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Subject: Sword & Sorcery is the D&D Boardgame I Have Been Waiting For rss

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Gene Chiu
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Back in December of 2015, I got a hold of the beta rules for Sword & Sorcery. Ever since reading through the rules, I have been eagerly waiting for this game's release. I've been a fan of Galaxy Defenders who were made by the same people. I'm also a fan of both fantasy games and co-op games. I've also been looking for a good co-op dungeon crawler. After being disappointed with the D&D branded ones, I've been hoping for one based on the Galaxy Defenders game engine. Now it's here.

The theme of Sword & Sorcery is that the players are dead heroes from the past. They have been resurrected to fight the evil that is now threatening the world's present. This particular theme with the heroes is a way to avoid player elimination. When you die, you change into ghost form and can still aid the rest of the party. You can also come back to life by reaching a shrine. You need to spend soul points which are XP used to gain soul ranks (character levels). You also lose a soul rank if you die.

I have the retail version of the game which comes with 5 different characters. Each of the characters have 2 different versions. Four of the characters' two versions are alignment versions (law and chaos). By default, you need to choose which alignment your party is and must choose the matching alignment of the version of each character. The fifth character, ranger/archer, is neutral and you may choose either version in any party. I have also bought 3 of the expansions plus all of the non-kickstarter exclusive accessories. Those accessories include 8 additional heroes you can choose from as well as background talents.

Up to 5 players can play. Your party can have 2 to 5 heroes. You can play solo by controlling more than one hero. With 2 to 5 players, you usually control one character per player. With less than 5 players, you have the option of having some players control more than one character. The game scales quite well through all hero counts from 2 to 5.

Alignment also serves a second purpose. As you go through each quest, there are decision points where you must choose one of multiple actions. You are required to choose either the neutral option or the option matching your alignment.

There is an option called, "soulstorm". This option doesn't restrict choice of character or actions during the quests. I chose to play with soulstorm. I don't see how the game can be more fun if you restrict party options and choices during a quest. The rulebook suggests the game is easier when the alignment of the characters match. I personally don't see if there is any extra synergy with characters of a similar alignment over mixed alignments. If anything, having the ability to mix and match alignments is more likely going to allow you to build a stronger party.

Each hero you choose has special abilities and restrictions on what items it can use. Some abilities you gain by default. Others you get to choose from a set of powers. Most powers are specific to your character with some specific to your alignment. Others are general purpose. The powers are printed on cards. The general purpose powers can be gained by anyone, but if one hero chose that power, no other hero can choose that same general power.

The power cards also serve a second purpose. Some powers have a cool down. The back of the power card has a number of hourglass icons on the 4 edges of the card. These icons help you keep track of the cool down of these powers.

For each game, you set up the map according to the story book for the quest you are to play. You also seed the event deck and enemy deck. Each quest requires 2 to 5 characters and scales quite well amongst the full range of characters. The game does say it is for 1-5 players. If you play solo you would need to play at least 2 characters. With any player count less than 5, anyone can play multiple characters if you want a larger party than the number of players.

The game plays like a dungeon crawl. You move through the map fighting monsters. When you reach certain points of the map, a special event happens. There is a "Book of Secrets" where you have to read the appropriate section to find out what happens.

Movement is measured in areas. You move one area at a time. The X printed on the map indicates an area. The art on the map tiles denote whether you can move to the next area or not. Solid black borders indicate you cannot pass through them. I find that the art denoting solid borders to be not exactly clear at times. I would have preferred some highlighted colour indicating a wall. Some the background art blends in with the black walls and makes the borders not so obvious at times. There were a number of times where I moved through a wall not realising it was a solid wall. With the art and then your miniatures on the map tiles, it is easy to miss these and other details. Some areas present hazards. When miniatures or other tokens are on the tiles, it is easy to miss the icon indicating a hazard as the icon can be covered up.

In each round, each hero gets to do his/her turn. Then after each hero turn, any enemies may activate. There is an encounter deck that you draw from if there are any enemies at the end of a hero's turn. That card indicate which enemies activate. This mechanic makes it hard for you to know what the enemy is going to do after your turn.

During a hero turn, the hero can move, perform an attack, perform some limited number of actions and perform an unlimited number of free actions. Actions include opening doors, chests, focusing an attack to do more damage, etc. Attacks are resolved by rolling dice. The game comes with specialised 10-sided dice of two different colours. Different attacks require you to roll a different number of these dice. The special dice faces indicate whether you hit or activated some special ability. Different weapons and powers have different special abilities. The target of the attack then may get to roll dice to avoid damage. It depends on the target. Heroes wearing gear will likely have dice to roll to avoid damage. Most enemies in the game do not, but some do.

When the enemies activate, you need to look at the enemy card. There is an AI script for each enemy. Enemies act usually based on what heroes are in line of site and at what range. The different AI scripts for different enemies is a great feature of this game. Some enemies try to engage in melee. Others try to avoid melee and attack at range. Some buff other enemies. You really have to use different tactics when facing different groups of enemies.

When you defeat an enemy, they will drop some combination of money, soul points (XP for levelling) and treasure. At the beginning of each round, if you have enough soul points, you can choose to level a character. You must level up one of the characters with the fewest soul ranks. Soul points are pooled for the party and the levelling rules ensure that all characters (barring deaths) are within one soul rank of each other. When you gain a soul rank, you get stronger and may gain additional powers.

After you finish a quest, you get to move onto the next quest if you succeed. Otherwise, you have to repeat the quest. The base game campaign comes with 7 different quests. You play 6 of them depending on your choices during the campaign. The story line is mostly linear, but you get to make decisions that affect either what happens immediately or in a later quest. Each quest in the base game will probably take about 1 hour per character to play once you get familiar with the rules.

