Caught in the Deadlights – IT: Evil Below
“The central goal in designing IT: Evil Below was to make every action and decision tense and anxiety-driven. The first thing that happens each turn is the roll of the dice — and that right there is seven opportunities for things to go badly. Next it’s the reveal of any Victim tokens Pennywise might have claimed — and that’s a one-in-four chance of Pennywise gathering power. Then, when you get up the nerve to start attacking Pennywise, there’s a constant push-your-luck mechanic at work that drives you to time your attacks when you think the odds are most in your favor — but that still doesn’t mean your odds are great.
Pennywise is meant to be scary and threatening, and once he gets going, the game can be nerve-wracking.”
– Sean Fletcher, Game Designer
IT: Evil Below is a horror themed co-operative game from The OP / USAopoly. It is themed around the movies It (2017) and It Chapter Two (2019). The game allows players to take on the role of “The Losers” club from the film – a group of seven teens in small town Derry, Maine, that find themselves terrorized by an entity that most commonly shows itself as a sinister clown. For the sake of avoiding spoilers for the movies, more depth into the plot will not be discussed below, only the game itself. Hopefully readers who are fans of the movies will see the nods to the source material, across the scale of subtle to obvious.
Included in the game box you can find the following:
- 1 Game Board
- 7 Character Boards
- 8 Character Movers
- 49 Totem Encounter Cards
- 13 Attack Encounter Cards
- 18 Pennywise Weakness Cards
- 7 Custom Dice
- 7 Bravery Tokens
- 4 Bike Tokens
- 1 Losers’ Club Strength Token
- 28 Pennywise Victim Tokens
The character standees are direct prints of the characters from the movie, each shaded to the color of that character’s starting location. Pennywise is an ominous dark grey. Each of the dice are black, but painted to each playable character color as well. One side has a balloon, two sides have a heart, and three sides have a hand. The game board, standees, and tokens are all of a good quality and barely flex under casual pressure. Due to being customized for a specific franchise and unique game, there is not much versatility for your gaming toolbox.
Beginning each game, every player chooses a Loser, collects that character’s board, and places the standee on the location indicated by the board. Each character board has a bravery track from zero to five (which starts at maximum), and a special ability. All the bike tokens are placed in specified locations, and all the decks are shuffled and laid out – including a Fight Deck comprised of one attack and six totem cards. Victim tokens are mixed, face down, then placed in each location. Pennywise starts in the drain pipe in the center.
A typical turn starts with a roll of all the dice. For every die showing a balloon, reveal either the leftmost or topmost (depending on the location) victim token of the location with the corresponding color. If it is a victim, then it goes on the victim track on the side of the board. If the token ends up on a Pennywise space on the track, then Pennywise is moved to the location that player is (if not already), and an attack card is revealed and resolved on the spot. If there is no attack, Pennywise is moved to one of the locations a balloon was rolled for, prioritizing the one with the least victim tokens (most Pennywise power) then player choice if there is a tie. If the token is also a balloon, place one of the attack cards on top of the fight deck without looking and remove the token from the game. Pennywise wins the game if three or more locations lack any victim tokens, or if any character runs out of bravery, the last attack card is in the fight stack, or the victim track is filled.
|From here, the player has any other dice remaining in the pool to spend on actions. Both hearts and hands can be used to move one space (i.e. to an adjacent location). A hand can be used to draw Totem cards or pick up a bike if the character doesn’t have one yet. A bike can be used anytime, to move the possessing character to any location on the board. They must drop the bike in that location after use. A heart can be used to take a victim from the track and place it in the location where the character is, or to regain a lost point of bravery for all Losers in that location. Totem cards may be placed on the fight stack as a free action as long as the character is in that location, and a character may only have three cards at a time. Between saving victims and placing totems, there is a lot of incentive for characters not to bunch up given the obvious strengths of being together.|
|At the conclusion of their turn, if a character is in the same space as Pennywise, they can strike back. This is the way that players can advance along the Losers Club Strength track, and approach victory. The attacking player reveals the top card of the fight stack, one at a time until one of two conditions is met: Either the player wants to stop drawing, or they draw an attack card. In the event of an attack card, any totems drawn are summarily discarded and the attack is resolved like in a sighting. If the player elects to stop, they may fulfill the requirements on Pennywise Weakness cards, if they meet any, knowing each totem can only be used once. The number of spaces gained is proportionate to the difficulty of stacking the right totems before the next attack card comes up, creating a push your luck mechanic.|
The game captures the frantic feeling of gathering resources to defeat a killer before they find you first, and escaping when It does. All of the game tokens are of a higher quality than most games, especially considering that this could have been cheaply made to be sold on the name. Images are sharp and accurate, and not just a cartoonish proxy of the source material, or poorly used screen captures. There is very little predicting where Pennywise will go, or when a carefully constructed attack plan will get shut down.
As one of its strongest qualities, IT: Evil Below has a shallow learning curve. Fresh out of the box, with four players of varying experience, it only took one round of play for everyone to start developing strategies. Everyone was immersed, and the (albeit thin) rulebook barely came into play. Yet another factor is that the game is suitable for more than four players, which tends to be uncommon for a strictly co-op game.
Lastly, this game passes the all important cat hazard test. The locations are all large enough for eight different standees to fit, so it’s difficult for a cat to knock things about. After the below instance, barely anything was moved out of place.
|Despite prior statements praising the art quality, the color quality is regrettable. The art involves a lot of shade values, and due to the multitude of colors, there are a lot of analogous hues that make this game problematic for anyone with colorblindness|
Continuing to the mechanics, something that could be lauded as a skill can make this game a little predictable. If a player is a talented card counter, then the “push your luck” mechanic is limited only by memory. Even in the first, trial game it was just a matter of the magic number until the next attack card came in.
While cooperative games are a personal favorite, the lack of any secret objectives or social deduction, and the fact that everything is apparent and visible can lead to quarterbacking. It was kept fairly minimal in the test game, but master plans were developed as soon as the dice hit. One might see this as a bright side that the game could technically be played solo, although there would be no randomness in Pennywise attacks and become quite lethal without bravery and discard damage to be shared.
IT: Evil Below is an easily learned and played game that lives true to the franchise it invokes. There are some complications with the color palate, and the mechanic can be gamed fairly easily despite multiple chaos factors. As always, the strongest litmus test must be, “is it fun?” So long as players are willing to let go of a little control by means of letting other players make their own choices and not turning the fight stack into an accounting task, the game is quite fun. Where the game itself doesn’t change much between plays, it still throws mid game surprises at the players and forces them to think critically. It is worth keeping on the shortlist of games in a group setting.