Dear Gut: you've made a lot of great assumptions and predictions in the past and while I still appreciate your abilities as soothsayer, trash compactor, and bile bag, you led me astray on Haunted Hollow [$0.99]. It's not a soulless or uninteresting free-to-play game. It's a solid strategy game that takes some actual brains to play.

You should give it a shot today, too, dear reader. It's available now wide as an actual release and the financial barrier to entry is as low as it gets: zero dollars. But what kind of game is it, you ask? In brief, it's a one-versus-one, turn-based strategy game that tasks you with building up a horde of monsters and taking control of a village by scaring the townspeople. The first player to get every building wins.

The push and pull revolves around the token system and the general make-up of monsters you're fielding. Some monsters are better at fighting off your opponent's monsters and can't "scare" townspeople. Other monsters move quicker and scare easily. To win, you've got to be able to counter your opponent and then hold him off long enough to grab each building. At the same time, you've got a limited amount of moves to work with. Moving, attacking, and building monsters requires tokens. You get a set amount at the start of each turn. The number you get goes up as you snag more buildings.

Another wrinkle: to build monsters, you need to build that monster's appropriate room in your haunted house, which, eerily, dangles over the map on the side of a hill. Each turn gives you the ability to build a new room to house a new monster. You can also combine a bunch of the same room and create an even bigger room that'll give you access to crazier and stronger monsters of that type. Deciding if you want an army of dudes versus just a few tank-y guys is just one of the many things you'll consider.

Also, townspeople don't like getting scared -- towns have a fear threshold and once it goes into the red an angry mob armed with torches pops out of the cathedral and starts to ignite controlled buildings and your guys if they're in the way.

There are a couple of different kinds of haunted houses, by the way, as well as several more monster rooms outside of the starting rooms to pick from. The catch: you've got to buy these rooms with real dough. From what we're seeing, most are $1.99. There's a 99¢ one in the shop, too.

To talk about the actual game for a second, matches tend to really hinge on positioning. In order to stop opponents from scaring up the town, you need a force of dudes in reach of your enemies, but just out of the way enough to avoid being wiped out. Harassing is a viable strategy, as well as plain old brute force. Heck, you can even use the fire-happy mob to your advantage since it burns down anything captured in its way. Also, items can swing the flow of a fight. During each match, your team levels up and you get access to special one-off items that can modify movement speeds, hurt opposing monsters, or even bring on the mob.

Anyway, gut, readers, whoever else is out there, Haunted Hollow is a pretty neat game. Don't let the whole free-to-play thing scare you off. It's not FarmVille With Ghosts or whatever. It's an actual strategy game from the makers of Civilization and XCOM. That's neat.

UPDATE: Looks like Haunted Hollow was removed. Hope you grabbed it earlier!

  • Smokey956

    Boringggggggg

    • Xexist

      I thought it was a giant snoozefest as well. Deleted after playing like 2 games.

  • one.sixty.four

    Neat, I'll probably check it out. Does anyone know the installed file size? Kinda looks like a biggie

  • ratsinheat

    Sorry, this is yet another game that, as a Christian, I refuse to play. Why so many games about spirits, vampires, polterghosts, etc.?

    • http://www.facebook.com/josiah.wilson.716 Josiah Wilson

      Nice troll attempt, but your name being "rats in heat" makes it pretty hard to actually imagine you're sincere in your claim of devout religious beliefs.

      • swarmster

        Troll or not, am I missing something that would prevent someone devoutly religious from believing in (or even promoting) the desire of rodents to reproduce? It seems unrelated to a layperson like me.

      • Marvin

        Crazy religious people believe ghosts and monsters are satanic. Of course, they are crazy.....

      • ratsinheat

        You've misrepresented my name. It's Rat Sin Heat. It's a biblical reference.

      • tranceforma

        God isn't real

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Micah-Neveu/1160696016 Micah Neveu

        No it isn't.

    • The_Blue_Sticker

      As a Christian, I find it fine to play these games... You're not playing/praising with the devil when you play these.

