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/

The Surge – You got robots in my Dark Souls!

Robo-Souls? Dark-Bots?

Have I mentioned that I like Dark Souls?  I’m pretty sure I’ve said I like Dark Souls on at least 804 separate occasions on this blog.  Which is impressive considering I haven’t posted that many times.  That’s one of the reasons why I eagerly picked up Deck 13’s Lords of the Fallen when it was released in late 2014.  And whilst it certainly had a lot of similarities (read: had no identity of its own), it was unpolished and bland.  Since then they’ve…well they’ve not done much.  Anyone heard of TransOcean 2: Rivals?  But they have attempted to return to the Souls-like sub-genre with The Surge, and I’ll be damned if they haven’t made a pretty damn good go of it this time.

The Surge really is sci-fi Souls with a couple of little twists.  The combat system is similar with a couple of additions, scrap is used for leveling up and is handled in a similar way to souls, and equipment is improved by gathering the necessary resources and enhancing it at your bonfire equivalent.  Whilst it may not be terribly original in mechanics, it does just enough to differentiate itself from its source material.

The Surge
Unlike Dark Souls, you can find audiologs (because you gotta have those collectibles) that fill in some of the lore.

You play as Warren, arriving at his first day of his new job at Creo, a (totally not evil) company with plans to save the Earth’s atmosphere, where he will be fitted with a powered exo-skeleton (think power loaders from Aliens if you like).  The intro played with my character expectations nicely, although Warren’s apparent reason for wanting an exo-suit isn’t referenced again until the end of the game.  Anyway, Warren gets fitted for his suit (in a somewhat harrowing scene) but his neural interface that connects him to Creo fails and he is cast out on the (literal) scrap heap to fend for himself.  It seems that the neural interface has screwed up a lot of people in their exo-suits, sending them utterly insane and causing them to attack anyone who isn’t connected.  And so Warren is sent to find his way to the centre of Creo to find out what’s going on and to try to stop it.

The Surge
Most of the enemies shamble towards you before striking, but some will charge you down with surprising speed.

Even the plot plays out in a Dark Souls fashion, with snippets of information passed on by NPCs (many of whom have little side quests) that don’t give too much away.  The movement and combat mechanics are also very similar, with dodges, blocking attacks and running consuming stamina that regenerates over a short time.  Combat is very slow and deliberate, with committing to an attack at the right moment being crucial lest you suffer an enormous amount of damage from a single strike.  Weapons come in an array of shapes and sizes to suit your taste, from quick two handed weapons to slow, powerful hammers.  My personal favourite ended up being the staves (bit thanks to Drakulus for suggesting them to me!) for their ability to stagger enemies and knock them off their feet.  Armour also comes in lighter and heavier varieties that will alter your damage and stamina consumption in various ways.

The Surge
Whatever’s behind this door is bound to be friendly.

So far, so Souls.  But the selling point here is how you acquire new weapons and armour.  During combat you can target specific limbs of the enemy, and each hit fills an energy bar.  Once a certain amount of damage is done and you have enough energy, you can perform a finisher that will sever the selected limb and unlock the armour attached to it for your own use.  This is also how you gain resources to upgrade those armour pieces.  It’s an interesting approach that forces you to not hit too hard lest you kill the enemy and lose the equipment you wanted.  The energy bar also allows you to use certain buffs as well as your drone to attack opponents from range.  It’s an additional meter to manage, but its addition is an interesting one, as it drains very quickly when you aren’t attacking thus promoting an aggressive style of play more akin to Bloodborne.  A thumbs up from me on this addition.

The Surge
The finishing moves that sever limbs look impressive and are pretty quick so tend not to get old quickly.

Scrap, your souls equivalent, is collected by killing enemies and lost upon your death.  Like in Souls, you can reclaim them by finding your body, only this time you have a time limit to reach it.  Killing enemies on the way extends this time limit, but I rarely found myself running out of time.  These are used to create and upgrade equipment as well as level up your power core.  Rather than level up specific stats, this allows you to plug in more powerful augments to define your character.  The augments you can install are limited by your total level/power, meaning you can’t just jam in all the most powerful ones.  You may only be able to afford a few low level ones or one high level one and this creates an interesting balancing act.  You probably want some healing items to take with you, but that means you may not have enough power to install an upgrade for your stamina.  Each augment will increase in effectiveness (up to a limit) based on your over all core power so you can still get a decent buff from weaker options.  I really like this feature.  Not only does it force you to make some difficult choices, but it also allows you to completely respec whenever you return to the Medbay (your bonfire equivalent) as you can slot augments in and out as you see fit.

The Surge
These ones killed me so many times. I found the standard enemies more challenging than the bosses at times.

