Uber hard video games have a strange appeal to me. I am pretty terrible at easy video games so it doesn't make much sense but there you go. I have played the first two Dark Souls games and almost managed to get past the first two areas in each, but I have never played Bloodborne, their spiritual successor.
Fortunately, it's been turned into a card game by Eric Lang, and even better it plays sort of like Cutthroat Caverns but much quicker. Players take on the roles of hunters making their way through the Chalice Dungeon, combating any monsters they find. The hunters co-operate with each other to the degree that they all need to beat the monsters they meet, but of course, they all want to be the ones to do the most damage...
Inside the box you will find some punch board player boards, health trackers and tokens, plastic 'blood echo' discs, three dice, and some cards. Players will choose which of the five final bosses they wish to face, checking its special ability and when it activates.
Next, they randomly deal seven monsters from a choice of 18, and three bosses from a choice of seven, to make a 10 'stage' dungeon. Each player takes a player board and five starter cards, and shuffles the 32 card upgrade deck, before dealing face-up as many upgrade cards as there are players on the market.
The hunters set their health to eight, the first player reveals the first monster, blood tokens equal to its health (plus modifiers at higher player counts) and combat begins.
Can't We All Just Get Along?
Each Hunter is attempting to collect the most blood and trophy bonuses through the game. Blood is earned by causing damage to a monster, with the blood echo tokens going to your player board, but they are not safe until you bank them. When a monster is killed, any player that took blood from that monster also earns a trophy.
To kill monsters each player simultaneously plays a card from their hand. Once everyone has done this they are revealed and any transform cards or instant effects are resolved. Your transform card basically lets you see what everyone else has played before you commit, and instant effects happen, er... instantly.
After this the monster attacks. The first player rolls a die indicated by the monster card (green is weak, yellow normal, red strong) which is the amount of damage each player takes. Should the number also have a star next to it the dice is rolled again and added to the previous total. This can happen multiple times, worth bearing in mind when your top health is only eight.
Then it's the hunter's turn. Starting with the first player everyone performs the effect on their card, which could be as simple as doing damage to the monster or as devious as damaging the monster and everybody else too. Why would you want to hurt the rest of your hunter buddies? Because blood echos that aren't banked are discarded when a hunter dies. If after each card is resolved the monster isn't dead, it escapes and the hunters earn no trophies. The boss monsters, however, never escape and must be defeated.
The Hunter's Dream
One thing to remember about playing a card is that you won't get it back until you enter the hunter's dream. There are two ways to do this, by playing your hunter's dream card, or by dying. But if you play the card you also get to bank the blood echoes you have collected, whereas if you die you lose it.
Then you pick up all your played cards and choose an upgrade card, adding it to their hand and discarding one if they now have more than seven (the hunter's dream card is un-discardable though - feel free to use that word).
The first player shifts to the left and this is repeated until the game ends, with the winner being the hunter with the most combined blood echoes and trophies.
Bloodborne plays like a slow burn deck builder. When I first opened the box I was surprised at how few cards there were, as most deck builders have plenty of options. However, in Bloodborne you are not likely to upgrade every round so it's a more considered approach you take. Which card will improve your options the most? Despite this, I still would have liked to see more cards in the base game - of all types.
Bloodborne plays really well, weaving risk and reward into almost every decision you make. Should you enter the hunter's dream now and bank the little you have collected or risk it for a biscuit and try to collect some more first?
Death is softened by the chance to pick up all your played cards and choose an upgrade, and this is one of the areas where a smaller pool of cards works well. It is quite easy to keep track of the cards that you and your fellow hunters have. As you all start with the same loadout, you know what they have played and therefore what is no longer available to them. This helps you plan when to play the card that stabs them all in the back.
Blood is essential to win but don't neglect trophies, as if you manage to max out one or more of the three types that's another eight points a pop. It is also another thing to take into account when playing the Hunter's Dream.
Play is quick and engaging as you balance defeating the monsters with collecting the most blood and perhaps punishing the brazen hunter that didn't bank theirs when they should have.
Blood Echoes Echoes Echo...
As I said in the intro, the only similar game I've played is Cutthroat Caverns in which you wanted to strike the killing blow on the monsters. Bloodborne plays in half the time of Cutthroat and I have found it more fun. The components are of good quality, and the insert is well thought out. The deck building feels both minor and major due to the few chances to upgrade cards, but the massive difference they can make.
The game is for three to five players and works well at each player count, but the minimum of three can make it harder to get to the table.
I would have liked to see a bit more content in the base game, particular in the monsters. Although you don't use them all in a game you will probably have seen everything by your third or fourth play. Of course, it will come out in different orders and arrangements so that helps. What also helps is that an expansion should be with us soon, adding more enemies and weapons but also new mechanics in death tokens and runes - The Hunter's Nightmare is slated for a 2018 release.
All in all I find Bloodborne an enjoyable game of risk, reward and betrayal. It offers a different take on deck building and the mechanics all make sense within the theme. There is of course elements of luck in drawing cards and rolling dice, but it is the right amount to encourage players to really think about when to bank blood and when to push on.
This blog was originally published on Nov 6th, 2017. Updated on May 18th, 2022 to improve the information available.