World is once again standing on the threshold of the apocalypse: But can a hero stand alone against the crowds of terror and darkness? He is not of pure heart. He does not have any at all! At least not one, that would be beating regularly. His name is the Chosen Undead and he fights mainly for his own destiny. There is no doubt, that darkness will absorb all, no matter what he does. But he still will be trying.
And exactly these grim spirit plays the lead role of board game called Dark Souls: The Board Game. This is a game inspired by very popular digital game of the same name. Matt Hart, Rich Loxam, David Carl, Alex Hall, Bryce Johnston and Jamie Perkins are the designers. Their team effort was introduced with Bandai Namco’s license under Steamforged Games to fans on the Kickstarter server in 2016. The authors’ dream became a reality thanks to over 30,000 fans and over 3.5 million pounds gathered. Game comes to the European market under Esdevium Games.
There is a beautiful (and stylish) welcome in the box. As soon as you lift the lid with a portrait of your character, words “YOU DIED” are waiting for you to raise your spirit. And its not the last time, that this will happen to you. But it will not be so without emotions next time. Dark Souls is a game full of dying, as well as in original.
There is a campaign ready for all players. And at the beginning of each match, there is a place of peace wtih fire and chance to rest. A square board with this safe hide is, what player place first on the table, when preparing their game. But the place will be surrounded by several other boards, which can be connected with door printed on their edge. Place the rotating spark counter on the fire place. These are uses for revival and rest of heroes. Once its power is out, players’ chances of success in the game have drown in the dark.
Depending on the scenario, players will have unique opponent – mini boss, whose miniature should be found together with card with a description of his behavior, second with his stats, but above all life counter belonging to that specific character! Depending on chosen difficulty, players also prepare a deck of encounter cards. All tokens should also be placed near the map. Individual players then have to choose their own hero, which comes with a large board containing a number of equipment positions and four rows of skills. Each line must be marked with a cube on its left, indicating the initial state of that skill. According to selected heroes, treasure cards will also be available.
Heroes start with their miniatures in calming safety of fireplace. From here, they will go on exploring some of their neighboring locations. Once their group enters new location through the door, they must immediately reveal encounter card. Its icons determine, which opponents heroes will have to fight to explore and move on. But their second motivation is kills themself, because each enemy killed provides souls.
Players will then set up their opponents on red icons and they will also find corresponding statistics cards for these newly emerging enemies. According to the instructions, they also have to place elements of the terrain, barrels, chests, but also traps. When entering new room, players must also choose hero, who lead them into the room and all enemies will be moving towards him at beginning of first turn. This hero is marked with a so-called aggro token. Heroes will come to action in given order – knight, warrior and herald. Meanwhile, monsters always get their chance to respond – first, monsters are activated at the beginning of the fight, then knight moves and fights, then monsters again, and so on.
Individual room boards have an interesting concept in this game. It consists of multicolored dots printed on the board, allowing players and creatures to move around freely. Heroes and monsters can also move on them diagonally.
When hero’s turn comes round, he recovers two points of stamina (he adds this new strength by discarding cubes on his board, marking energy spent during previous rounds), gets aggro token and can then move. One space in any direction is free. If he wants to move faster, he has to spend one point of stamina (place a cube on first space from left) and has the chance to run across another space. At any time during their turn, heroes can attack using weapons. They again have to spend energy, roll a set of dice according to the type of weapon and resulting dots mean successful hits. Weapons may have different modifiers, such as melee attacks or range ones, magical or physical type. It always depends on the type of weapon.
When enemy gets to act (before and after each hero’s turn), he has to follow his instruction card. They predestinate the way the monsters behave in the movement – which heroes will they move to or if they prefer to run away and be as far from heroes as possible, teasing them or attacking from distance. But when monsters are attacking, dice are not rolled, because their strength is fixed. Instead, player rolls dice for defense, trying to block an attack, or try to avoid attack by spending stamina.
Each of the enemies has all the necessary features printed on his card, including the number of lives, range or action priorities. Whenever any player successfully defeats him, whole group receives points – souls (that’s where game title is from) – into their pool. They can later be spent on upgrading heroes, if they successfully return to the camp and visits the blacksmith Andre. And without equipment and training, players should not try to get through foggy gate and enter boss lair.
