David Byrne from Talking Heads once said;’ Psycho Killer, qu’est-ce que c’est, fafafafa fafafafafa better, run, run, run, run run away.’ It doesn’t mean anything in regards to this card game review, but he did say it… on SEVERAL occasions!!
There’s nothing I love more than a tidy little card game that is easy to learn, and the teach can be taught in minutes. The reason I like this is that it’s nice for my wife to have a card game or two in her hand bag, and when at the pub, it can be whipped out for a quick few rounds.
Unfortunately Psycho Killer from Escape Tabletop Games doesn’t come in one of those little boxes, but to their credit, they have put the base game into a box that will eventually fit the expansions if you choose to buy them, and I guess if you want to, you can just throw the original deck into a smaller box for travel. Also, and I have to point this out before I go any further, the box is in an awesome replica of a VHS tape, which is very thematic for the game. It just proves that even though I think I’m nostalgia proof, I definitely am not!
(NB: the expansions to date are a zombie expansion, another called Gratuitous Violence and a drinking game addition called ‘Bloody Mary’.)
The game does fit that previous criteria though, as the short instructions take minutes to read, and the play explanation takes even less, so if you do decide to whip it out and introduce it to people who haven’t played it before, you’ll be up to your guts in no time. This game is a clear example of it not being the size that counts, but what you do with it instead.
In Psycho Killer, you play potential and eventual victims of a slasher who wants you dead. The winner is determined by who has the less injuries at the end of the game, which is determined by when the fifth psycho killer card is drawn from the draw pile.
Play is simple. To set up, take the cards with black backgrounds (these are the psycho killer and bad event cards) out of the deck and deal 7 cards to each player. Shuffle those black cards back into the deck and place that deck as a draw pile in the middle of the table.
Each turn, players play as many cards as they can from their hand, and finish their turn by drawing a card from the top of the deck to replenish their hand. If the card is a psycho killer card, they, and everyone else at the table have to play all their Injury cards, which determines how many points they have, and after the 5th psycho killer is drawn, the person with the lowest amount of injuries, wins!
Simple right? The curliness of the game comes from the fact that the other cards you play can see you moving your injuries to other players, checking the cards in the deck to see if you can avoid them, reversing the state of play and other such devious things that help you avoid injury. There is also a catch up mechanism too: if you have more than 10 injury points during the game, you are ‘left for dead’ and it gives you an advantage of being able to hold some of the black cards (not the psycho killer) in your hand until it’s strategically better for you to play.
I really like the theme of the game, and the fact that the design of it all fits well in with the VHS generation, and there is plenty of horror in-jokes or Easter eggs or whatever they are called these days for the big horror fan, and even the minor one. The good thing is that the theme doesn’t disturb the gameplay so if you aren’t a horror or movie fan, like my wife, it doesn’t get in the way of a fun game. I guess this also means the theme isn’t important, but I admit I did purchase this game because of it.
If I am to criticise this game for one thing, it’s the ‘when to play’ code on the cards. Thematically, using the emblems for ‘fast forward’, ‘play’, ‘eject’ etc to describe when each card has to be played is smart, but it’s not immediately accessible, and those casuals who aren’t big movie fans will ask on several occasions what it means, so be prepared for those questions!
All in all, Psycho Killer is a quick fun family game with a very non-family theme. Game length is random as you never know when those psycho killer cards are going to pop up, but the cards make it tactically fun as you cross and double cross your friends and family, allowing them to get more injuries than what you have, aiming towards that lower score at the end.