Full disclosure: A preview copy of Ghost Writer was provided by Resonym. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
This was a bit of a risky Kickstarter, since I moved in February, but I’m writing this in mid-January so hopefully the future of my past tense is looking less complicated from where you’re sitting than from where I was sitting. I basically shut down all March Kickstarter previews (and Feb ones, of course) once I got my move plans near-finalized, so, anything getting out there now is stuff that I previously wrote before I moved to stay a few months ahead of schedule. One of these games is Ghost Writer, from Resonym. You may recall Resonym from some other games, including Mechanica, one of my favorite-themed games in recent memory. They’re back with Ghost Writer, so, of course I had to check it out. Let’s see what we find!
In Ghost Writer, you’re just trying to have a conversation. The problem is, one of you is dead. You need to prove that you’re the best medium and bridge the gap so that you can do whatever mediums do after that. Seances? TV advertisements? Get arrested? Unclear! However, other mediums want to prove they’re the best at channeling ghosts, so, naturally, a competition has emerged. You’ll have to do your best to interpret messages from the other side if you want to prove your worth. Will you be able to connect with a ghost from beyond the pale?
First thing’s first. Players should get their assignments. One player each will be the Sun Spirit and the Moon Spirit, and the other players should split into roughly-equal Sun Mediums and Moon Mediums. Each Medium Team will then draw 7 Question Cards (each team, not each Medium):
Then, the Spirits draw an Evidence Card:
Looking at the Evidence Card, the Spirits collectively choose a word without telling the Mediums, and then set the card aside out of view. Set out the Page:
You should be ready to start! Sun team goes first.
A game of Ghost Writer is all about cracking a secret word, a word only the Spirits know. They can wail and send you messages, but you’re trying to prove yourself and crack the secret word before the other Medium team can! Only one can succeed!
On your team’s turn, you may Ask a Question or Guess the Object. If your team’s turn would start on an Eye space, you may demand any Spirit add the next letter of a Clue of your choice onto that Clue. Additionally, if you hate all of your Question Cards, once per game you may discard all 7 of them and draw back up to 7.
Ask a Question
When you ask a question, pass the Spirit on your team two Question cards, face down. They choose one and discard the other, face-up. Then the Spirit reaches out and begins writing on the page, one letter at a time, to answer the question. The Clue they provide must answer the question, and they say the letters out loud as they write them down. If you think you know what they’re writing, call “Silencio!”. They immediately stop writing (finishing any incomplete letter), and return the answered Question card to you to keep face-down (so you remember the question!). If the Spirit finishes their Clue, they add a period and then return the answered Question card to you. You then draw two additional Question cards.
Guess the Object
If you believe you’ve cracked it, you must write a message back to the Spirit to confirm! Like the Spirit, you must write one letter at a time. After each letter, the Spirit knocks if the letter is correct and puts a finger to their lips if it’s incorrect. If you’re incorrect, cross out the last letter of your guess and your turn ends. If all of your letters are correct, you win!
Note that after 8 Rounds, if no team has guessed the word, both teams lose!
Player Count Differences
So I do kind of think that Ghost Writer has the same problems that a lot of these team clue word games have, which is that more guessers doesn’t necessarily … help. I think Decrypto is exempted due to the complexity, but Codenames largely isn’t. Ghost Writer has a provision in place where teams can privately communicate, so that puts it roughly in the middle of these two extremes. Even then, though, I wouldn’t say that a lot of extra benefit exists at more than 6 players; you just have even more noise. I’m kind of a grouch about these kinds of things, granted, but I figure I’d probably only play this at 3 or 4, anyways. Three players isn’t explicitly supported, but one could imagine how that would work (having one player be the sole Spirit for both teams). It’s a bit of a cop-out, as the spirit player always wins (and it’s sort of like 3-player Codenames in that sense), but it is nice to have one player who’s giving all the answers and thinking about it. Generally, though, these kinds of games are strongest at 4, for me, so I’d recommend it at that player count. You could probably get away with having some inexperienced players and playing at 5 or 6, but I really think you’d start experiencing diminishing returns after that point. Plus, as I keep repeating during the ongoing pandemic, who even has that many friends?
- Don’t get too excited. There are a lot of ways to leak information, so saying the word instead of Silencio or cracking a joke about it might be enough to overplay your hand. Part of it is also that you’re not just worrying about the other team figuring you out, but if the other Spirit figures you out then they may give their team Clues to try and throw you off the scent. It’s probably okay, but try not to accidentally say more than you need to! Pass secret notes to your team, if you’re playing on teams.
- Try to frame your thoughts around what it could be, and then see if the other partial words lead to you to that conclusion. That kind of outcome-first thinking can really help you, especially if you’re pretty sure you know what all the partial words are. If you start seeing things that don’t make sense, it might be worth using your Eye on those words to try and get more information or reevaluating if perhaps the word that you were assuming was correct might not be.
- Ask silly questions; that may give the Spirit an opportunity to throw off the other team. Only your team gets to know what the question is, so if you can get the right questions, you can get answers that are moderately helpful but complete gibberish to your opponents.
- Do not just let the Spirit finish every word; cut them off as soon as you know! Trying to throw your opponents off only works if you prevent the Spirit finishing the words. Then, you get the benefit of leaving them hanging with potentially just a prefix or a word with multiple endings or meanings. The more you can confuse the other team, the more you might be able to throw them off the scent or slow them down so that you can win.