As a D&D fan, this is the fully co-op D&D-like game I have been waiting for. It really feels like I'm playing D&D without the need for a DM. The story may be a bit linear, but I really liked it. The base game campaign has a lot of pop culture references which seemed to annoy some people. I personally liked it and laughed as I recognise those references. The character classes really feel like various character classes or builds in D&D. The enemies feel like the equivalent D&D monsters I may encounter. The AI scripts make the different enemies feel unique.

The game does require a fairly lengthy set up time. If I have everything packed away and have to get all of the pieces out and set everything up, it would take me 45 minutes. This time assumes I don't package things like all of the character items and powers for each character in its own baggy. It means I have to dig up every item card I need for each character. I have multiple campaigns going, so if I switch, I have to get out the appropriate cards and stuff for each character. Setting up the map and seeding various decks can take 15 minutes to half an hour. You have to find the tiles and tokens and put the map together.

The nice thing about the map tiles is that they interlock like the interlocking shapes in a jigsaw puzzle. What is great about this feature is that if you are building your map and realise you need to shift it over, you can easily do it and the map stays together. Different maps can snake in different directions and it is nice to be able to slide it over on the table when you realise you don't have enough room on one side.

You do have to seed two of the decks for each quest. The enemy deck you have to seed with the enemies used in that quest. The event deck must be seeded with specific cards in a specific order (with some groups of 2 or 3 cards shuffled within the group). The other decks you usually don't have to seed them.

This game is rather rules intensive. I played Galaxy Defenders before, so Sword & Sorcery rules are very similar. I found them to make sense for the most part, but I find it hard to remember certain details at times. There is only one reference card with the game. I would have liked multiple reference cards with the turn sequence for each player.

There can be a lot of things going on. For instance, when you attack, you have to check the defences if any of the target. Some enemies or characters may have some reactive power that activates under certain conditions. It is up to whomever is managing the enemy to keep track of these things. On top of that, the players have to manage their hero abilities which may also include reactive abilities that can trigger not on their turn. There can be various combat modifiers that affect how much damage you deal or receive. There are also special conditions like slow, blindness or stun that can affect characters. When characters move onto specific locations, you have to stop and read from the book that can tell you to do things like bring new enemies into play. I played this game well over a dozen times and I still find I miss things here and there.

The game comes with miniatures that represent the heroes and enemies. The minis are one solid colour with you can use to easily identify the type of character. Heroes are grey. Enemies from lowest to highest rank are green, blue, red and purple. I do find that it is hard to tell two enemies that are the same colour. They are different and you have to track each one individually. The mini would be different by what the mini is holding in one of the hands. I found I needed to place stickers on the base to tell them apart.

Good points about Sword & Sorcery:

-- This is my favourite fully co-op dungeon crawler I have played by far. It gives me the feeling of playing D&D without the need for a DM. The different character classes make each character play very differently.

-- Characters level up reasonably quickly. My party of 5 got to soul rank 4 (max for base game) just prior to the last quest. Note I did have the benefit of one of the heroes that came with one the hero pack accessories. This character generates extra soul points. Without him, I think I may have reached level 4 with most of my characters when the campaign is over.

-- The enemy AI scripts make fighting different enemies and groups of enemies an interesting challenge.

-- The different quests in the campaign have an interesting twist. It is done through terrain and sometimes through special events that change the situation.


Bad points:

-- Set up and take down can take a long time. You can speed things up if you are only playing a single campaign by keeping characters items and powers in their own bags.

-- There can be a lot of things for players to keep track of. Enemies are assigned to different players to manage. It can be easy to miss certain details of the enemy you are managing. You may also miss things on the map due to icons being obscured by minis, tokens or cards you have to place on the map.

-- There are only 7 quests in the base game campaign. So far, I haven't found this to be an issue. I've replayed the early quests with different characters and still enjoy each time I play them. I have the benefit of 8 additional hero packs, so replaying with different parties is still fun for me. Some people may feel the content to be lacking. There are expansions that add more content.

-- The rulebook is over 50 pages with a fair amount of diagrams. This is a fairly complex game. I found myself making mistakes here and there, sometimes with the rules and sometimes missing things in the story books.


Conclusion:

If you want a good dungeon crawler, this certainly fits the bill. The complexity of the game and the amount of things you need to keep track of may be a challenge.
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Dan Cavaliere
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Nice review highlighting many parts of the game without getting over detailed.

I recently got into S&S (about a month now) and agree with your Good & Bad Points. Although there is a lot to keep track of I do enjoy trying to 'get it right' and not miss anything.

I will be enjoying this game for quite some time and think I can come back to it and enjoy it again with different characters after putting it away for a while.
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Gene Chiu
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Gamer DC wrote:
I will be enjoying this game for quite some time and think I can come back to it and enjoy it again with different characters after putting it away for a while.

If you want more variety in characters, you can get the Hero Packs. I have all 8 non-Kickstarter ones and played at least one game with each of them (only one alignment of each).
 
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Eddy Rae
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Would you ever choose a dungeon crawler over a d&d session?
Considering you could offer a variety of prebuilt characters and do a one shot.
 
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Frank Franco
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Komerad wrote:
Would you ever choose a dungeon crawler over a d&d session?
Considering you could offer a variety of prebuilt characters and do a one shot.

For me, always.
 
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Gene Chiu
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Komerad wrote:
Would you ever choose a dungeon crawler over a d&d session?
Considering you could offer a variety of prebuilt characters and do a one shot.

Depends on the group of people I can get together. Currently, I don't have a regular D&D group, so S&S is my best option at the moment. I sometimes have one or two friends who would play S&S occasionally. Currently, I'm playing solo with a party of 5. This is giving me my D&D fix at the moment.
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