“Pennywise, meet Georgie, Georgie, meet Pennywise...”
Pre-warning: if you haven't read the book or seen IT (either the original or the recent re-make) firstly go watch them. Second, this is a spoiler alert for the rest of the article. Once again, Pennywise the clown has woken from its 27 year hibernation to feast on the children of Derry, Maine. Pennywise is eager to collect their souls until his time to hibernate comes again for the next 27 years. In IT: Evil Below, it's up to you and the other players as the members of The Losers Club to fight and drive Pennywise back into the sewers.
IT: Evil Below is a thematic co-op experience with an all-win or all-lose situation at the end of the game. A Yahtzee style dice-rolling mechanic will determine many of the players' actions.
“Can you smell the popcorn, Georgie?”
As mentioned above, each player takes on the role of their chosen Losers club member. The goal is to travel around the town of Derry, collecting totems in order to gain strength and eventually fight and defeat the demonic clown. Of course, Pennywise will be hot on your heels or devouring other children! Travel though infamous locations from the film as the losers make their way to their totems.
Players will be rolling dice to provide them with a choice of possible actions, hoping not to roll a balloon. The result of each roll determines the actions a player can take. Each roll can assist you in moving around town, saving children, fighting Pennywise and trying to avoid losing courage.
As is usual with a lot of Intellectual Property (IP) games, the theming is very specific. The large board is simplistic but thematic, boasting the most famous locations in the story such as the Well House.
The high-quality cards are a combination of movie stills for Pennywise and the losers and creative artwork for the totems. Each player token is made from a cardboard cutout which you place in a plastic stand. For me, this was probably the least high-quality part of the game. The cutouts are fine, but just that: fine. Something as simple as a few models or minis could have made a big difference here. This is especially true for Pennywise, due to the amount of movement around the board. This doesn’t have a huge impact, however, I’m grateful they kept with the theme rather than opting for generic figures.
The dice are fantastic. They have a black rock-type feel with different colours per dice. Each side is clearly defined by a symbol; this looks especially great when you roll a red balloon. I always like the feeling of quality dice and this game has probably the best I have used.
In my opinion, some of the artwork is hit and miss when using stills from movies. It works well in this game but isn’t something I am always keen on. This game combines movie stills with some fantastic artistic drawings on other cards such as the totems. These are accompanied by some beautiful components. Because of this, I think the positives outweigh the negatives here. Admittedly, it is to my personal taste, so I’m slightly biased in thinking its a beautiful, dark game.
Usaopoly have a reputation for IP type games that are well-designed and of a good quality for the most part. That is mirrored here once again, as even the box feels well-designed! The box has a red balloon cutout, so you can put the instructions directly behind it either with a picture of Pennywise, which gives it a great shelf appeal or, you can use the blank side giving just the balloon emblem. It looks great and catches your eye every time you’re in the room.
A board game's appeal, as with most hobbies, is largely based on an individual's opinion. Couples are a large part of the market, yet it seems to be rare that the same games appeal to couples equally. For example, my partner is a lover of anything zombie-related, whereas I can take them or leave them. On the other hand, I am very much into IP games of films, which can be hit or a miss with her. I think this is likely to be echoed in most people’s thoughts surrounding IT: Evil Below. It is a horror story through and through and this can instantly make it a no-no for many people. So, we decided to sit down and answer a few questions to help you figure out whether IT: Evil Below belongs on your shelf:
Question: I don’t like horror films; is the theme important to the game and will I enjoy it if I don't buy into the theme?
His Answer: “Firstly, I’m a huge fan of the IT story, I have read the book and watched all of the films. I wouldn’t say its a definite that you have to be a fan to enjoy the game. There are a variety of mechanics that I haven't seen combined in any other games that I think would still make this game enjoyable. However, if you don't allow the theme to resonate with you even on a basic level, then I'd expect your enjoyment to be minimal as it is heavily linked to the point of everything you do, again commonplace with IPs.”
Her Answer: “I am also a fan of the IT theme, although I have only seen the most recent films. I’m not a huge horror fan but I’m also not averse to it in any way. I found this game easy to get involved in, although I tend not to get heavily into the themes of games. In the case of IT: Evil Below, I felt the thematic element of the game was so strong that it really dragged me into it and made for an enjoyable experience. I agree with his statements that it's not essential you enjoy horror or this specific theme. The mechanics are well-designed and enjoyable. However, I do think that if you dislike horror altogether, this game is unlikely to change that.”
Question: Most IP games don’t provide much re-playability due to their theme; is that the case here?
His Answer: “I would agree with the opinion that the majority of IP games don’t provide much re-playability or see the table all that often, especially if they are very thematic to their property. I think there is some of that here. I feel like I have to be in a specific mood to play this game. On the other hand, of all of the IP games I have played, this is by far the most replayable due to the combination of mechanics.”
Her Answer: “For me, this is a perfect game for Halloween or as a change of pace from the usual loose board games. It's the most thematic IP game I have enjoyed. Whilst that makes the game more impressive, it tends not to catch my mood all that often, maybe a couple of times a year at best.”
Question: I prefer strategy whereas my partner prefers an element of take that and luck. Which audience does this game suit the most?
His Answer: “If you’re looking for deep strategy, then this isn’t that type of game. There is a decent element of strategy with choices of where to go and when to fight Pennywise that can absolutely impact your success in the game. On the other hand, many of these choices are governed by luck. The luck of the dice and card drafting sometimes force your choices, making strategy a secondary option.”
Her Answer: “I would say this game has a very good balance between the two. I don’t like games that tend to make my head hurt through too much thought, I like a game to flow with short turn times and evoke interaction. There isn’t too much strategy as most of what you want to do is limited by what you can do. There's enough strategy that you have to think about your choices and its not totally luck-governed.”
Worth a Buy, Avoid or Wait for a Sale?
This is a question of your budget, interest in the theme and what you expect for your money. For me, IT: Evil Below was a must-have due to my affinity with the IT story, so much so that I bought it before it was even released in the UK.
I paid a little more than the UK RRP and still didn’t feel it was overpriced for its production value, well-designed gameplay and my own interest in the theme. If you’re unsure about parting with your money on this one, I think it's a fair price and unlikely to lose much value if you were to re-sell it second-hand if you didn’t enjoy it.
Even if you’re not into the theme, I still think this could be a surprisingly enjoyable game for you! Again though, this is largely dependent on how open you are to the mechanics of the game. If you have a preset mind of disliking horror or luck games then I would avoid this. Overall I think its worth paying full price for.
“I'll tell them all your dirty little secret...”
IT: Evil Below is a solid and enjoyable game that feels like it was specifically designed to match the theme. It appears to be well thought out and put together with care and attention. This is probably the best made IP game I have played in terms of its mechanics, player interaction and something I thoroughly enjoy each time it makes it to the table.
The game doesn’t overstay its welcome by a convoluted mechanic or overly long play time. It provides some strategy for a deeper experience but also has that fun of “just my luck”. What's more, it includes an AI that helps to really create a thematic tension, as Pennywise is always lurking and you are always at risk of being attacked.
In my opinion, this is a game well worth having on your gaming shelf, even if it is the only IP game you have, just to add some variety to your choices. However, if you’re not sold on it and don't have an affinity with the theme then it may be worth trying in a games cafe first. Do I think this leans towards a certain gender or group? No, but it will definitely be an enjoyable experience for horror or Stephen King fans.