Reviews

Solo Review – Dark Souls the Board Game

Eagerly anticipated following its 2016 Kickstarter, Steamforged Games’ take on the Dark Souls universe has now hit backers’ doorsteps and the retail shelves.  I was a backer of the campaign, drawn in by all of the lovely miniatures (and due to the achievement of stretch goals there are a TON of them to arrive later in the year), and also the dedicated solo mode which is a sure fire way to get me looking straight for the pledge button.

I have now had a chance to play through some complete encounters, and experience the solo mode in all its glory. The first thing to say is that the quality of the components and artwork is superb.  There are some small errors and inconsistencies on a couple of stats and cards that I noticed, but they were pretty obvious and easy to correct.  There is also already an FAQ on the Steamforged site.  The tiles, cards and miniatures really do draw you into the world and make for a truly immersive experience.  Hopefully I’ll get the chance to paint the miniatures at some point, which will really add to the atmosphere.  The minis are good quality one-piece plastic with bags of detail so they should be a joy to paint.

Set-Up

I won’t go into much details about the rules here – they are all free online so you can check them out very easily.  It took me a couple of trial runs to get the rules sorted, and once I’d ironed out the wrinkles of my understanding, the mechanics became pretty second nature.  I picked a mini-boss for my first encounter (the Titanite Demon) and set up the tiles per the instructions.  It is worth mentioning here that even in the core game, without all the upcoming stretch goals, there is bags of replayability.  There are 4 mini bosses to choose from and 2 main bosses.  Each of those has a larger behaviour deck (the AI mechanics) than you need for each game, so each time you go up against them there will be subtle differences.  If you then factor in the random encounters, 4 different player characters to choose from, and a huge treasure/weapon deck, each game will truly be a different experience.  The multiplayer co-op mode would also make for a very difference experience if you got some mates involved too.

I’m not much of a video gamer, but I am aware that people who’ve played the console game say that its REALLY REALLY hard.  In that game you need to be prepared to die.  A lot.  This expectation for the board game is reinforced as soon as you open the box.  The first thing you see is an insert proclaiming “You Died”.  On my first play-test I did immediately die, and died a few more times as I ironed out the rules and understood how the enemies behaved.  But the clever thing here is that each time you die, you learn something, and through learning you survive longer.  It didn’t take long before I had some strategies to work with, and I was able to deal with just about anything that came my way.

Encounter

The solo mode is great.  Rather than some co-op games where to play solo you simply play all the characters yourself, and shoulder the burden of 4 times the housekeeping, here you pick one character to play with.  This lack of companions is balanced by the fact that you can level up before you start, picking some more powerful gear and tougher armour so that you can take on a room full of enemies on your own.  Certain gear requires you to have attained a certain level in particular characteristics, and you pay for both gear and level-ups in souls.  In solo mode you get 16 souls to start with giving you some initial choices to make.  Do you maximise the level-up to give a greater ability to use the gear or do you buy lots of gear so you can have your pick of the best stuff?  Gear is revealed at random, so there are no guarantees your souls will be well spent.  I thought I was initially unlucky with the gear I revealed, very little of it was of much use at first.  But after a few encounters and earning some more hard-fought souls this changed around dramatically and I ended up with a weapon, shield and armour that I was VERY happy with!  Once I had this combination of gear that suited my strategies, I didn’t find the regular encounters to be too much trouble.  I managed to face the Titanite Demon and even managed to beat him on my first go.  This did involve a second large slice of luck in that the AI deck was randomised very much in my favour so I could study his behaviour pattern before he got to me and I was able to chip away at him with a ranged weapon without taking too much damage.  The key to beating the bosses is to survive long enough to see all the behaviour patterns, remember them, and then make sure you’re out of harms way for each attack before hitting back with your own.  It really doesn’t take many hits from a boss to finish you off, and you’ll likely need to hit them 20 times or more to chew through their damage.  Additionally, once the boss is at half health, another behaviour card is added to the AI deck and it is shuffled, so whilst most of the moves will be the same, you’ll have to learn the order (and the new card) all over again.

