Cards on the Table
It’s about time we put the cards on the table.
No, we’re not talking about that thing in the dungeon; it’s not supposed to be talked about. We’re merely referring to the Pathologic Tabletop game—or rather The Pathologic Tabletop Game that Gets Released This Spring and is Totally Finding Its Way into the Hands of the Eligible Backers and Everyone Else Who Wants It. (Or TPTGGRTSTFIWHEBEEWWI, as we like to call it.)
Having started as a side project and a mildly original backer reward, Pathologic Tabletop has grown to become its own thing. Ice-Pick Lodge provided general vision, art direction, and texts, but the game itself was developed by CapsLock Games—our partners and friends, who came up with the idea in the first place. We would have never dared invade the dark and twisted world of tabletop games without their boldness; and so it’s about time we told you where it has lead us.
Pathologic Tabletop is loosely based on its videogame namesake; save for the fact that there are fewer Bound (Adherents; Wards; For-Crying-Out-Loud-Can-You-Choose-ONE-Name-For-’Em), it follows the same general idea. Three healers, one Plague—and a town filled with brilliant and desperate people wondering what they have done to deserve this.
The game was designed for 2-4 players. The number of doctors can vary, but one of the players always represents the Sand Plague itself. ”Represents” is a tricky word though; while not necessarily corporeal, the Plague definitely has a strong personality; it’s not really “represented”, but rather proactive. Unlike the videogame, in Pathologic Tabletop it’s you who decides where and how exactly it strikes.
And you will have to think on your feet, since a typical session takes 1-1.5 hours, and any player, be they the Plague or a doctor, will need to do a lot in that timeframe.
Oh yes, by the way; we may have failed to mention that Pathologic Tabletop is mostly a PvP game. Although “PvP” is also a tricky word, so more on that below.
The game is balanced asymmetrically. The Plague’s gameplay is very different from the doctors’, while each of the three also has their own perks and strong suits. Their goals are also different.
Basically, you begin the game with the Town sleepy, but full of healthy people. Each healer has an agenda; their goal is to collect a certain amount of evidence and prove that their way of overcoming the plague is superior to the others’. To do that they need to fulfill missions, seizing the opportunities that the course of life provides—while the sleepiness is dispelled and people around them begin to die. (New missions are unlocked each turn and serve as the PvE part of the game.)
Each healer also has three Wards (i.e. Bound people; i.e. Adherents; i.e. don’t worry, the rest of the names are consistent with the Classic HD translation), who they have to take care of. As with the video game though, these people refuse to sit on their hands, preferring to jump into the action; they can complete missions too—providing you with crucial evidence. The game’s map represents the town, so sometimes it may be handy to send someone else in your stead—perhaps they’re simply closer to the mission location, or perhaps you need that for a subtle strategic gambit (e.g.: feeding an opponent’s Ward to the Plague).
As a doctor, you’ll have to think twice before sacrificing someone else’s Ward to the Plague (even though it establishes your superiority over their obviously deluded methods). First of all, Wards can provide you with resources and free hands (you can use another doctor’s Wards as means to your end, so they are all your allies—after a fashion). But more importantly, any dead Ward can spell another step towards the Plague’s victory.
While the healers are busy with petty squabbling and plotting, each so fond of their ego that they only accept a single kind of victory—that is, the victory achieved in their own way, the Plague’s plan is graceful in its simplicity.
Kill. Them. All.
...Actually, that’s not true. Each healer has three Wards (so there are nine total). The Plague only needs to kill one Ward of each healer, selected randomly at the beginning of the game and known only to the Plague itself. So its goal is more like:
Kill. Three. People.
The Plague can choose its modus operandi as it sees fit though—no one’s stopping it from indulging in a senseless bloody massacre. It’s not like it can’t kill people who are not on its hit list. Just not doctors themselves.
To sum it up, each doctor tries to get enough “mission complete” points and secure their personal victory. The Plague wreaks havoc and brings death.
The people themselves wince, remembering that one night when they decided that staying to live in this town is probably a good idea.
The healers’ playstyles are also different, which is represented by them having special decks with cool abilities to throw in the Plague’s face. Or in each other’s faces, which is arguably more fun.
The Bachelor is famous for his administrative prowess… which is to say, he’s good at manipulating people. His abilities mostly influence the Wards and the availability of districts.
The Haruspex is the master of resources—he always sits on a pile of them, ready to complete any resource-heavy mission in the blink of an eye; him knowing shortcuts to move faster serves to aid that even further.
The Changeling can hinder other healers’ progress and manipulate the poisonous traces of the Plague itself.
Finally, the Plague has the coolest perk available in the game: it’s slow, but completely invisible to other players. It doesn’t even have a token to represent it on the board, writing its movements down into a special notebook instead. It can manifest itself at will, but aside from that its communication with the healers mostly boils down to them desperately trying to track the beast—to avoid it or to strike back, whichever is more appropriate.
Remember how we said that Pathologic Tabletop is a “tricky” PvP? That’s because it is indeed tricky.
The game has but one winner; if you’re a healer, but a different healer succeeds, you’re left with nothing to show. The Plague, however, is so irrevocably lethal that in order to have a shot at the game at all, the rest will have to cooperate. Which leads to a delicate balance with someone backstabbing someone else sooner rather than later—and the rest is roleplaying.
Pathologic Tabletop is a social game. You’ll have to talk, trying to sway other players to your side (at least for one mission! please!), hatch a plot together and cooperate to complete a mission that hurts everyone while active. And if you feel that you’re losing, you’ll also have to decide which you like better: having another doctor grab the victory—or letting the Plague burn it all to ashes. What kind of person are you?
It’s not like you wanted to be invited to play in this company ever again.
...and the Rest
Pathologic Tabletop is mechanically robust. There are a number of the game’s aspects that we have barely touched (the Plague’s strains and Blockade; the healers’ Pacts; the quarantine and the whole resource management angle; etc)—but hopefully you’ve gotten the general gist.
Here’s the same gist without needless verbosity—with bullet points:
- 2-4 players;
- a session takes 1-1.5 hours;
- PvP with cooperation elements and social gameplay;
- asymmetrical: the Plague plays very differently;
- three doctors with various abilities;
- the doctors need to complete missions swiftly and smartly;
- the Plague needs to kill people while keeping its stealth advantage;
- the town’s map totally resembles its videogame counterpart;
- there will be shouting.
The game is available for pre-order via the Pathologic Backer Portal. You can throw it on top of your general order—and if the tabletop game is the only thing you’re interested in, simply select any tier; then in “Choose Tier” in the Dashboard select “no reward” and proceed to select the tabletop game as an add-on.
After the release, it will first be delivered to the people who have already pre-ordered it. It will also be available in some shops, although we doubt that we’ll be able to deliver it to many retail vendors outside of Russia—if at all. Actually, if you believe that you can help us out with distributing Pathologic Tabletop in Europe/North America/other regions, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org!
In any case, buying online will always be available to everyone.
And, unlike before, you’re not buying a cat in the bag now, since the cards are already on the table. See the video below to witness the actual cards.
(The trailer features the beta version of the game and is not completely representative of its final quality. Which is to say, the tokens will have actual faces instead of Tragedians on them—and this is not the only difference. We just can’t help being a bit mysterious to the very end. Thank you for your kind understanding of our unfortunate addiction.)