Review: Dark Souls the Board Game

Review: Dark Souls the Board Game

Dark Souls the board Game is one of those kick-starters that went sideways. It’s been about 3 years and delivery is still happening. The base game is at retail, but the reviews are so bad you won’t be wrong in thinking that you should avoid it.

My initial thoughts was that the game had potential and really needed the stretch goals, so I thought I’d wait before writing up the review. Well, I don’t have the SG yet but I’m having fun and I’m still playing….

For the TL;DR version click here.

Opening the Box

Review: Dark Souls the Board Game
The first thing you see when you open the box, also the most common screen in the video games.

Specs on the box

  • 1-4 Players – Co-operative, so you play as a team.
  • Ages 14+ (should be 12+ I think but the imagery is mature)
  • 90 – 120 min

This game really needs an insert. The trouble is how to store the mini’s and have an insert. I’ve recently started making some custom inserts to maybe I’ll create something. However I’m lazy and I won’t do it over after the SG arrive so I’m going to wait until sometime next year and then give it a go.

Component wise, quality is way up there. The models are fantastic, I’ve got a bent spear or 2 but the sculpts are highly detailed. Dual layered player boards are excellent, the art looks like it was pulled straight from the video games themselves.

Review: Dark Souls the Board Game
I am not a fan of packing and unpacking this box 🙁

Sleeves

There isn’t a lot of shuffling of the cards in Dark Souls, so you don’t need to go all out with the sleeves. I don’t recommend premium sleeves purely because you won’t have enough space to put everything back into the box. The thinner versions will be fine.

Theme

Dark Souls is a video game series known for its brutally difficult combat. It’s dark, gritty and it gives you no favours. You start with almost nothing and very little information. You must piece the story together yourself too.

There’s a lot of contention about how well the board game represents the difficulty of the video game play. A lot of people feel the game is grindy, you must repeat the same actions over and over to make any progress. The thing is, while the video game was not meant to be like that, you could play it that way.

There is also quite a high involvement of luck in the board game while there isn’t as much in the video game. I personally don’t mind. The possibility of failing a die roll is very low, of the 3 attack dice only 1 of them has a fail side. The Dodge dice through has a 50/50 chance of success but you can roll up to 4 of them at once looking for a single success so the odds are not that bad.

Overall, I think it feels like the video game, even though it’s not mechanically the same.

Gameplay

Setup

One of the selling points of the game is “quick setup, long play” for the most part this is very true. You can have setup done in a fraction of the time that you would normally need for a similar dungeon crawler game.

Additionally, there’s not searching for map tiles during the game or specific loot cards and only a handful of tokens. So, it’s pretty much action all the way which is great.

Review: Dark Souls the Board Game
Dark Souls the Board Game is a table hog.

My only gripe are the very small loot cards, you need to add specific cards to the deck based on the characters in the game. The symbols to tell you which cards are for which character are very small and hard to see, for me anyway. I guess I need to start using my reading glasses for gaming now.

Turns

Encounters

A typical turn has you decide which tile to move to and then flipping the encounter card. The card will tell you what enemies you face, where they start and what terrain tokens to place on the board. The enemies all get an action then player 1 can perform actions and he gets the aggro token then enemies go again then the next player.

Repeat until a player dies or all the enemies are dead.

The actions are where it gets interesting. Each player can move and use equipment, weapons and spells. Doing so results in fatigue, loss of stamina. The more powerful actions require you to spend more stamina. This is a bad thing because your stamina and health are both on the same bar. If you run out of either, then you die. You will die a lot.

Review: Dark Souls the Board Game
The dude with the crossbow constantly retreats and shoots while the other 2 harry us from up close. Not the smartest AI but efficient.

This means that you need to be very tactical. The enemy actions are there for you to see. Some will always attack the person with the aggro, others will attack the nearest player. You can see what is going to come your way and plan appropriately. Poor planning will result in death.

