My introduction to gaming came through my friends, my start was with the thematic and epic games of Arkham Horror. I’ve had a long obsession with H.P. Lovecraft and all Elder related things. It was an obvious and easy decision to tempt me into tabletop gaming through all things Lovecraft. It was the theme that drew me in, the epic battle against Elder gods, the struggle against evil to save the poor town of Arkham as it’s over run by evil at every turn. As I’ve continued to become more involved in the gaming hobby, my love for ‘Ameritrash’ as started to fall off, and while theme is still important to me, most of the games that I’ve purchased and played lately, have become more in line with the traditional Euro system. Acquire resources, spend resources and maximize each and every turn to beat your friends, though there are a few exceptions to Euros that have rich, deep themes, most are more focused on mechanics and the theme comes secondary. (Yedo is an absolute exception to this, and I encourage all Euro players and fans to find a way to get it into your paws immediately. I hope to tackle a review for it soon.) All of that being said, I recently stumbled across ‘Darkest Night’ a Gold Banner game from Victory Point Games. It may have the ability to draw me back to the Ameritrash side of gaming for a while, but we’ll get to that at the ‘Thoughts” section later.
Darkest Night is a game for 1 to 4 players, though there are variants for more players that I haven’t tried out just yet. It’s a fully cooperative game where 4 heros will fight a guerilla war to retake the kingdom that a Necromancer is trying to invade with evil and blights. Our heros will either succeed together or fall in defeat as a team, so they must work as a team to tackle the ever coming darkness.
You’ll assemble the 3 piece puzzle board and place it in the center of the table. Place the 4 Holy Relics on their designated spots on the board (The Mountains, The Forest, The Swamp and The Ruins).
Choose your heros, there are 9 heros that come in the base game. There is a 10th hero that is now available to order from the BGG promos for $5. Unexperienced players can determine which characters they want to play by simply picking a character or looking through their set of Power Cards. If there are less than four players, the game still plays with 4 heros, so divide them how ever you see fit.
Take the matching hero standee token and place it in the Monastery. Take the hero sheet that matches your hero and place it near you, you’ll also need some room for their card powers. Take one of the ‘Sun/Moon’ turn trackers and set it near or on your hero card. You’ll also take a ‘Grace’ and ‘Secrecy’ tracker and place them on the circled values on your heros card. Now grab the corresponding hero deck of cards, your starting cards with have a marking on them, out of your 10 power cards, 4 of them will be marked. Pick three of the starting cards as your initial powers and place them face up by your character card. Shuffle the 4th card you did not choose back into your deck and place it near your hero card. You’ll want to grab another of the unused hero cards and flip it over as it has the turn over and actions available on it for reference.
Shuffle the Event, Map and Artifact decks and place near the board.
Place the Necromancer in the Ruins and the Darkness tracker on the symbol with a skull, just to the left of the 1 on the Darkness track. You’ll now draw one card from the Map Deck and for each location you’ll place the appropriate blight. You will not place a blight into the Monastery.
Your game is now set up and ready to play.
Game Play Overview:
Your battle against the Necromancer and his blights will be played out over several rounds.
A Hero’s turn is fairly simple.
If you’re in a location and the Necromancer is present, you’ll lose one Secrecy point.
If you’re carrying a Holy Relic, you’ll lose one Secrecy point.
You’ll now resolve any ‘Start-of-Turn’ instructions on Power Cards.
If you are in the Monastery, you will skip the Event phase. It’s about the only time it feels that the game isn’t conspiring against you.
If the Necromancer is present and your Secrecy is zero, it’s time to battle the Necromancer. Which basically sucks because you have to manage to roll a 7 on a six sided die, or evade him at a 6. You will gain abilities that can add one to a die, but they’re few and far between, so it’s best not to be somewhere he is and not have any Secrecy left.
Otherwise you’ll draw an Event Card from the deck. These for the most part are unpleasant encounters you’ll be having within the kingdom. Some will cause you to fight or evade hordes, maybe you’ll encounter a ritual happening, either way, it’s not going to be an easy experience for you.
Once you’ve completed your event card it’s now time to take an action.
You have 7 basic Actions that you may take, in addition to any ‘Action’ cards that will give you an alternate Action to take.
Travel: You’ll move to an adjacent location and gain 1 Secrecy (up to 5). Being stealthy and moving around keeps the Necromancer guessing where you are. You don’t want to become stagnant and start to loose to many Secrecy points because they’re going to take a while to regain.
