The core of any good dungeon crawl board game is exploration. In Dark Souls: The Board Game, players explore tiles, battle enemies, collect loot, and level up their characters in order to fight increasingly difficult Encounters that culminate in an epic showdown with one of the infamous boss battles of the Dark Souls series. As you may remember, we released an article regarding Exploration while the campaign was running, but a lot has changed since then based on backer feedback, playtesting, and more playtesting. We’ll start with a list of what has changed, then dig into each change in greater detail.
So, the changes:
Encounter Deck Overhaul
The Fog Gate
The Number of Tiles Used During Exploration
The Bonfire Tile and Spending Souls
The Encounter Deck
As we were refining the core rules for the game, we found some rules that simply didn’t feel necessary; using an ‘Encounter Deck’ to explore tiles was one of these changes. Encounter cards are still a key element of the game, but they function in a much more fluid manner now. Previously, Encounter cards were added to a single deck and then drawn as players entered the tile. During playtesting, this immediately caused issues, such as facing difficult Encounters the first time players left the Bonfire tile or being unable to progress.
So what did we change? Encounter cards are now separated into 3 different Encounter Decks, which are sorted by level. So, all level 1 cards in one deck, all level 2 in another, and finally level 3 Encounters in another. These decks are to be placed face down. Boss cards have also been updated and now include information as to which level of Encounters are required to unlock a Boss fight. For example, the lower portion of the Gargoyle’s card shows that 3x level 1 Encounters and 1x level 2 Encounter lead up to this particular Boss fight. These Encounter cards are drawn from the respective decks and placed on the tiles with the difficulty increasing as players roam farther from the bonfire. This gives players a chance to gauge the difficulty of upcoming Encounters, so they can agonize over the decision of when to commit to the next battle and when to rest at the bonfire. Finally, the Fog Gate token is placed on the tile farthest from the Bonfire tile.
The Fog Gate
Once we’d added the possibility to lose the game (discussed later), we wanted to avoid putting players in a position where they could lose because of an unlucky Encounter Deck draw into a Boss. And the concept of the Fog Gate (another backer suggestion) introduced a great solution.
To face the Boss, you simply walk through the Fog Gate to the Boss room. And by placing the Fog Gate at the edge of the tile that’s farthest away from the Bonfire tile, you can explore and choose when to take on the Boss. So instead of randomly stumbling upon a Boss, you now get to plan ahead and choose when to take it on.
Number of Tiles Used
You may notice that only 4 Encounters were listed in our Gargoyle example, which is another change from what was initially announced. This is a result of our change to tile numbers! In our earliest playtesting, we started with 6 tiles for exploration, and then tried using 5, 4, and 3. As we playtested, we wanted to make sure fighting through Encounters didn’t bog down gameplay, especially when you have to fight back through an Encounter after a defeat. We needed to make sure this balance would be challenging yet fun. In the end, 4 Exploration tiles struck the right balance between exploration and advancement and were unique enough to stand apart from the set-piece Boss Encounters. Another small tile tweak is that you place the tiles when you set up the game rather than placing them as you play through. We recognized the building-as-you-go approach didn’t add to the Dark Souls experience, so we removed it. This was a huge focus of our playtesting; rules and mechanics needed to bring the Dark Souls video game experience to the board. Any that didn’t pull their weight simply had to go.
Much like the Fog Gate, ‘Sparks’ were a Backer-suggested mechanic. And in early playtesting, we felt that something was missing: Tension! While losing is just getting too frustrated to continue in the world of Dark Souls, we knew we needed a mechanic to emphasize the importance of player decisions. A case of infinitely trying until you get bored or win just wouldn't cut it. So now when you run out of Sparks, there’s no more safety net. If a character dies at that point, you lose the game. Hello, tension!
In the simplest terms, Sparks function as your party’s lives. They can be used in two ways: either to allow the party to respawn after being defeated or to let the party rest at the bonfire. In either case, after using a Spark, the party gets to refill Estus flasks, regain Heroic Abilities, regain Luck (we’ll cover Luck later), and reset all Encounters.