Once the mini-boss is defeated you set up again for a main boss encounter.  The initial encounters are harder this time as well.  I picked the Dancer of the Boreal Valley and set up the boards accordingly.  I made it through the encounters without too much problem (I was really very happy with my gear!) and faced off against the Dancer.  And then he destroyed me!  He’s tricky because he has many other points at which his deck is shuffled so you never quite know where he’s going to be.

Dancer2

Technically, you are supposed to return to your bonfire, reset the encounters and work your way through to him again.  I must admit I didn’t fancy another long encounter, so I set up to face the boss again straight away just to take him on.  Then I did manage to beat him in a very tense and close encounter.  Any whiffed defense rolls and I would have been toast, but I got lucky there and managed to chip the damage away until he was beaten.  So not technically a proper win but I’ll take it for now!

This short description may make it sound like is was all rather straightforward, but by the time I got to this point I had probably spent a total of 10 hours across 3 sittings from opening the box, learning the game, and playing through to the end.  And don’t forget, I took a shortcut to my second go at the main boss.  I may well have been thwarted in my efforts to get back to him.  Best case would have been another hour and a half but it could well have been a lot longer if the dice weren’t on my side.  So to play through all of the player-characters, and face all the bosses, you’d easily be looking at 50 hours plus of game time.  That should keep anyone busy until the expansions arrive!

Overall a fantastically well designed game, with high quality components and a properly thought-through solo mode.  I am very much looking forward to playing it again once I’ve painted some minis!

Dancer1

A proud Warrior standing over his victim!
Solo Thoughts

Reasons to Play Solo

There are probably as many reasons to game solo as there are solo gamers, but there are some common reasons which I have experienced which I will outline here.  Personally, I can identify with all of these, you may well have others!  Whatever the reasons, it is clear that it is becoming more common for game of all types to include a solo variant as standard.  If you follow the progress of games on Kickstarter you’ll know that the game-buying public frequently request a solo option and, once a game is funded, adding this as an additional feature is often high on the list for developers to include as stretch goals.  I know that I am vastly more likely to take a punt on a game if I can play it solo because I know for sure that it’ll come out of the box and see some use.  I simply can’t say that for a multiplayer game.  I do occasionally play games with others, but there are so many games vying for attention, and the tastes of others to take into account, that it is highly likely that by the time the game arrives, it won’t be anywhere near the top of the pecking order and will stay in its box.

So, here are my reasons, I’d love to hear yours!

  1. Immersive Escapism

This is my main reason for seeking out deep, narrative driven, solo games.  When immersed in such a game it evokes for me the childhood feeling of sitting on the carpet with all my toys out, playing out whatever stories were in my imagination.  Hours went by and no hint of boredom on the horizon.  Now that I’m a ‘grown up’ I need more structure and intellectual challenge to this process, but I still crave that timeless immersion that comes from being absorbed in emerging stories.  That’s where the games come in.  Playing solo allows the story to come first, using the game mechanics and a little imagination to provide challenge and hold attention.

  1. Intellectual Challenge

Many solo games are essentially a puzzle with a theme.  Puzzles are a great way to provide you with a mental challenge and keep the brain sharp.  Game mechanics are hugely diverse in their nature, and not only do they provide varying degrees of intellectual challenge to a game, but new games often surprise you with the  innovation and elegance of their mechanics.  The tactile nature of game components, and the variety of experiences provided by game mechanics are two of the main reasons people choose board/card/miniature games over puzzle books or video games.  In a solo experience it is you versus the game, and you get the satisfaction of having solved a puzzle when you win.

  1. Play at Your Own Pace

There are a couple of elements to this.  When life gets busy it is not always easy to set large chunks of time aside to play through a game in one sitting.  In a multiplayer game you potentially have the burden of co-ordinating diaries and carving out time to play.  When playing solo, you can set the game up and pick it up or put it down at will and play through it using multiple smaller chunks of time.

