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Bloodborne: The Card Game is relentless and seductive

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Award-winning designer Eric Lang unveils one of Gen Con’s most anticipated games

Bloodborne launched on the PlayStation 4 in 2015 and cut a deep, bloody swath through console gamers looking to tackle its many challenges. One year later, Bloodborne returns, this time as a tabletop card game, with a promise to maintain the franchise’s signature death toll.

Bloodborne: The Card Game, designed by the award-winning Eric Lang and published by Cool Mini or Not, is based on the video game’s Chalice Dungeons, which are randomly generated dungeons under the city of Yharnham. A group of three to five players will venture forth into these dungeons and challenge deadly monsters and bosses, ultimately seeking to take the creatures’ blood and claim their corpses as trophies to prove who is the greatest Hunter.

The card game is all about risk management. Initially, hunters begin with the same handful of weapon cards in their deck. Each round, a new monster appears from a randomly created stack and attacks all of the players, dealing damage or potentially killing them if their health is too low. The Hunters get a chance to respond one at a time by playing a weapon from their hand, inflicting damage on the enemy and collecting an amount of blood equal to the damage dealt. If a Hunter participated in the round of combat and the team successfully slays the monster, a trophy is added to their game board which awards victory points at the end of the game.

When Bloodborne was first announced, Lang took to Twitter to describe his vision of the game, tweeting, "My goal with Bloodborne was to channel the intensity and frustration of the video game into a contest between players. Lots of death."

Indeed, expect to die — frequently, even — along the way to the final boss encounter of the game. Iconic enemies like the carrion crows, bloodsuckers, and even the dreaded Blood-starved Beast can easily slay an unprepared Hunter. And like the video game, death is only a temporary setback, but one with a potentially terrible cost. All accumulated blood that has not been banked at the Hunter’s Dream is lost forever, which could cost players dozens of victory points.

A good Hunter knows when to pick her fights and when to retreat to the safety of the Dream for upgrades, healing, and scoring. I learned this lesson the hard way during my first demo of the game at this year’s Gen Con in Indianapolis. Our group of three Hunters entered combat with the Cleric Beast, and I had foolishly assumed that my measly four health would be enough to bring it down. Unfortunately, we quickly realized the dangers of the game’s exploding dice system. When an asterisk is visible on the rolled monster die you roll that die again and add the result to the previous number. One explosion can lead to another and another. In my game it resulted in a whopping thirteen points of damage.

Just as the video game, death can come swiftly and mercilessly in Bloodborne.

The equipment upgrades in the card game are varied and plentiful, from devastating ranged weapons like the Repeating Pistol to even the legendary Kirkhammer itself. One of the other Hunters in my demo was lucky enough to get his hands on the iconic sword/hammer hybrid and began crushing enemies before I even had a chance, forcing me to rethink my tactics during encounters. Thankfully, many ranged weapons feature interesting ways to interrupt the standard turn order, which allowed me to steal some blood and claim a trophy before my opponents demolished the Huntsmen and Scourge Beasts.

The best part is that a group won’t have to spend hours hacking and slashing their way through dangerous dungeons and dying to deadly beasts. A game of Bloodborne can be completed in roughly 30-45 minutes, allowing time for players to gleefully be massacred by nasty beasties again and again. Bloodborne does a tremendous job at accurately recreating the sense of tension and dread of the Lovecraftian-inspired series.

Designer Lang is no stranger to video games, or even adapting them to the tabletop. In 2015, he released the hit XCOM: The Board Game, which provided a unique app-driven experience of an escalating alien invasion. This Gen Con featured Lang’s name in the credits of no fewer than four tabletop games with several publishers, and his career has featured work on multiple iconic franchises, including Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and A Game of Thrones.

Small wonder then that Lang was honored last week with the Diana Jones Award, considered by many to be one of the tabletop game industry’s highest honors.

Reception for Bloodborne at Gen Con seemed to be universally positive among attendees, and the publisher struggled to keep copies stocked in its booth throughout the four day event. There were also constant lines of eager gamers looking to demo the game at all times, and Lang was on hand to run demos himself throughout the weekend.

Bloodborne: The Card Game will be widely available this October.

Polygon will have more coverage from Gen Con 2016 all this week, and you can find all those stories here. For more tabletop gaming coverage, see our dedicated section here.