Wherein I showcase an example of a game that wants you to lose a lot. I mean, duh, it's Dark Souls.
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Board game stuffs #2 (part 1 of 2): Prepare to die over and over
That's right, there's a Dark Souls board game.
Well, 2 of them actually. There's "Dark Souls: The Board Game" and "Dark Souls: The Card Game". They probably could have come up with titles that were a little less dull. But one way or another they both are part of the board game realm.
"DS The Board Game" is this ENORMOUS thing, full of giant miniatures and all sorts of cool stuff, kinda like this:
It sees you venturing through enormous dungeons, battling your way towards boss encounters. It is big, it is complicated, and it is expensive (I mean, seriously, just look at those things. And that guy is NOT the biggest one).
But we're looking at the card game today, which is smaller, faster, and more accessible. But still just as freaking hard.
The action takes place here, on the combat board. Bad guys on the left, my team on the right.
The goal overall is the same as the other game: fight your way through hordes of awful things to defeat the bosses. But while the other game is quite hard to understand... with all these complications to how enemies and your own characters act... this one is far easier to understand, and thus has a faster pace.
Those cards LOOK kinda complicated, but... they really arent. Enemies have health, armor, an attack value, a weakness, and those 2 big grey boxes on each show where they spawn, and how their attack works. For instance, the dog thing can strike one target, preferring the specific space that the Herald is standing on, and he poisons on hit. The fire witch, on the other hand, just outright blows up 2/3rds of the board every turn and is very hard to kill. Part of what makes a good solo or co-op game is to have the "enemy" turns be easy and fast to execute, so that you're not spending too much time on them, and this game does it brilliantly.
...And brutally. Enemies always go first during an encounter, and they all activate at once. So once your first turn for the fight starts, you've already taken a pounding and someone is poisoned. Again, it's Dark Souls, OF COURSE it is like that. Defeating these jerks is a matter of positioning, target priority, and careful use of your equipment and special abilities.
But BECAUSE this is Dark Souls, even your own attacks come at a cost.
These are some of the cards you have at your disposal. Again, they look confusing at first, but are actually super easy to understand. The different weapons and spells each have 2-3 possible functions, and they cost stamina cards to use... think lands in M:TG. The symbols describe how much damage is done, shows if it is ranged or not, shows what types of stamina are needed, and if the card will be discarded on use (down arrow) or will stay in your hand (rotating arrows). Stamina cards are always discarded when they are used to pay for something.
Which is a problem, considering that your deck is also your health. If you need to draw a card, but cant, well... it's over. And if ONE character dies, the entire team is booted back to the bonfire. If you run out of bonfire uses (and you need them for more than JUST dying), it's all over.
When enemies hit you, which they will do over and over and over, you must discard something for every point of damage you take. You can choose to do this from your hand, or from the top of your deck. Whichever you go for, the drain is constant. You're getting beaten up, and also using your precious deck to win. It's a giant, stressful, difficult exercise in tough decisions and resource management. Frankly, it works wonderfully. I absolutely love the combat system. All the different weapons and resources, the interesting enemy designs, and so on, VERY well done. It is a very tactical game that forces you to adapt. And one where it's so, SO easy to get yourself murdered.
As with many modern board games though, there isnt just ONE board. Here we see the exploration board... this is what you deal with between battles. The bonfire is seen at the center. On the far left and right, 2 symbols representing the 2 bosses you must beat... the one on the right has been defeated (the one on the left would later utterly wreck me). The various cards there describe each location, and the tiers/numbers of enemies that appear there, as well as rewards given, and things like terrain problems or traps (if you have the expansion that adds those). There are 3 tiers of encounter locations. Tier 1 isnt TOO bad... you'll want to start there. The middle and upper right cards are tier 1. Tier 2 is where things get tough... the far left and right cards respectively. Tier 3 cards are where the cruelty REALLY shows... the combat example I showed earlier is of the tier 3 location in the upper left. The card at the bottom right is unexplored... you dont NEED to explore every single area, your only goal is to defeat both bosses.
Since this is Dark Souls though, there IS an element of grinding to power up. Just because you revealed and cleared (or died to) an encounter doesnt mean you wont go there again. It is entirely up to you as to where you go and when you go there. Well, sort of. Once an encounter is defeated, a marker is placed on it to show that. The cards arent face-up because they're "clear"... they arent. They are face up because I had been to each before. But each time you use a bonfire for any reason, all non-boss encounters are restored, and can be fought again. Interestingly, the cards on the exploration board never change. You dont redraw new ones. This means that you can essentially learn each area, helping you to determine a path as you go. In this case, I knew full well that the bottom left one was a godawful hellhole, with a terrain card attached that just made everything awful, but I knew I would NEED to go to it again because it is one of the two possible encounters on the way to the boss on the left. Knowing the encounter stats though from going there before helped me to prepare for the next trip there. Of course, the actual enemies that appear in each area are NOT static... just the tiers and terrain/traps.
It is an excellent and very streamlined system. You spend more time in the exciting fighting bits, with the interactions on the exploration board being very important decisions, yet requiring little time to deal with.
The bonfire itself represents something else. Upon going there, you are fully "healed"... aka, your discard pile is jammed back into your deck, and your special ability is restored if you had used it. But also, this is the place where you go to do the OTHER part of the game... the deck-building. Once you are here, you can see what sorts of items you picked up as loot during your recent encounters (provided you didnt LOSE them due to dying). Cards in your overall inventory can be given to anyone, it's up to you. But also, this is where you spend souls to buy advanced stamina cards that provide more versatility to your deck, and make it easier to use your weapons/spells/armor. The challenge, though, is making all the decisions that go into this. Any fan of deckbuilders knows that making your deck really shine is hard. Gotta have the right cards in the right numbers. Unlike normal deckbuilders, you do NOT streamline your deck here... it simply gets bigger and bigger, as each subsequent bonfire increases your max deck size, and you ALWAYS want it at max. So, therein lies the conundrum: which weapons do you add to which character's deck? Which stamina cards do you get? What cards do you take OUT? Can you get a good ratio of the 4 different stamina types, so you can actually reliably USE your equipment? The deck-bloating aspect of the game, while not as exciting as the combat, is still a very interesting element full of meaningful decisions. But... of course you have to HAVE those weapons to add and souls to spend. Getting murdered can cause you to lose recently acquired loot, making the decision of WHEN to go back to the bonfire important. You can only use the bonfire a max of 5 times (which includes being sent there by dying). Get killed at that point, and it's all over.
If you manage to do this well, and survive combat, well... that's when things get wild, and we get to the part that is most exciting, that part that Dark Souls is known for: (continued in next post)Joshua Aaron likes this.