#973 – Shaky Manor

Base price: $26.
2 – 4 players.
Play time: 10 – 20 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)
Logged plays: 13

Alright, I’ve been meaning to get to this game for literally years, at this point, so this seems as good a time as any to kick things off with it. Plus, it’s spooky season! Basically ideal, as far as I’m concerned. I have some other spooky and spooky-adjacent games for you, today, the spookiest of all days, so it’ll be an exciting time. But since you’re here, let’s talk about Shaky Manor!

In Shaky Manor, you’ve found yourself in a house that’s both cursed and haunted, which, in this economy, can’t be doing wonders for the resale value. You’ve taken it upon yourself (mostly involuntarily; it’s cursed, as I mentioned) to try and fix this curse affecting the house. Easier said than done, of course; you’re going to have to get a lot of things aligned in order to break the spell on this place. That said, there might be treasure in it for you, if you play your cards right. Will you be able to overcome the haunted house and escape?

Contents

Setup

Each player gets a haunted house, to start:

Each player gets a set of pieces:

Don’t do anything with them just yet; it depends on your game variant. Finally, shuffle the cards:

You should be ready to start!

Gameplay

A game of Shaky Manor can be played three different ways, as you seek to organize the various pieces inside this spooky house to accomplish the goals five times! Let’s dive into them.

Game 1

For this one, start by placing a ghost, the adventurer meeple, and three treasure chests in your house and shake it up. Here, you’ll only use the room side of the cards.

To start a round, shake up the house of the player to your right. Then, reveal a room from the deck! Your goal is to get the adventurer and the three treasure chests into the pictured room. Do so by shaking, tilting, and just generally jiggling the haunted house to get the pieces where you want them to go! Once a player confirms that the pieces are in the correct room (and no other pieces are), that player scores a point! They keep the room card to represent that.

The player to the right now adds one of the winning player’s pieces to their haunted house, making things a little tougher on the next round. Begin a new round, and repeat this until one player has scored 5 points! That player wins.

Game 2

This game just has players dump all of their pieces into their haunted houses, which will add some entropy. Use both sides of the cards! Start with the deck room-side up.

To start a round, shake your house and pass it to the player on your left. Then, reveal the top card of the deck! The pictured pieces need to make their way into the room pictured on the top of the deck. Tilt, slide, rattle, whatever you need to do to get all the pieces where they need to go, and nothing else. Once they do, they take the symbol card as a point!

Start a new round, same as the previous one, and repeat these rounds until any player has 5 points. That player wins!

Game 2 Variant

This variant plays the same as Game 2, but instead of trying to get all the pictured items in the room, players try to get all other items in that room. Essentially, the pictured items must not be in the indicated room.

Player Count Differences

Not many. Effectively, players are doing their own thing, shaking their haunted house without particularly interacting with each other. With more or fewer players, nothing really changes. The only notable thing is that you can play sixteen rounds before a player must win, at most, with four players. With two, you can only play eight. Something about the pidgeonhole principle. But, even then, with fewer players you can play as many rounds as you’d like. There’s no other major changes, and even then, with four players, one player can win the game in five rounds and speed things right along nicely. Plus, with more players, it’s exciting to see and hear the sounds of shaking and all sorts of noise. I’d still heartily recommend Shaky Manor at four, but playing at three or two is quite fun as well.

