Dark Souls: The Board Game – The Dark Souls of board games

Yes, it’s as hard as the video game. Also more complicated.

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So Dark Souls then.  Have I mentioned that series before?  The one I really like?  I’m not sure if I have.  Either way, it’s a series I’m a fan of for many reasons, including its precision timing and learning a solid process to get through the challenges presented to you.  So when I saw that Steamforge Games had a Kickstarter campaign for a board game based on it, I had to back it.  I mean, I tried not to, but my hands just took over control of my computer and backed it for me.  They even backed some of the expansions too.  I’d like to say their addiction to Kickstarter has passed, but I think they may need to go into rehab.  Anyway, I wasn’t sure how well Dark Souls would transition into board game form but the team have put together something that captures some of the essence of the video game, and works well as a board game most of the time.

Dark Souls
The minis look great and look a lot like the characters and creatures from the video game.

Opening up the box, you are immediately confronted with a black sheet of paper reading “YOU DIED”, which is lovely.  It’s quite prophetic really as you will die repeatedly in this (much like in the video game) and fail in your quest over and over.  In the box you’ll find a number of board pieces to construct the play area, plenty of tokens and dice.  Oh and the minis.  Mini is not a good name for all of these as some of them are huge by most board game standards.  The component quality is really rather good, with plenty of detail on the minis and boards.  I will say some of the tokens are a little on the small side for my liking though.

Dark Souls
I should have put something here for scale, but the bosses are huge. The ones in the expansions are meant to be bigger still.

Dark Souls is designed to be played with 1 to 4 players cooperatively, with the goal of defeating a mini boss and a final boss.  Players begin at the bonfire with a certain number of “sparks” (the game’s equivalent of lives) and move from room to room confronting groups of enemies and traps.  Each room has a randomly selected card dictating the enemies and items in the environment.  Completing a room will earn a number of “souls” (the game’s currency) that can be spent on leveling up character attributes and purchasing items from the blacksmith.  If a single player should die during an encounter, everyone returns to the bonfire and the number of sparks is reduced by 1.  Run out of sparks and it’s game over.

Dark Souls
The discs with the yellow symbols on them are traps that can further complicate an encounter.

Encounters are hard, which is in keeping with the source material.  Each player can move one space and attack on their turn.  Players can move further by spending stamina, a risky move as your stamina is also tied to your health.  Attacking is based on dice rolls depending on your weapon.  Some weapons allow you to use multiple black dice (fewer successful sides) whilst others use fewer blue or orange dice (higher chance for success and greater damage).  Stamina can be spent here too, allowing for a more powerful attack that may have additional effects.  After a player takes their actions, all enemies take theirs based on their associated card with most of them moving either towards or away from the nearest or most recent player and attacking assuming they are in range.  This means you could be attacked many times before having an opportunity to do anything much it yourself.  You can spend stamina to attempt a dodge roll (depending on your equipment) which will negate all damage or reduce it by blocking, but in most cases you’ll get hit very hard.

Dark Souls
A fairly tough Warrior. That sword and its upgrades proved to be very powerful against the Dancer.

Players have a single use “Estus flask” to restore their health and stamina, as well as a coin to re-roll one die.  These are all restored upon death.  Each character class also as a specific once per life action that can help in a pinch.  There is a fairly large emphasis on having good equipment (weapons, armour, shields, spells, etc.) on your character to survive, as enemies hit hard.  Death can come quickly, even at the hands of basic enemies if you’re under-equipped or if you have an unlucky set of dice rolls.  This is especially the case for bosses who play in a different way to most enemies.  Bosses have a set of cards that dictate their actions and attacks.  These are based on their character from the games, with the Titanite Demon having wide, sweeping attacks whilst the Dancer can attack multiple times.  They only have a few attacks that are not shuffled after they are used, allowing players to learn a pattern.  When they are damaged to a certain level, a new, more powerful card is added to their rotation to mix things up.  I really like this mechanic as it ties into the video game’s idea of learning how to fight a boss in order to take it down.  The bosses are very tough, but learning the path to victory against them feels good and they are definitely the stand out experience.

