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

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/

14 thoughts on “Dark Souls: The Board Game – The Dark Souls of board games

  1. I played it on my own to gauge the rules, then took it to a mates house to have a 4 player game. Still not totally sure what was going on.

    Dodge rolls, do you get a dodge roll per dodge roll on your equipment? If so, can you not dodge unless you have dodges on equipment?

    Damage, if defence is 2 and you hit 1. Are they on 1 health, or are they still on 2?

    What the hell are the skull tokens?

    Loot/equipment doesn’t make sense to me. Why do you get items off the boss when the game ends there? Same with the enchanted equipment?

    Anyway… We played the game properly to the first miniboss. We then decided to just do a boss run, which was so much more fun. We gave the souls for the encounters we would have had, and then just chose who levelled and bought equipment. Meant we destroyed a few of the bosses in about 30 minutes after spending 2 hours getting to first.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love the idea of doing a boss run without the pre-amble. In fact, a boss rush could be fun. To increase the speed in our games, I increase the soul rewards based on the challenge level of the encounter.

      Dodge rolls: you get 1 green die per dodge icon on your equipped items. To dodge you need to roll the same number of dodge symbols as appear on the enemy/behaviour card.

      Damage: Defence on enemies is permanent. If they have 2 physical and you roll one attack, they suffer no damage. You’d need to roll 3 hits to do 1 damage. The same is true for magic damage.

      Skulls: I use these to represent damage on enemies with >1 health e.g. Sentinels.

      Boss items: no idea, seems silly to me. I include them after the mini boss anyway, but I think they may be meant to be used as part of a campaign in which you take on the Dancer then Ornstein & Smough.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Dodge rolls, oh ok that is how we were doing it but at the cost of no stamina. Only cost 1 stamina if you didn’t have the dodge icons on armour.

        Damage, that is how we did it.

        Skulls, the sentinels never “spawned”. But that makes sense.

        Items, we gave out 1 boss treasure for defeating him, and then shuffled rest into pack.

        I highly recommend you try a boss run, but you’ll need to cap the levelling otherwise you are unbeatable fairly quickly depending on item drops. Maybe give souls based on encounters. Mini boss, get regular souls for killing. Mini boss, souls. Mini-boss souls. Then you should be around main boss level. Then go and do some more mini bosses.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s good to hear! I’d love to find out how you got on with it in the future. They’re releasing a lot of new bosses in the coming months. I’ve ordered a couple but I’d have to sell one of my limbs to afford all of them!

      Liked by 1 person

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