On any night of the Hunt, common folk know to stay indoors. Beasts, the afflicted and those that man would struggle to comprehend walk the streets, as do the Hunters. Armed with Trick Weapons and no end of Hunter Tools, these Hunters take to Yharnam in search of those with the afflicted blood. The sickness. The air is forever ripe with blood, and the people of this falling city know to stay away. It's a deathly night, but when the Blood Moon rises, the Hunters are called to arms. The video game of Bloodborne represents this story and theme beautifully, but now you can experience it at the table. Bloodborne The Board Game is a cooperative action/exploration game for one to four players. It takes approximately 75 minutes to play, but longer with more.
Bloodborne The Board Game is a game made up of four campaigns, each hosting three chapters. Each chapter will contain an initial three enemies as dictated by the setup, and there are four Hunters for players to choose from. Each chapter contains a main Hunt mission to complete alongside several Insight missions. Players discover these progressively throughout the chapter as new tiles are revealed. Completing Insight missions often rewards players with Hunter Tools, consumable items and new firearms. Players can choose who gets what, with a limit of two Caryll Runes and two Hunter Tools Each.
To set up, players choose a Hunter to play as and take their corresponding Trick Weapon sheet. They then take a starting deck, consisting of 12 basic cards. There are three of each type, and players can never have more than 12 cards in their deck. Players would then need to choose a campaign to play and a corresponding chapter. The set up for each of these is unique, and players should follow the instructions accordingly. Finally, players should read the first card as instructed by the set up for that chapter. The Hunt is now ready to commence!
Bloodborne The Board Game is played in rounds, and each one ends with the Hunt track being advanced. At certain points, the track will indicate a reset. This will return all enemies to their spawn points - whether they're defeated or not - and all health is returned to all enemies. If the track hits the end before the Hunters complete their Hunt mission, they have one more round to complete it. Otherwise, the game ends with a loss.
Taking a Turn
On any round, players can choose which Hunter goes first. From there, they can spend cards from their hand to move two spaces, interact with things, or return to the Hunter's Dream. These cards would be played to the discard without activating their effects (unless stated otherwise). Many Hunt missions require players to investigate specific locations on the map. These are revealed when a Hunter leaves a tile and enters a new one, and can be placed in any orientation chosen. It is worth noting that the enemies of Bloodborne The Board Game will chase a Hunter who leaves their space, and those who leave the tile they reside on. If an enemy shares a Hunter's space, they will get a free attack on them should the Hunter try to interact with the tile or elements of it.
Using cards for combat works differently. Hunters choose which enemy in their space to engage, and play cards to their Trick Weapon's open attack slots. Card effects always trigger when played to a weapon slot. Then, the enemy action is revealed. Combat is then resolved by identifying who attacked first based on speed and whether the slower attack would go through dependent on the assailant's death. Should the Hunter be attacked, they can play Dodge cards to weapon slots of equal to, or higher speeds than the incoming attack.
Some enemy attacks include effects which are resolved during their attack. These often hinder the Hunter further than the base damage and are often best avoided. Both Hunter and enemy may have potential to stagger their opposer in their attack (identified by enemy card attack or by the card effect played to a slot). This would result in the slower of the two attacks not going through unless dodged.
Defeating an enemy earns a Hunter a Blood Echo in Bloodborne The Board Game. These are like a currency used in the Hunter's Dream to enhance their deck. This is a safe haven for Hunters to return to, and it will refresh their health, deck, Hunter Tools and firearm. However, returning to the Dream progresses the Hunt Track by one space, reducing the time available to complete the Hunt. Players who lose all their health also return to the Dream but lose their Blood Echoes before they can swap them for new cards.
The Enemy's Turn
After any Hunter has used all their cards or chooses to pass, the Enemy Activation phase begins. All enemies within one tile of that Hunter, or who share the same tile as them, move one space closer. Then, all enemies sharing the same space as that Hunter engage in combat. This runs the same sequence as if a Hunter were to activate combat. If a Hunter cannot attack, they take the damage of the enemy attack regardless. Once all enemies have activated, it is the next Hunter's turn. This sequence continues until all players' Hunters have played and all enemy activations have occurred. The Hunt Track would then progress and a new round would begin.
Should Hunters complete the Hunt mission for the chapter before the Hunt Track is expired, they win. The players can then choose to continue the Hunt into the next chapter, using the same Hunters and their enhanced decks, too. Advancing the track to the end before completing the Hunt is a loss, however, and players should reset the campaign back to chapter one.
How It Handles
Bloodborne The Board Game has a super steep learning curve, as it expects a fair amount of background knowledge. Not in terms of the lore, oh no, but in terms of its combat system's approach. Like it's video game counterpart, there is no ability to block. No retreat, restock and return. It's not the way the Hunt is meant to be conducted. It's about being quick, or biding your time to take the enemy out in one fell swoop! Exerting yourself and wasting actions will only leave you helpless. Aggression is king in the height of the Hunt. The learning curve is steep, but once you're there it's a stupendous amount of fun!
Fighting The Good Fight
Combat is, without a shadow of a doubt, the cornerstone of Bloodborne the Board Game. Your weapons are designed to slay beasts, your consumables to make it easier to do so, your tools to confuse and give advantage where possible. And yet, it's also entirely avoidable (for the most part). You're never forced to kill any beasts, and, unless instructed to, don't have to engage in any combat. Finding a balance with this is important, as it emphasises an understanding of "picking your battles" in the most literal sense. Hunters want to fight beasts as part of their nature. It's their objective and purpose. And it's an opportunity to gain Blood Echoes! These are coveted among Hunters for their ability to enhance their repertoire of moves. Not a necessity, but they could easily be the difference between sourcing a round and forcibly visiting the Hunter's Dream.
