At Salute 2016 I had the opportunity to play a demo of the new Dark Souls board game. It was a shortened version of the game, concentrating on an end of level boss character, but I can tell you now, it manages to capture the feel of Dark Souls in board game form.
The full game will involve a dungeon crawl, venturing forth from the bonfire and facing off against low level minions such as undead and Knights, reach the end of the dungeon and you have to fight the boss. If you die then you drop any souls you have acquired and respawn at the bonfire Dark Souls players will all find this familiar.
During each player’s turn, as you can play this game cooperatively, you move and attack. Each action requires the spending of stamina, and this is the main mechanical deviation from the video game. Stamina and health are all taken from the same pool, crossed off on your card with dry erase marker. Stamina is removed from the left hand side and health from the right, if ever the entire bar is depleted then your character dies and returns to the bonfire.
Players can clear their stamina by resting and replenish their health by drinking from their Estus flask, of which there are limited uses and true to Dark Souls each of these actions takes up your entire turn, meaning you better be out of the way of the big bad boss.
Speaking of the boss, his actions are controlled via a small deck of cards. Each card is an attack and shows the boss’s movement, damage and where he will be exposed next round, allowing a bonus to your attack. Once these cards are depleted they are reset and played through again. The sequence remains the same so can you remember which attack is next?
You can either attempt to dodge the attack or block with your shield, both neatly controlled by the dice and different characters will be better at blocking and some better at dodging.
Credit has to be given to Steamforged Games because it really does feel like you are playing Dark Souls. The manoeuvring into the boss’s week spot, the sequence of powerful attacks, getting out of the way to heal and regain stamina, it all replicates the mechanics of the video game pretty damn well.
And it's hard, bloody hard. The aim of the demo was to reduce the boss down from 30 hit points and I managed to knock off only 8 before losing both characters. Part of the problem was that the dice have blank faces, meaning an attack can do bugger all damage if you’re unlucky. However it does add a nice push your luck element, meaning that you could spend more stamina to push the attack but you don't know how well it's going to hit and it might leave you in the wrong spot once the boss activates. Again it feels like fighting one of the boss characters in Dark Souls, push forward and hit the boss as much as possible but know it’s going to leave you with very little stamina and open to a lot of damage.
It has to be said that this was only a small slice of the game with one boss and no pushing through a level, but from what I have seen so far it really does feel like Dark Souls and that’s the important thing. It will be interesting to see how the game fleshes out. One area I am concerned about is variety. We were shown one boss and although it’s easy to see how different bosses and monsters can be controlled by different decks I wonder how many different miniatures are going to be needed to keep the game looking and feeling different.
But what we did see was a faithful adaption of Dark Souls combat and punishingly difficult boss. It felt like Dark Souls in many ways and raised the bar for Cool Mini or Not’s upcoming Bloodborne card game.
The Dark Souls Kickstarter will launch 19th April. Praise the Sun!