A couple weeks ago I bought my first game bundle on Itch: Solo But Not Alone, a collection of single-player tabletop role-playing games (TTRPGs). It's still on sale for the next ~month, and it comes with a whopping 87 (!) downloadable pen-and-paper games of varying lengths and complexities. I've tried a ton of them, and dearly love many of them.

But one has been an immediate runaway favorite: Escape from Demon Castle Dracula by Rob Hebert (nerdypapergames.itch.io). Unofficially based on, as he puts it, "the greatest vampire-themed horror-adventure video game franchise of all time," Rob's game is moody and atmospheric and creepy. It has a genius mechanic, too – it uses a standard deck of cards to build out Dracula's sprawling, shifting castle as you try to escape it.

It was such fun, inventive, accessible approach and it was truly a blast to experience. Immediately after finishing my first playthrough my mind was swirling –  as a huge fan of the entire sweeping multimedia Resident Evil franchise, I knew there was only one thing that could make this game more fun for me!

And so The Mansion Incident was born – a hack of Hebert's wonderful game, unofficially based on the greatest zombie-themed survival-horror video game franchise of all time.

The Mansion Incident has a few additional twists and turns thrown into the mechanics, a brand new narrative and codex of card meanings, and a whole lot of love for building lore, characters, and found-family dynamics.

In The Mansion Incident you take on the role of one of four playable members of the Investigation and Rescue Implementation Service (I.R.I.S.) – an elite group of detectives tasked with finding, and in some cases liberating, missing persons in the sprawling mountains of the Midwestern United States – as you recover your team from a sinister, labyrinthian mansion that hides secrets and danger behind every door.

You aren’t sure what’s really going on in the Stepford Mansion. There are bizarre puzzles, booby-trapped rooms, hidden passages, and no end of ruthless, hungry monsters. But as part of I.R.I.S., you’ve bumped up against the inexplicable and the occult before. Mountain country is full of chthonic rituals, strange locations, and stranger beasts. There may not be anyone left alive from the helicopter, but you have to hold onto hope that your team survived. You care for each one of them. Among them are your best friend and your beloved. You won’t be leaving without them.

To escape, you’ll need to trek through the mansion, endure its horrors, recover your six missing teammates, and find some means of transport out of the mountains.

This is a game about survival and terror, but it’s also about relationships, community, and the strength that those bonds give us to endure.

Hebert's game has another really wonderful feature: as you progress through the castle you begin to recover memories of yourself and your life before you were taken as a thrall and left as a blank slate. The castle even holds some beneficent denizens that will trade you boons for some of those sweet, cherished memories.

In The Mansion Incident, memories are explored to flesh out your relationships to your missing teammates as you desperately seek to save them. And as you find them, you leverage their unique personalities, histories, and perspectives to gain advantages as you continue to move through the mansion together.

I.R.I.S. is as much a chosen family as a search-and-rescue operation. Building those bonds as you play provides the emotional heart of the game, the hopeful grace that cuts through the terror and violence.

And I won't lie – The Mansion Incident is also a vehicle for orchestrating an encounter with an analog of the internet's favorite Tall Vampire Lady, Countess Alcina Dimitrescu, to tide me over until Resident Evil Village drops. I mean, just... look at her:

I hope you'll check The Mansion Incident out, and show some love to Rob's game as well! It's free or pay-what-you-want on the Big Gay Universe Itch store.

If there is enough interest in The Mansion Incident, I'd love to pour donations into commissioning some beautiful original art for the game and delivering an even more visually dynamic product in future releases. I already have an incredible artist in mind that I know would knock it out of the park! Perhaps there might even be some expansions looming in the future with more characters, a new setting (did someone say Schmacoon Schity? – I kid, there would be a better in-game name), new baddies, and all kinds of new memories to make.

If you end up playing, have feedback or questions, or just want to say hi – please feel free to drop a comment on the Itch storefront, or reach out to me on Twitter @BigGayUniverse!

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A shot taken from the backseat of a car at night. Two late-teen boys sit in the front. The dashboard is illuminated in, casting blue and orange light throughout the interior. The night sky sparkles through the windshield. The title reads: Night Rides, in neon letters. Travis Brightfield is written at the bottom in the same large, neon font..
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