TGN Demo Report: Dark Souls
Hey everyone. Gen Con has closed up shop for another year. The going consensus seems to be that it was a great show, but also an exceedingly fast one. I can certainly relate. It seems just this morning (which was actually Thursday morning), I was joking, “So, it’s Sunday tear-down, right?” and here it is, even after tear-down. However, before I post up the day’s few galleries and get some rest before a long drive tomorrow, I need to tell you about my demo this morning of the Dark Souls board game over at the Steamforged Games booth.
I know I posted a gallery of photos from the demo boards earlier, but in those, I was just standing by while others did the demo and then moved on. This morning, though, I had a one-on-one demo of the game with one of Steamforge’s great crew… whose name I have, unfortunately, forgotten in the interim. I’m sorry Steamforged dude.
Anyway, the demo is set up so you can get right into the thick of things with a pair of characters semi-tricked out with armor versus a boss, the Dancer of Boreal Valley. So you can think of it like your characters made it through a small dungeon and just arrived in the room with a big baddie. The demo’s designed so you can get a quick look at how attacks work, as well as the special AI that bosses use.
Looking over a character board, we see the equipment slots on the left. Each piece of equipment gives some sort of bonus to you hero, be it extra attack abilities or defensive ones, plus possible other special rules. In the bottom-middle, there’s a special ability for the character. Now, in the video game (so I’m told), there are no classes. However, having every player simply start out exactly the same doesn’t make for much interest in the game. As such, one departure from the video game is that there are character classes. The “Spark” the ability talks about is sort of a “once per major encounter” type of thing. In the case of the demo, it means it’s an ability I can use once. In the upper-right, we have the the character’s ability progression. As you play, you can level up the various abilities on your heroes. This is important because back over on the equipment side of things, various pieces of equipment will require certain ability scores in order to equip them. So before you can use that huge broadsword, you might need to be strong enough, and so forth. In the bottom-right, there’s the stamina/health track. I’ll get into exactly how that works in a moment.
Going over to the Dancer’s card, the 10 represents sort of an “initiative value.” Basically, it’s used to break ties if things would occur at the same time. Then, those center icons, the first one means that the Dancer has 5 cards in its activation deck. The activation deck is how the dancer behaves. It’s the AI, if you will. The thing is, the Dancer doesn’t just come with 5 cards to make that deck. It actually comes with 10. You can then either pick which 5 to use, or randomly determine it. Either way, it can give you lots of replay as the boss can act totally differently each time you fight it, depending on what goes in that deck. In the center, that’s the Dancer’s armor. Basically, the left half is its resistance to physical attacks, while the right is its resistance to magical. Think of this as Damage Reduction. So if you hit the Dancer with a melee attack, it’d take one less damage per hit. The right number is the Heat Up value. Once the Dancer’s taken that amount of damage, it Heats Up. That is, it adds another card to its Activation Deck. This is generally a bit more-powerful attack you’ll have to watch out for. Like before, where you had 10 cards and picked 5, the final Dancer will come with 3 different Heat Up cards. So, again, replayability with the game comes in, as you can pick a different one each time. Under that, you have the boss’ special power. In the case of the Dancer, it shuffles its activation deck whenever its Heat Up card is drawn. Usually, the deck for a boss stays the same as you draw through it, simply starting back again at the top when you go through it. That way, you can learn the pattern of the boss, as you can in the video game. In the case of the Dancer, though, its unpredictable movement is shown by the deck being shuffled often. Finally, down at the bottom, we have the Dancer’s damage track. Simply fill it in to defeat it.
So, how does an activation work? Well, it goes Character-Boss-Character-Boss-Character-Boss and so forth and so on. Yes, the boss will activate between each player’s activation. This is a good way to “scale” the game versus multiple opponents. So if you have 2 players, the boss will activate twice before you get to go again. In the case of a 6 player game, the boss just activates that much more often, meaning the game is still just as difficult, since if you had two players go before the boss, it’d obviously be a lot different than having 6 go before the boss activates again.
