Game Review: Dread (Guest Review by Jennifer Martin)

You may have heard of Dread– the indie rpg that swaps dice for a Jenga® tower- published by The Impossible Dream. In this horror themed game, you pull blocks out of an increasingly unstable Jenga® tower instead of rolling dice. If you knock over the tower, your character dies. This simple mechanic is incredibly effective at injecting tension into the game. At first, all the players will start out joking, elbows and phones on the table, but as the game goes on, they all back away from the tower. They will develop a relationship with that tower. They will come to hate it, deeply. Pulling one block to open a locked door is no big deal at the start of the game, but when loose blocks are hard to come by, you will have to chose if opening that door is worth risking death.

dread_standard_front_coverTo make a character in Dread, you simply answer one of several questionnaires available. They contain 13 questions that can range from your name to when you became a werewolf with everything in between. Leading questions like this will give the GM material to use in-game (insert evil GM laugh here). There are no stats in Dread– if your sheet asks about the weapon you carry around, then you have a weapon. If it asks what your talent is, you can write down whatever you like. The GM gets final say on your answers and may steer you in a different direction if you make a ninja in a teen slasher game.

When you tell the GM you want to go into the basement, either you will go into the basement with no pulls necessary, or the GM will describe an obstacle you’ll need to overcome by pulling one or more blocks from the tower. If you complete the number of pulls required, you’ve succeeded. If you choose not to make the pull, or abandon a block mid-pull, your character fails to overcome that obstacle. If you knock the tower down in the attempt, the GM will narrate your characters death. Players also have the option of knocking down the tower on purpose in order to sacrifice themselves heroically to help the others survive. That may seem like a silly move, but when the tower is twice the height it started at and every block is load-bearing, anyone can be a hero.

What Dread does, it does very well. If I have one complaint, I’d say that it feels “railroady” at times between the GM, scenario, or both. It emulates a horror movie, after all- of course you won’t be able to start the car and escape the insane snake-worshiping cannibal Appalachians until the absolute last moment- and only then if you are very, very lucky (hint: I wasn’t).

Dread is an easy game to run- with simple rules (find the quickstart version here) you can read a pre-made scenario and have it ready to go in 30-60min. You could even make your own scenario and questionnaires in an evening with advice found in the book.

There is absolutely nothing like the moment the tower starts to lean- after you’ve been sure that damn thing was going to fall three or four pulls back- breath held, total silence. Pure gold!

I highly recommend giving Dread a try, even if you’re not super into the genre- it’s the perfect Halloween game!

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Thanks Jenn for the review!

For more from Jenn, be sure to check out her blog – Geekincognito – which covers all sorts of cool gaming topics.

And Dread is part of the Bundle of Holding going on through October 19th along with a ton of other cool games like Don’t Rest Your Head!

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