The environments suit the game well, but after the opening area (a gorgeous, open scrapyard area) it becomes little more than industrial areas with a slightly different colour scheme.  There are a couple of nice changes towards the end, but on the whole the game was rather stuck with what it could offer.  It does allow for some rather tense moments journeying through tight, dimly-lit corridors in which an enemy with a flame thrower could ruin your day at any moment.  These corridors often act as shortcuts that lead back to the Medbay when needed most which is a good thing considering how large some of the areas are.

The Surge
Get used to these sort of environments. Sci-Fi games can suffer from this, as there are only so many ways to do “industrial” locations.

Enemies aren’t hugely varied, with many of them being people in suits of lighter or heavier armour, wielding one weapon or another.  The occasional ranged drone or annoying pouncing walker will show up, but for the most part you’ll be fighting the same few enemies until the final area.  The showpieces are the bosses of course, of which there are 4 (5 if you count an upgraded form of one of the ordinary enemies).  Whilst these certainly look interesting, they aren’t all that challenging.  In fact, I managed to defeat 3 of the 5 (including the final boss) on my first attempt which was a little disappointing.  I get the feeling that The Surge wanted the journey to the boss to be the big challenge, as I died during my exploration of areas far more.  Sometimes these deaths felt a little cheap as I would dodge back and end up passing through barriers and falling to my death.  These little moments indicate that this is a little less than polished in places which is a pity.

The Surge
Some of the bosses have impressive scale, but they really aren’t all that challenging compared to the series it tried to imitate.

However!  I enjoyed The Surge rather a lot.  It may be a little bland in places and lacks the polish of its source material, but it really did scratch that Dark Souls itch for me.  The change from light and heavy attacks to horizontal and vertical strikes forces you to learn the best move to use to damage each body parts and the overall combat feels weighty.  Whilst this isn’t one I’m going to be rushing back to straight away, it certainly is an adventure I enjoyed for its 20 or so hours.

The Surge was developed by Deck13 and published by Focus Home Interactive.  I played the game on Xbox One and would recommend it lovers of Dark Souls and their ilk.  Whilst unpolished, it provides good, tense fun throughout its campaign.  Well played Deck13!

Dark Souls III

I did it!  I finally finished it!  30 hours of punishing gameplay later and I finally…saved the world?  I think I did.  My guy sat down by a bonfire after beating the final boss at any rate.  The Souls games (and Bloodborne for that matter) are notorious for having obscure stories that you have to find by reading through various item descriptions before piecing it all together.  I’m not ashamed to admit that I read up on what the hell was going on after I finished the game.  But enough about the bonkers story.  How about the rest of the game?

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HOLY GOD WHATTHEBLOODYHELLISTHAT?!  My reaction to most of the enemies in the game.

Dark Souls and co. are also notorious for their difficulty, and Souls 3 is no exception in terms of enemies.  The main enemies and bosses are as challenging and ever, and in many cases are much faster and more aggressive than those in the past (probably as a result of Bloodborne from the same development team).  But as is ever the case in this series, perseverance and jolly co-operation will win the day!  Whilst hard, none of the bosses are unfair and every time you fall you know exactly what you did wrong.  You didn’t manage your stamina, you mistimed that dodge, you got greedy and attacked to heavily.  After every loss you’ll feel a greater determination to go back and try again.  It rarely frustrates and frequently pushes you to try again, almost saying “You know you can do this don’t you”.

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It’s not just the bosses that are tough.  Chompy McTongueFace here killed me on more than a few occasions.

In some ways though, the game feels easier than before.  It may be due to having played the previous games, I’m well versed in how this game works before going in.  It is a lot more linear than the previous games though.  For the most part you’ll just be following a path, fighting as you go.  Chances for finding hidden areas or ending up in the wrong area for your level are rare at best.  Some people may enjoy the straighter path, I would have preferred and experience more like the first game though where pretty much everywhere was open to you right from the off.

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I have nothing special to say about this one, I just think it looks brilliant.

The game certainly looks gorgeous, with lots of varied enemies (there’s some Bloodborne influence here too) and environments.  I think they may have tried to push the console versions a bit too hard though as the framerate suffers in places.  Fighting a large enemy that had an impressive frozen mist effect around it slowed the game to a crawl and made dodging near impossible.  This is a rare occasion in which enemies can be frustrating.  It’s a real shame that they decided to make it look prettier rather than optimising the game to run at a consistent framerate.  If you can cope with that nonsense though, there’s one hell of an experience

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I’m sure there’s some sort of crabs joke I could put in here.  But I’m far too grown up for that, honest.

Dark Souls III was developed by From Software and published by Bandai Namco.  I played the game on Xbox One and would recommend it if you like an esoteric, challenging action RPG.  Just be prepared for the occasional slowdown as the hardware struggles to keep up with the game.  Maybe the PC version runs better!