Robin FitzClemen
United States
Oregon
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A Solo-player’s amateur review of Dark Souls - The apocalypse visits Oregon, Groundhog Day 2: Phil in Hell, Manufacturing the Toyota Way

It’s an interesting time in here in Oregon. With what feels like half the state burning to the ground, many folks have found themselves stranded inside their homes watching ash rain down on their cars and lawns while health authorities warn us not to go outside due to hazardous air conditions. It is certainly the position I found myself in over the weekend, and I got to thinking, “Self, it looks and feels like the apocalypse outside. Ash from nearby fires is literally raining down on your life, and all your dreams of spending the last days of summer outside have been thoroughly gutted and dragged through the flames. It’s the perfect time to break out Dark Souls: The Board Game!” And I had to give to myself, the conditions outside were about as Dark Souls-y as you can get. So I set out to finally familiarize myself with this beast of a game I picked up as a non-backer who loves horrific miniatures, is a fan of a good dungeon crawl, and is going through a pretty serious self-guided board game immersion program this year.

I’ve read and watched quite a few reviews from other folks at this point, and I think that the mechanics and components have been thoroughly covered. So what I am going to do is focus this review on the experience I expected to have vs. the experienced I did have.

What I expected going in: A brutal dungeon crawling experience of tactical combat, frustratingly difficult battles, grinding over and over and over and over and over so I can get to the boss only to lose my last spark, clean up the game, and ask myself what just happened to the last three hours of my life. But I also expected to enjoy myself throughout the experience, and eventually have that beautiful moment of elation when I finally beat that pesky main boss. And for my first playthrough, that is basically what happened. I died a lot, I messed up a few key things (don’t forget to remove the legendary equipment from the deck… super bummer when you spend your precious souls on all the equipment, that you can never, ever use), and then I lost at the mini-boss. But I felt okay with all that. It was a learning experience. Then I played through again, this time armed with the lessons from my failures.

How it felt after I got comfortable: Okay, so here I am several encounters deep in my second playthrough using the knight and herald when I realize, this game is misbranded. It’s face might say Dark Souls, but it feels like I am playing a board game based on some twisted horror sequel to the movie Groundhog Day, wherein Phil has died, ended up in hell, and been sentenced to manage a pest control company where his team clears out troublesome undead until they can get rid of whatever demon is squirting out these hollow creatures all over the place. But you know what, I was totally okay with that. I shed my expectation that this game would be a dungeon crawl (it really isn’t), and accept it for what it is. To me, it is a fascinating exercise in process improvement. You have a simple task, kill all these bad dudes. You start with simple equipment. I quickly learned which encounters were easier for my characters, optimized my route, and got to work making small changes to my equipment and combat strategy each time through. The result, I got through my second playthrough without dying. A lot of that had to do with luck while fighting the bosses, and some truly spectacular defense rolling.

Impression at this point: I really like this game. But there is something you should know, I spend 40 hours a week doing process improvement for money so that I can afford to buy board games. So this game, for me, was just a very complex version of a manufacturing exercise I run through regularly at workshops on manufacturing the Toyota way (they have some seriously impressive factories). So, If you enjoy doing a task, learning where the challenges (or “pain points”) are, making a small change, doing it again and documenting the result of your change, and then starting that process over, this might be for you. If you know what “Plan, Do, Check, Act” is, and you love that model for process improvement, and also love gruesome miniatures, fantasy horror, and loot, I can almost guarantee this game is for you. But if you’re bored by repetition, looking for exploration, or hoping for a deeply immersive experience that includes lore, and flavor text, and that special feeling of adventure, this ain’t that.

Final thoughts: This game is a wonderful tool if you enjoy carefully tinkering with a process to optimize its performance. It has stunning miniatures, which if you’re into that kind of thing and mostly want to paint them, might justify the expense it itself. The stamina/health bar situation is really cool, and was one of my favorite bits to mess around with. I think the game is actually quite solid, but is branded in a way that leaves you expecting an experience that it is not prepared to deliver. But if you open yourself to the opportunities it does present, it really is quite fun. I would like to see increasing rewards for increasing difficulty of encounters, and might considering turning up 2 or 3 treasure cards when you spend a soul, choosing 1, and trashing the rest. Overall I am happy to have the game in my collection, and look forward to someday feeling confident enough in my painting skills to tackle that Titanite Demon.
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Adam Daily

Seattle
Washington
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Hah! Super entertaining review, thanks for this. Agreed it's not a dungeon crawl. It's more or less a small skirmish game with unit upgrades, IMO.

Also, keep your ash to yourself, Oregon. The rare Seattle sun we get up here is drowning in muck In all seriousness, best wishes to you guys down there and hope it clears up soon.
 
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Barry Duran
United States
Florida
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I found this review to be very helpful, thank you for sharing. I bought it for the miniatures ( have no one to play with ), but was considering solo to see how it went. My plan was to offer selling off much of the content as "spare parts" for anyone wanting extra stuff or replacement, but not sure if there's demand for that.
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Jesse Stern
United States
MA
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gelaar wrote:
I found this review to be very helpful, thank you for sharing. I bought it for the miniatures ( have no one to play with ), but was considering solo to see how it went. My plan was to offer selling off much of the content as "spare parts" for anyone wanting extra stuff or replacement, but not sure if there's demand for that.


I mean, I'd totally buy your dice =P (WHY THEY NO SELL EXTRAS D'X)
 
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Misfiring Chong
Malaysia
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Chud_Munson wrote:
Hah! Super entertaining review, thanks for this. Agreed it's not a dungeon crawl. It's more or less a small skirmish game with unit upgrades, IMO.


The term "dungeon crawl" is generic. Dark Souls is purely arena style combat with no exploration or narrative, yes, but that does not mean it isn't a dungeon crawl.
 
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Doug Cooley
United States
Portland
Oregon
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From a fellow Oregonian who does not do well with (that kind of) smoke, it certainly was an eerie Labor Day. And several other days as well, some days Portland looked remarkably like Beijing when the Olympics aren't on there.

I just got this game, largely intending to play solitaire, and having a process improvement kind of mind (engineering will do that to you) I'm indebted to have my expectations set correctly.

I shoulda gone into process improvement, but I don't think there was such a thing when I went to college in the early 80s. But then I'd want to smack all the musicians I've ever worked with.

Thanks for thinking out of the box!

Doug

 
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