I Kickstarted this game last year basically because for the price point you got a ton of cool miniatures. I’m all about miniatures. I love them. They’re fun to paint, and games with miniatures are often tactical – which I like – or trashy – which I love! Dark Souls was an IP that I was familiar with, but wasn’t a game I had personally played, although I’d watched a good amount of it being played by my nephew. So I was on board, I enjoy dungeon crawlers and this one touted a new and different combat system, as well as all the bling that came in the box. So here’s a quick look at some standout points from the game. Look for a deeper review coming very soon!
You Died. Was the first thing that was printed inside the box and that just got me so excited for the game. That might seem counter intuitive, but there was a few things that I wanted this game to be, and difficult was one of them. I played it through solo whilst my father-in-law learned along with me, and gave his commentary, and it was a fascinating experience.
The rules are actually pretty simple, there’s a lot of iconography and numbers, some of which took a bit to get used to but once you have them down the game flows very quickly. I set the game up without pre-reading the rule book and just started playing ‘come-what-may’. If you feel so inclined then just know that your first game will be a little longer, but after the first encounter and the first death (of which there will surely be many) I knew almost all the rules in the game. That’s excellent for a game of this style. I was promised quick set up and slow reveal, and the game delivers on that promise, mostly. The only exception is setting up the treasure deck (and breaking it down post game session), which can kind of be a bear. There’s a lot of different types of treasure and a lot of different icons to go along with that, and trying to shuffle a huge stack of those tiny cards kills me a little inside every time. That really is just a minor quibble though.
This is a tactical miniatures game, make no mistake about it. There’s character progression, sure, but only in the sense that you buff your stats in order to hold bigger and better weapons. I’ve played a number of tactical games ranging from pretty light weight dice mashers like Conan to some heavy historical simulations like Combat Commander. Tactical games are an interesting beast, I know they’re not everyone’s cup of tea, but I usually really enjoy them. They usually try to balance combat mechanics vs. fun, and then choose between realism vs. theme (sometimes the theme is ‘realistic historical simulation but that’s another story). Games like Advanced Squad Leader, Combat Commander and ‘ 65 try to model combat that’s realistic and historically accurate. Conan and the D&D board games are just about rolling dice and smashing face. With all that said tactical games are really easy to mess up. Hats off to the designers of good tactical games because it’s a fine line between fun vs. random chaos and devolution into a hot mess. Conversely it’s really easy for tactical games to get extremely procedural and way too crunchy/dry.
Dark Souls is exactly where it should be. It falls more on that just-for-fun end of the scale, but the more I played the more strategy I had to employ. The combat system models video game AI really well. I’ve poured more hours into Fallout: New Vegas than I care to admit, so I know almost exactly where every enemy is and what he’s going to try and do if I run across him. There’s that similar learning process that’s simulated in Dark Souls, you’ll learn attack patterns and boss behaviours in order to fight them optimally. Just be prepared to die in order to learn those things!
The dice rolling is fun. You roll defensive dice against a set attack damage value that each enemy will do. Which feels great. the perception that you roll every dice as a good thing for yourself versus rolling opponent attack rolls praying for bad rolls against yourself is a really nice feeling. I get that it’s pretty arbitrary, but it makes the dice chucking in all phases of the game much more positive and engaging.
These are the crux of the game, you’ll spend time wading through minions and trying to level up, but you’re doing it with an eye to fight the big bad. They will kill you, but you learn how they’ll act, enabling you to better go at them next time. The sculpts are gorgeous and the thought process that has clearly gone into each design is pretty special. I’m impressed at the system they’ve created over at Steamforged and I cannot wait for more, more, more, over the coming years.
Each boss has a set of cards they’ll use which programs their movement. You will use a selection from their deck, so each time you play the boss it’ll be slightly different, and of course the attack card order will be different every time. On top of that there’s ‘heat up’ cards. Just like in video games, when the boss is at half health, they get angry and you put a new heat-up (read total party killer) card into their deck and hold on for dear life. Again, I cannot stress how much replayability there is in this box. It was a great solo game with endless hours of fun inside, and I’m excited to play multiplayer and join forces to tackle the darkness!