. It also sets a great tone for how a game of Coma Ward typically plays out.

What’s in the box?

Inside the box, you’ll find a Phenomenon Rules Sheet that gives an explanation of what clues you found, a breakdown of recommended player count and estimated play-time, someone’s rambling prose, instructions for what to do with the rest of the box’s content, and some rules for how the game has shifted.  You’ll also find a deck of “Nightmares”, a Nightmare explanation card, six Goal cards, and six Epilogues.

Everyone gets a random Goal with some story text and an objective they need to complete to win the game. These have some story text that tells you what your personal nightmare is and tell you what your objective is. These are also completely hidden.

From now on, at the start of each player’s turn that player will make a Focus Check. If they BOMB that check, they draw two Nightmare cards. If they get do well on that Focus Check, they draw a single Nightmare card. If they ace that check, nothing happens and the nightmares are kept at bay for a moment. And if their Focus Check is just a meteor shower of suspense and successes, the player can stack the nightmare deck.

All the nightmares either directly affect the player, meaning the nightmare doesn’t interact with the board space or have the ability to affect multiple players, or are malevolent force that cannot be attacked or defeated.

Where’d you steal THIS from?

Most obviously, I was inspired by “Nightmare on Elm Street.” But, honestly, this concept is such a common one that it makes perfect sense for me to have stolen it from an episode of Sponge-bob or a GEICO commercial.

The collective unconscious is something that’s always fascinated me. From the works of Joseph Campbell and the monomyth to the pantheistic beliefs of some Native American cultures, the idea that reality is a shared vision and our dreams are where our sub-consciousness speak to one another is just a cool thought to me. 

Now, I can’t precisely recall if I’ve seen or read anything where a group of folks is sharing the same dream-space and experiencing different nightmares. So, I may have actually put an original idea in this game. But, I’m not going to give myself too much credit. It’s more likely I saw this played out in an anime or horror movie some years ago and the originator’s title is just buried under decades of media in the storeroom of my mind.

Oh, and the title is straight up stolen from the works of Edgar Allen Poe. Because I am a horrid writer and since Poe is in the public domain I can just slap his finely crafted work on my own and claim the credit. Yay for pre-Walt Disney lobbying copyright laws!

This is the worst game I’ve ever played and here’s why…

Many of the complaints so politely presented to me about Coma Ward have to do with the first half of the game. Some folks dislike the ambiguity and randomosity of the Prologue. One person even described it as “senselessly moving from room to room, rolling dice, and just reading cards.” Which is weird because that person went on to tell me how much they love Gloomhaven… and that game is just senselessly moving from room to room and playing War against the game.*

“All That We See or Seem” is a phenomenon that can a bit disproportionate to folks if the prologue went a particular way. See, each of those “Goal” cards either requires players to end their turn on a specific Tile or take a certain action against another player… Fight them. Combat is the only action you can take against another player. I don’t know why I was being vague about it.

So, if players found a tile, let’s say Operating Room 3, during the prologue and that’s the Tile my Goal card says I need to end my turn on to meet my End Game condition… Well, I’m at an advantage over the player who’s room is still undiscovered and needs to spend turns searching the Hospital.

Granted, I did my best to account for this by having half the Goals focus on player interaction and the other half to focus on searching for/ending turns on particular room tiles. 

Also, I didn’t design Coma Ward to be a perfectly balanced pocket-watch of a strategy game. It’s more like that rickety caged-Ferris-wheel ride at the state fair that does flips and stuff… The Zipper? Is that what it’s called? 

You know, the one that puts a pit in your gut just looking at it. The person operating that elaborate switchboard of “on-button” and “stop-button” isn’t prepared for when one of those, literal, screaming metal death cages just pops off the ride at max speed. And that poor funnel-cake booth worker isn’t ready for a giant iron box of people to come crashing into their stand, sending powdered sugar and golden brown bits of fried batter soaring through the air in plumes of tasty clouds…

What were we talking about?

Oh yeah, randomness impacting asymmetrical goals. 

So, if I were to take a crack at this one again, I’d probably make all of the Goals focus on player interaction. Granted, I feel the narrative drives for that are less compelling. Some of the Goals have really interesting concepts and unique endings that don’t translate to “fight people… for reasons.” But, sometimes… and I feel weird typing this… sometimes games are about how well they play and not the story they tell. 

Okay, so it has A FEW cool things going on.

Alright, now that we’re past the morbid carnival accident analogies, let’s discuss what I’m proud of in this phenomenon. 

The Nightmare deck is an interesting mechanic that adds a really cool layer to things. Some players wil roll those hot dice and never draw a Nightmare card. Others… Those poor unlucky rubes will be dropping two horrid monstrosities into the hospital each turn.

The imagery of the tooth-fairy being a face that forms in the stairwell with teeth bubbling up and piercing from her face was a true inspiration. Granted… After the game hit shelves I saw the first season of Channel Zero and if you’ve seen it you’ll realize I just wound up sharing a dream with that shows creative team because we both had the same wonderful idea.

Oh, and vomiting snakes… That’s just a horrifying image and I feel I nailed the flavor text on that card, as well as the relationship of mechanic to story. 

Also, the epilogues are awesome. The terror of the “Find the Doll” epilogue… man, that imagery still gets to me. I wrote a LOT of gruesome and unnerving stuff for this game.  But something about this particular ending really rattles me. 

Each of the epilogues also features a dark ending that, narratively, puts characters right back at the beginning of the game. In fact, writing this phenomenon was when I got the idea of using a Sisyphean loop to really hammer in some existential dread by returning to the intro text of the rulebook.

As a game, I feel this is one of the best examples of what Coma Ward is intended to be. It’s unique, it encourages discussion once the game is done (so players disclose WHY they were doing what they did during the second half), and the players have multiple elements inhibiting their progress (the increasing chaos of the hospital, a hidden room tile/players who refuse to stay still and let you attack them, and need to pass a particular check).

I’d say it’s my Xth favorite

So, how do I rank this particular phenomenon against the others of the core set? 

Well… I don’t like playing favorites. Which is good, because this one isn’t my favorite.

Judging this phenomenon on its narrative elements and general concept, I’d say this is the 6th best of the core box.

As far as gameplay goes, I rank this phenomenon as my least favorite in the core box. Although I have a fondness for this one and think it’s a great phenomenon to get folks introduced to the concepts of the game, this phenomenon has been so exposed via videos and reviews (one of which I’m to blame for), I just don’t love this darling as much as the others in the box.

So there you have it, the first one of these little reflection posts. Feel free to leave some feedback. 

*This is satire. Gloomhaven is a fine game that is wonderfully immersive I was being glib to prove a point. That point being any game taken out of context or reduced down to merely describing its mechanics is banal. So, from now on let’s all use our adult words and just say “this game doesn’t appeal to me and the theme doesn’t immerse me.”

Who IS Danny Lott?

Let’s get existential….

Greetings one and all and thank you for taking a look at this here blog. If you’re here you either wanted more information about Coma Ward, the board game I designed, or you’re being punished by some malignant force.

If it’s the latter, I’m so sorry and I wish I could help you. But, I live in a special hell all my own, it’s called Board Game Design. So, I’m a little tied up right now and I wish you the best of luck in your escape.

If it’s the former, howdy! Thanks for dropping by. I hope you find this blog of value and interest.

Who am I and why does anything I have to say matter?

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