Designer: Jason C. Hill
Artists: Jack Scott Hill
Publisher: Flying Frog Productions
Year Published: 2014
I am not sure exactly why it is that it took me so long to look into other games by Flying Frog Productions (FFP for short). I have been a long time Shadows of Brimstone (which occupies a major portion of my gaming shelves) Fan, and as such, it should have been natural for me to at least take a gander at their other offerings…
But perhaps given the sheer amount of content available for Shadows of Brimstone, my biggest trepidation was probably getting sunk in another huge, long-term investment. Shadows of Brimstone, after all, encompasses many base games and expansions, and at this point in time, I have probably sunk more than $1,000 dollars into this particular game world—my pocketbook simply could not take it if whatever else resided in the FFP catalog was just as immense (and addictive) in scope.
While a review of the massive Shadows of Brimstone is forthcoming at some point in time, once I took on an official role in reviewing board games, I thought it might be a good idea idea to reach out to FFP and see if they had any other games that I may be able sing praises of, as I had been talking with Lake Leafty, the proprietor of EBG, quite fondly of Shadows of Brimstone quite often, and had heard whispers of some of their other games on their Facebook pages for quite some time now.
It was consequently a short while later that Lake reached out to FFP, and they were kind enough to send not just one, but several games for me to review, all of which are set in the same world.
This is the world of A Touch of Evil, where nightmares walk in the flesh!
Three games were provided for me to evaluate, all of which were purported to have a highly thematic semi-cooperative/competitive style or purely cooperative modes. I was definitely intrigued.
The first game is appropriately called “A Touch of Evil”. Set in an early 19th century town of Shadowbrook, similar to that of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, this was clearly the biggest box of all that were provided, and looked exciting. Though simply a “one-off” dark adventure rather than a campaign, it looks promising, and I have yet to get to playing it given that I have been involved with the other games that were provided.
The other two games they sent for review are Dark Gothic and Dark Gothic : Colonial Horror.
When speaking directly to FFP, they described the Dark Gothic series as a sort of younger and smaller sibling to A Touch of Evil; they are set in an identical time period and setting (the town name is Woodinvale in Dark Gothic) but reutilize much of the art and assets from A Touch of Evil.
With that being said, from glancing at the directions of all the games, the rule sets are quite different ; Dark Gothic was designed to give players a similar sort of vibe to playing the larger game but on a much shorter time frame (an hour or so), so it is understandable if things had to be scaled back or even use entirely different mechanics. Consequently, it seems that Dark Gothic is primarily a deck builder, while A Touch of Evil is not, and a Touch of Evil definitely seems quite a bit more involved.
Now for this review, I am covering just the base game of Dark Gothic, and not its standalone expansion, Colonial Horror, that was also provided. Both games can in fact be combined and played together, but I wanted to gauge how both games functioned independently of each other to better assess whether it was necessary or helpful to add an expansion, or if just owning a base game by itself was sufficient. We shall see…
As I have mentioned in other recent reviews (most notably Mage Knight), I do have a few contentions with the Deck Building genre as a whole , so when I perused the rule book for Dark Gothic and saw the all-too-familiar layout for cards, I was quietly and inwardly preparing myself for a bit of disappointment ; perhaps it could be said that the game looked a bit too much like Thunderstone Quest or Dominion for my liking at a glance, which usually means for me that gameplay will feel long, extended and use an over abundance of identical cards that in the end leaves me feeling that everything is the same.
Boy was I wrong.
With that being said, yes, the game does use the very familiar layout of “traditional” deck builders. There is indeed a central array of cards that serve as the “marketplace” (called the center line in this game) for you to acquire cards—part of this array is static, as many of us are accustomed to, but the other part is dynamic and always changing, which is quite a relief for those of us who do not fancy having equal access to the exact same cards as our teammates / opponents.