On a character’s activation, the first thing they do is remove two stamina from their stamina/damage track. This is crucial, since stamina is what’s used to do more than just make simple moves and attacks. However, it can be dangerous, since stamina fills in from the left and wounds fill in from the right as you take them. If ever your whole track is filled, you’re dead. So even if you just take 1 damage, if all the rest of the track is filled in with stamina, you die. Managing your stamina/damage track is crucial to winning the game. Anyway, so you’ve removed your two. You can then move one space for free. The boards in Dark Souls aren’t really “gridded” but there are the little spots that show where you can move to. So you get 1 space of movement for free, and can then move extra spaces at a cost of 1 stamina each. You can then make an attack. Usually, you are given two attack choices for your character. There’s a “free” option that doesn’t cost any stamina, but is a rather weak attack. Then there’s a much more robust attack that will cost a certain amount of stamina to perform. But, obviously, the chances are you’ll do much more damage with the stronger attack.
To resolve an attack, simply total up what dice you get for it. There are black dice and blue dice in the game. The black dice are kinda “weenie.” There’s significantly less skulls (I.E. – successes) on the black dice than the blue. So, whenever possible, you want to get blue dice. Anyway, total up the dice you get for the attack based on your character and any equipment they might have, along with any particular bonuses you might have (more on those in a second), and roll them. For every skull showing, you get a success. Then subtract off any armor the boss might have, and the total is how much damage it takes. Pretty simple.
So that’s a character’s activation. What about a boss? Well, as I said, they have their AI deck. Each card describes a different maneuver that the boss will do on its turn. Simply turn over the top card and resolve it. Reading from left to right, the card will tell you where the boss moves, how far it moves, whether it targets a particular hero or not (typically the character with the “Aggro” token, which transfers between characters as they take their turns), and any other special rules it might have. Down at the bottom, you’ll see a circle that’s broken up into 4 quadrants. The green shows where the attack will go. So if you’re in that arc, you’ll be getting hit. If there’s a red space, that means the boss is weak in that space. So if you can get your hero to that spot and make an attack against it, you get an extra black die added to your attack.
Boss attacks aren’t random in how much damage they do. It’s the set number there in the middle of the card. There are two ways you can defend against a monster attack. Armors will grant you defense dice. It sort of works like the boss’ damage reduction in reverse. You roll the defense dice you’re allotted and subtract 1 for each skull you roll. The other thing you can do is try and dodge. That costs 1 stamina, but you get to roll the dodge die (or dice if you have multiple things that let you dodge). Dodge dice give you a 50/50 chance of totally ignoring an attack. However, certain boss attacks are harder to avoid and might require 2 or more successful dodges to totally avoid it. Each boss card will tell you how many you might need (such as the Uppercut requiring 2, as you can see on the middle-right of the card).
And that’s pretty much it. A hero will get its turn. Then the boss gets to attack. Then another hero goes. Continue on until all the heroes or the boss is dead. Now, I will say that the game is meant to be hard. When talking with my demo-giver (again, apologies on forgetting the name, mate), he said that only 3 people had beaten it. Personally, I watched 3 demos get to the conclusion (including mine) and nobody won. One of them left the dancer with a single health point left when it took out the last hero. I didn’t even come close to winning, though I was just sort of running in and hacking away. Hey, it’s a demo, I don’t need to think super-tactically. But the thing is, I see where I could’ve done things differently and could’ve given it a better go of winning. Same thing with the other groups. Nobody I saw lose went, “well, that was dumb.” Everyone was, “Aw man! That was awesome! We totally would’ve had ’em if we (after-action strategy goes here)!!” You wanted to play again to see if you could win this time.
I had a good time with the demo. Honestly, I’ve never played the video game series at all, so I didn’t have that to go on. But I can say that if you’re like me, you can still very much enjoy the game. Playing the video game is not a prerequisite to playing the board game. So if you’re interested in a dungeon-crawl adventure board game, you might want to give Dark Souls a try when it’s out. I know I will be.