When I called Greenbrier Games “eclectic” in my review of their previous game, I meant it. After moving from cuddly bears in Barbearians: Battlegrounds to dark adventures in Folklore: The Affliction (more on that in a future review), their next game will be an adaptation of Dirk Manning’s Nightmare World and Tales of Mr. Rhee horror comics from Image and Devil’s Due. Mr. Rhee: Surviving The Nightmare World will go live on Kickstarter on October 2nd, and I was lucky enough to get a little preview of it direct from Greenbrier.
An asymmetrical card game for 3-6 players, Mr. Rhee: Surviving the Nightmare World pits one against the many as a single player acts as a team of heroes, while the rest take up the role of vile villains working to stop them. The heroes, one for each other villain, must use the power of Hope to gather Fight, Charisma, and Magic and last six rounds against the gathered baddies. The hero player must last through all three Days of Darkness and keep evil at bay as they do. While they are assisted by the innocents in each location, they must manage their increasingly expensive powers that use more and more hope on each use.
Villains, by contrast, use the power of Greed to gather minions and spread them throughout the Nightmare World. They must be careful, however, as every Greed they use becomes Hope for the heroes. They also are not so united as they seem at first blush, with each villain pursuing their own win conditions. Villains win when they control two locations or meet their special win condition. While the game is meant to be quick, only about 30 minutes long, there’s a lot of replayability baked into the game thanks to the six villains and heroes available to players as well as the unique locations that can change from game to game.
Looking through the game and its rules, I was curious how it came to be. So I interviewed Julie Ahern, Greenbrier VP and COO as well as a lead designer on Mr. Rhee: Surviving the Nightmare World, to get the full scoop.
Dan Arndt: Where did the idea for a Mr. Rhee adaptation come from and how did it come to Greenbrier?
Julie Ahern: Board games are my first love, the Alpha and Omega of what I think about. Being one of the founding members of Greenbrier Games, that probably goes without saying, but while it is my primary interest, it isn’t the only one. I grew up reading Spider-Man and Batman, then getting into high school, my interests moved on to darker themes like in Spawn and Witchblade. However, once I started my master’s degree, the comic book world fell by the wayside, with a few exceptions like Sandman and Fables.
Over a decade later I’m working, and I get a text from my boyfriend, an artist, saying, “So my work cancelled this weekend…how crazy would it be to see if there are any last minute conventions we could drive to tonight and sell my stuff?” I replied, “Go for it.” Which is how I found myself at Fantasticon in Toledo, Ohio in the middle of February singing karaoke with one Dirk Manning. Nobody knew who I was, but he and Dan Dougherty make it a point to ensure everyone in the Midwest indie comic scene feels welcome. They, and many of the artists and writers, feel like my second family at this point.
Dirk will tell you that it was I who was begging him to use his comics to create a game… but like most good ideas, it started with an old fashioned rambling conversation, where he asked me, “If you made my comic into a game, what would it look like?” And having read (and reread) Nightmare World volumes 1-3, and Tales of Mr. Rhee volumes 1 and 2 extensively by then, I started spitballing ideas of what I would do if I were the one to make that game. He must have liked what he heard, because here we are now.
Dan: What sets “Mr. Rhee: Surviving the Nightmare World” apart from other games in the genre?
JA: When you read the comics Tales of Mr. Rhee and Nightmare World, they break your heart over and over… and yet I keep reading them, because of the baseline mission statement that is reinforced with every heartbreak. These are not superheroes, even if some of the protagonists do have some supernatural abilities. These are regular folk. They have been beat down and seen the worst that the world has had to offer. They could have buried their heads in the sand, but they have taken on the unwinnable burden of fighting for those who just want to ignore the awful things happening around them. The villains, for their part, and for their alliance, fall victim to their basic nature of wanting to have the biggest piece of the pie when the dust settles. They too, never quite reach the level of victory they desire because they cannot ever stay allied long enough to make that happen. I needed to make sure we got that right, while keeping the game as engaging as the comics themselves.
There are quite a few hero comic games now, and any number of cards games. When I started talking to Joshua Sprung about designing the game, I was adamant about a few things: First of all it is based on two horror comic series, and therefore I wanted a one versus many game where the villains were all working against the hero. Secondly, I wanted to include the Three Days of Darkness that happen in Nightmare World and Tales of Mr. Rhee.
These conditions made balancing the game quite the challenge at first, until Josh worked on the balance of power points. On a villain’s turn there are four cards laid out with Greed points the Villain may use to complete their actions of recruiting Minions, deploying them to locations, or moving them from one location to another. However, when they spend those points, it flips the card to the Hope side, where the hero now has points to spend on their Brawl cards to combat the villains. It is one part of the game play that causes constant interaction among the players, and builds the feeling of tension as the doom track of day and night countdown the Three Days of Darkness.
Dan: How did the game develop to fit Dirk Manning’s world? How did you work to help player’s feel immersed?
JA: Beyond the tension build which I described, Josh and I worked to make each character, whether they were hero or villain, play like they act in the comics.
A villain example would be William, a Lilim (child of Lilith) who works as head of security for the biggest corporation in the (Nightmare) World. His goal is to remove all officers in the game, presumably to put his own security force in their place. Meanwhile, Vanessa, an acolyte of Cthulhu, is trying to recruit Innocents for the Great Old One.
On the hero side, each character must use the brawl cards in the order of the character. So for example, if the location being resolved has Mr. Rhee there, he must use Magic first to try and isolate a Minion and annihilate it. If he does not have enough Magic to overcome that Minions resistance, he must choose to burn those cards to move on to Fight cards, or stand by and watch the innocents served up to the demons. Since the hero cards are a team effort, perhaps Charity, who uses Charm cards first on her turn, will have a better chance at saving Innocents. Like the horror comic itself, the heroes never defeat the villains, they only try to do the best they can to survive until the Three Days of Darkness end. If the heroes stop all the villains from achieving their win conditions, they win. It’s not an impossible task, but it is a tough one.
DA:Why have us play as villains?
JA: The game had to have villains for all the reasons I have stated above, but moreover… taking on the role of a villain is fun. As a villain you get to make interesting choices, which may serve team evil as a whole, or in part, or just yourself, while still presenting as doing a service for everyone. There is nuance to being a villain, as well as complexity and the freedom to make a huge range of choices that affect gameplay for everyone.
Dan: I’ve noticed you’ve added “Dirk Alerts” to the flavor of the game. What was the reason behind these?
JA: Mostly they are strategies for game play. Often, game play suggestions are presented in a designer’s section… but because Dirk playtested with us so much, he started narrating why he was making certain choices. Having his tone in the rule book was one more layer that seemed too… delicious to change. Joshua vetted them to ensure they are sound strategies, I promise.
Dan: What was it like working with Dirk directly?
JA: The great master of ceremonies himself? How do you catch lightning in a bottle? Dirk Manning is a complex as his world; he plays the heel but will take the time to get down on a small child’s level to talk to them and make them feel important. He will message you non-stop about every detail, but then send you words of encouragement and praise for your work. He is larger than life, has more layers than Peer Gynt, and I am happy to call him my friend.
The Kickstarter for Mr. Rhee: Surviving the Nightmare World will go to Kickstarter on Tuesday, October 2nd. You can read up on the Nightmare World at most comic shops as well as on Amazon or Comixology, and can learn about Dirk himself at his website. To find out more about all of Greenbrier’s games, you can check out their website.
Keep an eye on the Fandomentals for all the latest news on Mr. Rhee: Surviving the Nightmare World and other titles from Greenbrier Games