1-4 players, Action Dungeon Crawler
Designer: David Carl
Publisher: Steamforged Games
Overview of Gameplay
Ah Dark Souls, we meet yet again. So Dark Souls the Board Game is based on the video games of the same name and let me tell you it is an unforgiving beast of a videogame. Well the board game is no much different in that regard so if you have any aversion to difficult games and repetition then you might as well look elsewhere. In the board game you will be entering these large rooms comprised of large game board tiles. Now of course you don’t have any idea what monsters lurk in these room until you enter one. So basically, you go in blind and have to learn your enemies’ attacks and movements just like the video game. You will die and when you do you start all over back at the campfire with all the enemies reset. And when I say you will die……I mean more than likely you will, just accept that now.
The good news is that now you know where the enemies will be and how they will attack. And of course, you gain a certain amount of souls (resources) after you clear a room that you can use to spend on new weapons or armor or spells. These come from a VAST selection of treasure cards that you also have to spend souls on to draw. Another aspect of this is that you also have to spend souls to upgrade your character’s abilities to be able to use most of this new gear.
During a typical game you will go through 3 or 4 tiles (rooms) clearing out enemies collecting souls and then fight a mini boss. The mini boss is basically just a regular boss but it represents the halfway mark through the full game. After you beat that mini boss you will unlock legendary gear to be added to the treasure cards. After that you venture through 3 or 4 more tiles fighting enemies and then finally battle a final boss. If you can defeat that final boss you win! The length of the game usually runs to right around 2 and a half hours. Your first game will always take much longer just because you are still learning all the mechanics.
The minis are extremely detailed and look JUST like their video game counterparts. I am extremely pleased with how these all turned out and even painted the knight. There are quite a few different bosses to choose from as well in the core set all with completely different sculpts. The tokens (and there are a lot of them) are all pretty basic cardboard, nothing fancy. The dice however are really nice custom dice and have a premium heft to them. The cards have a nice linen finish and all look great with artwork straight from the videogame. The game board tiles themselves are all oversized pieces and the cardboard is decently thick. I have a little tiny bit of warping occurring but nothing outrageous. Overall, I am very happy with the component quality in the game.
Speaking more on the game board tiles they are double sided with a few different scenery choices to choose from but when you are playing that is all just to add to the theme, there is no gameplay benefit from the tiles. When you are setting the game up it even tells you to just pick whichever tile, I really wish the different tiles offered some differing advantages or disadvantages such as terrain. That said, there are barrels and tombstones that sometimes get added to the tiles to shake things up a bit. Also did I mention the player boards? Cuz they are AWESOME. There are four of them and they have spaces punched in the board to hold wooden cubes to track endurance spent, health and stats for leveling up. It’s basically a poor mans double layer player board but I love it nonetheless. They also look cool with the Dark Souls artwork and spots to add the mini cards for the gear.
The box packaging is so-so. They have really nice plastic holders for the minis, however the bosses holders leave no indication of where or how they fit in……so beware not to just eagerly remove the boss minis right as you open the game as you will end up spending a good amount of time trying to figure out how to put them back in. There are two large-ish boxes that house all the minis that fit into the main box and these take up most of the space in the box. There is no insert at all for all the other components so expect to provide some baggies to organize all those. Also, with nowhere to place them you kinda just have to toss it all on top of the miniature holder boxes and then the board pieces and player boards on top of that.
Personally, I’m not a fan at all over this insert design and I have seen it a lot with most games that CMON produces as well such as Rising Sun and The Others.
Visual Appeal /Theme
Visually the game looks great. It has all the artwork directly from the videogame which was already outstanding and the minis all look glorious as well. The colors are a tad muted being Dark Souls so don’t expect anything super bright and flashy but overall, I like what I see. The theme is also very much dependent on your taste. Personally, I really enjoy the art direction and theme of Dark Souls however if you don’t like dark ominous things such as ghouls wielding huge axes or sneaky skeleton archers then you might wanna look elsewhere.
Man this rulebook needs some work. First of all, it’s so long and tiring to read through. I mean this thing has SO MUCH information explained so poorly. There are not nearly enough examples and far too many small printed words. Prepare to take a couple hours trying to figure out how to play where honestly, the game isn’t THAT complicated. The boss movement and attack cards are the most complicated trying to understand the movement and how it all flows.
Table Talk/Fun Factor
Speaking of the bosses and their actions, they are very unique as they work totally different than fighting normal enemies. They each have their own batch of cards that you draw from that shows what their attack or movement would be. This is a revolving deck so over the course of the battle you can essentially learn the boss’s movements and attacks and prepare for them. Once you get the boss down to a certain amount of health he will “enrage” which basically means that you have to add another even stronger attack card to the batch of cards you draw from for his attacks. Also, you shuffle them all so you have to relearn his rotation. Be prepared though as learning how to properly fight the bosses is rather confusing and can take many trial and error battles before you get it down.
So, beyond the fighting, what makes this game difficult (fun)? Well for one, the game gets harder the more people play and this is because if even 1 person in your party dies, you all die. Everyone in the party goes back to the bonfire. Now that doesn’t seem too terribly bad…..however there is another aspect to this that really ramps up the difficulty. Every time you die and have to return to the bonfire, the bonfire loses a “spark”. You only get two sparks for a 4-player game and four sparks for a 2-player game. Once you lose all the sparks for that bonfire, the game is over. You need to be realllllly careful on how you proceed in the game and be sure not to just blaze through it or you will lose very quickly.
Speaking to that a bit more, this system does create a tremendous amount of table talk. This will force players to communicate if they hope to survive as no one can leave another behind or risk everyone losing.
At the start of the game you choose which of the 2 bosses you fight out of 5. So, the game does offer some replayability in that respect IF (and that’s a big if, literally and figuratively) you happen to survive to kill them both. You could end up spending quite a bit of time trying to down a couple bosses. My advice though, if you keep dying on one, just change it up to keep the game fresh. The four different classes also offer some variability on starting equipment and abilities so that’s fun to change up every once in a while.
Now that said, there is SO MUCH repetition in this game. You will be knocking your head against a wall after you die for the umpteenth time fighting the same groups of enemies over and over again. It’s almost merciful that the game ONLY gives you a max of 4 sparks to restart with. And that’s Dark Souls for you, you NEED to kill regular enemies to gain souls with which to buy new upgrades with so you can ultimately defeat the bosses.
The Fuzzy Llama Bronze Seal of Prevalence
Positive Final Thoughts
If you love the Dark Souls series then you will love this game. Somehow the makers of the board game really caught the feel of the video game. It is a very difficult game just like it’s video game counterpart. For 1 to 4 players I can say that the difficulty ramps up substantially for each player that plays over the first so be prepared for that. You pick your class out of the 4 that are available with the base game and you get a really cool board to use to keep track of your equipment and health. The minis look great and the boss battles are super unique with their own special combat cards that dictate their actions. It really feels like you are fighting a random boss encounter
Negative Final Thoughts
The game is super repetitious and the board tiles are pretty bland. There are a TON of gear and item cards but you will never get to see them all and a lot of them can’t even be used by certain players so playing with less than four you might miss out on a bunch of stuff. I like the leveling aspect but it takes forever to level you characters up and even then, do you do that OR spend your souls on gear? The game doesn’t seem like it lasts long enough to really do a lot of either and yet…..it feels like it lasts forever.