If any of the heroes gets killed at any time during the encounter, whole group has been defeated, and they have to return back to their camp with heads down. If they still have a spark left, they can spend it and revive their fallen comrade. But such a recovery (or healing, because fire can be used, whenever heroes go there) also brings one effect – heroes must go through all the encounters again! In addition, in the event of the hero’s death, all the gathered souls will remain lying on the space, where he has fallen. Therefore its not possible to train or buy weapons after dying, until players recover it.
But all the paths eventually lead to final boss. Only through them leads the way out of the maze and away from monsters. Only by defeating the big final creature, players can win. Even these monsters have their own behavior cards and the battle is thrilling with them as well. But the game can end up also unsuccessfully with exhaustion of all the sparks and loss of the team of heroes.
Dark Souls: The Board Game is a cooperative game, that is really different, than competition. In the first place, death is not the end, but it is a natural part of exploring the environment and learning from its mistakes. Like playing some crazy difficult version of TIME Stories.
Players will have to cope with superiority of enemies and whenever they enter a new room, there will be someone waiting for them. But every successful battle is at the same time a reward, because escaping monster souls are the only way to level up and prepare for the final duel, which decides about everything.
The game is exciting and surprisingly tactical. Even though the dice are used for combat and defense itself. But players can plan ahead with many elements and situations. They know how the monsters will behave, and they should adapt layout of their characters and actions accordingly.
There are many interesting elements in the game. There are items in rooms, traps or various subsequent effects affecting heroes. But there is not many of these details, so game is quite simple in terms of rules. Unfortunately this does not correspond to the handbook itself, which is a bit strangely arranged and you will not find everything together. You must look for common rules on multiple pages.
The main problem with this box lies in the game time, which is much longer, than the ninety minutes or two hours. Better count with three hourse. Especially in the first matches, but also in later ones, if you get a little unlucky. On the other hand, this game is very difficult and you simply need time to succeed. You will not be bored, all the time spent in the game world is thrilling, so if you do not mind a longer gamplay, you probably will not consider it a real negative. But a lot of players does not settle easily for giving this amount of time to one game.
Players share the acquired soul, which is not a problem due to the cooperative nature of the game. Still, we met with players, who would prefer to have their own stock to spend. But this is more of a personal preference. In general, the number of participants affects the difficulty of the experience. Dark Souls can be played in one (really difficult), but some cooperation is definitely good. That’s why we find two players the most entertaining. With more players, turns begin to stretch.
The meaning of the first (and long) part of the game is only to explore the rooms and improve your character (by grinding). Of course, this does not have to suit everybody, because that phase does not have a clear goal. But even these duels are exciting and interesting, it’s nothing simple without some challenge. In the game, this preparatory phase makes sense even though it is disqualifying parameter for some players.
Finally, main disadvantage is the variability. The whole map will not change after exploring it for the first time. Even at the next runthrough, everything will be in the same places, monsters will behave in the same way and by going this road, game even more emphasizes the fact, that it is actually a puzzle. There are dice and decisions of players will be different, but this fact may still spoils overall impression for someone.
Everything looks absolutely fabulous. Most probably you will be thrilled about huge detailed miniatures. As this is a novelty, there is still only a basic box available on the market, although the campaign also included expansions. But they are still not available, but maybe we will get a chance to try it in upcoming weeks. But once again, it must be emphasized, that processing is definitely worth it and the game looks great.
Of course, a number of game elements are not new. But that is not even possible. The overall impression of Dark Souls remains very positive. The game, probably because of its length and uncompromising difficulty, does not suit everybody. If you do not like losing, then you probably will play something different. But Dark Souls: The Board Game is a beautifully appealing challenge, that’s great to play.
+ exciting and tough
+ every enemy has its own behavior
+ possibility of real tactics
+ great miniatures
+ excellent in lower numbers
- fight is simple and brings nothing new
- plans can be crushed by dice
- start and disposition of enemy forces remain the same even at the next try
- long setup (character upgrade) before a real fight