Geister, Geister isn’t exactly an eye catching title but the game has been republished in English after a pretty successful initial release by Mattel in Germany. The game is marketed for kids but really both kids and adults can participate and equally so. See kids corner below on my take on this game for a five year old.
The premise for Geister is dirt simple: Move up to 4 kids around a haunted house to collect 8 gems scattered across multiple rooms in a ranch style mansion. Each kid carries a backpack which can stash a single gem. So, they must head on back out to deposit the gem in the yard and dive back into the house. Since this is a co-op, all the 8 gems and kids must make it back to the exit before the place becomes totally haunted, opens a vortex and summon an Elder. I kid.
To thwart the kids, the mansion is slowly populated by ghosts. Each turn, players roll a dice and move the kids around a Clue-like mansion to pick up gems in specific rooms or to fight ghosts. Fighting is as easy as rolling a die and having 50% chance of dismissing a ghost. If the room is now unoccupied and with a gem, the kid can pick the gem up. The location of the gems are known ahead of time. At the end of each turn, players will flip over a card from the deck and assign new ghosts to rooms. If a room has more than 3 ghosts, it is considered haunted and replaced by a monstrous, red uber ghost. These uber haunts aren’t easy to remove and require two kids working together to roll two dice, hoping to land at least one giant red blob symbol. The game is lost when 6 rooms are haunted.
That’s basically the intro level game. The advanced level introduces new elements to the ghost deck. For example, drawing some cards will automatically lock doors, either green or blue from the main corridor making movement between rooms that much more important. Another card forces players to draw 2 room cards. Like Pandemic, you can also pick up a reshuffle card that recycle the room cards making it easier to haunt. Another advance variant forces players to pick up gem in a sequence from 1-8.
Geister really strips the co-op down to the bare minimum, allowing players to just focus on movement and picking up gems while avoiding or fighting ghosts. There are no power ups, weapons, super powers, rule bending bonuses….. which is good. I don’t think the game of this type needs it. Don’t be fooled, this doesn’t mean the game is easy. Even at the basic level where the chances of winning are higher, communication and coordination is still a must to win. The game doesn’t escape the alpha gamer issue but it is a light game and generally, the paths are much simpler. So the decision branches aren’t too many and this dilutes the issue with an alpha gamer since most will likely be in agreement. I do wonder about modularity of the game which can impact replayability. The starting board is always the same as are initial placement of the gems. I wonder if they could somehow tweak that rule to shuffle the gems around. Changing that would certainly change the game quite a bit. The board is fixed and hence the room layouts are the same each game. I thought it would be amazing if Geister had modular rooms which one could construct the mansion differently each time. Then again, I just preached the qualities of a simple game and these suggestion are probably extraneous and not necessary at this level.
Overall, Geister has really straddled the adult-kid difficulty levels very well. The balance is quite exquisite: the rules are simple but not dumb-downed and the game is challenging without being overly complex. As parents, I actually look forward to gaming with my child. This is a perfect example of a game that can be enjoyed by all age groups and parents can look forward to a good time without being forced to endure hours of Snakes and Ladders. As for gamers, I think there is enough there for a few plays or if one needs an occasional co-op fix. In fact, if you marginally enjoy a co-op, this may actually be a better fit seeing that removes a lot of bloat that plague other co-ops. I’d recommend giving it a try with your game group and if it doesn’t work, just gift it away to the kids in your family.
Initial impressions: Good
5 years 10 months: The first introduction to Geister was a success. The theme wasn’t particularly worrying as the ghosts look friendly in a Casper sort of way. The art is stylized and for the most part, do not look scary and more cartoonish. I do not think parents have to worry for a five year old unless the kid is sensitive to the topic. The only scary looking thing is the giant red uber ghost sculpt but even then they look harmless. My five year old did not internalize any of the imagery. Game play wise, my kid can grasp the objectives quickly and play is intuitive in a way that she know what needs to be done. Although, she likes to grab the easily available gems out near the front part of the mansion and we just let her do that. She also likes to flip the ghost cards to populate the mansion with ghosts. Right now with 3p, the basic game is more than enough for us to handle and I do not intend for us to up the difficulty. We are winning slightly less than half the games and it is fun and challenging for us still. With 3p, the game is slightly more difficult than 4p, I feel. But there is a slight way to make things easier. One way to do that is to just shuffle the cards that are in the discard pile with the reshuffle cards come out and to add that to the bottom of the current draw deck instead of shuffling the entire deck. This will give you an advantage.
As parents, it’s interesting to engage the kid to discuss strategy. Right now, we are not all the way there yet. Sometimes, it’s obvious where the next area to tackle is but the kid may have other ideas. Allowing your child to participate can help develop their reasoning skills and confidence levels. As parents, it is also easy to become and alpha gamer. So reasoning with your kid and discussing the next steps might be important.
The game is now reprinted fully in English under the label “Ghost Fightin Treasure Hunters”. I think all the components may actually be similar. After all the worker placements you have played, this is the first co-op that I certify as family friendly.