“Ten days ago, the sky betrayed you. The world went dark. The sun vanished. Five days ago, They came. And now They’re coming for you. Keep moving. Don’t lose hope. And stay in the light.”
Ten Candles is a cooperative, horror RPG meant to be played in a single 2-3 hour session. The world is one where all the lights have gone out, the sun blotted out from the sky. Shortly after the darkness feel something arrived. The world is ending. The players will inevitably die. Ten Candles is all about how they live before the end arrives.
Ten Candles is presented in a very simple fashion, the rulebook containing only 95 pages. The main mechanics lie around candles, index cards, 6 sided dice, a voice recorder, and a fireproof container. The game starts with players creating their characters by giving them 2 Traits, a Moment, a Brink, name, and a short description. There’s a system for how Traits, Moments, and Brinks are assigned to players, each on an index card. These cards are stacked in front of each player in any order they like, but with the Brink on the bottom. The top card is flipped up and is considered active. Each player also gets 1d6, and 10d6 are placed in the center of the table as a common pool. Once this is done players each record a message into the voice recorder. The whole time players are setting up candles are being lit. When setup is complete there will be 10 lit candles, preferably the only light in the room.
The game revolves around the group of players trying to survive a module the GM has picked. Being cooperative, each player will have a chance to narrate and help shape the game around them, setting up scenes and overcoming challenges using the pool of d6. Challenges are attempted by rolling all available d6. If any of them is a 6 the players are successful. Any 1’s are removed from the pool and give to the GM to roll on future challenges to try and regain narrative control of the game. If the players fail the challenge a candle is blown out and the scene immediately ends. The players then set up the next scene by taking turns speaking 1 truth about the next scene for each candle still lit
If at any point a player wants to reroll their 1’s they may burn a Trait. Literally. Working the active card on the top of their card into the narrative, they light the card on one of the candles and place it in the fireproof container. Then the next card in their stack is flipped up and made active. Moments are a bit more powerful, and it a Moment comes up in the narrative players must inspire or lose hope by making a challenge. If it’s successful the player can use their extra die when rolling future challenges, counting successes on a 5 or 6 and never losing it comes up a 1. If they fail their Moment challenge hope is lost and another candle is blown out.
A quick note about candles. If a candle goes out for any reason the current scene ends. This includes being accidentally blown out, or going out on its own accord from burning down.
A Brink is a last ditch effort for players and can be reused as long as their challenges are successful. A Brink doesn’t have to do with who a character is, but who a character becomes when pushed to their limits. They’re desperate, narrative-changing things that should never be taken lightly.
As candles are blown out one by one the game becomes more desperate, the narrative handled more and more by the GM. When the game is down to the final candle the game enters The Last Stand. This is where the players confront what lurks in the dark with one rule change. Every failed challenge results in a character’s death.
In the end, all is dark and there’s a final surprise for the players (which I won’t spoil.)
I’ve painted in very broad strokes here. The rulebook is far more detailed, with excellent examples of each of the mechanics.
Ten Candles is a small softcover book with a thick cover, a few black and white illustrations, all laid out in an easy-to-read format. The PDF is pretty much identical in layout, just digital. The whole book takes maybe an hour or so to read through and fully understand how the game works.
Ten Candles is a brooding, desperate, depressing game about the last moments of a group of terrified survivors. Each scenario focuses on their bond, successes, failures, strength, and fragility. All of which is told and played by the flickering light of 10 small candles. As the story reaches its end the room has grown darker. At the game’s end, the players are left in darkness alone and dying. As the game reaches its conclusion and the lights are turned back on everyone will leave having created a story of hope and despair. A story of normal, everyday people staying alive the best they know how. A story that, ultimately, ends in death.
To say that Ten Candles is a hard game to play is an understatement. It’s not the rules. Those are simple and accommodating. It’s the subject matter. It’s in knowing that no matter how hard you try it’s all for naught. You can’t win. You can’t fight back the monsters hiding in the dark and bring light back to the world. You do what you can, take what you can get, and create one hell of a story.
The best part of Ten Candles is how flexible the system is, how little prep is needed on the GM, and how every player contributes to the story in their own way. For a $28 book or a $10 PDF, there’s an incredible amount of value. If you’re an RPG fan, or a horror fan in general, there’s no reason you shouldn’t give it a shot.
A PDF copy of Ten Candles was provided free for review by Cavalry Games
Media personality Rob Kalajian has been a staple in the board game world for many years. As a former writer for Purple Pawn and the owner of A Pawn’s Perspective, Rob focuses on board game reviews, events, and news. A self-proclaimed geek, Rob loves all things toys and games and even helps raise his four kids in his spare time.