Dark Souls
Looking to take down a mini boss. The Winged Knight is, in my opinion, one of the easier bosses.

Fighting the bosses is great and works really well but the standard encounters suffer and the game has something of a pacing issue.  Upon death or returning to the bonfire, all enemies respawn (again, just like the game) to allow you to gain more souls for equipment and leveling up.  This means that if you fail at a boss you need to slog through standard enemies again.  Whilst you can set up the boards to have shortcuts (a nice nod to the series again), it still slows down the game considerably.  With lucky rolls you could get through a game in around 90 minutes, but it’s much more likely to take a lot longer.

Dark Souls
Enemies attack based on the most recent person to move or attack.

The luck aspect is the other issue I have with the game.  Whilst the bosses go a long way towards replicating the video game experience, the standard enemies are much more based on luck.  If you have a series of poor dice rolls, you may as well start over.  I get that the feeling of despair and failure is a large part of the video game, but luck really isn’t.  Players learn to skillfully dispatch opponents, not hope for a lucky turn to achieve victory.  This is something I wish they had given more thought to.

Dar Souls
Most weapons have a range of zero, meaning you need to be on the same node as the enemy. Others like bows have a minimum range, meaning you need to keep back.

However, once you get to a boss and manage to take it down through careful positioning (and yes, a touch of luck) is quite satisfying.  If you can put up with the early slog then you can have a lot of fun with this.  There’s a good feeling to be had when you manage to acquire and equip a powerful item and finally get to throw those orange dice for serious damage.  In the coming months there will be additional bosses and sets released (I’m (not) ashamed to say that I’ve ordered a few) to add more to the game.  I’m quite excited to take on Sif when it arrives.  If you’re in the market for a substantial co-op board game then you could do a lot worse than picking this up.  Praise the Sun \o/

Games with Gold for September 2017

This months Games with Gold have just cropped up! Whilst they are (mostly) pretty good, I’m disappointed to already own most of them. If only I’d waited!

Forza Motorsport 5 – A pretty good game even by today’s standards, but very limited in terms of cars compared to more recent outings. Would rather a more recent racer be included.

Oxenfree – I loved this game when it came out. Still do now! It’s a narrative driven walking simulator of sorts. There are consequences for your conversation choices leading to a number of different endings. It’s about 4 hours long (which is great for me) and the characters are what make the experience worthwhile.

Hydro Thunder Hurricane – This is the one I haven’t played. Jet ski racing I suppose! Might be good, might be awful.

Battlefield 3 – I’m sure I don’t need to go into this. Lots of military shooty bang bangs. The campaign was reasonably fun and the multiplayer still holds up fairly well. I imagine this release will see an increase in he online player base.

What do you reckon to this month’s offerings?

The Happiness Tag

Happiness is contagious. Or so I’ve been told.

Thanks to Google for the pictures and all that.

I have been informed that I make people “happy”!  Anyone who knows my teaching style will be aware that happiness is an emotion I try to avoid conveying during my lessons.  I prefer “bitter teacher, resentful of the youth of today” but if happiness is something I’m providing through blogging, then so be it!  Vahrkalla of V V Games recently posted a blog also entitled The Happiness Tag and pointed out that I am a blogger providing happiness to the masses.

Crazy Happy emoji
Look at how happy I’m making you all! LOOK! YOU ARE THIS HAPPY!

I’ll actually say thank you to him for the tag.  I’ve had a few of these “award” tags recently and I haven’t got around to posting my responses to them which I think looks fairly bad so I’m going to use this one to catch up.