- If you’re the Spirit, answer slowly to give your Medium partner some time to respond. You don’t want to write the word rapidly. One letter at a time is enough to let them contextualize if they know what the word is or if they’ve seen enough to be helpful. If you don’t want to stall the game, feel free to be spooky and wail and make ghost noises; then you’re at least adding atmosphere while you can’t advance the game’s plot.
- Also, try to give answers that may throw your opponents off the trail, especially since they don’t know what question you asked. This is pretty clutch, if you can do it well, but make sure you’re not overloading your players, otherwise you risk potentially steering them towards the wrong outcome. And that’s how you lose!
- Don’t guess unless you’re sure. Guessing incorrectly can have major consequences! You’re giving the other team a lot of information, especially if you’re only wrong due to a suffix mistake or something. That can blow the entire game!
- If you get the eye, try to identify words that you think are ambiguous and one extra letter can quickly clear up. I think that that’s usually helpful if it’s punctuated by also guessing, but you may still not have enough information to move forward. It may inform what question you want to ask, though!
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I know this is kind of unfair to say because Resonym is always like this, but this game is an aesthetic and it looks great. I think Jonathan Liu and I were discussing how much fun it would be if the game came with a mini Ouija board-looking thing and the ghosts had to spell out their answer on that and then players wrote down the letters, one by one, but the entire game has that exact aesthetic and I love it. It looks like a slightly spookier Illimat.
- It’s a bit goofier than Codenames or Decrypto, and I think that works to its advantage. I think the silly questions help, and I’m going to try to offer this up as an alternative to Codenames at parties I attend in the future (hopefully). It lets players get a bit more into the game’s theme than Codenames, which is kind of themeless, and it’s not quite as intense as Decrypto, though I do think Decrypto is a lot of fun. This seems to appeal to a more casual audience, though.
- I like the deduction elements of trying to figure out the other team’s partial clues. That’s super fun, for me, because it adds deduction elements to a word game, and those are two of my favorite game types. It all clicks really well.
- Plays pretty quickly. It can occasionally take longer, but, usually teams are dropping guesses by mid-game if you can ask the right questions. Most party games try to shoot for about 30 minutes, max, but I think a round of Ghost Writer can take 10 or 15 once players are familiar with the structure, depending on how spooky you want to be.
- I love the idea of the question cards, honestly. I had worked on a game design for maybe 20 or 30 minutes once that featured something similar to these question cards (different game genre, though), and I really like how they’re used, here. They restrict player input but allow for open-ended output, which gives players the tough task of doing interpretation. I love that about this game.
- It’s pretty easy to rig something up to play this remotely, if you need to. You just need question cards, and you can potentially just shuffle those up in a spreadsheet and send them to players as needed, or something. Or you can have one player with the game GM and send players and teams question cards. Up to you!
- There’s not really much for multiple guessers to do, similar to Codenames. You can take turns picking questions or put your heads together to try to solve the word, but there’s definitely diminishing marginal returns on additional players past 4. Thankfully, the game suggests 4 – 6 players, so that’s about where I’d draw the line as well.
- Party games are particularly difficult to play right now. Who even has three friends? I kid, but, still, it’s a very challenging time to Kickstart a party game. I assume they’re hoping that by the time it fulfills, things will be a bit closer to normal, and I hope so as well, but I was worried how I was going to play this without in-person shenanigans. Thankfully, I found a different way to play, but oof, I was concerned.
- As with many word games, this may be challenging if all players don’t have the same level of language fluency. This is where a bit of empathy goes a long way. If you notice players in your group are struggling with the game because there’s a language barrier, play something else. This is a game that can be dependent on context, idiom, partial spellings, vocabulary, and a bunch of other things that can make it very fun for a group of fluent speakers and very frustrating if there’s a fluency gap. This happens a fair bit with word games like this.
Overall: 8.5 / 10
Overall, I thought Ghost Writer was a blast! I’m not the biggest party game person in the world, so this would be more of my ideal game for a double date or something where you had exactly four people and wanted to go head-to-head in a bunch of silly combinations. It’s got the “party game” feel that Codenames and Decrypto shoot for, but I think it’s lighter than Decrypto, which is good, because I’m bored of Codenames and all my friends love it still. I’m just going to … hide my old box and substitute this, instead. I don’t dislike Codenames; I just like variety. Anyways, why do I enjoy Ghost Writer? Well, part of it is that it’s got a really good aesthetic to it. It feels like you’re getting ready to break out the Ouija Board that your parents wouldn’t let you have because your mother insists she’s not superstitious but doesn’t want to bring anything cursed into the house just in case. Specific? Maybe! But Ghost Writer has also done a good job bringing in some light deduction elements to the word game space in a way that I think is cute, fun, and satisfying. You see the word META; does it mean METAMORPHOSIS? No, it’s just METAL. Womp womp. What does it mean, though? Well that’s anyone’s guess. All things considered, I think this is a great little game, and the extra accoutrements of the ghost knocking or the “Silencio!” or the single letter at a time just show a dedication to cultivating a consistent aesthetic that I’ve always respected about Resonym. Another solid title here, friends, so if you’re into word games or deduction games or you have exactly three friends (or all three!), Ghost Writer may be worth checking out!