The second thing that immediately stands out is that each player gets to chose a different character ; whoa! That is not only thematically very cool, but mechanically speaking, this offers players totally different starting decks, (similar to Shadowrun : Crossfire, one of my favorites deck builders) rather than wielding identical hands at the games’ commence. Not only this, each character has one or two special abilities that can be employed during gameplay that are totally unique to them. Some characters, for example, being of the “affluent” and “high-society” type, can “manipulate” others to get lower costs on Gear cards, while others can actually have a larger hand than other characters! Very nice indeed!
There is also a nice d6 die that can be used for some of the games’ random determinations.
The ultimate “purpose” of this game is to confront a series of three epic Villains that are randomly preselected at the beginning of the game. These horrors that have been stalking the countryside can perhaps spell the ultimate doom for the characters within Dark Gothic, as while there is some degree of competition in the games’ semi-cooperative competitive mode (there can only be one winner among these adventurers seeking glory, but you are all working towards a common end), it is possible for all players to lose the game if too many cards go over to the “Shadows”. Yes that is correct, if too many cards get destroyed and sent to the “Shadow” pile, rather than the regular discard deck (the crypt), it will mean game over for everyone! So it would seem that time is indeed of the essence…
It was noted that the “Center Line” is where you acquire cards, but one nice thing about Dark Gothic is that you are not simply limited to “buying” new cards. While this is certainly an option, you can also opt to fight monsters or even acquire “allies” that can help serve you in battle!
This is facilitated and made possible through the use of different “attributes” that function as the “currency” within the game. And this to me is one of the great assets of Dark Gothic ; rather than being stuck with just one form of currency in the game such as the common staple of gold, you are provided with 4 distinct attributes that can be used for the purposes of acquiring new cards : Combat, Spirit, Honor, and Cunning. In my eye, this is another fine implementation that goes a long way to help avoid the typical stagnation that I encounter in this genre.
The game proceeds in typical deck builder fashion, with players acquiring cards and ultimately challenging the primary game antagonists (the Villains); when all three of the big-baddies are defeated, the game is over, and scores are tallied by counting up the point value of the cards you acquired and monsters you defeated (if playing competitive mode), or you emerge victorious and with your life (if playing strictly in cooperative mode).
The villains of the game sit aside from the rest of the center line, and often have global effects that are always in effect (until defeated) and can make it more difficult for other party members to achieve their goals in a variety of ways.
And there you have it! As easy as can be!
Criticisms and room for improvement:
For some reason or other, I have noticed that after just a few play throughs, some of the playing / hero cards have some of their backings peeling. So unless I got a copy that had some production issues, I am probably going to have to end up sleeving the cards to avoid any more damage. We probably have about a dozen plays in at this time, and while no further anomalies have been noted, I will definitely be taking extra precautions as soon as I am able to add a layer of protection to the cards.
Also, the insert tray has some ridges that don’t necessarily hold the cards once divided into their appropriate piles for setup. The main deck is so huge that it absolutely cannot be stored into the allotted divisions, and therefore has to be in a bit more of an awkward position, potentially being lifted up into a spined ridge if stored on their sides.
In terms of gameplay, Shadow cards aren’t consistently added, so in terms of being defeated by the Villains, in most games, this rarely (if ever occurs), especially if one learns to avoid acquiring the ally cards that normally produce Shadows. The games’ cooperative mode makes the emergence of Shadow cards more likely, and still does not feel like a realistic threat, but I should note that after looking through the expansion material (Colonial Horror) this issue is potentially addressed and averted in the expansion…
One thing that I noticed and loved right off the bat is that there is a small degree of overlap in content between this game and Shadows of Brimstone! Besides similarities in card design, the die that is used in the game bears a startling resemblance to the dice used in Shadows of Brimstone, bringing a great sense of homogeneity to both of the series. Moreover, you may find a few familiar faces in Shadowbrooke if you are a Brimstone fan…
The art style for the game is rather unique, and sports a mostly live-action aesthetic as opposed to hand-drawn depictions. This goes hand-in-hand along with the classic horror theme, which for all intents and purposes, seems to derive from classic B-flicks, so the fact that FFP utilized still shots of real people in costume attire makes the game feel all the more true to the genre. In fact, when I reached out to FFP to inquire, it turned out that they actually employed real-life actors (along with the occasional staff member) for the photo shoots, which to me as musician who has worked on the stage is impressive, so I must definitely tip my hat to FFP for supporting the fine arts.