Hide: You’ll refresh any exhausted powers on your cards. Cards will tell you when to exhaust them after used. You’ll also gain up to 1 Secrecy point (Up to 5)
Attack: This is where you’ll have an opportunity to fight a blight, or the Necromanger if you’re up to it. When you fight either a blight or Necromancer, you’ll lose once Secrecy point as you’ll be out of cover and actively fighting in the open.
I’m going to spend a little time covering battle, when attacking a blight you will be rolling against their might. Might is listed in the top right corner of their chit on the side with the picture, if you flip the chit over, their might is listed in the bottom left corner. You must roll that number or higher to defeat the blight. If you fail to defeat the blight there is a penalty listed on the bottom right of the chit. If it’s a skull and cross bone, you’ll lose one Grace point.
If you are able to roll multiple die, you DO NOT add the die together to see if you’ve won the battle, each die is counted separately. So you’re going to want to get those power cards into effect and out as fast as possible.
Search: When you search you’ll roll again the search difficulty listed on the board for each location. If you are successful, you’ll draw a Map Card and receive the benefit listed for that location. Do not underestimate the power of searching, this is how you’ll get keys to obtain Holy Relics (more on that later), this is how you’ll gain additional power cards and other treasure.
Pray: You may only take the Pray action when you are at the Monastery. You’ll roll 2 die and gain 1 Grace point (only up to your default) for each die that is 3 or above. You’ll also refresh your powers at this time. So there are many turns where you’ll want to hustle back to the Monastery to Pray.
Retrieve Holy Relic: You’ll discard 3 keys in a location with a Holy Relic and take it. If you’re holding a Holy Relic at the beginning of your turn, you’ll lose one Secrecy point.
Power: This is where you’ll use any “Action” effect from one of your power cards.
This is the last step in the Hero turn. If there are any blights in your location that have End Of Turn Effects, you resolve them. Essentially if you are in a location with a blight that has a power and a elude rating, you must do one or the other. You’ll have to roll against the blight to determine if you’ve been able to handle the blight in that part of the kingdom. Rolling a success DOES NOT mean you’ve beaten the blight, it means that you’ve successfully thwarted it’s attempt at harming you. The only way to destroy a blight is during your action phase when you take an Attack action, or you have an ability through a power card that lets you do so.
Also, in the End Phase, if you’ve spend your entire turn in the Monastery, you’ll gain 1 Secrecy up to your default.
The Necromancers Turn:
Increase the Darkness track: You’ll advance the Darkness counter one position on the Darkness Track, as the track increases, his abilities can increase. All increased abilities are listed on the board.
Necromancer Movement: You’ll now roll a die for the Necromancer and compare the result to every Hero’s current Secrecy rating. If the roll is greater than that Hero’s Secrecy, the Necromancer detects that hero, unless he is in the Monastery. If he detects you, he moves one space closer to that hero, through the shortest route possible. If there is a tie for heros, resolve it randomly, remember you work as a team, so someone will have to take one for the team.
Otherwise, the Necromancer will follow the arrows shown on the board in his location to where he should move.
Creating a Blight: Once the Necromancer has found his new home, he’ll create a blight there. To do so, you’ll draw the top card from the Map deck and place the appropriate blight into that location.
Important to Note that if you were to ever spawn a 5th blight on one location, that blight would immediately move to the Monastery. That’s No Bueno!! If there are no more blights of a certain type that you drew, continue to draw until you get a blight that you can place, you’re not getting out of it that easy, the Necromancer isn’t a very friendly guy.
Once the Necromancer has had his turn, the Heros will again take their turn. It’s important to note that the Hero’s may activate in any order they like. So remember to talk as a team and really plan out your best strategy, a game can be won or lost by not playing in an order that is advantageous to the entire team.
Winning or losing a game:
How do you finally defeat that nasty, blight spawing, evil dirtbag Necromancer? You will need to either acquire and deliver 3 of the 4 Holy Relics to the Monastery, or defeat the Necromancer in combat. What?! Defeat him in combat? He has a 7 might and I only get to roll a 6 sided die! Yep, no one said it was going to be easy. You can add 1 to your roll if you are carrying a Holy Relic, I guess Necromancers really have an aversion to all things Holy. You can also acquire power cards that may allow you to add 1 to your roll, though these cards are not prevalent in the game.
How do you lose to the Necromancer? 5 Blights make their way to the Monastery. Remember that every time you’d spawn a 5th blight in a location, it goes to the Monastery. So you’re going to want to keep those down to the best of your ability.
