Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Kotas Reviews Dark Souls the Board Game

Alright folks, I know how it is. You're out praising the sun, maybe having just left a bonfire, and suddenly some Smough shows up and wallops you with a giant hammer. It can really get you down is what I'm saying. So, what better way to blow off a little steam than with a board game? Oh wait, You Died. Ladies and Gentleman, today we review the Dark Souls Board Game.

Behold the majesty!
I'll level with you folks: I've never really played Dark Souls. I messed around with it for maybe 30 minutes one time and watched a few game play videos, but Dark Souls really was never my thing. I'm mostly a PC gamer too, so action games haven't been in my wheelhouse in years. I only just recently got a USB controller even! However, some of my friends are super into not only the games, but all the lore surrounding the games. I gotta admit that the visual storytelling is pretty awesome in the Dark Souls universe. I ain't a hater, but it's just not my thing. So when it was suggested "Hey, let's try the Dark Souls board game" I was a little scared I wouldn't be able to "get it" since I really knew only what I had absorbed from my friends talking about it. Lucky for me, I was totally wrong!

So many pieces! SO MANY! This was our fight with the mini-boss.
First things first, this box? It is huge. Like, at least twice as thick as a standard board game box. Second? The very first thing to greet you when you open the box is a big ol' sign that says "You Died" This lets you know what you are in for. Third, there are a metric fuckton of pieces here. Cards, counters, dice (custom dice no less!), more cards, character layouts, wooden cubes, even more cards and two heckin' big boxes of miniatures. All the components are pretty high quality, but the miniatures look amazing. The first time we set  this up, it took a while due to have to punch out and organize a bunch of stuff, but the second time was a lot faster setup.

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!

Monday, January 8, 2018

Kotas Reviews Mixtape Massacre

Ah, love that new year smell! It smells of cheap sparkling wine and flannel for some reason. So! With 2017 behind us, I will repeat my oft broken goal of "try not to review so much damn food this year" and then proceed to not review food. Today we tackle something a bit different. Ladies and Gentleman, let's get back to the 80s with Mixtape Massacre.

A face only a legally distinct from Jason Vorhee's Mother could love.
Mixtape Massacre is a board game by BrightLight Games, that began life as a Kickstarter project back in 2015. An expansion for the game, Black Masque, was also Kickstarted this past summer. It has decent reviews and a really striking presentation. I mean, look at that box art! The conceit for this game is that you play as one of several 80s horror movie inspired killers, stalking the citizens of Tall Oaks and brawling with your fellow murderers in a gleeful tongue in cheek spree of a game with the goal to collect 10 kill trophies and thus become the Master of Massacre. 

Nostalgia for 80s horror (and the 80s in general really) drips from every component, from the "knife" health counters to the fact that the back of the various cards are styled like VHS and music tapes, this thing gets 5 stars out of 5 for presentation. I was super hyped to play this game and gleefully cackled as we set up the board. My particular avatar for this bloody fun? The Legend, a weird mashup of Michael Myers and Jason Vorhees. Truly this was to be something special.

The glory of Tall Oaks, I guess.
Then we actually started to, ya know, play the game. OH HOW MISLEAD WE WERE. So, the idea is that you start on a square with a knife on it, and move to a location to have an encounter with a victim, then roll to murder them. So the first few turns progressed like this. Roll to move, maybe hit a Bonus Square. If you do, draw a card. Take two unavoidable damage for...reasons. Next turn, roll to move, almost make it to murder someone. Next turn, finally get to a location, draw for victim...bam, hit by a car, take two unavoidable damage. It was literally 4 turns before ANYONE got to roll to murder someone and then...they failed and got sent back to start. Wash, rinse, repeat. After a few more rounds a couple people had one or two kills, but most of us were down to half health due to various unavoidable damage from card draws or bad rolls, and most of us were on or near our starting squares. 

Finally someone got on a lucky roll and started a Killing Spree. So, when you finally murder someone, you can go on a Kill Spree. Your movement roll is doubled, and as long as you keep killing, you keep taking turns. Up to this point most sprees had lasted all of a single roll, because the distance to one location was fairly far away. This time our intrepid hero killed someone in the middle of the board, which has several locations within 3 squares of each other AND this person managed to avoid all the shitty draws, probably because we drew them all already. So they end up winning the game. What was nice though was that while they were on the streak, it actually felt like a killing spree rather than slowly podding around, getting hit by cars or shot in the face by police before your inevitable return to the starting square. This was the only time the game actually felt something that resembled "fun". 

My group decided that maybe we just had a run of bad luck, so we reset, reshuffled, and played again. Things went slightly better, but it was still just plodding around, trying to get lucky enough to go on a kill streak and just win it. There is not a lot of complexity to the rules, nor much interesting to do. Each character has a special ability, but they felt super not impactful or interesting at all. Mostly, we just tried not to get hit by a car and be hopeful a bunch of nerds would show up in our draws so we could end the game faster. I ended up on a spree and winning that one, but instead of the satisfaction of slaughtering a bunch of sexed up teens, I had the relief that it was finally over and the disappointment that I even wasted time playing the game a second time. 

On the FACE Rating System, Mixtape Massacre gets 2 Frowny Faces. The theme is super entertaining, but is not reflected in the actual game play. The game mechanics themselves are simplistic at best, and downright boring at worst. What is really disappointing is that with a bit of playtesting and polish, there could be a decent game here. I went into this expecting the amazing fun of Friday the 13th, and would have even settled for the hilarious badness of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, but what I got was the plodding boredom of The Ring 2. I really wanted to like this, but I just can't. What really boggles me is how well reviewed this is! I guess it could be fun if I were like, super drunk. Please don't buy this, but if you can play without paying and have a lot of booze, you might consider opening the box looking at all the awesome and hilarious artwork, and then going to play something actually fun.