Publisher: Steamforged Games
Game Type: Cooperative, Modular Board, Combat, Dungeon Crawl
Designers: David Carl, Alex Hall, Mat Hart Bryce Johnston, Richard Loxam and Jamie Perkins
Initial Year of Release: 2017
Artist: Tom Hutchings
Theme and What is it?
Prepare to die…….
Dark Souls: The Board game is a cooperative miniature-based, exploration game for 1-4 players. It is based on the action role playing video game originally released to PS3. I have never played the video game. Board games are my preference. However, a friend of mine plays a good number of video games, including this one, so we played the board game version. My review will primarily be my impression of the board game but I will explain a few key differences that I do know for those that are familiar with the video game. You do not have to be familiar with the video game to play the board game.
The board game has a solo mode and campaign mode as well as the original exploration gameplay. Players represent characters based on different classes from the video game series. The goal is to defeat monsters and collect treasure to build up your character for the battles with the bosses.
During the Kickstarter campaign, it was advertised that Dark Souls was “fast setup, long reveal”. I had our game setup in about 30 minutes and the game lasted between 4-5 hours. So, I definitely agree with their statement. We did have to flip through the rules throughout our game so that can make it longer but it still would have taken us at least 2.5 hours and that was only half the game because we lost.
There are no set scenarios. To setup, set aside the two boss tiles, then place the bonfire tile on the table and four other tiles at random around it in any way you wish. Then, place the fog gate on the outside doorway of the farthest tile.
The spark dial will then be set based on the number of players. When players are defeated in an encounter or choose to rest at the bonfire, the dial will be moved down. When the spark dial moves down, the board resets. If the dial is reaches 0, players can no longer rest at the bonfire and the game is lost if a character is killed.
The next step is to select a mini boss and then find its miniature and other components (health dial, data card, behavior cards, and treasure cards). Only the boss data card needs to be reviewed to set the encounter cards. It shows which level of encounter cards to put on the map boards. Place the lowest level encounter cards around the bonfire. The rules do not state to pick a main boss at the beginning. This is probably because the probability is greater of you losing before getting to that point, but we did go ahead and pick one so we would be ready.
Players then choose characters and collect their starting equipment. The starting equipment is specific to each character. For each character in the game, there will be five other treasure cards that will be shuffled in with the common treasure to form the treasure deck.
Now, it is exploration time. Players choose which encounter next to the bonfire to explore first. Once the tile with the fog gate is explored, players can choose to enter the boss encounter. However, if the characters go back to the bonfire and use a spark to rest before encountering the boss, then the board resets. The characters then have to fight their way through the encounters again before having the boss encounter. This is the main mechanic. Characters harvest souls as they win encounters (defeat all monsters on that encounter). Players can spend these souls at the bonfire to move up their stats or gain equipment. To gain equipment, players can spend 1 soul to draw the top card of the treasure deck. If a player has the stats to equip the treasure (weapon, armor, etc.), then they can do so without spending anymore souls. Otherwise, the treasure is added to their inventory to equip later in the game when returning to the bonfire. If the board is reset with a spark, the characters can harvest more souls by going through the encounters again. This should be done at least once to give characters a chance at defeating the boss.
Characters stamina and health are tracked on one endurance bar. Stamina tokens (black) are added on the left and health tokens (red) are added on the right. If the character has all ten spots filled, they have been killed. We found that there are more opportunities to gain stamina back than there was to gain health.
Combat in Dark Souls is unique. Because the game is designed to work against you, enemies attack first as well as after each character activation. The enemies target different characters depending on their location. Every character gets an attack for each weapon they have equipped.
The boss encounters are a little different. Their movement and attacks are controlled by their behavior deck. The cards are played when the boss activates and are not shuffled when all have been used. They just flip over so players are supposed to memorize the boss behavior to know how to plan their attacks. After the boss has lost so many hit points, he will “heat up” and a new card is added to his behavior deck and it is shuffled. The players will then have to re-learn the behavior to defeat the boss.
To beat the game, players must defeat the mini boss and main boss. Players fight through the encounters until they are ready to encounter the mini boss. Once the mini boss is defeated, the game basically resets but with new encounter cards from the main boss’s data card. The mini boss’s treasure cards are shuffled into the treasure deck and players fight through those encounters until they are ready to encounter the main boss.
The theme seemed interesting even though I have never played the video game. The miniatures look fantastic. I enjoy cooperative games so was happy to give this one a try when my friend picked it up.
Game Build Quality
The game is well made. The tiles and tokens are thick, robust cardboard. The cards are high grade card stock. Most are larger sized cards instead of the smaller cards. The smaller cards are used for weapons and upgrades only. The miniatures are the game’s greatest feature. The character miniatures are standard 30mm size but the monsters are much larger. The miniatures are high end PVC plastic.
The cover of the box is the same as the video game for Dark Souls III. I am not 100% sure if all of the artwork is from the video game but it is all crisp and clear and not muted like some art from video games when they are adapted to a board game. The artwork is very aesthetically appealing to the theme. I enjoy dark fantasy.
Dark Souls is truly a Dungeon Crawl but it is definitely a more strategic one. Your characters cannot just rush attacks or they will be killed and if one player is killed, all players have to return to the bonfire and use a spark. This game requires careful planning and strategic thinking to win. This could turn players off if they are not up for the challenge. The game is brutal. It is designed for you to lose more than for you to win. We played for 4-5 hours and lost to the mini boss and had we beaten the mini boss, we still had half the game to go to defeat the main boss.
Age Range & Weight
The game box advises it is for players 14 and up. This is an accurate suggestion. Dark Souls requires strategic planning and must be cleverly thought out to win. The theme is also very dark and the game can also be extremely long. The box gives a time length of 60-90 min but we played for at least 4 hours and that was only half the game just getting to the mini boss. A younger audience would not be able to last through the entire game.
Would I play the game again? Yes. Would I request to play the game again? Probably not. But, this is just my personal opinion. There is nothing wrong with the gameplay. The game is solid and the mechanics work well. It is just the game will never be in your favor because it is designed for you to lose. I enjoy more of a balance. I don’t mind a game winning, but to invest that amount of time into something and losing is not my idea of a good time. I am probably the exception because most players would enjoy this challenge.
It can also be somewhat repetitive because to gain more souls, you completely reset the game. So, you play each encounter over and over. And you have to do this to build your character or you will never defeat the bosses. And then it cost so many souls to be able to boost your character stats, that you can never really equip the best weapons or armor. In our game, we had so much equipment in our inventory that we could not use because there was no way we could get our stats that high. I am sure it is possible for one character to do this but not all. But, that does not really make it a lot of fun for other players.
I spoke with my friend about the video game and one of the key differences is that your character does not become hollow. In the video game, when you die, you become hollow which he described as an undead state. When you are hollow, it can have negative impact on your stats, etc. Your character can un-hollow with certain items and come back to life. I think using this mechanic could benefit the game. After you have played the game for 4 hours, you would like to have a small chance, if any, rather than seeing…….