16 February 2021
Welcome home, good hunter
For the fans of Souls video game series, the experience of their beloved game transformation into the physical format of board games has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride. The anticipation of the Dark Souls: The Board Game was sky high and it came crashing down. The following smaller card games based on both Dark Souls and Bloodborne have been fine, good even, but they could never compete with the expectations of a miniatures heavy big box game.
The announcement of the Bloodborne: The Board Game dared fans to dream once again, and all signs were hopeful, including it being delivered by a different publisher to Dark Souls: The Board Game. And, having tested the murky Yharnam waters with the card game, Eric Lang returned to design the board game joined by his co-designer on the A Song of Ice and Fire: Tabletop Miniatures Game, Michael Shinall.
Now it is safe to take a collective sigh of relief because Bloodborne: The Board Game is everything a Souls series fan would want. Even a complete newcomer to the series might find the calling of the hunt appealing. Besides fast-paced parrying, relentless combat and Lovecraftian themes, Bloodborne is known to be a bit obtuse where its story and lore are concerned. Yet the board game does a really good job of retelling the story, which is both easy to absorb, but at the same time is entirely in-keeping with the spirit of the universe. Arguably, the board game is more newcomer-friendly than the original video game ever was.
Yet, newcomer-friendly by no means equates to being easy. In fact, you will be debating every move in the game, weighing your decisions as you place and explore location tiles and any enemy encounter could easily lead to an early demise. There is no rolling of the dice or counting stats, almost every action in Bloodborne is done through card play. This makes every card in your hand a precious, finite resource, while every move made has a consequence. You may want to open a treasure chest but will you have enough cards afterwards to fend off an attack from the Scourge Beast?
With almost every element of luck removed, the combat is heightened too. Although it is a simple numbers game, the speed of an attack plays an important part, especially if you can kill an enemy faster than they can activate their special move. Light deckbuilding will allow players to augment their decks to become better at dodging, hit harder or potentially cycle through their deck faster.
While Dark Souls: The Board Game could feel like a slog, especially with all of its grindy fights before you face the big boss, Bloodborne: The Board Game is gripping throughout because of the story integration into the gameplay. The base game comes with four separate campaigns, during which players, not unlike in legacy games, will make decisions that will result in consequences down the line. So, if at first you don’t succeed, you can try the campaign again and make very different decisions that that will lead to new outcomes.
The rulebook is the only element of Bloodborne that brings it down. It has all information you need, but written in an ambiguous enough manner that you cannot help but question your interpretation of it every step of the way. Bloodborne’s gameplay is so tight and thought-through that getting even a little thing wrong can make an already challenging game, soul-crushingly hard.
Otherwise, Bloodborne is hard for all the good reasons. It is a rare case, where the board game does not seek to completely replicate its video game counterpart. It understands the spirit and the ethos of the game, delivering the experience that is eerily Bloodborne but is also all its own.
PLAY IT? YES
It is the board game the fans have been waiting for, but Bloodborne: The Board Game can be anyone’s first Souls game as well. It is relentlessly brutal and hauntingly beautiful, but the high of the win in Bloodborne makes every tough fight absolutely worth it.
If you enjoyed Eric Lang’s previous venture in the Bloodborne universe, then this miniature-filled instalment will not disappoint.
Designer: Eric M. Lang & Michael Shinall
Time: 45-75 minutes
What’s in the box?
- 4 Hunter minis
- 4 Hunter bases
- 28 Enemy minis
- 5 Boss minis
- 1 Hunt board
- 20 Map tiles
- 4 Double-sided trick weapon dashboards
- 4 Hunter dashboards
- 11 Firearm cards
- 48 Base stat cards
- 60 Upgrade cards
- 36 Consumable cards
- 25 Reward cards
- 14 Enemy cards
- 6 Enemy action cards
- 50 Boss action cards
- 5 Boss HP cards
- 250 Campaign cards
- 109 Tokens
This feature originally appeared in Issue 52 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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