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Subject: Boss Fights looking for gameplay rss

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Emivaldo Sousa
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So... Dark Souls...

Let´s not beat around the bush here. My verdict (which is worth absolutely nothing, let´s be very clear about t) is that there are great ideas at play in the game, but not enough design work to truly feel like a good game. It felt like a beta version of something with potential.

I will now detail my impressions selecting no-so-random topics and talking a bit about them. To give a bit of perspective, I am a huge fan of the videogame series and an avid boardgamer, playing everything from dumb party games to Mage Knight. I have finished all the Souls games and made tutorials about them on the internet (in Portuguese). I also think that even when something as not as good as it could be, it can be undeniably fun, depending on a number of factors. I had fun with Zombicide and Talisman, games that have serious design flaws but can be fun, due to a number of reasons.

To the points.

PRODUCTION:
The minis are very good and the game looks nice from a graphical standpoint, but when gameplay is concerned, I think the whole design is a bit more crypt than it should be.

You will figure it out what everything means eventually, but it is not ideal.

The manual is not very good, but it is functional. I kind of laugh with the player aid at the back of the manual in which they identified what are the obvious symbols for poison, bleed and so on but did not explained what they actually do in the game. Great player aid, guys.

The idea to cover the box with the YOU DIED message is cool and helps to get everyone in the right mood.

EXPLORATION:
There is none in the game, which is odd because this is one of the hallmarks of the videogame series. The vistas, the dark corridors, the maze-like libraries, invisible floors, the shortcuts. There is nothing the even remotely emulates this in the game and I find this an odd decision when making a Dark Souls game.

COMBAT WITH MINIONS:
It is economic and never epic. Roll one die, do one damage. With the few hit points some monsters have, it is often an all or nothing affair: You either kill everything in one hit or misses completely. It gets better with the stronger monsters, but if you get a few upgrades, it kinds of go back to the one hit, one kill stuff -or missing and dying yourself.

Abilities and special items are often one use too. I understand that the idea is to create some tension, but sometimes it just becomes boring and uneventful. There are some eventual dice rolls to get excited about, but since the range of the dice is small, there are few spaces for surprises here too - which should be a great thing in a Dark Souls game, but… I will talk about the dice in a second.

Bottom line: it works, but it has many issues in my opinion:

1. It is repetitive. The one hit one kill stuff is used in other games, but usually when dealing with large mobs, when you have to sometimes run, sometimes jump into the fray, and sometimes use an ability. Not only you are doing basic maneuvers with little variation on dice and powers, you are also doing it on very uninspired arenas, that are tactically very similar - AND fighting the same mobs again and again.

There is no denying that the videogame can be sometimes repetitive, but it is not the best aspect to emulate in my opinion. Grinding in Dark Souls (videogame) is more an option than a necessity (to make the game easier on you or to get a specific drop) and in the board game, although the repetition is nailed down, I miss the options to get rid of it (discover a new area, grind with different enemies, fight in different arenas, experiment with abilities and equipment and so on).

2. The dice: As I said, they have a small range, to offer more control, but the combat system is too deadly to actually work well. It is not a matter of difficulty, it is a matter of having some flow to it. You need to have some intermediate states for the extreme stuff be exciting.

For example, you roll a dice that you know will deal 0 to 2 wounds. Very little range and very predictable, right? However, the effect when fighting a hollow is this: 0 and 1 will do nothing, leaving you very vulnerable to be killed yourself and 2 will completely kill the monster.

Extreme results that makes everything very risky or even sometimes, completely risk free.

On the other hand, the dodge die, which should represent a skillful move, is terribly dependent on luck, feeling athematic and, in this case, with little control.

A card base system like the one in Gloomhaven is much more adequate to represent combat in Dark Souls. Gloomhaven is actually the ideal system to make a total conversion to Dark Souls, as exploration in that game is more varied and the loot system is more predictable (more on that later).
I hear you saying that combat in Dark Souls (videogame) is deadly and I agree, but the combat in Dark Souls is good not because it is deadly - it is good because it gives you options to deal with the deadly enemies, sometimes in a very undeadly way.

What we have here is a very simple dice mechanism, that adds few options and little variety to the game. I would rather roll a bunch of dice and have a few options on how to allocate them.

The good parts is that the AI for the monsters works well and sometimes the system is enough to provide thrills and some tactical options that are cool (mostly exploring the monsters AI, like in the videogame).