    • ZarieoZ

      Woooooow that's news to me. They are just characters or more concept of characters, & if that so you shouldn't play superman or batman or any characters game then.

    • eventide

      I respect your convictions 'ratsinheat' but your hypocritical username takes the respect back.

    • Zeldaniac

      Dude, there's a difference between games about fictional creatures and ones about legit demons. I'm a Christian too, and I have no problem with playing these kinds of games.

    • meatz666

      Your holy book address them all. And talking about pagan creatures is something that your book loves to talk about. As a former Christian, I read the bible. Twice. You probably never read it entirely. You are a joke to the nice people I know who actually follows and are engaged in your religion. You're not a troll. Just an ignorant with a broadband.

    • Illuminerdy

      Well, I think your beliefs are stupid. It takes all kinds.

    • JCat_NY

      Sounds like the typical FPS fan.

  • nestor

    The IAP system sounds similar to Outwitters'. Where you pay to unlock different teams, but not to win any sort of advantage like power-ups.

    • grits

      Nope. This game is garbage compared outwitters. I went in with high expectations and was let down. I'm not sure what happened here.

      • meatz666

        Outwitters charges you for a different skin, and a different last unit. This game charges you for 2 completely unique creatures, each one with 3 different version. I'm an Outwitters player, but loved this game? Would you like to expose you gripe, or is just fanboysme?

    • grits

      As far as I can tell they have $.99 consumable one use items they give you a pretty big advantage. Also the gameplay is pretty bad compared outwitters. Granted, that game is one of the best iOS games ever made.

      • nestor

        Ah well that's too bad. I was hoping it would follow the same model, but I can't stand playing a PvP game where the opponent can just throw money at it and beat me. Thanks!

      • armilla

        Was really looking forward to this being an Outwitters supplement, but alas.

      • swarmster

        What does "as far as I can tell" mean? Is there consumable IAP? What does it do?

        I ask because 'as far as I can tell', your claim directly contradicts the article which seemed pretty excited about the lack of "soulless" F2P, at least "from what we're seeing".

        Does anyone actually know anything about how buying this game works?

        ...Nevermind, I've lost interest.

      • bradnicholson

        I think you're reading way too far into that. IAP stuff gets adjusted all the time. As of that moment, it was all $1.99 for new characters. Maybe calm down on the e-tough guy snark?

      • swarmster

        I think you've mistaken frustration for tough guy snark. I wanted to be excited about this game, and kind of was when I first saw your excitement toward the end product, but it was rather quickly mired in the typical F2P confusion over how exactly things work, things becoming available or being taken away at will, potentially changing down the line, etc. Or in this case, being pulled entirely without warning.

        Makes it (literally) impossible to recommend to friends, especially friends who may not be as familiar with the scene. Which by extension makes it impossible to play a multiplayer-only game, no matter how free it is.

        Sometimes over-quick reporting and uninformative commenters can be issues, but any snark is directed at Firaxis/2K in this case. I hate to join the chorus of sight-unseen F2P complainers, but it does seem that these games, with extreme regularity, end up being not worth the time - let alone money. They often have no 'end product' to get excited about. This was a fairly sharp reminder of that.

      • swarmster

        Actually, I have to take that back: I did also direct a little snark toward that guy below that thought rats making babies is somehow sacrilegious (and got a ton of up-votes for it?). Must just be one of those days.

      • meatz666

        They are not consumables. They are items unlocked to add variety to your strategy. A lot of people saying stuff as a fact, but don't know even the beginning.

      • swarmster

        There was a $0.99 "Boo-B-Gone" available in the store, and the app description read "Chilling Power-up Items like Boo-B-Gone and Bloody Mary". That sounded a bit like what grits, above, described. So you're back to wondering whether you trust a commenter or Brad's first looks more, and then questioning how much either of them knew in the first place, and then considering how much may have changed since either post, and then looking for confirmation and seeing the app is gone entirely, and then...

        You can see where the frustration comes in.

