If at first you don’t succeed, die, die again
Whether solo or with a group of friends, the Dark Souls board game offers a unique experience every time you set it up. Four mini-bosses and two main bosses that can be mixed and matched, plus thirty-six different individual room encounters, means the chances of stumbling into the same setup twice is minuscule. While you might think having three other people helping you is the easiest way to go, the game is designed to ramp up in difficulty the more players at the table.
Functionally, the board game works a lot like you would expect from a Dark Souls game. The non-boss enemies have index cards with their movement and attack patterns and the players have several options for absorbing or dodging the damage. Unlike the video game, reflexes are not top of the list; just some good dice rolls based on what equipment you are wearing. Player damage and damage mitigation is determined by rolling a specific number of dice, then comparing that number to the amount of damage done or mitigated by the enemy.
Bosses, however, have a larger range of moves and attacks, based on which boss (or mini-boss) was chosen at the start of the game. The boss deck can be learned and anticipated, much like the boss attacks in game. However, that gets thrown for a loop when the boss is dealt enough damage to enrage them (the game calls it ‘heat up.’) Once enraged, the boss deck gets shuffled and one or more even more powerful moves gets added in. Bosses also have more cards than get put into the deck, so each time you play the game with that boss, it can be a functionally different fight.
Players are tasked with beating each encounter by balancing aggressiveness and patience. Be too passive, and eventually the ranged opponents will pick you off (yes, that’s right, archers are in the board game. They cannot throw you off parapets with a well-timed shot, but they will do everything in their power to play keep-away while sending a flurry of arrows at you). Be too aggressive and you will use up your life/stamina bar, giving your enemies the opportunity to finish you off with one toss of the dice.
Player attacks are based off their weapon slots. Most weapons have multiple attack options, but the better the attack, the more risks inherent in it. Stronger attacks usually require you to spend stamina, depleting your health bar and setting you up to be finished off by other foes. At the start of each turn the player recovers two stamina, but your enemies will have a chance at you before that happens.
Each encounter will give the player(s) souls to spend, whether on statistical levels or on the equipment trove that may or may not be helpful. Equipment has statistical requirements, just like in the video games, so blindly following one path or the other will not serve players well. Even spending the spoils of battle requires thoughtfulness in Dark Souls.
The base package of the game offers a campaign version that will see you facing off against both of the main and all of the mini-bosses. Prepare for a long haul, though; while the main game can and will be lost, the campaign has ways for players to extend the bonfire’s life. Also, players can be added and dropped from the campaign as they become available, making it something that can be started solo, but progressed with friends as they come and go.
Overall, the Dark Souls Board Game is a well-tuned balance of tough but enjoyable. Whether you are a fan of the video game series or not, the board game offers players a unique experience every time you sit down. Just realize that your enemies won’t be the only thing dying at the table.
Dark Souls series by BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment Inc. Dark Souls the Board Game is created by Steamforged Games LTD. Copy purchased by reviewer.
Justin enjoys most games. He is currently learning the ins and outs of competitive modern Magic while enjoying all sorts of other gaming mediums, assuming he can find the spare time.