The Bloody Inn is a game set in 1830’s France, based on the real-life murders that occurred at L’Auberge Rouge in Peyrebeille in what became known as the “Red Inn Affair”. Weaving dark humour into a tale of serial-killing, looting and cannibalism, The Bloody Inn challenges players to run a similar dastardly enterprise, making a profit from killing visitors to the inn and concealing their crimes from the local police.
The aim of the game is to become the richest player by the time the “entrance stack” of guests has been exhausted twice. Money is earned by murdering guests who come to the inn and burying their bodies for loot, which also requires you to recruit accomplices and build annexes to your inn. These give a player more spaces to hide bodies from the local law enforcement who will periodically show up to investigate. Any unburied bodies will be discovered and the player heavily penalised.
The game board consists of a simple “wealth tracker”, which shows how many francs each player has available in ready cash. There is a strict 40F limit – any earnings beyond this must be converted into cheques and laundered. The only other area of the board is the bistro, where peasants can be easily bribed to join your enterprise and await your employment. They serve as cheap, all-purpose minions; a permanent pool of readily available labour without any special abilities or talents. The board also depicts the rooms of the inn, where guests will stay each turn. What is most striking about the game is its artwork, which fits well with the macabre theme and feels distinctly French.
Each round starts with new guests arriving at the inn. Players then have two actions they can take each round. Guests can be Bribed (taken into the player’s hand) to become accomplices or killed. Once in hand, each guest has an “annex” that can be built to confer permanent bonuses and store more bodies. Killed guests must then be Buried in order to be looted, so long as there is space available. Each card has a level from 0 – 3, which shows how many other cards must be played from hand in order to take any action with it. A lowly newspaper boy requires no additional cards to bribe, but a Marquis might require three. Killing a Novice requires no cards from your hand, while killing and burying the Archbishop will take six. Higher level cards have greater annex abilities if built or score more loot if killed and buried. Accomplices also have certain talents that make them more useful in either bribing, building, killing or burying. The police also periodically show up as guests at the inn, and each unburied body at the end of a round results in a 10F fine and the loss of the body and, consequently, the potential loot. Surviving guests then move to the “exit stack”, accomplices still in a player’s hand must be paid for and a new round begins.
In a nutshell, those are the complete rules of the Bloody Inn. Players are required to build a hand of effective accomplices, weighed against their value as annexes (a rule that takes a while for players to comprehend; how can a guest card also be played as a building once they’ve been bribed?), and kill the most valuable guests for their loot. There is a certain degree of engine-building, but I found the game too short to really get going in this regard. Just as you find an efficient system and have accomplices that work well together, the exit stack has been exhausted for the second time and the game ends rather frustratingly. There is a certain amount of strategic depth in managing wealth, laundering cash into cheques, and knowing which accomplices can make effective combinations together, which ones are worth holding onto in your hand and which ones should be turned into annexes, but I found much of the gameplay highly repetitive. There are 16 guest types overall which makes learning the game fairly quick, but limiting once there have been a few playthroughs.
For me, the biggest drawback is that the game offers little interaction between players; there are no events, no interruptions and nothing a player can do to influence the game outside of their turn. In other words, there are no surprises. The worst that can happen is that a player recruits or kills a guest that you want. Players can fall foul of the police, but only through their own miscalculation or overstretching themselves with too many murders and not enough burials. The game feels more like a mathematical chore than a grand scheme of cunning and deceit, with the two-actions-per-round rule feeling extremely limiting. The initially disturbing-sounding theme is confined to the artwork only and never really translates into the game mechanics. Killing a guest is just a case of playing a number of cards and flipping the guest over. Burying them is just playing a number of other cards and tucking them under an annexe card. It becomes a case of working out if you need two cards for this action or three for that, often without really taking note of what cards are actually being played. Sadly, I have seen little but bored faces when I have played the game with my regular group at Loading and nobody has asked for another game once they have learned the rules. I tried the solitaire game to see if there was anything I had missed, but I also found this a grind rather than an enjoyable experience. Although vastly different in theme and scope, Marvel Legendary gives a great sense of satisfaction when a powerful combination is discovered; the Bloody Inn simply feels bearable when the same thing happens. There are no “wow” moments.
Although it has gained positive reviews elsewhere, I find myself in the unusual position of disagreeing with the heavyweights. It might be a useful little filler game, but the Bloody Inn will never occupy a star position in my gaming collection. I was pleased to have tracked down a copy at last year’s UK Games Expo based on such positive reviews, but at 2017’s UKGE it might well be going into the Bring & Buy sale.
L’auberge sanglante? C’est pas très bien.