Shriek is a 13-page horror game that tries to capture the cheesy thrills and chills of slasher flicks. There’s not a whole lot of room in 13 pages – discount the cover, table of contents, and character sheet and it’s actually just ten pages. The rules fit on one page, but they could have used some expansion.
For example, the RULES OF PLAY don’t actually explain what the stats are, instead referring to the character sheet. So you have Buffness, Looks, Craftiness, and Brains. Perhaps the authors assumed they were all self-evident. Less evident is Guts – you might think that’s hit points (this is, after all, a slasher game) but it’s actually sanity. Failing a Guts roll causes you to lose Wits, which act like Call of Cthulhu’s Sanity points. Lose all your Wits and you go insane. For hit points we have Blood. For reasons known only to the authors, Guts, Wits, and Blood are Secondary Stats. Why? What are they secondary to? What does that mean? No explanation.
Popularity, which acts a lot like Dungeons & Dragons’ Charisma stat, is used to influence other characters by rolling under Buffness or Looks. Your popularity is solely determined by how hot you are, in other words. It’s clear that this game is not meant to capture a particular form of slasher flick.
Skills aren’t referenced by name – you’ll have to read the character sheet to figure out what they are – and they are of dubious application. Whup-Ass is used for attacking and defending, Gym is used for evasion (really?), and Shooting is used for shooting. It would have been funny if all the skills were tied to high school classes or slang. Alternately, the skills could just have been clear and easy to use, like naming the attacking skill Attacking. Instead, Shriek vacillates between all three styles.
The next page, CHARACTERS, is a copy of the rules on the earlier page with an accompanying character sheet to clarify, RULES OF PLAY. Suddenly the complete lack of reference to attributes visible on the character sheet makes sense. Although it appears second, RULES OF PLAY is actually a copy of CHARACTERS. Do we really need to be reminded twice that wearing a bicycle helmet gives you a bonus to your Armor Value but lowers your Looks because it makes you look like a dweeb?
There’s also a Status Table at the bottom that gives each character “something cool.” The players roll 1d6, which begs the question: how many characters in a slasher flick are losers, have a bitchin’ wardrobe, and psychic powers? Usually just one, right? It might have made more sense to assign each character something cool (oddly named “Status Table”). Not to mention the headaches of psychic powers, which are handled with “just tell the Ref what you want to do and use your Brains as the target number.”
FOR THE REF covers standard horror advice for running a game, like telling players “because I said so.” UNNATURAL WEIRDNESS gets into the weeds of using psychic powers, magic, power levels, magic vs. psionics (psionics? I thought they were psychic powers?), artifacts, and power boosters. The scenarios include one-page riffs on Night of the Living Dead, Friday the 13th, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Christine, and uh…The Texas Chainsaw Massacre again.
For a beer-and-pretzels horror game, Shriek comes off as incomplete, created by D&D gamers who liked the idea of a rules-light game but their geeky nature prevented them from following through. The game’s tone is surprisingly humorless and the one piece of advice (“because I said so”) is pretty bad. With just ten pages to impress, Shriek goes out with a whimper.