Dark Souls: The Board Game was on display at this year’s Toy Fair New York. Steamforged Games’ head of game development David Carl was there to give Polygon a guided tour of a pre-production run of the game, one of only two in existence. He says the first production run is complete, and shipping to distribution now from the manufacturer.
Dark Souls had an incredible Kickstarter campaign, bringing in more than $5.4 million in 2016. The game seeks to recreate the classic Dark Souls experience, and many have wondered if the company famous for a Blood Bowl-inspired take on soccer was up to the challenge. From what we’ve seen, the game looks solid.
Carl explained to us how a play session will take shape. Each roughly two-hour game will be composed of four parts. First, players will have a series of encounters, generated with the help of a set of random tiles and a deck of random cards. When they’re ready, they can move on to fighting a mini boss, and then another series of random encounters. At any time, they can return to the Bonfire, recharging their consumable powers such as Estus flasks and heroic abilities.
Players can decide which bosses to fight before each game begins, or leave it up to chance.
The further along in the game players get, the sweeter the pile of loot becomes. So, just like the classic video games, knowing when to press your advantage and when to retreat is key to upgrading to the best gear.
“Say you do some exploring, and while you explore you gain Souls and treasure,” Carl said. “Souls are used to ... to level up your characters. As your level increases, you can equip better and better equipment.
The game ships with four hero characters, and each has their own specific sets of weapons and gear. When the game begins, each character shuffles their own unique treasure to the deck.
“If I’m using the Assassin, I’ll shuffle in different armor and weapons than if I was using the Knight. And once you beat the mini boss, they’ll drop their unique loot. But you also upgrade the treasure deck with more powerful items.”
Players will control their character from a sideboard, where they’ll keep track of health and stamina to move and make attacks with. That’s also where they equip items. Players can carry up to two items, one in each hand, including weapons and shields. They can also have a backup item, like a larger two-handed sword for special situations. Armor is handled as a single set, and can be upgraded with rings.
Each player begins the game with a single Luck Token, which can be used to re-roll any single die at any time. Additional Luck Tokens are available for purchase at the Bonfire.
The game supports 1-4 players. The number of players at the table will determine how many Sparks are available. Sparks help to control difficulty and game length, and are spent to rest and recharge at the Bonfire. Each time players rest all encounters reset, just like the source material.
Perhaps most important for fans of Kickstarter projects generally, the game is expected to ship on time.
“This is one of two proof sets in the world right now,” Carl said. “The rest are on a boat right now. The game ships April 21.”
Carl also shared details of the first expansions, including rules for summoning non-player character allies and additional miniatures for Invaders.
“Invaders that can show up in a normal encounter,” Carl said. “You put down the normal enemies, and then they get added to it. With expansions, there’s a give and a take. The Summons help you, but they cost you some of your stamina. The Invaders make a particular encounter harder, but if you defeat them, you get their special treasure item.”
Right now, there aren’t any options to pre-order copies of the game. There’s nothing official on Amazon either, and the Steamforged website directs users to find a participating retailer.
For better or for worse, Dark Souls has been compared to another miniatures-based skirmish game, Kingdom Death: Monster. Both make use of artificial intelligence decks to control monsters, but in addition to the source material Carl says it’s the scale of the engagements that marks the biggest difference between the two games. While Kingdom Death relies on traditional 1-inch squares for movement, Dark Souls uses a unique node-based system. Up to three miniatures can fit on each node, and players are able to attack each boss from four different directions.
“Their boss fight ... provides a much different feel than our boss fight,” Carl said. “The board for Kingdom Death could be 500 squares. We’re looking at 13 nodes. That’s a completely different experience. It’s got a lot of dynamic movement, it’s got an AI deck ... but what they player characters are doing, the diversity of what they can bring to the fight, between different characters and different treasure, is also very different.”
For more on Dark Souls: The Board Game see our write-up from last year’s Gen Con, where we got to fight a battle against the Dancer of the Boreal Valley.