Rules and such:

  • List 5 things that make you happy
  • List 5 songs that make you happy
  • List 5 bloggers that make you happy

Things

1. Video Games

So this one seems pretty obvious considering the theme of my blog, but gaming keeps me centred most of the time.  Good day or bad, I like to play something in the evening (or at any opportunity really).  I tend to stick to one or two games at a time so I don’t lose track of story/controls/other things but regardless of what I’m currently playing, coming back to having a game or two of it makes me happy.

2. Family

This seems like a bit of a cop-out, of course family makes me happy.  I love my wife and my daughter is amazing (she’s 4 and likes playing Street Fighter…) so, you know, happy stuff.  I’m also fond of my in-laws and my sister (don’t tell her) and her family and have just come back from a big group holiday that consisted of a week of beaches, BBQs and board games.  Happy times!

3. Whisky

Look, don’t judge me alright!  I know the idea of booze making me happy would be somewhat frowned upon, but I like whisky.  I don’t drink it to excess, but I tend to have a a glass or two over the course of a week.  Unlike my experience with most spirits, I find whisky interesting because almost every brand is different.  I love trying a single malt that I haven’t had before and comparing it to previous bottles in the never ending effort to find a new favourite (Talisker is the long time reigning champion of my mouth.  Yes, you read that right).

4.  Walking

I’m in the enviable position of living about 3 miles from work meaning I can walk to and from work every day.  It’s a great way to start and end my day, and whilst I have to leave the house very early in the morning, it allows me to reduce stress at the end of the day and get home in a better mindset that if I’d been stuck in traffic for the past 20 minutes.  Plus I can listen to podcasts and audiobooks.

5. Books

Right, I like to read books from time to time but I never really have time to do so.  I’m also a pretty slow reader for no particular reason.  This ties in with my previous reason, because I’m really glad to have Audible and the chance to spend around an hour and a half walking every day.  Rather than reading I can listen to the books on my travels.  I’ve been listening to the Dark Tower series recently as well as Yahtzee Crowshaw’s books.  I especially enjoyed Under the Dome as an audiobook.  It was like having a drama series in my ears with a new episode every day.

Songs

If you do one thing with your day, make it listening to these.

1. Superman by Goldfinger

2. Blitzkrieg by Reuben

3. Buck Rogers by Feeder

4. Second Solution by The Living End

5. (Don’t Fear) The Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult

Bloggers

This is easily the most difficult one.  Choosing only five bloggers of the large number I read is tricky, but here are five for your delectation.  I’ve gone for ones I’ve followed more recently.  Do read their words!

Neko Jonez

The Dragon’s Tea Party

Musings of a Mario Minion

SquareBlind

The Video Game Virtuoso

Good evening to you all!

5 Of The Best Sonic the Hedgehog Levels – Make Sonic Great Again!

Sonic Mania is kicking in!

Remember when Sonic the Hedgehog was actually pretty great?  Pepperidge Farm remembers.  I should point out that I’m from the UK and have no idea what Pepperidge Farm even is.  Anyway!  Sonic used to be great in the Mega Drive era.  Then 3D happened and pretty much everything went to pot for the blue blur.  Hurtling along at high speeds worked well in 2D as fine control was less essential when dealing with a flat plane, but the switch to 3D made precise control more important and much more difficult to do at high speed.  Things like a homing attack helped, but quick movement and sudden camera cuts made controlling a high speed hedgehog quite challenging.

Sonic the Hedgehog
The Sonic Twitter account is still a bit mental.

That’s not to say there weren’t any good stages in the 3D games, it’s just that most of them were a hard to control mess.  With Sonic Mania here now (and my not having enough time to play it yet), I thought I’d look back at some of the Sonic games I’ve played and pick out a level from each of them that I found memorable and enjoyable.  These are in chronological order and are from games in the series I’ve played.  I’ve made sure to include a couple of 3D levels as they weren’t all appalling, honest!  Oh, and Sonic Generations isn’t allowed as they’re mostly redone versions of ones from previous games.  On with the show!

