Review – Dark Souls: The Board Game – Tomb of Giants
|Mat Hart, Richard Loxam, Sherwin Matthews
|Steamforged Games Ltd.
Dark Souls: The Board Game, beloved by few, houseruled by many, was a game that tried to be too much like its video game source content. Now, 5 years later, after delving through the depths of Reddit houserule pages and scrounging up the Board Game Geek archives, with the added help of Sherwin Matthews, Mat Hart and Richard Loxam are back at it with 2 new core sets: Tomb of Giants and Painted World of Ariamis. Is the improvement enough to lift the beleaguered original to its promising potential? Or is the second effort in need of just as much houseruling and diehard commitment as its forefather?
Note: I like Dark Souls: The Board Game, despite its many problems. You can check out my previous review of it and its expansions here and our more extensive review here. I want to say Tomb of Giants fixed everything that was wrong with the original, but I can’t. However, there are some solid fixes that make this superior to the original. In this review, I’ll mainly be writing about the differences between Tomb of Giants and the original.
It’s Dark Souls, but nothing as dark or gruesome as what’s in the video game. Skeletal enemies lurk about, but blood, explicit violence, and the general darkness of Dark Souls are absent.
The first big change here is the lovely progress board. The progress board makes room for welcome additions like the encounters progression, shortcuts, and, most excitingly, Andre the Blacksmith’s shop, where players can have their pick of up to 4 different items instead of drawing randomly (massive improvement). And yes, I did say shortcuts. As players progress through the 8 encounters leading up to the main boss fight, they’ll notice a number of changes.
Firstly, when exploring a new encounter, players will draw 2 encounter cards and choose which one they’d like to attempt (more player choice = more improvement). Secondly, encounter cards are now oversized and can include many new features like different victory conditions (king-of-the-hill, rolling through barrels, killing a certain enemy, etc.), different things to interact with like levers, 2 boards (making for a larger encounter), and different rewards. The rewards can be shortcuts, which allow players to skip previous encounters; event cards, which often affect the next encounter (a welcome addition); and, of course, souls.
All the enemies are skeletal except the Black Knight mini-boss and the Necromancer. They’re fairly basic, but that’s fine by me because that makes their moveset easier to memorize (despite the shortcuts, you’ll still be facing these guys often). The Black Knight and Gravelord Neto both provide interesting and varied boss fights, and both miniatures are quite imposing (though Nito steals the show with his oversized and particularly neat-o miniature). There’s also additional tokens in case players run out of miniatures. The 3 heroes are Cleric, Pyromancer, and Thief. They’re essentially the same as their forefathers from the original.
Combat has been streamlined, which helps encounters progress quicker. Instead of spending stamina and moving 1 space to dodge, now players will roll all available dodge dice and all available defense dice at the same time (without spending stamina). If the player dodges the enemy’s attack, they take no damage, and can optionally move 1 space for 1 stamina. If not, then the player will use the defense dice to subtract from the opponents’ attack. Another improvement is that other players can move 1 node during someone’s turn. Both of these changes are excellent because they make the game more streamlined without making it too much easier on the players.
While 1 campaign may feel like too little for the price tag, it’s a strong move gameplay-wise because it keeps everything in a cohesive story. The single campaign ensures that the enemies won’t grow too tiresome (as they did when I played through a couple different campaigns with the same enemies from the core game), even though players will likely need to plan on a 3-4 hour game night to complete it.
The components are a mixed bag. The tokens and miniatures maintain the high quality of the original, and the flavor text added to certain cards is welcome. The storage system is nigh-perfect, with snug spots for the miniatures and cards. However, the rulebook is subpar, lacking full explanations of specific game elements, almost as if Tomb of Giants expects players to have played the original Dark Souls: The Board Game. Moreover, reference cards are incredibly helpful in a game like this, and yet there are none. For what is essentially a second edition, this feels like a huge miss.
The character boards, while smaller and more organized, rely on punch-out tokens with numbers on them instead of the cubes with the stat level. This works fine, but make sure to keep the stat tokens where they are because the character board does not tell you where to put them if you get them mixed up. The stamina/health cubes are replaced with cardboard tokens, which help Steamforged keep the cost lower than the original, but they’re not as tactile.
Tomb of Giants is an improvement gameplay-wise, but the low-hanging fruit of a better rulebook and player aid cards remains unplucked. If not tended to properly, the character boards can be a mess. Tomb of Giants is not a bad game, but it’s not a great game either. It fixes a lot of the original’s problems, but its failure to capitalize on the opportunity for a better rulebook and player aid cards causes it to fall short of greatness.
Steamforged Games kindly provided a review copy.
The Bottom Line
This version of the Dark Souls board game is certainly a veritable game, but there's still room for improvement to make it something worth playing for non-Dark Souls fans.