Clever use of the stamina system is also a possibility, but not frequently, as that system is also very tight and incredibly risky once you get wounded. But, in the end, even with my many criticisms, I think the whole combat system would actually be ok if we had a robust leveling mechanism or loot system to go with it. But unfortunately…

CHARACTER EVOLUTION
It is there only for equipment sake (which admittedly is a huge part of the videogame), but the souls gaining mechanism is ridiculously streamlined. Souls should be gained by type of monster killed and not per room cleaned, and clearing the same rooms over and over to get the souls is one of the most inept design decisions in a mainstream game I have seen a awhile. It is lazy, uninspired, boring and thematically only in the sense that it happens occasionally in the game if you are stuck.

The loot system is also very dumb. It is Go Fish. You have a huge pile of stuff and you pay to see if eventually something cool appears. Items are not even tiered, which is not thematic, but useful to keep things going at a steady pace in a dumbed down system like that.

If one of those systems were simplified, I would understand, but when all of them are just there, it heavily brings down the whole package.

Once again, Gloomhaven shows how it could be done thematically. With few items and few upgrades, you add a lot of options on how to deal with monsters, movement, defense, loot. Gloomhaven loot also looks like a lot Dark Souls: certain items are unlocked just by certain vendors or missions. Basically, the stuff you unlock are tied with your exploration of the world, just like a souls videogame.

To be clear, I am not saying Gloomhaven is the best game ever made, I am just showing that design-wise, things can be done thematically if you put effort into it. You may point flaws in Gloomhaven design (I do have some criticisms) but laziness is not one of them. A lot of thought was spent on every little system of that game and unfortunately, Dark Souls (boardgame) does not emulates the same dedication.

The weapon system is actually interesting, with the use of stamina determining how powerful or which effects are applied to your swings. Better weapons later on improve combat a lot, but some enemies do not keep up, becoming fodder and (in this case although thematic) not contributing to mitigate repetition. Honestly, it seems to me that this boardgame was looking for theme in all the wrong places.

THE BOSS BATTLES

They are the redeeming feature of the game. It is common to have some players sleeping by the time they come, but when they come, there is fun to be had.

The bosses do not die in one hit or two and you can maneuver around them, talk tactics and, if you die in one hit it is probably because you weren't prepared enough (like in the videogame). Their AI is more interesting and the idea of memorizing their move is cool on paper.

In practice, however, we either killed the boss before it was even necessary (Gargoyle), or something very bad happened and we will not even get there.

But when they work, they work and - finally - some epic stuff can happen.

That said, fighting the same boss again is not that exciting, and once you beat the boss once, doing it again requires some good will. A good idea would be to use the mini-bosses as common enemies (like the videogame), otherwise you will use the gargoyle mini once or twice before retiring it forever (that mini boss is very easy).

Nevertheless, they are well designed and fun. And, if the path to them were more varied and inspired, things would improve immensely.
You can be overpowered when reaching the bosses if you are lucky enough with your equipment and/or had the patience to go through the board as many times as it were possible (don’t do that - if you think you are doing ok, just assume you will win all the combats and spend the souls accordingly), but that does not bother me. It is actually cool to sometimes easily dispatch a boss that were trouble the last time.

FINAL THOUGHTS

With simple combat, simple leveling system, simple loot system and no exploration, I found the game not thematic at all. Repetition and difficulty are really not enough for me to say the theme is there. The theme hangs on the art and on the boss fights only and, stripping the theme, I do not think the game holds much water. The design simply feels incomplete and unfocused.

If you look at the Bloodborne game, for example, it also has simplistic elements and it is not very thematic. However, it is short and designed to be a take that, quick-paced game. It is not brilliant but it works, it has a clear design focus. In Dark Souls the boardgame, you have very simple elements (go fish, simple dice rolling, simplistic arenas) that amounts to a long time and money investment that can be unfulfilling to a number of gamers, me included.

Instead of spending 4 hours doing more or less the same thing, I would rather prefer spending four hours leveling, exploring, testing different equipment, meeting weird NPCs or building my character in original ways.

Every good epic game (Gloomhaven, Twilight Imperium, Mage Knight, Descent, World of Warcraft the Boardgame) and even the ones with less prestige on the design department (Zombicide, Talisman) gives you an arc, an evolution clearly represented in your character or in the game board.

After a long play session, I want to be able to tell the story of my game. In Dark Souls - the boardgame, the history will always be: we grinded and fought a boss. The mechanisms are there, especially on the boss fights, but the game part that integrates all this is severely lacking.