Of course, in any exploration game where enemies can move, there's the risk of being overwhelmed. Having three cards to play with gives scope for three attacks. You've got good odds that one of those is a Dodge, so that's one attack without damage and one further attack. Coupling in whatever other effects the cards may enable, you're going to be looking at a possible two whole rounds of combat in your turn. Sounds like a surefire win and a guaranteed Blood Echo... unless there are three other fellows waiting to lay down some pain on you, too. It's a delicate balance that can easily result in life or death. Inevitably, Hunters are going to die. That's part and parcel of the game. But by planning who activates first can manipulate enemy positions. Meaning there's scope for some true divide and conquer tactics.
What Do I Do To Win?
Bloodborne The Board Game is entirely centred on hand management and exploration. Having a bad hand is never the end, as the cards are spent as actions. I personally loathe the Draw 1 cards, as, compared to adding more damage, they don't hit the mark as reliably. That said, I've tried different styles and found a heavily Stagger oriented deck can work really well. But again, how you spend these cards is the determining factor 90% of the time.
You'll find that each Hunter's weapon gives a bonus based on what you do on your turn. This may allow you to stagger enemies of the same speed, or deal damage when dodging. What's more, is the transformed Trick Weapon side also has a unique ability. I've found that orienting one's deck around these is the best exploit of a good buff. Cashing in on what you're best at is never a bad plan.
This game has no guaranteed winning formula for the Hunters, however. Death may come down to poor card management, badly timed attacks, being overwhelmed or a terrible plan biting you on the posterior. But most deaths are preventable. No end of lost lives has had me trailing actions back and identifying where it went wrong and what could have been done. Unless it's a case of a bad enemy card draw from a boss, the only instance where you won't know what's coming, you can see the enemies capabilities. You know that Church Giant can deal six damage. And you know they're going to activate on your turn and no doubt turn you into a fine paste.
Do I Have To Win?
There is some scope for Hunters to be able to do what they want within any chapter. You have your Hunt mission which needs completing to win. That's the main goal. Then you have several instances where things will happen, as indicated by the introduction card. This might entail interacting with something or ending a move somewhere. Often optional, but great for rewards and potential Blood Echoes. So long as the Hunters can polish the Hunt mission off before the Hunt Track expires, they win.
What a Hunter does between the start and end however is up to them. It seems trivial to say it's "complete" free choice, but there's no punishment for exploring other than the time constraint. If anything, you're encouraged to look around and discover things. To fight enemies and dare to venture to the Hunter's Dream. It's part and parcel of the game, and it's inevitably going to aid you in gaining that win.
We Embrace the Old Blood
Bloodborne's theme is a mash of Lovecraftian horror meets a disease turning men into beasts. That which can't be comprehended and the darkness within man caused by one's own weakness. It's tremendously gothic and dark and executes the theme fantastically. Does Bloodborne The Board Game manage that level of the theme? Can it? Well... I'd argue so, yes. The board game counterpart to the video game does not follow the same story. You are not the same protagonist, you're just some Hunters on a night of the Hunt. Your Hunts entail familiar characters, enemies and bosses, but the overarching story and focus for these campaigns are different enough to keep you guessing.
There was one instance where I was confident I knew what would happen when we beat a certain boss. So confident that I made the final blow with my last card, leaving myself confidently open with no known risk. We flipped the next chapter card and I was briskly returned to the Hunter's Dream. My overconfidence in the video game's story got me killed. A both incredibly justified, and exciting death.
Big Minis for a Big Story
Every element of the game oozes that theme of simple town blighted with the scourge of beasts. Dabbling in the unknown, the mysterious Healing Church and blood-coloured sky all aid this... But what coins it the most is the chapter cards and narratives. The pleas, requests and chatter among the common folk really embed the concept of there being a Hunt for beasts, and that, on this night of the Hunt, something else is out there.
The miniatures produced by CMON are always of a particular quality. We're fans, but know that there's such a thing as miniatures for the sake of miniatures. Bloodborne the Board Game is a game that we feel needs the minis to embed that theme further. There's a real sense of scale with them, and comparing your Hunter to the likes of Vicar Amelia or a Church Giant really brings it home for how small your Hunter is. How outgunned they should be. And yet, through clever card management and some great enemy manipulation, you can take these beasts down.
I loved Bloodborne as a video game. You may recognise this in my review of the video game (also available on Zatu). So having it as Bloodborne The Board Game is weird, because I love this too, but for different reasons.
The board game is excellent in its execution of a need to manage one's hand and build an effective deck. But also in its exploration and ability to allow players to manipulate the board based on player turn order. It's not a mechanic I've experienced before and it's a welcomed one, as it adds a meta-layer of cooperation to the experience. You've got to organise before executing and know what you'll each do in your role. What's more is the fast-paced and brutal combat has an excellent feel to it, compared with other minis games, as it limits choice. You can fell a beast in a turn but be restricted in other ways. Or can run around and have a whole gaggle of beasts on your tail, ready to pounce once you stop.
If you're a fan of exploration and combat driven action games with a good amount of narrative, this is a surefire hit. Hand management and cooperation are key in this game, and with a solid theme and beautiful aesthetics, we think it's a game you'll love. And if you need even more Bloodborne the Board Game content, be sure to check out the Chalice Dungeons expansion, or one of the other mini-expansions for the core game.