I have never played the video game on which this boardgame is based, but I am told by various people that it is a faithful adaption of that game – which is potentially both a good and a bad thing.
First off, the game components are excellent – I previously posted an unboxing article – and whilst the miniatures are obviously a highlight, I also found the character boards to be very well designed and easy to use.
The game revolves around two boss fights: a Mini-Boss and a Boss. These are determined randomly at the start of the game. The board has four encounter areas, plus the players safe ‘campfire’ area where they can rest and gain new equipment and skills. Each of the encounter areas are allocated an encounter card of level 1, 2 or 3 – dependent upon the Mini-boss or Boss they will encounter at the end. The encounters get more difficult as their levels increase.
As players progress through the dungeon, they need to defeat the Monsters in each room in order to gain ‘Souls’ – these are then used to buy extra equipment or improve their stats.
The number of ‘Souls’ gained by clearing a room is dependent upon the number of players – not how difficult the room is – so the currency of the game is effectively capped. Also, the players can only visit the ‘Campfire’ area a limited number of times before they have to travel to defeat the mini-boss/boss – this is defined by the number of ‘Sparks’ they have allocated at the start of the game, and again is based on the number of players – the more players, the fewer ‘Sparks’. For example, in our three player game, we had 3 Sparks at the start of the game, so could only visit the campfire 3 times before being forced to face the Min-Boss/Boss.
Players can choose to return the ‘Campfire’ at any time, or the party is automatically sent there if any member dies during a fight. Whenever the party returns to the campfire, all the encounters reset, so players have to defeat the monsters again before they can move to the room with the boss. Defeating the monsters again will gain the players more Souls, so they can increase stats or gain equipment, and thus improve their chances of defeating the mini-boss/boss at the end of the level.
This is the heart of the game. The players starting equipment has almost zero chance of even hurting a Boss, so players have to gain equipment.
At the same time equipment has a minimum stat level that a player has to have in order to use it, so you have to buy equipment in order to defeat the Boss, and you have to level your stats to use that equipment – and all this requires ‘Souls’…
…and at the same time, the equipment deck consists of a large number of cards, so the chances of finding equipment that will help you in your quest that you will actually be able to wield is potentially small.
So the name of the game is to run through the room encounters as many times as possible in order to gain the souls to buy the equipment and level your stats in order to kill the Mini-Boss…
…and then you have to do it all again in order to fight the Boss at the end of the level and win the game.
The room encounters work well – each Minion has a single pre-programmed move and attack action, which will target either the closest player or the player who last moved (depending upon the minion).
The Boss fights work slightly differently, as the Bosses have a deck of pre-programmed actions that they move through – part of the boss fight is to stay alive long enough to work out how the Boss fights (by remembering the deck sequence), and therefore where you need to be in order to avoid being attacked and cause most damage when attacking yourself.
From our initial game, we can immediately see that the issue with the game is the ‘grind’ involved in accumulating souls in order to upgrade your character. Souls are limited resources, so the party has to play through the same set of rooms three or four times before they face the Mini-Boss, and then have to do the whole thing again in order to face the Boss.
This is faithful to the way the computer game works, but I do question whether that same ‘grinding’ experience that many computer gamers enjoy translates well to a tabletop game. If nothing else, it means that Dark Souls on the tabletop is likely to take a long time to play.
To be honest, the jury is out on this one until we can play it a few more times.