A big part of the video game is the tactical nature of the combat. While the regular encounters do a passable job of that the boss battles are where this really shines, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

Loot

At the end of an encounter each player gets 2 souls that are added to a communal pool. These souls are used to buy extra equipment or to level up your stats so that you can use the new equipment. This is one of the down sides of the game. There is a big deck of loot, not all of is useful and you buy cards from the top of the deck so you never know what you are going to get.

Once you do get the equipment you will need to level up your stats so that you can use them, but then you could randomly get another better piece of equipment, but it might require totally different stats to be increased. Not big problem if different players are levelling different stats but the number of souls that you get per encounter makes this very frustrating.

Review: Dark Souls the Board Game
Stats on the top with Health/Stamina bar on the bottom. I just use 1 black and Red cube though, makes things easier.

Boss Fights

Boss fights are special, each boss has a deck of behaviour cards and a set of heat up cards. First you need to shuffle the behaviour deck and then remove a certain number of cards. This is now the boss deck. When it’s his turn to act you flip over the top cad and he does what is on the card.

Just like in video games he can end up running towards the nearest player or charging straight ahead into a wall! Once his deck is empty, the discards are NOT shuffled. They are flipped over so that the boss will repeat the same actions in the exact same order.

Canny players will remember the sequence of attacks and use this knowledge to gain themselves a great tactical advantage. Until he heats up. Just like in video games, when the boss loses a certain amount of HP they change their behaviour. You take a random heat up card, which is a more powerful attack and shuffle it into his behaviour deck! So, his attack sequence changes!

This leads to some great combats which can be very tense, and it leaves you feeling like you have done something.

Review: Dark Souls the Board Game
6 great bosses to choose from. The dude with the hammer has a brother who is in another tray, you fight them together.

The base game comes with 6 bosses, that’s good variety on it’s own but some of them are mini bosses and others are main bosses. You can play linked campaigns where you first must fight through to a mini boss and then reset a new dungeon and fight your way through to a main boss. The loot from the mini boss will come in handy. On top of that you can add legendary items to the loot deck for the 2nd leg of the game.

There is 1 thing I have not mentioned, Sparks. Depending on the number of players the team gets a certain number of sparks. Every time a player dies they lose a spark and then reset the whole dungeon. This adds to the grindy nature of the game, if you die you have to do everything all over again, you don’t change your encounter cards either, you use the exact same ones that you initially selected for this game.  If you run out of sparks before killing the final boss you lose.

Conclusion

First, I have to say that I have some house rules. I add extra souls for winning encounters. There are various levels of encounters, so I add souls equal to the level of the encounter to the pool for the players to use. Next, I allow selling items back to the shop. You buy them for 1 soul each. I let you sell them back at a rate of 2 items for 1 soul.

This takes away some of the grind without impacting the difficulty too much. There are lots of house rules available for the game, most of which can be found on BGG. I’ve never really used house rules before, but I thought I’d give them a try and it’s really good. There are some rules for a store front where you deal out a few cards from the store when you visit and only those are available for sale at the time, which is think is a great idea.

Review: Dark Souls the Board Game
The Gargoyle is one of the first bosses in Dark Souls 1. I really must paint him up.

House rules aside, I like the game and my son loves it too. All 4 people I’ve played it with will gladly play it again. For me, that’s a win. There are mega boss expansions which make for longer campaigns that would most likely be played over multiple days. I’ve not tried them yet but I’m looking forward to them.

I absolutely love the quick setup and the good length of play. I’ll recommend Dark Souls the Board game to anyone who is looking for some fun monster bashing with minimal setup time.

How does it play solo?

Solo is very tough especially since all the enemies get to act between each of your turns. This could result in you dying before round 2 of your first encounter. To offset this, you start the game with a bank of souls so you can gear yourself up from the word go. This works well and I playing it every so often.

Can I play this at a Braai?

I’ve not actually tried this yet. Then again, I’ve not had a braai in a long time either ☹ I think it will work though. Encounters are not long and you can tend the fire either between encounters or between turns there’s nothing really to keep track of in your head as everything is neatly laid out on the board.

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