1-4 players, Cooperative, Dark Strategic Card Game
Designer: David Carl
Artwork: Tom Hutchings
Publisher: Steamforged Games Ltd.
Release Year: 2018
My second review for Spooky Review Month is Dark Souls: The Card Game. This is one that was released on the heels of the Dark Souls: The Board Game that I have also reviewed. However, don’t expect any similarities between the games other than the theme as the card game is a completely different beast. I would say I’m a moderate fan of the videogames that these are based upon as I LOVE the theme but have some trouble with the “roguelike” design. Basically, I get SUPER stressed when I die in videogames and in Dark Souls you are expected to die……a lot. SO, coming into the board games I can have a little more control of what happens *cough cheater *weez. Anyway! Read on to get all spooked out!
Overview of Gameplay
The general idea behind this game follows the videogames: engage enemies, collect souls/loot, rest at the bonfire to save, defeat the boss, repeat. To start off there are four playable characters in this game, you have the Knight, Assassin, Sorcerer and Herald. Each character has their own special starting deck that has specific cards that align with the class, kinda like how the Knight excels with shields and armor whereas the Sorcerer has spells he can cast. There are three boards that make up the game area, two of these boards are where you will place your character cards and the enemy cards respectively. The other is kind of a location map where you will travel to engage the enemies.
The card play revolves around discarding specific stamina cards from your hand to pay for all the action cards such as defensive or attack abilities. The catch is that your deck of cards also act as your life total and if you ever have to draw and cannot then you perish. If ANY PLAYER dies, ALL PLAYERS die and have to return to the bonfire. Any loot that was collected will be lost if you die if it hasn’t already been moved to your inventory, and the only way it can move to your inventory is if you willingly rest at the bonfire. Now, the bonfire only has a limited amount of time before it burns out and the game is over. Every time you visit the bonfire, whether it’s because of death or choice, it will burn a little less BUT players decks will increase in size and new treasures will be gained.
The general flow of the game has players choosing a path to take on the location board based around three different difficulties. So, let’s say you pick one of the difficulty 1 spots. You would draw a location card from that difficulty deck and lay it on that space on the location board. From the information on that card you will draw up a number of enemies also ranging in three difficulties, based around how many players there are. The more players, the more enemies. These enemy cards are then placed on the corresponding enemy board directly opposite of the board the hero cards are located. They are placed in specific positions on that board taken from their card. Once all the enemy cards are placed, the battle begins!
The battle starts with all the enemies attacking first. This is simply done by following the visual cues on each of their cards showing the area of the hero board they will attack and how much damage they will do. In response, the heroes can play defensive cards at this time to try to avoid/block some or all of that damage. If unable to avoid the damage the hero/s that were attacked have to discard the amount of cards equal to the damage they received. And remember, if ANY hero cannot draw a card the entire team is returned to the bonfire. After all the enemies get their attacks out of the way the players get a chance to return fire and hopefully take them all down.
The players have a few different actions available to them: Move one space, perform one attack, Discard cards to draw up an equal amount, use their heroic special ability and use an non-attack equipment card such as a healing card. Each player can do all of these actions if available BUT can only do each one once. So basically you cannot move all the way across the board in one turn or attack twice. If you defeat all the enemies you mark that location card with a token that shows it has been completed and can either move on to the next location for another battle OR hit up the bonfire to save your collected loot and souls and resupply. Now, there are benefits for both, let’s discuss those now.
IF you decide to keep moving on you DO NOT reshuffle your discard pile back into your deck, you are still injured from the last battle and the loot/souls you are carrying isn’t exactly secure either. BUT, this saves that most valuable asset you have in the game, time. By moving on you do not have to spend a charge of the bonfire resting AND the previous place stays cleared so you can move through it again without fear of new enemies. But moving on IS risky! If any one player dies in the next battle you will lose all that hard-earned loot and souls. Now, if you decide to head back to the bonfire after a battle your collect loot and souls will be moved to your inventory and saved, the bonfire will grow a little dimmer AND the previous locations that you cleared…..well, they will have to be cleared again if you want to move through them. The thing is though, now you KNOW what kind of enemies will appear, well, at least the difficulty since the location card doesn’t change. New enemy cards will be drawn so you will face different types of enemies each time. Of course there are multiple routes around the location board so you don’t HAVE to go a particular way if you don’t want.
The basic gist is, continually stockpile collected gear and souls as long as you can, burning that bonfire down as much as possible until you feel you are ready to face the final boss. Once you feel you are sufficiently ready to face the boss you can move to one of the boss icons on either side of the location board to start that epic battle. The bosses work a tiny bit differently than the other enemies in that they each have their own respective deck of battle cards. Each boss activation you will draw from their deck that that will dictate their movement and attack. This is always changing so the bosses can be very unpredictable the first time you fight them. Of course once you go through all the cards in their deck you can kind of start to anticipate their actions to a small degree and act accordingly. Once you beat the boss, you and your party wins!
