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Dark Souls: The Board Game Review

November 5th, 2018 by

dark Souls 001The Souls franchise is one of the most loved and hated franchises in video game history. It’s ultra-hard difficulty and the fact it never held your hand whilst you died over and over again before learning your enemies “tell”, made it very popular among many generations of gamers.

When Steamforged Games launched a KickStarter campaign for Dark Souls The Board Game much anticipation, speculation and hype was experienced. This was quickly followed by concern, uncertainty, more speculation and doubts and a whole plethora of other crowdfunding emotions. The full amount of funding was achieved within three minutes of the campaign launching. By the 24 hour mark one million dollars had been accrued.

The final product is a mixture of concept innovation, video game mechanic integration and really bad design choices that often leave you wondering if this is in fact an end product.

A souls fan is going to be sucked right into this.
Ultra-gloomy and surreal visuals – check
Insane difficulty – check.
Sturdy and detailed miniatures – check.
It looks right at home as part of the Souls franchise and the excitement intensifies as you go through what you get in the box.

You and up to three other players can play as any one of the four classes in the game. Differences range from stats to their “once-a-spark” heroic abilities. You get to battle classic Souls baddies from the shockingly dangerous Hollows right up to partners in crime Smough and Ornstein. A huge treasure deck grants the majority of the armour and weapons you equipped in the digital version, you can even visit Andre the Blacksmith if you want to. Of course this wouldn’t be Souls game though if you didn’t die, drop all your souls and then have to grind back through the world to retrieve them. Souls players don’t just expect this, they demand it.

And you will have to grind on the analogue version as well. Almost excessively so and whilst this works well in the medium of a digital game, I can’t say I am convinced that this mechanic translates as well into an analogue game. In one of the design choices that doesn’t quite hit the mark, character advancement is strictly from the gear you equip which has stat requirements. When you earn souls throughout the game you can spend them on upgrading stats so that you can then equip the more powerful weapons and armour. Just like the digital game, all encounters reset once you rest by the bonfire, which means you must fight the battles all over again but after you have gone through them once to earn gear and then an additional three or four times to build up your stats the repetition gets somewhat tiresome.

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Having to go through and replay encounters is a huge issue here, especially when you have taken best part of an hour convincing an uninterested partner in playing, getting so far that they are starting to enjoy the game only for it to be reset, you will no doubt here the whiny “wait, what? We have to do all of this again?” closely followed by announcements that they have had enough for the night. To be honest I struggled to come up with a legitimate argument when we were coming up to the fourth hour of playing and had to reset. A quick google search finds tons of fan fixes aimed at speeding up the pace and this a huge sign to me that something isn’t quite right.

The tension in the digital game is the risk/reward dynamic as you learn monsters and bosses weaknesses and tells resulting in a true development of skills. The analogue versions tensions is created by trying to avoid a reset. Again.

Here’s the big problem. The gear in the game is tantamount to your success. This is absolutely as it should be. This is how it is in the video game. However in the video game these weapons are not random drops, they are rewards for certain encounters, for defeating certain bosses and upgraded by the player. However the board game draws more from the video game Diablo when it comes to weapons and armour in that you spend one soul to draw from a giant treasure deck. A lottery if you will and most of your souls will be spent in drawing cards from this pile.

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But what if you make a hugely successful souls run and earn say 19 souls, you go back to the bonfire and spend these souls on drawing equipment and find that it is all useless or unable to be used or even worse, lower value or equal to what you already have. Then that 30-45 minute soul run was a complete and utter waste of time.

The loot system also impacts the difficulty of the game which doesn’t scale to meet the players power. Good loot makes the game too easy, however if you don’t get the better loot then the game can easily becomes too difficult.

I have spent almost 850 words telling you the bad aspects of the game and this pains me. Why I hear you ask. Well because when you take away the awful loot system, the weird design choice of translating the cycle of death and resurrection to analogue by forcing players to repeat things again and again and finally the insane amount of time required for a play through, you are left with some innovative and novel ideas.

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Dark Souls The Board Game cuts through a lot of table top fat and leave a rather smooth playing combat rules. Statistics impact what you can use and this affects how much you can dodge or block, the more you try to dodge, attack or block the more energy you exert, the more energy you exert the more vulnerable you become because once that stamina marker matches up with the wound marker, guess what – YOU DIED.

The enemy AI is amazingly superb. It’s simple but oh so effective. The bosses behaviour decks occur in a specified sequence allowing you to learn what they are going to do and when they will do it – straight out of the video game. Once they have taken a set amount of damage, a special attack is entered into the then shuffled “Behaviour” deck resulting in more learning and a few nasty surprises.

The solitaire, “double fisting” game plays much better than the three or four player version as it lowers the frustration levels and you can speed things up a little as well.

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For me it is very telling that some aspects of the campaign rules suggest skipping parts of the game entirely. At the end of the day there is simply not enough of a game here to warrant the length of playtime specified or even enough to keep the majority of analogue gamers engaged. There are no exploratory or environmental aspects leaving you with a combat heavy dungeon crawl.

A ton more development time would have aided Dark Souls The Board Game, it strains itself desperately to tick Souls franchise tick boxes and in some areas gets it amazingly right, in other it gets it disastrously wrong and just gives ammunition to the analogue and digital games do not mix brigade.

Midlife Gamer Rating: 4/10     Year of Release: 2017
Designer: Steamforged Games     Manufacturer: Steamforged Games
RRP:  £99.99

Disclosure: Midlife Gamer reviewed Dark Souls: The Board Game over the course of  two weeks. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.

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