Prepare to Die

Prepare to Die

Yes, that’s right, the hit video game has come to the board gaming world.  And boy, have I enjoyed it!  About a year and a half ago, Dark Souls the Board Game went live on Kickstarter, raising an exceedingly high amount of money from fans who wanted to see this labor of love come into fruition.  While I did not kickstart this game myself, I did badger Sarah into backing the game, which I cannot apologize for anymore.  A few months ago she received her copy in the mail, and as quick as we could we got together to try it out.

It was a blast.

The miniatures…are amazing.  The boss and mini-boss models are out-of-this-world, as you can see in the example below:

ornstein and smough

The base game comes with two main bosses and four mini-bosses, meant to be played in a game where you face first a mini-boss of your choice, and then a main boss of your choice.  You and up to three of your friends cavort around the scenery near your bonfire, hopefully defeating the enemies in each of the encounter tiles, before you are presented with the opportunity to pass through the fog gate and confront the mini-boss or boss of the area.  While the encounters you have run through up to this point have been pretty similar– all the enemies get to attack, then one player gets to take their turn, then all the enemies activate again utilizing the same movesets which are available for players to view at all times– bosses are different.  A base enemy like the crossbow hollow will always back away from the player who just activated, and then fire a crossbow bolt at them for three magic damage.  Always.  Never gonna change.  That’s what they do.  The Hollow Soldier will always advance one node towards the closest player, and swing their sword frantically at them for four physical damage.  Always.

This creates patterns for the players to learn, recognize, and plan around.  If you know that the Large Hollow Soldier will be running towards the almost-dead Herald as soon as your turn is over, then you realize you’ll either have to eliminate him or get close enough to draw his attention towards you.  When a group of Silver Knight Swordsmen advance towards the party, the Assassin realizes that they should stay away because their swings are harder to dodge, and they’d be better off attacking the smaller and weaker foes.  This level of strategy gets honed as the players run through the same encounters time and again to farm souls before heading into the boss arena, so that by the time they are ready for the big fight they likely will have mastered the three or four encounters they must travel through to get to the fog gate.

And then everything changes.  You step through that fog gate, and in front of you stands an enormous gargoyle!  It opens up at you with a devastating lightning breath!  Boss battles work differently from the regular encounters.  Each boss has its own behavior deck, a set of generally five or more cards that tells the players where it will move and how it will attack that activation.  Bosses have four arcs on their models, which allow the behavior cards to show the players what areas around it will be attacked, simulating the video game’s boss attacks that don’t always hit the players based upon where they are standing.  Because every time the boss activates (after every player takes their turn) it uses a different behavior card than the last, the players begin the fight with less information than they normally have on their enemies.  As time passes however, these behaviors start to repeat– as you run through the boss’s behavior deck, you will not shuffle the cards but will instead continue to bring them out in the same order, allowing the players to learn the moves and plan ahead for the best possible attacks or defenses.  Almost all of the attacks a boss makes will leave it with a weak arc, which, if it is attacked by a player standing in that arc, will grant the attacker an extra die to damage it.

Yet that’s not all!  Because as you fight the boss, eventually you will damage him enough that he heats up!  Each boss has a hit point number where, once reduced to that target, they will ‘heat up.’  At this point, one of a number of ‘heat up’ cards is added to the boss behavior deck…and everything gets shuffled.  Had the Titanite Demon’s attack patterns all worked out?  Well now you’re in trouble, because you don’t know if he’s going to sweep his staff at you or pounce upon your friends from halfway across the arena!  This often proves to be the turning point in a boss battle, the time when you see if you’ll survive…or if you die!

But wait…there’s more.  About two weeks ago, I sat down with a group of three other people, and for the first time played the game with a full four players (instead of just two of us playing two characters each).  In addition to this, we tried out the included Campaign Mode.  This alternate way of playing takes the bosses available and structures them into a series of two mini-bosses and one boss battle, with increasing encounter levels and numbers as you fight your way through the game.  As well, you must pay more souls to purchase treasure than in the normal game, and leveling up your stats to use said treasure has costs almost double comparatively.  This is designed to allow your characters the maximum growth in the set amount of boss and regular encounters which will be presented to them throughout that campaign– and the game comes with two different campaigns for you.

This campaign play was far and above my favorite Dark Souls the Board Game experience.  In our final boss battle, Ornstein and Smough had to face off against a Herald whose healing powers were impressive; a sneaky assassin who could hit her targets from halfway across the arena with her sturdy crossbow; a warrior whose damage potential was, simply put, scary; and myself, a knight wielding two fancy shields and who ended up being nigh on untouchable.  (As a side note, when I first mentioned to my friends around the table that since my weapon was pretty lousy compared to all of theirs, I was planning on foregoing the broadsword in order to hold an additional shield, I was met with many a chuckle and laugh.  Little did they know that I intended to go through with it, and the rest of the game I took the least amount of damage as I kited the hollows all about the board!)

There is so much more about this game that I haven’t even touched upon, yet I feel I could not possibly cover it all in enough detail to do it justice.  Suffice to say…I have seriously enjoyed this board game, and it’s become one of my favorites in just a short amount of time.  What is even more impressive however, is that thanks to the kickstarter stretch goals…we will be receiving six more characters to play as, seven more basic enemies, invader models, summon models, and three more bosses or mini-bosses (I’m not sure which exactly they will be)!  More boss and encounter expansions are planned to be released in the next year as well, and overall I am incredibly impressed with the quality and quantity of material that has been produced for this game.

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