Sonic the Hedgehog

Sonic the Hedgehog Logo
Sonic the Hedgehog (1991)

Labyrinth Zone

Ahahaha.  Just kidding.  No.  No way in hell.

Green Hill Zone

Yes it’s the obvious choice, but this is as memorable to me as World 1-1 in Super Mario Bros.  The bright colours, the catchy music, and the pace to the level.  Everything combines to make this a fun level and a great introduction to the character and the core of the game.  We have loops, simple enemies, and a silly boss to take down at the end, as well as access to the Special Stages if we can hold onto 50 rings by the end of the acts.

Sonic the Hedgehog
The iconic first stage of a franchise

This is one of those Sonic levels that recognises that the speed is one of the best aspects of the game, and it avoids dropping hard to predict obstacles and limits the slower paced platforming sections.  There were other great levels in the game, but this is the one that will stick with most players.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Sonic The Hedgehog 2 Logo
Sonic The Hedgehog 2 (1992)

Chemical Plant Zone

I could throw a dart blindfolded at a Sonic 2 level dart board and hit a fantastic stage without any trouble.  The vast majority of the levels in Sonic 2 were brilliant, but the one that stuck with me (other than Emerald Hill Zone, but I can’t just pick all the opening stages) most was Chemical Plant zone.  A far cry from the first world, this toxic facility is filled with purple water that can slow down the careless player significantly.  There are multiple paths to taken with plenty of opportunities for high speed sprints along with those iconic loops.  Plus those tunnels that send you hurtling around the levels!

Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Second game, second stage. To be fair though, almost every stage in this game was excellent.

This is one of the stages I would play repeatedly to get better and better times.  I can’t remember exactly but I think I managed to finish act 1 in under 45 seconds once I’d figured out the best route.  To my mind, that’s when Sonic is at its best: a level that’s enjoyable enough to make you want to strive for your personal best.  Normally I avoid water levels like the plague, but avoiding the water is part of the fun in this one.  It’s nice to see this one make an appearance in Sonic Mania.

Sonic 3 & Knuckles

Sonic the Hedgehog 3
Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994)

Sky Sanctuary

Sonic 3 & Knuckles was great.  Slotting the Sonic 3 cartridge into the back of the Sonic & Knuckles cartridge turned it into one super long game with additional features.  I can’t think of any other game that did this, but I could be wrong.  In a similar vein to Sonic 2, there are a lot of good levels here, but I’ve gone for Sky Sanctuary.

Sonic the Hedgehog 3
Whilst speed can be an option here, it’s pretty easy to fall to your death if you get careless. Good reactions, memorisation, or taking your time are the order of the day.

This is a bit of a slower level than others being as it’s a late game zone.  Unlike most late game Sonic levels though, this one is bright and colourful. The music is excellent and the multiple paths that levels in later 2D Sonic games tend to be known for are even more prevalent here as the level takes place over multiple tiers accessed through teleporters.  The boss is good fun and the end of level dash up a collapsing pillar looks great.  A rare good stage that goes against Sonic’s strengths.

Sonic Adventure 2

Sonic Adventure 2
Sonic Adventure 2 (2001)

City Escape

Yep, I’m skipping Sonic Adventure.  Looking back, most of those levels were pretty poor, although Emerald Coast had it’s moments.  Like the whale bit.  Anyway, I really liked most of the Sonic stages in this game.  Some of them were really hard to control, and most of the bosses were awkward to fight, but there were some fun ones to play.  City Escape is the obvious one for so many reasons.

Sonic Adventure 2
Rolling around at the speed of sound…

It plays to the usual idea of first levels in a Sonic game: fast paced, bright colours, and a catchy soundtrack (if you’ve played it, I know you’re singing it to yourself right now).  From a fun “skateboarding” section at the start, to grinding rails down staircases, culminating in being chased down by a truck.  It used pacing well, with slower sections to take down enemies followed quickly by another burst of speed.  I loved that in Sonic Adventure 2 you could come back to the level with newly acquired items to find new routes.

