Dark Souls: the videogame becoming a board game

The video game franchise Dark Souls is coming to the tabletop arena. Here's our preview...

Board games: big fans. There’s nothing quite like gathering your chums around a table and battling it out find a winner, within a wacky world of rules and points and dice and all that.

We’ve chronicled some great games for novices before, and the best tabletop thrill-fests you can buy on Amazon. And now a very exciting new game has come to our attention. It’s called Dark Souls, and it’s due out on Friday the 21st of April.

It promises to be “a strategically challenging, deeply immersive combat exploration game for 1-4 players.” And here’s everything else you need to know…

The video game

You probably recognise the name Dark Souls. That’s because an immensely popular video game franchise bears this title, and has done since Dark Souls burst onto PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Microsoft Windows back in 2011, via Namco Bandai Games, FromSoftware and visionary director Hidetaka Miyazaki. (The brand dates back further than that, too: Demon’s Souls kicked off the series, exclusively on PS3, back in 2009).

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The series has grown into a behemoth, with the recent PlayStation 4/Xbox One/Windows edition Dark Souls III fast becoming a massive seller. And a brutally difficult game.

If you’re unfamiliar, let us bring you up to speed: this is a fantasy franchise stuffed with massive monsters and mystical magic. The games are in the RPG format, and set in a medieval-esque world. Exploring, fighting, and mastering difficult techniques are the main selling points, along with some stunning graphics.

If you’ve never played the video games, you really should, but don’t let that put you off the board game. Which itself has its foundations in fandom…

The Kickstarter

Last year, fans of the Dark Souls video game franchise raised over £3 million to crowdfund a board game version of this beloved saga. Over 30,000 people chipped in to make this tabletop treat a reality. 

Steamforged Games (the team behind Guild Ball, Kick Off and a host of other board-based titles) masterminded the Kickstarter, after developing the product with the full support of Bandai Namco Entertainment. And, clearly, the fans were impressed with what Steamforged was offering.

It’s easy to see why. The Kickstarter page for the project was outrageously detailed, and talked an impassioned talk about what this game could be. Steamforged promised that this would be “much more than a classic dungeon crawler.” Dark Souls would be “a game that requires strategic thinking, clever planning, and exemplary execution to succeed.” And since that sounds awesome, the cash soon began rolling in.

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Those who wanted to donate larger amounts were rewarded with rare figures to add to their collection (both playable and non-playable ones), as well as limited edition weaponry, cards and scenery pieces.

The Kickstarter campaign was impressive. And by the looks of it, the finished product will match up to that nicely, by delivering a quality gaming experience…

Playing the game

Taking inspiration from the video games Dark Souls, Dark Souls II and Dark Souls III, the Dark Souls board game allows 1-4 players to traverse a mysterious environment, seek out gold and battle bosses both big and small. The game is a visual feast, with a massive range of miniatures, dice, tiles and cards being deployed to make the challenge at hand a tangible one.

“To triumph, players must explore dangerous locations, discover and defeat enemies, and collect equipment and treasures before ultimately facing the boss in an epic fight to the death”, the Kickstarter page explains. And to make matters more challenging, you only have limited slots with which to carry items. And the more damage you take, the less power you can give your attacks, since health and stamina share one bar here.

Steamforged have put together a cunning system to bring the world to life, too. No two plays of the game are the same, because the tiles of the board are shuffled out pre-game, and only revealed when you reach them in play. And then, once an environment tile is revealed, an encounter card will be drawn to tell you what’s there.

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It’s a game, then, that it’s impossible to predict. You have to prepare as best you can for all eventualities, and make the best of whatever beasties are thrown at you.

The boss fights look great, as well. The big baddies’ behaviour will change each time you face them (due to a shuffled stack of AI cards which define their attacks), and they even alter their tactics mid-battle (when a big baddie is down to half of their health, a Heat Up card is drawn to make them stronger and change the order of their attacks going forward).

Essentially, this is a game that you can play alone or as a team, which will offer unique challenges each time you play it, both in terms of the environment you’re in and the bosses you’re facing. It’s also a game that “rewards clever players and punishes button mashing,” according to the website.

And there are even multiple difficulty modes, so you can make the game even harder once you’ve got the hang it. A true Dark Souls experience is never an easy one, after all.

What you get

The core game set includes 27 highly detailed plastic miniatures, 9 double-sided tiles, 4 character boards, 64 health and stamina thingies, 15 dice, 121 tokens, 252 cards, 8 tracker dials and 1 rulebook. Crivens, that’s a lot of stuff. It’s no wonder this game has such replay value and in-built variations, is it?

If you’re wondering how these pieces and boards will work together in play, here’s an example of a boss fight (made using the prototype version of the game), which accompanied the Kickstarter campaign…

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The core set isn’t everything that’s going to be available, either. Some extra bits and bobs were sold to Kickstarter pledgers with more dosh to spare, and full-on expansion packs will be made available to the general public later on.

Polygon reports that one of these packs will take its inspiration from The Last Giant from Dark Souls II.

If you need a bit more convincing that all of this stuff can actually fit into one game, here’s another demo video…

Obviously, learning this game will take a while. Like the video games it’s inspired by, it’ll be very tricky to master this and a lot of death is sure to be involved. But that’ll only make your eventual victory more rewarding… right?

Where to buy it

Fear not: this isn’t one of those occasions when missing out on the Kickstarter means you’ve missed out on the product altogether. The Dark Souls board game is already available to order online via Element Games, at a price of £90 (which includes UK delivery).

Or, if you fancy going to a real shop, you can search on the Steamforged website to find the closest stockist to you. And if you just can’t wait to learn more about the game, you can download the rulebook by following this web link.

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If you get a chance to play this game, do let us know how you got on with it. Our comments, as ever, are open…