Dungeon Solitaire: Labyrinth of Souls

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Dungeon Solitaire: Labyrinth of Souls by Matthew Lowes.

Matthew Lowes Dungeon Solitaire

Dungeon Solitaire: Labyrinth of Souls is the book-length successor to author Matthew Lowes’ previous game design “Tomb of the Four Kings” (available for free on his website). The original game was playable with a standard pack of playing cards, and it is preserved nearly unchanged as the “basic game” of the “Labyrinth of Souls.” The new game, however, calls for a tarot deck, and the author has collaborated with illustrator Josephe Vandel to create a new deck for it, which includes 10 “extra arcana” or additional trumps.

The rules supplied in Labyrinth of Souls include the basic game (uses 53 cards—a standard playing card deck with a single joker), the expert game (uses 78 cards—a standard tarot deck), the advanced game (uses the 88-card custom deck OR a standard tarot deck plus a ten-sided die), and eight official variants of the advanced game. One of these variants (“Cartomancy”) can be used for divination, and the supplementary “Arcana” and “References” sections provide some useful pointers regarding divinatory meanings for the cards.

I had played “Tomb of the Four Kings” before acquiring this book, and found it to be a quick and fairly difficult solitaire game with a strong narrative element. The expert mode in Labyrinth of Souls expands the game elegantly by adding companions (the tarot page cards), mazes (a new encounter type), blessings, corruptions, and several new magic items. I’ve now played it over a dozen times, and I have yet to win, although I have managed to score: i.e. I have escaped the dungeon with some treasures and companions, but not with the three “heavenly jewels” needed for victory in the expert game. I’m holding off on the advanced game until I score an expert win.

The rules for the various modes of the game are all written quite clearly. The basic game includes a very detailed example of play that was not part of the “Tomb of the Four Kings” rules, and goes a long way toward eliminating any ambiguities in the rules. It gives the reader a very clear idea of game play. An assortment of reference tables and blank recording forms are present for copying and play convenience.

All of the trumps and court cards of the Lowes/Vandel Labyrinth of Souls deck are reproduced at or near full size in black and white throughout the book and especially in the “Arcana” section of the text. These seem to constitute a pretty passable deck, and the designs of the “extra arcana” are certainly interesting, but they just don’t “grab” me aesthetically or symbolically. I have been using the Luis Royo “Dark Tarot” to play the Labyrinth game, and I’m liking it a lot for that purpose. I have not handled a production copy of the Lowes/Vandel deck itself, and I’m unlikely to acquire one. I do like and recommend the rule book and the game, and I would be interested to see other artists’ realizations of the “extra arcana” invented by Lowes. [via]

The Green Woman

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Green Woman by Peter Straub, Michael Easton and John Bolton.

Peter Straub Michael Easton John Bolton The Green Woman

As I was reading this hallucinatory horror graphic novel of murder and occult compulsion, I couldn’t help noticing: Damn, that principal character looks just like the actor Peter Capaldi. When I was about two-thirds of the way through, I flipped back to the front, intending to review some items from early in the story. I found myself instead looking at the dedication, where artist John Bolton had in fact dedicated his work here “To my friend the actor Peter Capaldi for being the perfect villain.” He couldn’t have known in 2010 that Capaldi would go on to be cast in the Doctor Who lead! Now I find that Bolton has cast him in the role of Peter Straub’s serial killer Viet Nam vet Fielding Bandolier—who had appeared in earlier work by Straub.

This book is very much a graphic novel, with the full content and pacing of a novel. It is not a stitched-together series of episodic comics. The intensity of violence and sex is reasonably high, and Bolton’s rich painted art is a good fit for the narrative style and content. Co-authoring with Straub is Michael Easton, a writer with more experience in the graphic medium. There are a lot of scenic shifts and impressionistic representations with a minimum of expository hand-holding. The plot isn’t what I’d call clever, but the story still held my attention. As with other things I’ve read by Straub, I get the impression that a second read would garner details that eluded me on my initial pass. [via]