Firaxis Games is no stranger to strategy titles. The house that Sid Meier built is home to some of the most compelling exercises in tactics known to gamers like the Civilization series and the recent reimagining of Xcom. The strategy game powerhouse has something a little more intimate in mind than a globe conquering Incan Empire or an Earth threating alien invasion for their this original foray into the iOS games space. This time you’ll be recruiting a team of Hollywood monsters and racing against a single opponent to scare to bejeezus out of the local townsfolk while battling the horror of overpriced in-app purchases.
Haunted Hollow is a board game styled experience that pits you against a friend, or a rather weak AI, in the role of the dark lord of a spooky mansion. Each turn you’ll draw and build a random monster lair from your deck and spend Fear Points (actions) as you see fit to add extra lairs to your haunted house, create monsters, move, attack, and activate special abilities. Monsters come in three types: Scary monsters used to gain ground, Fighty monsters to put the smack down on your opponent’s minions, and Special monsters that usually do both. The goal is territory control as your monsters race to Scare (claim) every house in town. As more houses are claimed and frightened townies flock to the local church, a tough, neutral third party enters the fray in the form of a torch-wielding mob that burns everything, monsters and houses, in its path.
Overall, it’s a great concept that’s decently executed. There are a few balance issues, notably the ability for ghosts to ignore all terrain and a questionable advantage for the player moving first, but generally acceptable. Acceptable as a board game to be taken out and played between friends a couple times a month, anyway. As a video game destined for quick and easy replays, Haunted Hollow fares much worse. The single, symmetrical map gets old fast. The AI plays a pretty weak game and matchmaking is only available between friends on Apple’s Game Center or local pass-n-play. The UI feels sloppy with some infinitely looping tutorial text, a lack of stat indicators for units, and a query tool that doesn’t give enough information on monsters before you recruit them. Worse, more than half of the game pieces are locked behind a shockingly high paywall.
Yes, those most nightmarish of creatures, In-App Purchase and Dee el See, join Frank and Wolfie in the cast of Haunted Hollow. The stock, free game includes a five creepy critters with another six available at $2 a pop, one for a buck, and one for signing your identity away on a 2K Games account. As if this weren’t enough, four of the nine bonus items (heals and buffs) doled out as the game progresses are also up for grabs at 99 cents each. Like Haunted Hollow enough to want the full set? You’re looking at $16 worth of microtransactions. And nearly every screen in the game will remind that they’re all waiting in the cash shop. A “Season Pass 1” promising “All monsters and items in the Launch Set” is available for $8 but implies that the juicing will continue as long as customers persist.
Haunted Hollow is an immensely promising game. The concept is fantastic and the basic mechanics at play work well for a fast head-to-head match. However, even without the absurd pricing structure, there just isn’t enough variety to keep your attention for very long. Couple this with some minor but frequently annoying UI omissions, a less than stellar AI devoid of difficulty settings, and a limited matchmaking system, and I’d be surprised if Firaxis is capable of trapping customers in the haunted house long enough to sink their teeth in for a second “season” of DLC.
Haunted Hollow is available now for free on iTunes. Compatible with iPhone 3GS or newer and iPads running iOS 4.3 or later. Reviewed on iPad 2 running iOS 5.1.1.
Reviewer Rating: 2/5 – Shambling Skeleton