Secondly, when it comes to place of play, you may be someone who prefers to think more deeply about the choices within a game, and take more time over decisions (or indeed the opposite – you may prefer to smash through a game as fast as possible!).  Playing solo removes the frustration when two or more players who play at a different natural pace.

This factor is particularly useful when playing the very large character development or settlement building games (Kingdom Death: Monster I’m looking at you!) where the depth of the game comes from the many hours of time invested into it.

  1. Personality Type

You might simply just PREFER playing solo!  There are a vast number of factors that make up a ‘personality type’ and it would be foolish to try to explore them all, or for someone as unqualified as me to suggest that there is a provable correlation between personality type and game preference, but I’ll give one example to illustrate the point.  We’re all likely familiar with the Introvert/Extrovert spectrum.  One of the key characteristics of extroverts is that they generally gain energy from being around other people.  For introverts, being surrounded by people is often draining, and their energy is restored by stepping out of the limelight for periods of time. Now, this doesn’t mean that introverts are unsociable, or that extroverts don’t appreciate a bit of ‘me time’ here and there, but the point is that different people need a different amount of interpersonal interaction in order to balance their energy levels.  The great news for gamers is that whatever balance is right for you, you can still play as many games as you want.  Solo games provide that recreational personal space that some of us crave, and we can enjoy them as little or as often as we want.

  1. Learning Rules

When you pick up a new game, it is usually helpful to familiarise yourself with the game contents and read the rule book prior to playing the game in anger.  Even if you intend to play the game with others, it is often helpful if one player puts in the work to learn the game and can then share that knowledge with their opponent/group to make the initial games go more smoothly.  Having a play-through can be valuable.  This can be done even if there is no solo mode, but essentially then you are playing a multiplayer game solo as opposed to playing a true solo game.  When a game has both solo and multiplayer options, many of the game mechanics will usually be shared between the solo and multiplayer variants and so the learning can be done whilst still having a rewarding gaming experience in its own right.

  1. Strategy Testing

This also falls into the category of playing a Player vs Player (PvP) game solo as opposed to playing a true solo game, but it is another valid form of solo gaming.  You essentially play both sides of a competitive game.  On one side you play a ‘dummy’ player, mimicking the potential plans and strategies of an average opponent.  On the other side you play out a potential strategy that you might use in a competitive game.  This is particularly useful in larger strategy games or wargames.  You get to move your forces, roll the dice, defend against damage and test the relative strength of your force to develop strategies to use them most effectively.  This can actually be a fun way to play in its own right, especially if you develop a bit of story around it, but also serves as practise for a competitive game.  It seems that every time I show up to play the X-Wing Miniatures Game, my opponent has been practising in secret and working out new ways to destroy me – perhaps it’s time I took my own advice here!

  1. Lack of Opponents

I think this one is fairly self-explanatory!  Some people don’t have a regular gaming group due to their base location or other commitments (shift working for example) making it difficult to find regular opponents or gaming buddies.  Alternatively, maybe you do have a gaming group but the other members have no interest in a game, genre or game type that you particularly enjoy.  The way not to miss out is to get your fix via a solo game.

  1. Play More Games

Maybe you’re a hard-core gamer who wants to be gaming morning, noon and night.  Unless you are a member of a number of different gaming groups it’s highly likely that your buddies will struggle to keep up with you.  Breaking out the solo games between your regular gaming sessions means there is no need for you to stop playing – keep on keeping on!

 

So there are just a few of the main reasons why solo gaming is such a valuable part of our hobby.  They often overlap, and some are more relevant at different times.  There may be some I’ve missed.  The key point is that solo gaming is very much on the up – enjoy!

News

Welcome to Solo Play Gaming!

First post, and just a short intro to kick things off.

Please do check out our Facebook and Twitter pages (links at the top of the page) for real-time news and content, and check back here regularly for larger news items and articles.

There are many reasons why people love to play tabletop games solo.  This place is for all those reasons.  We’ll explore them more in due course, and bring all the news and reviews of games that provide immersive solo experiences.

Enjoy!