13th Jun2018

‘Darkest Night’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

dark-night-box

In this, the second edition of Darkest Night from Jeremy Lennert and Victory Point Games, one to four players will play cooperatively to tackle the growing darkness of an evil necromancer. To do so, they’ll form a crew of heroes from a selection of around thirty, each and every one of which is highly individual. The game is played on a very straightforward board with basically only seven spaces on it and in fact, it’s quite a simple game overall. Darkest Night is also incredibly thematic, especially when played with the lights down a bit, a few candles on and some haunting music playing in the background.

However you play it, the game is much easier to setup than the huge box filled with individual card organisers might suggest. There are indeed millions of cards in the box, but most of this relate to each of the specific hero classes. The larger event and map cards are easy to identify, as are the regular sized quest, mystery and darkness cards that are placed beside the board. With all this stuff on the table, you’ll simply invite your guests to decide what class they want to play as.

Now, the character selection part of Darkest Night needs a bit of explanation because it’s one of the things that makes the game such fun. Firstly, whilst the choice is huge, it’s also extremely diverse in terms of what each character can do. Some characters have very powerful abilities but can be a liability in combat or when spotted by the necromancer. Others are better for keeping the minions and auras at bay in direct combat.

Picking a complimentary mix of characters is sensible of course, but it isn’t always the most fun. In fact, tackling Darkest Night with different combinations of heroes and variants on the standard difficulty is really key to making the most of your new purchase. Some of the characters have fairly obvious skills like The Knight, who uses her strength and physical prowess to fight and or evade efficiently. Others, like the Nymph are much harder to master, but with the potential to be incredibly powerful.

Once the choice of characters is made, players will build the map deck. The map cards are used to summon enemies when the necromancer takes his turn and the manual provides several options for creating decks that include only certain kinds of challenge. My preference? Throw everything into the mix for a more diverse, tougher experience.

When the game actually begins, each player simply takes one action and then the necromancer has a turn. This is done automatically based on a dice roll, with the outcome determining whether the necromancer will move or stay where he is. The most key thing about this the current secrecy level of the heroes. Secrecy and Grace are the only stats that players need to manage, with both increasing and decreasing for various reasons.

If the necromancer rolls higher than any heroes current secrecy, he’ll love directly towards them and because of the size of the board, he has about a fifty percent change of making it to them in a single move. Wherever his turn ends, a map card is drawn and based on his location, the card will show which blight or minion token to add to that space. If a space ever has four blights on it, then it becomes overrun and the next minion goes directly to the players only safe haven – the monastery. Four blights in the monastery means game over, so it simply can’t be allowed to happen.

On the subject of blights, these nasty obstructions provide a constant thorn in the side of our heroic party. Yellow blights are minions that must be fought or evaded, with failure resulting in death (which costs one Grace to recover from or avoid, depending on your thematic take on it.) Blue and Red blights are more like auras, many of which affect the entire map. The party will often be faced with a choice between two or three important tasks, for example removing a blight that causes searching to be nearly impossible, defeating minions that are threatening to overrun a space or simply searching for clues and completing quests to help actually defeat the necromancer in a final showdown.

Doing so requires the use of holy relics, of which there are four spaced out around the board. Getting to their locations isn’t a problem, but to pick them up players must first amass ten clues. Clues come from completing quests and solving mysteries, both of which are activated or revealed either through event cards (drawn at the beginning of every players turn) or as the result of searching, which also uses map cards to show an outcome. Mysteries and quests are a nice, organic way of building a story into the game and there are plenty of each to work through across multiple plays of the game.

Often, quests will be subject to some kind of completion countdown, which adds another factor into the decision making process. On that note, there’s also the darkness track. The necromancer advances this track on each of his turns (or as the result of an event or similar) up to a maximum of thirty. At ten and twenty darkness, a card is drawn from the darkness deck which will likely have very serious consequences for the heroes. Some quests remove or mitigate these cards, but they are rare. Beyond twenty one darkness, the monastery is no longer safe and defeat becomes increasingly more likely.

All is not lost though, because with one or more holy relics in hand along with a variety of other items and a frequently expanding skill set, the necromancer can be defeated. Doing so is a roll off, ultimately, but it’s a tough one and Darkest Night is really all about the journey to reach that point and the people who walked the path alongside you. Light role playing makes the experience so much more enjoyable and given the inherent difficulty, everyone needs to think carefully about their actions and use all of their powers to the fullest, however abstract they may appear.

In all my plays of Darkest Night, I’ve only defeated the necromancer once, but it felt like a hell of an achievement. The game is highly variable and fairly random, but whether it was luck, the perfect mix of heroes or just the people at the table – it didn’t matter.

Even on the occasions where we lost, Darkest Night featured moments of heroic victory and savage defeat that brought joy and pain in equal measure. I always say that games, movies or other media that can invoke an emotional reaction must be doing something right. Darkest Night dies that. It asks “who will you be?” And then let’s you play out that role – it can be a bit unbalanced and bloody hard, but I promise you – it’s also very good fun.

**** 4/5

A review copy of Darkest Night: Second Edition was provided by Victory Point Games for review purposes. You can find out more about the game on their website: https://www.victorypointgames.com/

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