Bolstered by their multi-million dollar Kickstarter success of Dark Souls: The Board Game, the folks at Steamforged Games wasted no time expanding their catalogue with the announcement of Dark Souls: The Card Game.
Due for release on the March 16, 2018, Dark Souls: The Card Game pools a group of one to four players together to collect souls and treasure in the dangerous world of Lordran.
Dark Souls: The Card Game
Like its larger, miniatures-based older sibling, the card game is also based on the critically acclaimed video game series, famed for its notorious difficulty and mysterious world lore. While some criticised the board game’s interpretation of this difficulty, with its relentless grind for souls, many praised its dynamic and strategic combat.
This focus on strategy has been carried over to the card game, but as the 60-minute suggested play time suggests, Steamforged Games have opted for a leaner, but nonetheless still challenging experience. Let's take a look at what we know so far and see what lies ahead for the cursed undead.
Where the board game boasted tactical miniatures-based combat, the card game takes a different approach, with each unlucky adventurer being represented by their own deck of cards. In the base game, players will be able to choose starting decks for either the Assassin, Herald, Knight, or Sorcerer. These decks, made up of a mixture of weapons, armour, and stamina, will be used to face the waves of challenging encounters players must complete before staring down the first of two of the game’s four included boss encounters.
Playing cards to attack, block, and dodge enemies requires spending stamina cards (think of Magic: The Gatherings’ use of Mana), with occasional options to discard the card to use its power at a lower cost or return it to your hand for a higher cost.
In a big change from the board game’s dungeon crawl combat style, the card game’s battles take place within two x three grids. Enemies will spawn in and attack sections indicated by their stat cards, making the positioning of characters, as well as their abilities, hugely important. Interestingly, player turns do not follow a set turn order. This should allow for flexibility regarding strategies and suggests a great deal of player interaction.
The difficulty of encounters are dictated by three separate decks. One each for levels one, two, and three. These will then indicate how many enemies to set up for the encounter. Enemies also come from three decks of increasing difficulty, each featuring art from the Dark Souls III video game. The artwork throughout seems to maintain the style and mood of the video games, and should also feel immediately familiar to fans of the board game.
Progressing through the game and defeating enemies rewards players with souls and treasure. These weapons, items, and other pieces of equipment come in the form of cards which can be bought with souls. These cards can be added to your deck and hopefully drawn into your hand for future encounters.
But, you didn’t think it would be that easy, did you?
Of course not. While your well deserved pile of loot sits in the middle of the table, players will be unable to use it until either resting at the bonfire or succeeding at the next encounter. Defeat this next wave of monstrosities and you will be rewarded with even more treasure, but more importantly, allow players to bank cards for future use. Fall in combat though, and that glistening pile of treasure is completely discarded.
This risk-reward play style also ties in to how players construct and use their decks. Similar to mechanics seen in Gloomhaven and Mistfall, each player’s deck in Dark Souls: The Card Game also acts as that character’s health. Consequently, each card you play and each damage you take dwindles that once modest stack of cards down to a precariously small smattering of vulnerable cardboard.
The death of any character puts the whole group back around the barely comforting warmth of the bonfire, reducing the number of times it can be used before game over, but also increasing players’ maximum deck size. Together, the mechanics for improving your decks, and succumbing to death should provide the tension and sense of dread so key to the Dark Souls universe.
So, if you’re a fan of the video games or just eager to experience Dark Souls’ next venture on to the tabletop, set a reminder for the March 16. Steamforged Games seem confident that they’ve produced a product that lives up to its license, and many seem to agree judging by the high praises quoted on their website.
From what I’ve seen, Dark Souls: The Card game is shaping up to be a slicker, quicker, and more accessible successor to the divisive board game, while still offering a challenging multiplayer experience in the dark world of Lordran.