The amount of Sparks a party has is determined by the number of players, and there is a nice, easy-to-follow table in the rulebook that tells you how many your party starts with. The general rule of thumb is the more players you have, the fewer Sparks you get.
Sparks are replenished upon killing Bosses, and when you down one of these big nasties with Sparks remaining, additional Souls are generated! Each remaining Spark earns the party 1 Soul per player. For example, a party of 3 players that kills a Boss with 2 Sparks remaining would gain 6 Souls in addition to the Boss-specific treasure that it drops.
If any member of a party dies, the ENTIRE party is transported back to the Bonfire to rest, and a Spark is consumed. You still refill and regain everything and all Encounters reset.
When a Player Character dies and you’re forced to rest at the Bonfire, all Soul tokens in the Soul Cache are placed on the Node that the fallen Player Character was standing on. These Souls are retrieved when a Player Character moves onto the Node with the Souls. But if you or anyone in your party dies before these Souls have been retrieved, the Souls are discarded.
Every time you defeat an Encounter, you gain 2 Souls per Player Character. In the video game, these numbers tend to go into the hundreds and thousands, but within a board game, those numbers just aren’t practical. These Souls can be spent in a few different ways, as explained below.
The Bonfire Tile
We needed another method for Characters to improve themselves by levelling up and acquiring gear that wasn’t attached directly to the Bonfire, and the additions of Blacksmith Andre and the Firekeeper let us do precisely that.
The Firekeeper is how you level up. Base Stats to Tier 1 costs 2 Souls, Tier 1 to Tier 2 costs 4 Souls… And you guessed it: Tier 2 to Tier 3 costs 8 Souls! Each stat is levelled up independently of each other, which means you could max out Strength for 14 Souls and leave your other stats at Base level. Generally, the stats you choose to level up will change from game to game. These decisions will typically depend on the treasure you’ve obtained, as different treasure will require different amounts of levelling up according to your class.
You can also buy ‘Luck’ at the Firekeeper. Luck is a newer mechanic. Each Player gets one Luck token, which can be used to reroll ONE die. Luck can be regained by resting at the Bonfire or it can be purchased from the Firekeeper for 1 Soul in between Encounters. You can only ever have one Luck token so you can’t spend Souls for more than one of them.
Blacksmith Andre is your primary source of loot and equipment upgrades. Rather than Grunts dropping treasure, they drop Souls. These Souls can be used to buy ‘treasure flips’ from Andre, which cost 1 Soul per flip. Andre is also where you change your gear loadout and apply upgrades to equipment.
Treasure is gained via ‘treasure flips’ for the most part. Treasure flips come from the treasure deck. This deck is initially formed during set up and consists of 60 ‘Common treasure cards’ ranging from various weapons, armours, spells, and upgrades.
Before you start playing a game, 5 class-specific starting treasure cards are added to this deck for each Character in your party. So, the treasure deck can range from 65 to 80 cards depending on the size of your party. The class-specific treasures focus on the unique flavour of each class. For example, the Knight has a class-specific treasure that will make him a tank that replies on Blocking, rather than Dodging. These class-specific treasure cards can be equipped by anyone, however. So, if you want to be a Block-based Assassin, you 100% can live that dream. It’ll just require taking a different level-up path than what you might usually expect from an Assassin, leaning more towards Strength rather than Dexterity. This is generally how treasure is handled throughout the game; however, some enemies do drop specific treasure, like Bosses. Each Boss in the game has between 2 and 4 unique Boss treasures that can only be obtained by killing a Boss. And after killing a Boss, 5 additional ‘Transposed Class Treasure Cards’ are added to the treasure deck. These generally represent more powerful equipment than what’s seen in the starting treasure cards.
That’s a ‘brief’ rundown of the Exploration basics for Dark Souls: The Board Game! We’ll be streaming a staff play through of the game from Exploration to fighting the Titanite Demon Mini Boss on November 25th at 6PM (GMT) via https://www.twitch.tv/steamforged.
Praise the Sun! \[T]/