I remember watching the Ghostbusters movies endlessly as a child, totally obsessed with the charm of the characters, the hilarious gags, and the spooky yet somewhat goofy designs of the ghosts (except for the subway scene in Ghostbusters II with all the severed heads on pikes that gave me nightmares).
The most important thing to me when making a licensed game is to evoke the feeling of the property while also creating a unique experience. The first thing I did after rewatching the original films for the thousandth time was go through the IDW comics. I didn’t want to just create a retread of existing story arcs; I strongly believe that most board games should be vehicles for players to create their own stories. There had to be a reason why the Ghostbusters would be capturing a bunch of ghosts that they had already seen before, like the iconic Slimer and the bizarre ghost shark. I had an idea for a city-wide power outage in New York which stood out as a fun concept. The Ghostbusters containment unit has failed, and all their previously caught ghosts have escaped and are running amok all over the city!
With a theme in mind, next came the decision on how the game should play. The Ghostbusters are first and foremost a team, so a fully cooperative game seemed like a given. There’s already a dungeon crawler game in the Ghostbusters universe, so I wanted to create something that was mechanically and thematically different from that kind of experience. I landed on creating a threat management game with lots of dice rolling and an emphasis on teamwork.
In the game, each borough of New York has a ghost card placed in it with a unique complication, such as limiting player movement or causing extra chaos in its location. Each ghost also has a special combination of dice that must be placed on it in order to be caught, so players have to strategize on the best way to accomplish this task. The goal of the game is to catch 15 ghosts before the ghosts can create 20 chaos across New York City.
At the beginning of each round, all players roll a personal set of five dice, and must then make their way around the boroughs of New York, placing those dice on ghosts to capture them. For example, only one Ghostbuster is allowed to place dice on Slimer, and in order to catch him they must place two proton blasts, a Ghostbusters logo, and a trap on him.
Instead of exploring individual locations to capture ghosts, I thought it would give a grander sense of chaos to pull back the camera and have the entire city of New York act as the playing field. Instead of being responsible for a singe building at a time, the Ghostbusters have to wrangle threats spread across the five boroughs. While some ghosts are able to generate chaos on their own, chaos is also created when a ghost is left alone in a borough without a Ghostbuster there to help. It was especially fun for me to have all five boroughs represented in the game because there are only four Ghostbusters who can be playing the game, so there’s always this feeling that you can’t perfectly wrangle every threat at once. It’s always going to feel like there’s just one too many threats on the board, and it’s up to the players to figure out which ghost is going to slip through the cracks.
I’m a huge fan of table talk in board games; I’ve had endless hours of fun in Gloomhaven and Kingdom Death debating about the best possible way to approach a situation. In order to maximize the fun of table talk, I thought it would be best to front load each round with dice rolling, then allow the players to decide the best course of action. There’s no turn order for players in Ghostbusters Blackout; the players decide at the beginning of the round what their plan is going to be. It’s a bit of a puzzle trying to figure out what is the optimal use of that turn’s rolled resources, and in my mind there’s nothing more satisfying than having a group of four players all building a plan with each other and having everything click in just the right way.
Of course there are plenty of ways that each character’s personality gets to bring a unique benefit to the team. Each character has a special power that lets them behave slightly differently than the rest, which still gives players that feeling like they are the lynch pin to any particular plan. You all win as a team, but there are moments where each individual gets to shine as the hero of the hour.
To further give each player a unique purpose, equipment can be purchased throughout the game which lets players really customize their role. Some equipment like the Ecto Gyro will allow a Ghostbuster to zip around the board, coming to anyone’s aid when they need it, while other equipment like the Proton Bazooka will make a character into a powerhouse, giving them the versatility needed to take down that one pesky ghost that needs one more specific die on it.
The end-result is a game that will bring your gaming group right into the Ghostbusters universe in a way that’s never been done before. So get ready to strap on your power packs, kick out those traps, and remember: never cross the streams!
Jon Cohn is a game designer who has already had his childhood dreams come true making games like Munchkin TMNT and Dragon Ball Z: Over 9000. He has a deep love of everything 80’s, and even has a tattoo of Gizmo from Gremlins dressed up as a Ghostbuster.