Review – Darkest Night by Victory Point Games
Design – Jeremy Lennert
Art – Clark Miller, Dan Taylor II
Victory Point Games, as previously noted in this blog, has turned the corner and upscaled their production quality to improve their competitive position and good news that is too. Boxed games you say? Mounted boards? Better components? Well yes indeed. Ah, but will they still remain a company that takes risks with smaller print runs? a wide variety of game topics? And most of all, produce, fun, playable games?
Well, time will tell and with Darkest Night we have one of the first of the new format games.
From the rules introduction – A great shadow has fallen over the kingdom as the undead continue to multiply under the control of a dread Necromancer. The king’s army is broken, the lands overrun, and now the Castle has fallen. The last of the kingdom’s strength has taken refuge in the hallowed ground of the Monastery, where the Necromancer and his dead dare not tread…yet. As he tightens his grip on the land and builds his power for a final assault on this last refuge, a few brave souls seek a way to fight back…
Darkest Night is a cooperative game for 1-4 players age 12+ “where four heroes fight a guerilla war to retake a kingdom invaded by an evil Necromancer. All players share victory or defeat and must work as a team to succeed”. At first pass, I am instantly reminded of the huge game, Defenders of the Realm.
What we have in Darkest Night is a pressure cooker that the 4 characters step into from the safe confines of the Monastery. The object of the game is survival through beating back the Necromancer. Nothing more straightforward than that.
If you are familiar with Victory Point Games, you will immediately notice a significant improvement in the quality of components. The cardboard is thicker, the board is mounted (you put it together like a puzzle) and the art is simply outstanding and very dark and atmospheric. I actually prefer the look of this game to DotR as it looks more menacing. The components have been lazer-cut and there is a bit of residue from this process and VPG kindly includes a napkin for you to give it all a wipe.
The game comes with –
• One 11” x 17” game board
• 10 standing character tokens
(minor assembly required)
• Five 6-sided dice • 9 hero sheets
• 90 power cards (10 per hero)
• 6 artifact cards
• 34 event cards
• 20 map cards
• 42 1” square blight counters
• 29 multi-shaped item counters
• 4 1” square relic tokens
• 5 1” round turn trackers
• 5 round grace trackers
• 5 round secrecy trackers
• 1 round darkness tracker
• 1 rules booklet (player aid included)
Lots of stuff to be sure and seemingly a lot of administration but actually, the components are clearly illustrated, and the wording is fine to read. Everything is clear as to its purpose and easily functional.
From the rules –
The Game Board: The 11” x 17” game board depicts the kingdom where the game takes place. The map shows the seven locations that the players can visit (the Castle, Village, Mountains, Forest, Ruins, Swamp, and Monastery), the lines they can move along , and numbers that are used to determine the Necromancer’s movement. Along the bottom of the map is the Darkness Track, which represents the Necromancer’s growing power and influence.
Standing Character Tokens: These tokens are used to track the current location of each hero and the Necromancer. These are nicely done and are a welcome change from the “chits only” found in previous VPG games.
Other Tokens represent Blights (the baddies), Items which you can collect to help your character, Holy Relics which are needed to have a go at destroying the evil Necromancer, and trackers which you need to keep track of the survival of your character.
Hero Sheets: These sheets describe the heroes, and have tracks at the bottom for recording the hero’s current grace and secrecy. On the reverse side is a player aid.
The Cards: There are several different kinds of cards in the game:
Power cards represent the unique abilities or equipment of different heroes; each hero has a separate set of 10 power cards.
Artifact cards are a special kind of power card.
Event cards represent the malign forces roaming the kingdom.
Map cards are used to randomize blight creation and search results.
Well it all looks and feels terrific. A very exciting development for VPG.
Game play overview
Darkest Night is played in rounds. During each round, each hero will take a turn, and then the Necromancer will also take a turn.
During their turn, each Hero can
Start: Follow any special start-of-turn instructions
Event: Draw an event card – variable effect depending on the circumstances when they are drawn. For the most part these are enemy attacks. Note – I wish that there was more variety of random events that could bring out more of a story line.
Action: Travel, Hide, Attack Blights or the Necromancer, Search for useful stuff, Pray (good for healing), Retrieve a Holy Relic ( absolutely necessary at some point or you can’t win), and use a Power card (these are individualized to each character and you WILL need to use them).
End: Defend against blights that are in the area they are in
The Necromancer then takes a turn after each hero
Darkness: Advance the darkness track – time is against you as the Necromancer’s forces are growing
Movement: Move the Necromancer – He will always be close by and there is no escaping his presence really. Good luck!
Blight: Create a blight at the Necromancer’s new location – there are a nice variety of enemies to deal with each with its own particular difficulties and effects
The process actually works very well and moves along too. It took a couple of reads to understand the rules reasonably well and I did need to go back to the rules as there are a number of details that I needed to clarify. Not so much a problem, but an indicator that this is not too simple a game although it is very manageable.
Essentially, you need to manage the 4 characters to work together so that they can move about the land, collecting useful items, Holy Relics, Keys, etc. in order to be ready to take on the Necromancer. unfortunately, his Blights pop up, causing all manner of problems and you need to decide whether to take them on or hide and move somewhere else. Difficult choices abound as you simply aren’t in a position to hack your way through them all.
And then do you keep the characters together or split up to increase the odds of finding useful stuff? Each character has a set of powers, some of which you start with, some come later. Nice feature this as it gives you more options or more headaches. Depends how you look at it.
Then you have time passing which works against you as do the Event cards which keep bringing in new problems which are scaled according to the current situation. Again a nice feature. And the claustrophobic nature Of the land really starts to build as the Blights start to add up, the Necromancer keeps spotting characters and the characters take more damage.
What’s really noticeable about the design is that there are enough differences from other cooperative games that Darkest Night can stand on its own merits as its own experience.
Did I enjoy Darkest Night?
I’ve played this game solitaire and I think it is a strong game with excellent replayability. It’s the choices that you make that are key. Timing and luck feature in the game but that just keeps it all interesting. No 2 games play the same as there is a healthy number of variables, whether in Blights, Events, items found, the Necromancer’s movement. To a degree you have control over your actions but the fickle finger of fate will inevitably have a go at you. I personally like this as it avoids trying to find an optimum strategy.
The theme comes through very well although I would have liked more events and side missions to drive the story rather than just throw enemies at you. So this is not an RPG game. More like Defenders of the Realm than say RuneBound with increasing Blights popping up as you are under pressure to go after the Necromancer as soon as practicable, hoping to collect those Relics on time and in good number. I would say that this is more compact and has more variety than Defenders of the Realm.
All in all I enjoy Darkest Night. I would say that its one of the best games that Victory Point Games has published and should be a top seller. It ticks pretty much all the boxes that you would expect in a fantasy cooperative game. The theme and claustrophobic darkness of the game come out pretty well, it looks great, the components are a nice step up. It moves along as a solitaire game, even as you manage 4 characters and so I can’t imagine loads of downtime with other players. The Necromancer and Blights are suitably menacing and the wide variety of variables in Events, searching, Blight placement, etc. all contributes to a game that keeps you on your toes. As I keep thinking that I want another go, I’d say that Darkest Night worked really well for me.
For more information go to www.victorypointgames.com