If you love the theme there is nothing else around to give your fix, it looks pretty, the right crowd always makes gaming fun and the boss battles can be fulfilling if you are in the mood. House rules are popping up left to right, expansions may add some needed variety in combat and, to be honest, nothing is broken*. Current plan is to make some boss runs and sell it, but I can totally understand if it clicked for you. Talisman clicked for me.


* Well, story mode IS broken, as you can farm an infinite number of souls, but you can pretend it is not and limit yourself.
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George Aristides
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Thats a very fair review.

I agree with a lot you said. The game kinda clicked for me despite its limitations.

But i hope it gets better once the expansions come!
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Emivaldo Sousa
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nobody82b wrote:
Thats a very fair review.

I agree with a lot you said. The game kinda clicked for me despite its limitations.

But i hope it gets better once the expansions come!


If you are having fun with the core framework, I am sure the expansions will improve the experience.
 
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Robert Marney
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I like this breakdown - you do a good job of trying to articulate how a very thematic game can be thematic in the wrong way. Steamforged made a game that feels like you're playing Dark Souls for the first time: you wander around and die to bad dice rolls, you grind for equipment and rank up, then you have an epic and tense boss fight, then you steamroll through the level to the next boss fight. It bears little relation to the experience of playing Dark Souls as a veteran: cautiously exploring a ruined landscape, slowly picking off enemies, using different gear as an engine for replayability, using player skill to make up for your bad gear.

The game was demoed primarily using boss fights, and it really shows. The boss fights have that Dark Souls feeling where skill, preparation, memory, and luck combine, and the big detailed miniatures can really come into play, and you have multiple viable methods of offense and defense. Unfortunately, you spend most of your time in a tiny featureless room, fighting enemies you can't use skill or memory against so it all comes down to luck and gear. After a couple hours of this, who would believe there's a super cool boss battle in there?
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Emivaldo Sousa
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Robyrt wrote:
I like this breakdown - you do a good job of trying to articulate how a very thematic game can be thematic in the wrong way. Steamforged made a game that feels like you're playing Dark Souls for the first time: you wander around and die to bad dice rolls, you grind for equipment and rank up, then you have an epic and tense boss fight, then you steamroll through the level to the next boss fight. It bears little relation to the experience of playing Dark Souls as a veteran: cautiously exploring a ruined landscape, slowly picking off enemies, using different gear as an engine for replayability, using player skill to make up for your bad gear.

The game was demoed primarily using boss fights, and it really shows. The boss fights have that Dark Souls feeling where skill, preparation, memory, and luck combine, and the big detailed miniatures can really come into play, and you have multiple viable methods of offense and defense. Unfortunately, you spend most of your time in a tiny featureless room, fighting enemies you can't use skill or memory against so it all comes down to luck and gear. After a couple hours of this, who would believe there's a super cool boss battle in there?


The designers did not get the spirit of the game at all. Difficulty and repetition are tools to achieve some design goals and not the design in itself.

Difficulty is in the marketing speech, but Miyazaki said several times that the game is about reward: you are constantly pushed to beat a difficult part, find a secret, solve a mystery, unlock upgrades and so on - because you will achieve something or gain something cool. The boardgame has zero focus on rewarding players on interesting and novel ways - they don't even hand out more souls if you beat more difficult enemies, which is basic.

In the same way, repetition serves two purposes: training the player, because the game is skill based. And to make the player look at the same area with different eyes, so the player can uncover a secret, a hidden path or novel and efficient ways to dispatch the enemies. Since the arenas in the boardgame are sterile there is nothing new to discover and there is no need to train rolling dice.

They were looking at WHAT happens in the game, without understanding WHY it happens.
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Adam Daily

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From a game design perspective (certainly this is different than the business perspective), I think the developers did a disservice by trying to appeal to the broadest audience possible. On numerous occasions I have read/heard SFG devs explicitly encouraging house rules and tweaking the game to any degree the player wishes to accommodate the gaming group (some insight from a dev around the 47:00 mark of https://werenotwizards.podbean.com/e/dcdarksouls/), which is cool but there are vast swaths of people that don't like houseruling and prefer a complete and focused experience out of the box. I think in trying to appeal to everyone, they haven't truly hit the mark for anyone. I guess I'm just trying to imagine who the person is that really enjoys the core rules and the game length/cadence right out of the box with no modifications.