In terms of gameplay, one of the ways we can generally evaluate whether a game is good or not is if we find that we leave it on our main game table and find ourselves taking turns all day long (as time permits during our busy work-at-home life).
If we find that we are sneaking turns in throughout the day, it pretty much means we enjoy the game quite a lot, and Dark Gothic proudly sits in that category.
As a result, it can at times feel a bit like solitaire given that we frequently do not need to be playing at the same time to take turns but there are exceptions ; sometimes, our cards have a pretty direct impact on other players, so for those instances, we communicate in person as we walk by (“It’s your turn, you need to discard a card and draw two more”) so there can circumstantially speaking be a good amount of interaction, especially if Shadow cards keep creeping in and you need to work at preventing an inevitable defeat.
It should also be noted that some games involve substantially more interaction than others, given certain character abilities can be put to creative use if you really want to mess with your opponent…
Another perk is that unlike many other deck builders, you do not find your deck getting clogged with useless cards (like curses) often.
And somehow, Dark Gothic deftly evades some of the problems that I find plague the deck building genre. I do not find that the game gets boring at all, partially because it does not draw out to 2 or 3+ hours like Thunderstone, Dominion, etc. And more to the point, along with my current favorite deck building games, it manages to do more with less content, taking up far less space than Thunderstone Quest and Dominion (which I plan on reviewing independently when time permits). With that being said, the Main Deck is actually quite substantial, and even without sleeves can be a challenge to shuffle given the sheer number of cards available—yes, some are duplicates, but this is no where near to the scale of identical cards as seen in other games, making getting a unique hand a bit more likely.
For me personally, Dark Gothic plays substantially better than TQ and Dominion, though I recognize anyone’s right to disagree, most notably my wife, who likes TQ , and puts both Dark Gothic and TQ/Dominion on a similar level of enjoyability.
Dark Gothic is also extremely easy to get into, especially if you are already familiar with this style of play.
At a retail cost of $39.99 (gauging by the price listed on FFP’s website) Dark Gothic certainly packs a punch that is well above what its smallish box size would suggest. It is fun, highly thematic, and varies things up considerably more than most of the deck builders I have in my collection.
I might also add that purchasing directly from Flying Frog’s website has its perks, as I have come to discover in purchasing from them in the past with Shadows of Brimstone, as there are often some nice freebies and promotional materials they will send you if you purchase directly from them. Add to that the fact that they have some terrific Easter, 4th of July and Christmas sales, and I would say you have all the more reason to check them out!
While my final score for Dark Gothic may seem “modest”, don’t take that to mean it is mediocre at all—my rating scale in terms of gameplay / fun usually takes into consideration how a game relates to others in the genre and on the market, and by this standard, it actually quite nicely excels—as stated previously, I would rate other popular deck building games in my collection significantly lower, and Dark Gothic actually surprisingly addresses some of my concerns with the genre as a whole, even without incorporating a “movement” mechanic that many of my favorite deck builders employ!
For now, perhaps the best thing that can be said of Dark Gothic is that even though there is some room for improvement in terms of gameplay (possibly addressed by expansions) and the fact I have the option to play the other games that FFP sent me to review, we are going to stick with the base game of Dark Gothic a while longer before jumping into the other review material, and that to me is the best compliment I can offer!
Art : 8
Theme : 8.5
Component Quality : 6.5
Gameplay : 8.0
Fun : 8.5
Overall : 8.25
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Jazz Paladin- Reviewer