There’s a lot of comparison of Darkest Night to Pandemic, Defenders of the Realm and Arkham Horror. As I’m not a huge fan of Pandemic, I think I’ve only played it 3 times, and I’ve only played DotR twice, I can’t really speak to that. I have played AH more times than I’d like to admit though. There are elements of Darkest Night that are directly related to AH, there’s no doubt about it. There’s more fluff on the AH cards and it tells a bit more of a narrative though that fluff but that shouldn’t deter you from Darkest Night, because there’s plenty of theme here as well.
In Darkest Night you don’t have Hit Points, you have Grace points. Why? Does it make a difference? Actually, thematically it does. In DN, Grace points represent the mysterious power that allows your heros to survive in situations in which normal men/women would perish. Essentially your hero only has 1 life point. They’re going against some pretty tough blights here. Lich, Zombies, Spies, Vampires, Skeletons, etc. So you can essentially lose all of your Grace points and still be standing, though it probably won’t be for much longer. The Grace points and the Monastery tie in well together, as you have some special will to fight these blights to save the kingdom. Though, I’m not sure how the Acolyte has grace points…He may be a Hero, but I have a feeling we’ll see him return as a villain eventually down the road.
The same can be said for the Secrecy points, if you’re going to defeat a powerful Necromancer, you’ll need to be stealthy and move from one point to another, striking fast and moving quickly to accomplish one of the many goals you’ll have to face each round. The Secrecy is a great stat to manipulate throughout the game. There was a game where the Acolyte has just acquired a Holy Relic and was with the knight, I did everything I could to decrease my secrecy to attract the Necromancer to bring on the final battle as the Acolyte was armed with the ‘Forbidden Arts’ power card. So you’ll have to learn ways to use both Secrecy and Grace to your advantage to move throughout the board and be successful against the Necromancer.
Why did DN work for me? I don’t want to call Darkest Night an Arkham Horror lite, because it isn’t. Sure they share some of the same elements, but Darkest Night works on a different level for me. DN has a much more basic game play, there seems to be a thousand less things happening than in a game of AH and it strips it down to a manageable amount of components that doesn’t feel like a chore to put out and then back away. DN works if you want to play a great co-op where you’ll likely die if you make some bad decisions, but you’ll also share a rewarding victory together. I’ve played DN multiple times solo now, and highly suggest it for those looking for a great solo game. Even though you’re controlling 4 characters, it never feels overwhelming or like something you can’t handle. It also forces you to really think about each character, how they function, their abilities and the importance of turn order. How will each character handle their event and will it set them up for success or failure on their turn, will it destroy your plan once it’s completed? It’s all part of the theme and figuring out how to best take on the Necromancer.
The 9 different character classes all act very differently from each other, each tying in a very thematic game play for their character. Giving you an nice amount of options for you to replay the game, either in a group or solo. Again, there’s a 10th character class now available from BGG, which will only add to that. I’m waiting for my copy in the mail as we speak.
Darkest Night was a huge hit for me. I don’t feel like I can get it to the table enough. I’ve had it less than a week and have already tackled 7 games. I know they’re working on an expansion currently which will add new Heros to the game, as well as new events, blights, etc. My only wish was that there would be a little more story telling through the cards, forcing the heros to react to situations instead of tackling them as they choose throughout the game. Don’t get me wrong, the heros are reacting most of the game, but there’s no immediate need to put out one fire if it’s not yet a threat. I think if you’re a fan of co-op games, Arkham Horror, Pandemic, etc that you should really look into picking up a copy of Darkest Night.
* I think it’d be a bit unfair if I didn’t speak to the components of the game. It’s caught quite a bit of crap for being laser cut and essentially covering it’s consumers in soot during the punching experience. In fact so much so that Victory Point games, includes a wipes a lot napkin with the game. I punched the game with little problem, grabbed a roll of paper towels and just wiped down everything once it was punched. Sure I had to wash my hands when I was done, but that was the extent of it. The components are on a thick heavy hardstock, my friend even commented that he was shocked that it was card stock and not wood. The card stock is good quality, and I’m not even sure that I’d feel the need to sleeve them, though with as much play as I see it getting, it may be a good idea. The board is a simple, 3 piece puzzle layout in which I’ve had no problems. It also comes with a paper board as well, that you could easily place under a piece of plexi and have a great board as well. The dice are small and could probably be upgraded but that’s a minor concern as they function well for what their intended for. Again, I purchased the Gold Banner Boxed Edition not the Poly Bag Edition, though I don’t think there’s much of a difference.
** I’m not sure if this has hit retail channels yet, I tried calling multiple game stores to get this and none of them could get their hands on it. One is trying to order it, one told me it wasn’t released yet and another said they won’t carry them because they don’t have a way to merchandise games in bags. I ordered it through Victory Point games via Amazon.