|Behold the majesty!|
|So many pieces! SO MANY! This was our fight with the mini-boss.|
The basic game is a dungeon crawl, where you seek out a Mini-Boss and then a Boss. Once the Boss is defeated you win the game. Players start at a bonfire that has a number of "sparks" based on the number of players. They move through rooms, and have encounters. Each encounter is dictated by a card drawn from a stack of them, and there are different stacks of encounter cards for different difficulty levels. Once in an encounter, players have to defeat all monsters. If they succeed, they get 2 Souls (a currency used for everything from treasure draws to character upgrades) per player and any bonus goodies they might find. If any player dies, or they decide to retreat, they lose and head back to the bonfire. All their "per spark" abilities reset (Estus Flasks, usable once per spark, Luck Tokens that allow a die reroll, etc), but so do all encounters for the current board. If the players run out of sparks, and then one of them dies, the game is over with a loss for the players. After defeating the Mini-Boss, the number of sparks resets.
Each character has basic "per spark" abilities listed above and a Heroic Ability that also resets per Spark. These vary from Amazing to Decent in power level. Characters also have gear they equip, and upgrade with various treasure cards. Combat seems complicated at first glance, but once you get the hang of it it's pretty straightforward. Enemies move and attack in predetermined ways based on who's turn it is or who is closest to them. There is a single Stress/Health track on each player card that has ten boxes. When you sprint (move more than one square) or use certain attacks, you gain stress (black cubes) in your track. When you are hit by a monster and do not Dodge or Absorb the hit, you take Damage, which gives you red cubes in your track. Stress is healed by 2 cubes each time it is your turn, Health only heals from spells or miracles, or the Estus Flask, which clears your track entirely when used. If you ever fill your 10 square track, You Die.
The game play loop is as follows: Defeat encounters to gain Souls to spend on Treasure and Upgrades to defeat Harder Encounters and ultimately the Mini-Boss and Boss. Players can even choose to voluntarily rest at the bonfire (and thus use up a Spark) to reset encounters to farm up Souls. You will definitely need better gear to take on the Mini-Boss than what you start with, and some characters upgrade better than others. The Assassin for example kind of has a crap weapon, but is the best at Dodging and gaining spells. The Knight on the other hand has good armor and weapons to start, but his upgrades aren't as flashy, the Knight generally gets hit repeatedly, and is riskier to play. There is considerable depth here and a lot to think about. This game is also ball-breakingly hard at times, especially if you get unlucky with your draws.
Our first run through was cut short due to exhaustion, but we though the encounters, while challenging, were very doable. For the second game, we made all sorts of plans on optimal farming routes and so forth...and then on our second encounter we drew a lone Sentinel. We eventually referred to him as "Buttman" because not only did he beat our butts twice, but he was being such a butthole about it. Once we got some better upgrades we were much more able to take on a Sentinel, but boy we sure were worried about seeing one on an encounter card. Bosses are monstrous too. We opted for the Boss of Orenstein and Smough, because apparently we hate ourselves and they are BEASTS to defeat, basically wiping the floor with us (though we put the hurt on Smough) and while we did have a couple of Sparks after that, we elected to call it there due to the lateness of the hour.
On the FACE Rating System, this game gets 3 Smiley Faces. It is an awesome dungeon crawl experience that (I'm told) manages to capture the feel of playing Dark Souls almost perfectly, with lots of tactical options and interesting decision points. I really enjoyed my playthroughs and would love to play it again, however this is not a casual game. A full playthrough would probably take up an entire day, so only pull it out when you can dedicate the time to it. It also only supports 4 players, so if your group is larger, someone gets left out. Definitely strap on your Claymore and give this game a try if your taste in games runs to long and complex. Praise the Sun!