Sonic 06

Ahahaha!  Are you kidding?!

Sonic Unleashed

Sonic Unleashed
Sonic Unleashed (2008)

Rooftop Run

I like Sonic Unleashed.  Sure there “Werehog” stages were weird and constantly having to talk to other characters got in the way of the gameplay, but the Sonic levels were actually pretty good fun.  You didn’t have to worry about stretchy arms for one thing.

Sonic Unleashed
Whilst the 2D sections were better for the most part, the 3D parts weren’t bad compared to some of the other efforts in the franchise.

Rooftop Run was an insanely fast paced stage that rapidly switched between 2D and 3D sections.  Tons of loops and grinds, plenty of enemies to burst through using your dash, a great soundtrack (seriously, it’s one of the best ones) and fantastic visuals.  It’s a shame that more of the game didn’t make use of this style.

There are tons of Sonic levels I’m a fan of.  Star Light Zone, Sky Chase (controversial!), Icecap, Metal Harbour.  Researching for this I found loads of Sonic games I hadn’t played before (mostly handheld ones) which I plan to rectify where possible!  What are your favourite Sonic stages?  Is there one I’ve missed?  Let me know!

 

Slime Rancher – What am I actually meant to do?

Ever dreamed of owning a farm and collecting slime? No, me neither.

I think I might be missing the point of Slime Rancher.  I find myself dropped onto a planet with a vacuum and a fenced off area.  I’m told to vacuum up slimes and put them into the pen, feed them, and collect their poop for money.  Yes.  Poop money.  To what end I don’t know.  I can explore the world and collect more slimes to put in more pens to collect more poop.  Perhaps there are exciting things to find in the world, but after a couple of hours of hoovering up crap (figuratively and literally) I have no interest in finding out.

Slime Rancher
Get used to seeing this path. you’ll be using it an awful lot.
Starting at your ranch, you venture out to find slimes and other items to hoover up and take back to turn into money.  Money can be used to build or improve pens, build other structures, upgrade your equipment, and unlock new areas of the world.  Various logs can be found detail the adventures of the rancher who came before you, but those I found were fairly uninteresting.

Slime Rancher
The slimes are (mostly) pretty cut and there are a good variety of different ones. Their behaviours are mostly quite similar though.
Some slimes are aggressive unless you feed them the food they like (which can be found lying around or grown at the ranch), but most are benign and can be walked around with no problem.  During my explorations I came across some treasure boxes that I couldn’t open, and doors that required “slime keys”.  What are slime keys and how are they acquired?  No idea, it was never explained.  I eventually found out after going back and forth to a giant slime over and over again, but that was more luck and persistence than any signposting.  I don’t have a problem with discovery in gameplay, but I believe some direction is necessary in most games.  In many games I don’t mind looking up information online to find out more about optimum builds and finding secret items (the Souls games are a great example of this) but I simply didn’t care enough to want to find out more.  I didn’t know why I should care about what I was doing, so I didn’t bother.

Slime Rancher
Eventually I figured out how to get a slime key and was presented with a slightly different environment which was terribly exciting.
Mechanically the game works well enough, with your vacuum sucking up items of value (although sucking up the item you want can be a pain as it pulls in anything in front of it) and spitting them out where you want them.  The problem here is that your vacuum can only hold 4 different items (at first, I don’t know if this changes later on) meaning you’re constantly backtracking to the ranch to offload your stuff.  The game descended into me running forward a bit, collecting things then heading back, then going a little further and returning.  Continue ad nauseum.  The jetpack upgrade makes traversal through some areas quick if you don’t want to faff about but it doesn’t remove the issue.  There’s a day and night cycle too, with nights being more dangerous meaning hanging around the ranch (or sleeping until morning) becomes necessary.