The card quality and board quality is really nice with each having a nice finish about them. Also huge props for the boards and cards NOT warping. I see so many card and board games warping due to the humidity anymore. Not much to speak on with the cardboard tokens, they are pretty standard fare. I will say there are A LOT of different card decks you need to set up so I would rate this game on the heavier end of the setup spectrum. Eight decks for the different Stamina cards, another six decks for the enemy and location cards, two more decks for the loot cards not to mention the individual player decks. It’s quite the spread I won’t deny.
The game comes with a cardboard attempt at a storage solution that just fails on so many levels. It’s got separations for four decks but it doesn’t hold any of them securely so if you store your games on their sides then you will always open your box to a jumble of cards. I would just grab up some spare plastic baggies, separate the individual decks for ease of setup, and toss the cardboard insert. The box itself however is a nice size and rather thin so it can easily find room on most board game shelves.
Visual Appeal /Theme
This is what sold me on the game and it delivers! It FEELS like Dark Souls as you are traipsing around engaging enemies, building up your gear, ready to take on the boss. That said, if you are unfamiliar with Dark Souls you probably won’t get as much out of this game as those who are. The enemies on the cards will end up devolving into the attack and defense numbers and you won’t even look at their pictures. The bosses especially stand out for me as I recognized some of their attack cards and strategies from the videogames and this really impressed me.
The rulebook needs some love and mostly towards the layout. The way the rules are laid out really make this one hard to learn and to be honest, makes little sense. There’s a page for explaining the Bonfire then it zips over on how to setup an encounter…BUT THEN instead of going into how to play the encounter, you are thrust into three pages of explaining what some of the cards do. THEN you have the enemy explanations. It’s really wonky. On top of the wonky layout there are lots of empty spaces, the font type is very small AND all the instructions are written in paragraph form. BUT, the back of the book does have a nice full page reference sheet and it’s not the worst rulebook I’ve ever read but it definitely needs some love.
Player Interaction/Fun Factor
There is quite a bit of player interaction here! Each character plays just a tad bit differently and since there are only six spaces on the player board for movement you will be coordinating with the other players to determine the best positioning and attack methods for the entire team. And since if even one player dies, everyone dies, I feel like players will be REALLY wanting to work together on this one. Heck even the loot you gather will be a group decision on who gets what. The game is more a luck/strategy hybrid which I find pretty fun. The luck coming from the card draws of your deck as sometimes you will struggle trying to find a weapon or a particular stamina card you need. The strategy comes from your character placement as well as how you choose to take damage. You see, you can choose to discard cards from your hand OR the top of your deck or both. This is an excellent way to cycle through cards quickly to find what you are looking for. Of course you are slowly bleeding to death doing this, BUT if you are taking damage you might as well make it work for you!
Overall, I found the game to be a pretty fun challenge style game. Since your ultimate goal is to defeat each of the bosses on one side of the double-sided location board there really isn’t any spectacular bonus for doing so. I almost wish there was at least some kind of written accomplishment text for defeating the bosses just to give the end game a bit more oomf.
Optimal Player Count/Replayability
The game can be played solo and up to four players. The difficulty does increase the more players as boss health increases and enemy spawn rates are much higher. Also, you do lose a little bit of strategy playing solo a single character as you cannot benefit from the other characters special abilities. To be honest I think I prefer this game at the two-player count over all others. Playing solo with one character is TOUGH and the difference between the solo and two player difficulty increases is very small so playing with two actually feels like the standard way of playing. Playing with four REALLY increases the strategy levels but also increases the risk as well since you now have to be wary of a larger team.
Replayability is decent as you do get four bosses out of the box, two per location board side. And each boss is a completely different beast on how to take down. I particularly love High Lord Wolnir because he mimics his same abilities in the videogame with his arms acting as separate entities to attack. Of course once you beat each of these bosses a couple times it kinda takes the excitement down a notch. Yes there is a decent amount of different loot cards to collect but nothing really changes up the general game.
Positive Final Thoughts
I really love the theme integration so if you are a Dark Souls fan you will probably enjoy this quite a bit. The artwork is excellent and the quality of the cards is really nice. I really love the bosses and how they differ such a great deal and there is quite the deck of different loot cards that fans of the series will surely recognize.
Negative Final Thoughts
On the flip side, non-fans probably won’t like this game nearly as much as the gear and enemies won’t ring any bells. The setup of this game is pretty strenuous and the rulebook for sure needs some layout work. The amount of luck incorporated into the gameplay will for sure turn some players off especially since you are being lucky about your life total. The stamina cards in general are just…..boring. You end up spending your hard earned souls on adding more stamina cards to your deck, which, DOES make it more efficient, BUT at the same time not exciting.
The Bottom Line
This is a game that I enjoy in spurts. Every few months I will bring it out and play a few rounds after I’ve forgotten much of it. On one hand I really love drawing loot cards and seeing what I get to equip but on the other hand a lot of that excitement instantly dies when I have to spend souls on those boring stamina cards. The card play is pleasant enough with how it works but drawing up a hand of JUST stamina cards and HAVING to discard (which is basically killing you) just to get a weapon to attack with is pretty meh. Overall though, I feel like that is all a part of the charm of this game. In Dark Souls you HAVE to risk it for the biscuit.
The Fuzzy Llama Bronze Seal of Prevalence