Strategy

  • Use the different textures and densities of your pieces to your advantage, I suppose? There are definitely ways to only move or shake or rattle certain pieces and types without getting all of the pieces to move, but that’s something you have to learn as you play. For instance, the eyeballs are very easy to move, which can sometimes work against you. However, the spiders are super light, so the eyeballs may be able to push them into other rooms as they roll, which can be a huge boon. Try to figure out those interactions and how various pieces work on their own if you want to be successful.
  • Think fast. This is a speed game, so all the advice I tell you isn’t necessarily going to help if you’re trying to do complex vector math or something. Just kind of shake the box and see how it goes. What needs to go where? How can you get it there fast? Do that.
  • Know when to reset. Sometimes it’s best to just shake the entire box as much as you can to spread everything out and start over. That can sometimes clear blockages and also just prevent a bit of frustration as players struggle to get what they want where they want it.
  • Try to use pieces to trap other pieces, as well. The snakes are great for this. Two snakes can create a kind of “V”-shape that can corral other pieces and then make them hard to move or escape if you wedge them in the doorway. Naturally, this isn’t that helpful if you’re trying to get one of the snakes in there, but, that’s life, sometimes.
  • This isn’t really a “strategy” game, in that sense? Try not to overthink it. I can’t really tell you any specific frequency or power of shaking that will ultimately help you vanquish your opponents. That doesn’t really gel with how this kind of game works. Just kind of let the game happen to you. You’ll figure it out; I have faith.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • This is, I believe, the ultimate 4:00 AM game. I’ve played this a bunch at various conventions at way too early in the morning. It’s kind of ideal, since it requires very little thought beyond “thing is here and needs to go here instead”. It’s quite entertaining, and with the right crowd, you’ll really get an uproar. If you ever just want to bounce around a couple of ghosts and some snakes, this really is the game. No thoughts, only shaking.
  • I love the theme! It’s super goofy. It’s only a vaguely-spooky game, but it’s just kind of silly, all things considered. I guess you need to break a curse? The only way to do that is to bounce some snakes around? It’s just … silly, and the vaguely-spooky drapery of it all just really appeals to me.
  • It’s very quick to teach and quick to play, which is nice. I usually use a round of Game 1 to teach the game, and then I use Game 2 from there on out. It helps players get the core tenets of the game down, but it doesn’t take basically any time before players are ready to play the full game. It’s very nice.
  • I like that this is a dexterity game with multiple types of components! The different types and textures and densities make it so that it’s very difficult to fully anticipate how certain objects are going to bounce, shake, or roll. Keeps things pretty consistently interesting! The eyeballs are my favorite, just because they’re both very easy to move around and extremely goofy.
  • Shaking your haunted house and then passing it to your opponent is a nice guaranteed entropy. There’s some frustration if you suddenly have the components you need in the place you need, even though it’s still largely random what comes up on the cards. Shaking up the house and then passing it to the next player is a nice way to make sure that the house you get is “random” to the satisfaction of the other players.
  • From a product standpoint, I really like the clear front and back! It lets kids (or other, non-kid folks) play and test out the game’s core concept in the store to see if they like it.

Mehs

  • The problem is, I want to bring this game everywhere, and it’s just … a bit on the larger side. Not much you can do, given the components need to be large to be child-friendly and there are eight rooms per house. I just wish there were a smaller version that were even more transport-friendly.
  • The cards are square for a reason, and that’s fine, I guess. I just dislike square cards, though it largely makes sense in this context. This is just my ongoing trial; once they get rotated, they don’t shuffle as well, and there’s no way to get them back to a useful orientation.
  • It would be nice if the images were the same as the actual tokens. This is just one that would make the game a smidge easier. It’s, again, not bad; it’s just that in a speed-heavy game, it’s easy to fail to make the necessary recognition when you’re moving fast.

Cons

  • Similarly, I worry that the box has some mild long-term physical integrity issues, just because the plastic screen is there. It’s one of those things I worry about when transporting it, since the plastic screen just covers two otherwise pretty large holes in the box. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but it worries me.
  • All the shaking for a game designed for kids does often lead to some pieces getting lost. Just keep an eye out and make sure you’ve checked all the boxes after each game. I find it easiest to store a complete set of pieces in every box to avoid any loss.

Overall: 8.5 / 10

Overall, I do kind of love Shaky Manor. For me, there are no better memories of the game than playing after midnight at BGG.CON when we’re all too tired to do anything more than just play over and over and over until we’re crying and wheezing and someone’s almost certainly launched a spider out of the box. Don’t worry; we got all the pieces back. But you might want to be vigilant about that. That said, this is a game that kids and parents and grandparents and anyone not fitting into those buckets can pretty effectively enjoy. You just shake the box until you’ve gotten what you want where you want. And, like any good speed-based game, the simple concept is a lot easier said than done. I wouldn’t have it any other way. For Shaky Manor, the theme is defty accented by the components. Sure, the haunted house is a little shoddy, but the pieces themselves are hilarious. A creepy plastic spider? A rolling wooden eyeball? A long, wiggly snake? Perfect. And since they’re all different types and sizes and weights, they make for quite a challenge getting what you want where you want. That’s where the hilarity sets in. There’s a certain point of futility that Shaky Manor intuitively understands. Sometimes you just throw your hands up, get frustrated, and shake the whole box to try and reset it all and start again. And unlike losing a game or erasing an Etch-a-Sketch, that’s often a pretty good move! I think Shaky Manor smartly thwarts attempts to be strategic. You just have to lean into the conceit and hope for the best. I love that about the game, and would love to see other ways that a similar formula could produce other neat games. Plus, it’s just a neat product. Even though I have concerns about box damage, I love seeing it on shelves in stores and seeing how it’s functionally playable, there. That’s a smart design choice, and I have to respect it. Plus, I’m a sucker for a spooky-themed game that isn’t actually spooky. If you’re looking for a fun game to play after trick-or-treating, you’re trying to wind down a spooky-themed game night, or you just enjoy a dexterity game as much as I do, I’d recommend checking out Shaky Manor! It knows exactly what it’s trying to be, and it does so quite well.


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