Posted on September 3, 2019
Machine of Death
Boardgame Geek gives Machine of Death a 5.5 out of 10 rating, which is pretty low, but also not terrible, since Boardgame Geek is the Pitchfork of Sitting Around a Table with Friends. This makes me think that this game isn’t that much funnier than the people you play it with, but that’s fantastic news for me.
I enjoyed the murderous improv and what amounts to Structured Bullshitting, which I suspect Boardgame Geek can’t figure out quite how to force into a metric, of last Sunday night.
How each round goes is this: You generate a target. A name, two possibly interesting aspects of their personality and a location.
Then you find out how they are going to die. This isn’t negotiable – someone who is fated to die of “Kittens” can’t be killed by bullets. They will die of Kittens, somehow.
Then, you make that happen.
As Predestinarian Assassins, you have to nudge the person – subtly or violently – towards their date with death. You are provided a budget, of course, of three objects (typically) to make that nudging happen. There’s a planning stage where you lay out what your plan is if everything goes right and during that time you collectively decide how likely each component is likely to work as intended.
When it comes to Murderplanisgo time, a 90-second timer gets flipped. You roll for your first element and if it works you progress to the next element of your plot. If it DOESN’T work, you draw another budget card and can then try and work that into the plan on the fly.
If you run out of time before killing your target… uh, too bad, they get away.
But if you do kill them, you can achieve bonus objectives (rolled randomly; like make a getaway, destroy evidence, throw a wake) using any leftover budget cards or a new one drawn from the pile.
There’s a tiny amount of things left to chance and a lot more just arguing about how to murder people and I think that is what makes it more fun for me than for the Boardgame Geek reviewers.
Depending on the number of players, there are a few variations, none of which we played. 3-4 players is the target number for the typical game and in that case everyone works collaboratively. In a 4-5 player game, they recommend having one person sit out and be the difficulty assigning boss. 5 or more and they recommend pretty much just playing apples to apples. Ain’t nothing wrong with the venerable Apples2Apples, but the smaller number of player games have so many cool features that it seemed wrong to pass them up just because lots of people wanted to play it. (6, in our case).
Instead, sort of on the fly trusting that it would work, I split the difference between the Chief variant and the A2A variant: One person sits out and assigns difficulties each round, but at the end of each round anyone who suggested and rolled a successful strategy gets to keep the associated card for points and such.
We won some, we lost some, Duffin got no points and Noe got five, but we all had a pretty good time. It isn’t a game for people who get talked over and it could certainly lend itself to quarterbacking, but even that would be manageable if you put a limit on one successful suggestion per plan.
What is cool is that there are Specialist rules that we didn’t even get into. You earn these and they can be used to slot into plots instead of your usually budgeted items. There are mini campaigns of 4 related murders. There is an online target intel generator. Online countdown music even. Rules Variants posted. Bunches of stuff. People love thinking about killing other people in dumb ways: it’s the best.
The cards themselves are lovely. While the big swinging deck is the card the MoD spits out with the person’s Final Destination on it, the equipment cards nice too. Both feel like they should slide smoothly into a game of Paranoia. if only I could figure out a way to incorporate comically automated death into THAT setting.