        But hey, good thing there are thousands of other apps that are fun and easy to purchase. Better luck next time Firaxis!

      • bradnicholson

        I totally don't know what you're confused about. There are consumables, but you can't just blow 100 bucks and buy everything and insta-win a match. During each specific match you level up and gain access to one-use items. The mechanic is sorta like League of Legends's item system, except you're being gated by a level that you achieve DURING the match.

        Where does buying items come in, then? You're just buying access to a specific kind of item that'll pop up on your item tree. After you buy it, you'll permanently have access to it.

        If that's not what you're confused about, I dunno. I think maybe we've got differing expectations on what a no-bullshit free-to-play game really is. I went into this knowing Firaxis was going to have to monetize in some way, but the way they do it (via permanent character and item unlocks) is pretty non-intrusive overall. Maybe you expected that this was just a totally free, totally non-IAP game? Am I on the right track?

      • swarmster

        No, I expected it to be monetized somehow, but one-time use items that give the player an advantage, especially in a head-to-head strategy game are gross to the point of making the game not worth playing at all. What I was confused about was whether they existed.

        Your preview seemed to emphatically suggest they did not. Grits here said they did. The app description kind of implied they did, although it gave no indication of how items were used. Then your reply actually seemed to imply the same, suggesting that things may have changed and that it "was" just characters when your played it, but otherwise didn't expand. Then the game vanished. I was confused.

        I know you guys don't like devoting a ton of time to describing payment systems, and fully agree that it's a shame, but it's essential to these F2P things. I'd rather spend $10 and find out a game is crap than spend an hour of my life figuring out if I'm going to be allowed to buy it.

      • grits

        Ah, it's not clear whether they are one time use or permanently unlocks. That's where the confusion comes in. Also unless you put a lot of time in, how do you know if the game is balanced towards that or not.
        Anyway, if everything in the game is permanently unlocked once you buy it, that's not so bad. Still, I question the balancing. My problem is I don't want to commit to a game if it looks sketchy like this. After a while if people claim it's really good like league i might give it another try.

      • grits

        When I played the game there was a lot of stuff to unlock with $.99 that said one time consumable. Not sure if the review copy had that or what.

      • grits

        Perhaps you unlock the ability to use the consumable within the game. Like the poster said above it's all very confusing and just down right annoying.

      • wstcharles

        Hey guys - there seems to be some confusion about this so I thought I would clear it up. The items are NOT consumable. You unlock an item one time, and then it is always available as something you can pick during a level up. Hope this helps!

  • Evolution888

    The barrier of entry is owning an iPhone/iPad and not an iTouch. Sucks to be us :/

    • grits

      It's also almost unplayable on a small device so I wouldn't worry too much.

  • Josh Dombro

    This is cool, but definitely not Outwitters. I'll give it some time, but it'll be hard to top that...

  • GiHubb

    Seems interesting but there are more pressing matters tonight between Bayern Munich and Barcelona. This will have to wait.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Hopper/1238691947 Paul Hopper

    And suddenly I can't find it anywhere. 10 minutes ago the links on this page worked fine, now they don't; Hrm...

    • meatz666

      To late for us. But I have it. I have a totally legal Canadian account... :P

    • themostunclean

      I tried this out a few weeks ago with my NZ account. Still only available there.

      Mistake launch?

  • Smartbomb

    As an atheist, I refuse to ignore this...

  • subshell001

    WHY IS EVERYONE TALKING ABOUT OUTWITTERS

    • grits

      Because it's the shit

      • subshell001

        I agree Outwitters is good, I just don't know what it has to do with this game at all.

  • mysticmaven

    Awesome game!!! Re-read the headline kids. TA said it ISN'T boring! Bunch of pathetic sheep!

  • Jenny

    Available in Canada

  • ctakos

    why they removed it....i really wanted it!Does anyone knows if they will put it back online? :/

  • http://twitter.com/torbochkina Becky Torbochkin

    Well written article. I'll look forward to when it's available again, it'd be cool to see some F2P from Firaxis.