Slime Rancher
There’s a day-night cycle. Certain slimes are more likely to come out at night.
I can’t fault the graphics or sound a great deal at least.  Visually it looks lovely.  All the slimes I found were adorable, with all of them being distinct.  The world looked lovely with plenty of variety in environments (shame I couldn’t find a reason to want to explore them).  The sounds are nice too and very in keeping with the game as a whole.

Slime Rancher
What’s behind this slime door? A better question is can I be bothered to faff about getting a key to find out?
I get the feeling that this just isn’t the sort of game for me.  If it weren’t for the fact that this was a free Games with Gold game on Xbox then I probably wouldn’t have touched it.  If you’re someone who is very much into the “make your own fun” sort of games then this could provide a bit of entertainment, but it didn’t for me.

Slime Rancher
I looks like it’s begging to be explored, but all I found was more of the same in a different environment.
Slime Rancher was developed and published by Monomi Park.  I played the game on Xbox One and wouldn’t recommend it.  Time is as valuable as money for me these days, and this sucked up a couple of hours that I won’t be getting back.  If you’re in the market for a cute farming style game then this might provide some fun, but I was bored after a couple of hours.

A New Lapel Pin – I think I may have a problem.

I like gaming pin badges…a lot.

I have a rather…large collection of gaming themed pin badges.  Every week at work I wear a different one, and more often than not the kids there will question me on it.  Seeing as kids these days almost all play video games they tend to be quite interested in what game they’re from.  Some are obvious ones they know (Overwatch and Sonic) whilst others are ones they may not recognise or have heard of but want to find out about (Rainbow 6 and Bioshock).  It’s quite nice that they take an interest and may find an older game that they end up trying out.

Pin badges
How many games can you name?

Anyway, I often find myself scouring etsy and other craft sites for people who make these sort of things to expand my collection.  Very few game developers/publishers make them.  Pinny Arcade have a few good ones, and it was nice to see that Elite Dangerous had a few official ones, but these are rare and more often than not I need to rely on people online having already made them.  I was very pleasantly surprised when someone from Tzar Jewellery asked if I would like a custom made pin for material cost.  Obviously I snapped their hand off (figuratively) and set about thinking what I would like.

Ashbringer World of Warcraft
I’m pretty sure a few of you know what this is.

I wanted something different to the many pins I already had, but one that represented something significant in terms of my gaming life so far.  After some thought I settled on the Ashbringer weapon from World of Warcraft, a game I spent a significant amount of time playing during my university years.  If you aren’t aware, back in the vanilla days of WoW Ashbringer was a legendary sword often hinted at existing but could never actually be acquired by legitimate means.  I understand that players can get hold of it these days, but that’s beside the point!

Warcraft
I was kept up to date with pictures of how the production was coming along.

Once I had decided on the design I consulted with the maker over how it should look, the size of the pin, and any detailing.  He seemed very happy to set it up exactly how I would like it and asked for a number of different high-res pictures to ensure everything was to the correct scale.  Where I was unsure (such as what to do with detailing on the hilt) he was ready with suggestions.  We went with silver for the bulk of the sword, the gems are both eSl1 (which I think is good!) diamonds (one coloured to appear black), and the circle is made from mother of pearl.

Warcraft jewellery
It was interesting to see how it came together over time.

During production I was kept up to date with pictures of how it was coming along at various stages.  It was really interesting to see what looked like a small chunk of metal turn into something really quite impressive over the course of its construction.  I won’t pretend to know anything about metalwork, but I’m sure making something that looks this good takes quite a bit of talent.  Once it was all put together, the pin was hallmarked and given to me when the maker and I had a chance to meet in person.

Warcraft
Here it is, completed and on my work jacket. Apologies for my low quality camera skills!

It looks excellent and I’m really very happy with how it looks.  The pupils at work have asked about it, and whilst none of them know exactly what it is, they’ve all heard of the game that it comes from.  It’s certainly one of my favourites in my collection and I’d like to thank Tzar Jewellery for making this for me.  It really is an excellent piece of work.

Warcraft jewellery
The finished product