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Black Souls (Boardgame)
Bryony Stibbons
Author: Bryony Stibbons

A life-long board game addict, but anime newbie, Bryony is gradually getting hooked!

Black Souls (Boardgame)


Players: 1-6

Game Length: 45-60mins

Theme

You are interviewing for a position at computer games company Design Inc. You are challenged with designing a level for their new game - ‘Black Souls’. Your brief is that the level must be difficult but also fair and it will be tested by seasoned play-testers to see if it meets the required criteria. If you succeed then a job at Design Inc is yours!

Set Up

Each player gets the following:

  • A design board – in which you will build your game level. Into the ‘Party Members’ section of your board you also add one of each of the four coloured cubes that represent four types of player.
  • A meeple (a coloured playing piece).
  • A hack card.
  • A set of bid cards numbered 0-8 (some are eliminated for low player games).
  • A score card – used at the end of the game to score your level during testing. You don’t have to get these out until the end, but it is useful to have them handy to remind you how the scoring works, to help make decisions.
  • Three quirk cards – these are player specific missions that can earn you extra points. Players look at them, keep two and discard one.

In the centre of the play area you need to set up:

  • Turn order cards – used to remind you of the play order as this changes each turn.
  • Three additional quirk cards – missions that are open to all players to earn extra points.
  • The party cards deck – Cards are revealed one at a time from the top of this pile to decide on the games ‘starting party’ that are added to the four you already have to make a group of 10-12 players placed into your ‘Party members’ slot.
  • A bag of level design ‘assets’ – pieces that will slot into your design board.

Game Play

The game is made up firstly of the design phase and then the gameplay phase:

Design phase – this is made up of 12 rounds, during each if which you will add one asset to your design board to build your level. The process of gaining an asset works as follows:

  • Assets (equal to the number of players) are pulled from the bag and laid out on the table.
  • Player must each bid, using their bid cards, to determine who gets first pick of the assets – this is done in secret then all are revealed together. The highest bidder goes first and so on. However, if players duplicate the same bid they are excluded from the order and go after the other players.
  • Each bid card also gives you a special ability or action for the round which you can use when you take your turn. Although you will also loose this if you bid the same as someone else unless you use your hack card.
  • Players take their turns selecting their desired asset and placing it onto their design board. Each asset has one of three backgrounds and a difficulty rating. The difficulty rating will dictate how likely players are to die in this part of the level and you are attempting to ensure your level is difficult, but won’t kill all participants. Asset background matters because you can earn extra points by joining up as many as possible of the same type. So, you can see why it may be important at some points to bid high and get first pick of the assets to ensure you get what you need.
  • Played bid cards are placed face up on the side of your design board so that others are able to monitor which you have used. One bid card will give you the opportunity to take them back into your hand at some point but they can’t be re-used until then.

As well as this there are some more intricate rules, bit I’ve given you a general idea of how the design phase works.

Gameplay phase – This is where the game-testers work through your level to test it’s difficulty and see if any of them make it to the end. To do this each player starts with their meeple placed at the first asset on the design board and they then work though the assets in order. This is where the coloured ‘Party Member’ cubes come into play. Each asset shows how many meeples it can kill off of each colour. You must choose who to eliminate from your party accordingly. For example, the asset may say it eliminates 2 Red or 3 Blue or 2 White from the party. Because you have a lot of White cubes in your party you may select to lose two White at this point.

Ideally after working your way through all 12 assets you should have some players left in your party. I can tell you from experience that this is easier said than done, but getting father than other plays will get you points even if you get wiped out.

Scoring – Following the Gameplay phase your performance is scored and points given for:

  • Play-tester Reports - Quirk Card Achievements.
  • Level Fluidity – The maximum number of connected tiles with the same background.
  • Level Challenge – Points given for dead party members, but only if one or more survived to the end.
  • Level Difficulty – Players ranked base on level difficulty and points allocated only to those who did not have all party members wiped out.
  • Catch-Up bonus – Only for players who did have all the party members wiped out. Points are allocated based on how far the players got without being eliminated.
  • Playing Clean Bonus – A small bonus based on where you had un-used ‘hacks’.

The Verdict

This game originated as a kick-starter project and interestingly its creators have now reached their funding target for Black Souls 2.0 and so there are a huge number of fans out there!

I can’t however say that I loved this game, I had quite a few issues with it. My primary concern is that it is incredibly hard to actually build a level that the players survive. I would personally recommend that the starting party members be 13-15 rather than 10-12. The scoring system is very complex with there being some scoring methods only open to you if you had players survive your dungeon and others only open to you if no-one survived. This makes it incredibly difficult to assess how you are likely to score throughout the game and therefore develop a strategy for play. This is however something that becomes easier with experience.

I also get the feeling that some of the rules (like the hack ability) have been added in to correct issues with the game after testing which makes them feel a bit random and can easily be forgotten about during play.

The rules are pretty well put together, other than a boob in the solo instructions where a graphic has been placed over a line of text during the publishing process, so it can’t be read and a lack of explanation for yellow cube images (there are no yellow cubes in the set so it took some investigation to find out that yellow indicates that you take the colour of your choice). There are also some images on the asset tiles that have no reference in the rules – I think they have something to do with the kick-starter version, but an explanation would have been nice.

Lastly, feedback that I have read online indicates that the game isn’t well suited to six or even five players (although pieces are supplied for this) as the fact that there are frequent clashes in the bidding phase spoils the momentum of the game – four is considered the most appropriate. To remedy this, I would eliminate the rule relating to the clashing in the bid phase. You would say that those players that clash go in the order indicated by the number they played, but that the pervious round turn order is used to decide who goes first and card abilities aren’t revoked (if you do this also take out the 0 bid cards, hack abilities and fair play bonus during the scoring).

There is also much to enjoy about this game. It is obviously designed for strategic game players and so it is intense and has enough complexity to keep you interested for multiple re-visits. The graphics are great with illustrations by Len Peralta, whose style you may recognise from Munchkin! It is very well made, with good durable pieces although it could have come with more bags to help store all the small pieces!

The game also has a solo mode (where you play against an AI) which I always like, because it allows me to learn the game alone before introducing my friends to it – we all know it’s better to learn a game by being taught it by someone who has learned it already. The solo mode rules dictate how the AI plays against you and are actually really interesting because they dictate a logical way to play the game and make decisions. I recommend that anyone take a look at these whilst trying to figure out how to get the best out of the game.

I didn’t hate this game, but neither do I love it. I actually found I enjoyed it much more and was a lot more successful when playing the solo version. This is probably because playing alone allowed me to completely concentrate on the dynamic. The key is to manage all the different elements of balancing level difficulty, gaining perks for the gameplay level and meeting the challenge of the quirk cards. This is definitely a game for more serious players who will take the time to thoroughly understand the dynamics and concentrate on strategy throughout. If you give it a go, I suggest you adapt the rules as I’ve explained above for at least your first few games.

A game of strategy where you are challenged to build a better computer game level than your opponents. Fun but has its issues!

6
A game of strategy where you are challenged to build a better computer game level than your opponents. Fun but has it’s issues!
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