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Subject: Day of the Dead - Worth checking out! rss

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I was recently contacted by Evan Raisner, the designer of Day of the Dead, about trying out a review copy of the game. I looked over the description and artwork and thought it sounded fun. My wife and I play a lot of 2-player card games so this was right up our ally. I agreed to check out and review the game and am glad I did! I read over the rules before the game arrived and had a few questions that were answered when looking at the actual components. There were a few things I asked Evan to verify we were playing correctly and he answered right away.

In Day of the Dead, players are necromancers who are picking fighters to go up against their opponent’s fighters. Each round, players add a new fighter and the fights are resolved in the opposite order they were placed (newest going first). After six rounds, the player with the most points wins.



Initial thoughts:

The first thing I noticed about Day of the Dead is how nice the components are. The set I received is a prototype, but it could already pass for a final product (minus the retail box). Looking at the card examples posted on BGG and Kickstarter, I didn’t realize how many different types there actually are. For each color (Spirit type) there is one of each of the 36 characters for a total of 108 cards. Each character has a unique ability and a different image. When I started looking through all the different cards I realized that the game was much deeper than I first realized.



My wife and I have recently been playing games like Dragonheart, Lost Cities, and The King Commands, but I’d compare the cards in Day of the Dead more to something more like Summoner Wars where there is a bigger variety of function on the different cards.

Rules:

The rules are well written and enjoyable to read. There are several examples and images to help explain how to play. After watching the Kickstarter video I couldn’t help but hear Evan’s voice narrating in the same style while I read. Given the variety of abilities we found ourselves referring to the section at the end that lists the different cards, but I’m sure this won’t be necessary after a few more plays.



How to play:

Over the course of six rounds, players will be adding a new fighter each round. Each of the 36 fighter types comes in 3 different colors: black, grey, and white. Players start the game with 3 cards from each color. The colors are important because they determine which Spirit power is used.

Black – Double (perform the card action twice)
Grey – Power up (add 2 to the fighter’s power)
White – Unearth (swap out a fighter with a new one)

The Spirit power for that round comes from the fighter that is waiting on deck for the next round. This waiting fighter is placed face down and is beneath the current fighters. Choosing which fighter is important, but the Spirit power on the back of the card can be even more important because of the chain reaction it can cause.

The fights are resolved (1 to 1) newest to oldest. The losing fighter is turned face down and the winner collects points at the end of the round (once all the fights that round are completed) equal to its power. Cards with higher power numbers may have weak or even negative effects whereas cards with low power numbers tend to have dominating abilities. Losing fighters can get swapped out after their fight, but at the end of the round, each slot remains filled with a fighter to go on to the next round. The card that was used as the Spirit ability this round will be the newest fighter the next round. This process continues until all six rounds are completed.



Review:

After a few plays I could tell that quite a bit of thought was put into designing the game. For example, the back of each card is black, grey, or white, but the upper left hand corner on the front of each card shows this color as well. This allows a player to know the Spirit type of the card without flipping it over. This may seem minor, but little details like this can add up. Each of the 36 fighters has a different name, image, ability and color. I didn’t notice the different colors at first, but after comparing them I verified that they are indeed different shades of muted colors.

I can’t put my finger on why, but I really like the artwork. It is simple, but has a dark/comical feel. The style reminds me of elements from Edward Gorey, Tim Burton, and the game Iconica. Even though the game is somewhat abstract, the abilities seem to match the characters on the cards.

The game is easy to learn, but the different cards give it a fair amount of depth. The cards you start with are random which adds to the luck, but you don’t play all of them and typically end up with different cards throughout the game. I’ve not yet mastered the strategy, but can tell that there could be some very devastating combinations. At the same time, you have to be tactical by swapping out the fighters for others at the right time. Our first few games took about 45-60 minutes, but as we are getting more familiar with the cards we have reduced that to about 30 minutes.

After some further games this weekend, we are starting to get the hang of the strategies involved. The game seems fairly balanced and there are several opportunities to get new cards or swap out cards if you aren’t getting the cards you want. I think this was our biggest learning point in the game because it takes a few games to get familiar with the characters. The concepts of “Dig,” “Unearth,” and “The loser may become a Spirit” are all used to change out fighters. We tended to avoid these in the beginning because we weren’t familiar enough with the different cards. Because the cards are balanced overall we weren’t anxious to get rid of what we had in exchange for the unknown. In more recent games though, we took more advantage of “The loser may become a Spirit” and put more thought into using “Unearth” strategically. As we play more, I’m sure we will master this part of the game.

In the games we’ve played, the winning score is sometimes much higher than the losing score. This doesn’t mean that the winner dominates the entire game though. Because of power of some combinations, the current loser can gain a solid lead quite suddenly, which is fun. As I’m getting more familiar with the cards it is interesting to see how there are several cards that should clearly be played in the beginning while there are several that are more useful at the end. Similarly, there are some cards that should be used by the player in the lead and some cards that are most beneficial to the current losing player.

Overall, we’ve been enjoying Day of the Dead quite a bit and I look forward to playing more.

Day of the Dead is currently on Kickstarter and I highly recommend checking it out: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1145460631/day-of-the-de...

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Hank Panethiere
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Excellent review. I agree with everything you said...solid game all around.
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