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Dark Souls: The Card Game is the series’ best tabletop version

A brisk and tactical ‘deck evolution’ game

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Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Dark Souls: The Board Game is not my favorite tabletop game. I definitely used words like “slog” and “repetitive” when I reviewed it last year. But the team at Steamforged Games has surprised me with Dark Souls: The Card Game. Rather than a grueling miniatures skirmish game, it’s a brisk and tactical card game. You should absolutely check this one out.

In Dark Souls: The Card Game, players can take the roles of four different classes from the video games — the Assassin, the Herald, the Knight and the Sorcerer. Up to four players deal from their own personal deck of cards to block, dodge and damage the enemies on the table.

The action plays out with a clever pair of sideboards, one each for the players and the enemies. They’re divided into columns and rows, and it’s easy to figure out what the threats are and plan together to deal with them in the most efficient way possible. The game also scales well, providing solo players with a lot to think about and challenging larger groups.

As players explore the world, enemies are drawn randomly from a few different decks. Once the foes attack, players work out how they’re going to defeat them, and can move and attack in any order. It’s a tremendously collaborative experience. Moving the party around to split damage, or avoid it entirely, is fast and fun. The game also makes good use of Dark Souls’ boss monsters. The base game comes with four of them, all from Dark Souls 3: Pontiff Sulyvahn, High Lord Wolnir, Vordt of the Boreal Valley and an Abyss Watcher. Players can choose which ones they face, and when they face them. Those engagements each feel unique, but play out much faster than similar encounters in Dark Souls: The Board Game.

Just like its predecessor, Dark Souls: The Card Game can be particularly brutal. Death happens often, and at times without warning. The good part is that full games rarely go more than 60 minutes, so you’re less likely to feel like you wasted your time if a game ends badly.

A hero shot of the contents of the Dark Souls card game, which includes sideboards, lots of cards and cardboard tokens. Steamforged Games

What elevates Dark Souls: The Card Game, in my opinion, is its much more liberal use of the Dark Souls franchise’s massive amount of gear and items.

When you defeat a monster, both treasure and souls go into a loot pile. The further players push themselves, the bigger that loot pile gets. However, it’s easy to lose that loot if one of the players dies. When the party eventually makes the decision to rest at the bonfire, the loot goes into the party’s inventory pile and can be used to seed players’ decks with more powerful gear.

This new gear, along with more powerful stamina abilities purchased with souls, contribute to the game’s “deck evolution” model. Players’ hands become larger and more powerful over time. It’s a brilliant application of tabletop gaming’s classic deck-building model, but with a pitch-perfect Dark Souls spin.

A Crackling Flame card and two stamina cards, all of which can end up in players’ hands.
The Herald, Assassin, Knight and Sorcerer player information cards.
Steamforged Games
Wolnir’s Right Hand, Wolnir’s Left Hand and High Lord Wolnir cards.

The cards themselves aren’t all that sturdy, unfortunately. They’re a bit thinner than I’d like, and you’ll absolutely want to get them sleeved right out of the box. The manual is underwhelming, too: There are typos and incorrect page references, and the images don’t always tell you everything you need to know. Look for videos to pop up in the community to help you get your bearings, though, and it shouldn’t be that big of a hurdle.

There’s no official word yet on the price or release date, though Amazon shows Dark Souls: The Card Game selling for $49.99 and shipping at the end of July. Expect more information tomorrow, when Steamforged has a live demo planned for 11 a.m. ET on Twitch.