That said, I think the game does provide an exceptionally good toolbox for people to make their own Dark Souls game. In my opinion, that's the game's strongest suit, and I do feel like it's especially adaptable even compared to other really good games. While I don't like the core rules as written at all, this aspect was enough to get me to invest significantly more in add-ons because I liked the experience I made for myself enough (and damn, those minis look cool).
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Stephen Parkes
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Good job at articulating a lot of my own thoughts in this review. I finally got to my second play of this last week and just found myself bored. So disappointed with how this turned out. I'm started work on a mod to improve the experience but I suspect I'm going to run out of enthusiasm for finishing it off because there is just so much that requires addressing here. It's definitely not a game I'm enamored at the prospect of committing 5 hours plus to.

Adam - I think you're being very charitable when you suggest that the game is how it is due to the designers wanting to appeal to the broadest audience possible. I much more strongly suspect that there were boss battles and not much else at the start, and that time for designing and playtesting the rest of the experience was heavily impacted by deadlines from on high.

And the prospect of having a great toolbox from which to create your own Dark Souls experience is not one I can get behind at this pricepoint. The game is clearly underdesigned in almost every area. It's very difficult to escape the fact that you're finishing the designers' job for them. And I doubt many of us would be so charitable if we ordered a fillet steak in a nice restaurant only to be pointed in the direction of the kitchen.
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Adam Daily

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StarryVeck wrote:
Good job at articulating a lot of my own thoughts in this review. I finally got to my second play of this last week and just found myself bored. So disappointed with how this turned out. I'm started work on a mod to improve the experience but I suspect I'm going to run out of enthusiasm for finishing it off because there is just so much that requires addressing here. It's definitely not a game I'm enamored at the prospect of committing 5 hours plus to.

Adam - I think you're being very charitable when you suggest that the game is how it is due to the designers wanting to appeal to the broadest audience possible. I much more strongly suspect that there were boss battles and not much else at the start, and that time for designing and playtesting the rest of the experience was heavily impacted by deadlines from on high.

And the prospect of having a great toolbox from which to create your own Dark Souls experience is not one I can get behind at this pricepoint. The game is clearly underdesigned in almost every area. It's very difficult to escape the fact that you're finishing the designers' job for them. And I doubt many of us would be so charitable if we ordered a fillet steak in a nice restaurant only to be pointed in the direction of the kitchen.


Well, I'm not really suggesting it so much as it's a direct quote from the developer in the podcast linked above. Whether he's being disingenuous is another matter, but either way the point's the same: that strategy makes for good business and a not-so-good board game. I don't think those qualities are mutually exclusive though. Appealing to a broad audience means you can't take many design risks, so you're likely to end up with a game that's dry/minimal/underdeveloped. I don't know whether the lack of development or the broad target market was the culprit for why a lot of people are underwhelmed, but both those aspects exist.

I don't disagree about your second point. I'm not saying I wouldn't prefer a great game out of the box, that the developers didn't miss opportunities, that I in any way agree with many of the decisions made with regards to the ruleset, or that I'm happy that the core ruleset is pretty lame. I am saying though that I was easily able to make a version of the game that I enjoy a lot and I don't feel like the game's design or components fought my efforts to do that. If the game shipped with the houserules I play with, I'd be happy as a clam.
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Stephen Parkes
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Chud_Munson wrote:
Well, I'm not really suggesting it so much as it's a direct quote from the developer in the podcast linked above. Whether he's being disingenuous is another matter, but either way the point's the same: that strategy makes for good business and a not-so-good board game. I don't think those qualities are mutually exclusive though. Appealing to a broad audience means you can't take many design risks, so you're likely to end up with a game that's dry/minimal/underdeveloped. I don't know whether the lack of development or the broad target market was the culprit for why a lot of people are underwhelmed, but both those aspects exist.

I really do think the claim from SFG about designing the game to have a broad appeal is either disingenuous or plain stupid. The playtime on the box is an outright lie, which they seemed to accept by offering the alternate half sparks/double souls rules tweak. I really struggle to see how a game which takes a minimum of 5 hours could be claimed to have been designed for a broad audience. I have relatively hardcore gamer friends who would be put off by this playtime. On top of that, fans of Dark Souls are likely to be be fans of the deep and complex systems that exist within the video game, and for a buyer to drop £80 (upwards) on the thing, does not suggest a whimiscal 'let's see if this is any good' kind of approach to buying. My point is there was no good reason to try to cater to a broad target audience.

I'm pretty convinced that SFG either didn't really know what they were doing or were scuppered by undesirable time constraints, and that the 'broad target market' explanation is merely a (very flimsy) excuse for the state of the final product.

Broad target audience? More like BORED target audience. Amirite? (should have made that joke earlier )
 
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Josiah
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Chud_Munson wrote:
If the game shipped with the houserules I play with, I'd be happy as a clam.


Which specific ruleset is that?
 
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