Experience an epic dark fantasy dungeon crawler with our review of Dark Souls: The Board Game. Become an adventurer as part of a team (or run solo if you’re a glutton for punishment) to explore endless dungeons and battle indomitable monsters for great treasures and satisfaction in a cursed world.
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Dark Souls: The Board Game is a game epic in scope that rewards persistence and patience. At first, it will seem overwhelming with the amount of content it provides, but once up and running, you’ll be charging your way to victory through this interactive campaign that encourages and inspires teamwork, tactical thinking and determination to succeed.
For the experienced board game player, this is not something to sleep on.
Does Dark Souls really need much of an introduction?
For the uninitiated, Dark Souls (2011)is a video game series part of the ‘Soulsborne’ franchise created by Hidetaka Miyazaki from Japanese developer FromSoftware. It has two sequels in Dark Souls II (2014) and Dark Souls III (2016), with the entire trilogy receiving critical acclaim and the series selling almost 30 million copies worldwide. Its iconic status is bolstered by its immersive world, deeply woven lore and revolutionary boss fight mechanics, as well as the one thing the series is known for;
And that same level of difficulty you’ve heard so much about, or experienced for yourself, is exactly what you should expect when playing this board game. The game holds no bars back, just because it exists in a different medium – the challenging routines of learning a monster’s attack set and potentially having to die multiple times to do so are translated exquisitely for the table top. Make no mistake – this game will punish you for them.
Now, it is worth noting that this game was released in 2018, and so the question of ‘why are we looking at something that came out several years ago?’ may arise. The answer to that is that Steamforged Games are still making it relevant, having announced very recently two new expansion sets for the game, and an entirely new board game for Kickstarter based on Elden Ring (2022) – a video game that made headlines earlier this year made by FromSoftware. With these new releases on the horizon, it’s definitely worth revisiting Dark Souls: The Board Game to see if it still holds up today.
With that in mind, it’s time to take the kid gloves off, put some armoured gauntlets on and dive deep into the worlds of Lordran and Lothric, where all sorts of plastic terrors await.
First thing that anyone with sensory organs will notice is the sheer size and weight of the box. It’s a massive, daunting thing – just like the video game it’s based off. This is exemplary of the fare Steamforged Games put out, such as their Horizon Zero Dawn board game or Scythe. Having handled the former for myself (see our review of that game here), whilst that game is pretty hefty, the sheer weight of the Dark Souls board game puts it, and any other game I’ve ever touched, to shame. If I dropped this on my foot, there aren’t enough Estus flasks in the world to restore my health.
But hey, at least you know this thing is bursting with content, and you know that before you looked at the back of the box.
The artwork on the box is simply gorgeous. It is the same cover for Dark Souls III, yes, but beautiful none the same, so why not re-use it? The ragged, fiery knight (or the Soul of Cinder to those who know) clenching his fist as ashes slips through his hand really set the vibe of whatever chest of dark wonders you are about to open.
And upon prying the rigid card apart to get to the juicy bits, you are welcomed with this lovely message.
But don’t let this grave portent get you down – it’s just a reference to the death screen that pops up when you die in the video game. It’s also a reference to what will probably happen to you in the board game too. This divider does help to keep the contents from rubbing up against the lid, and is good for flavour too.
This is what you get under that divider – and it’s certainly a nice pick-me-up after being that I’ve died. The way it’s all packaged is all meticulously thought out in a way where no single item could be in danger of getting damaged in transit or storage. You are greeted first with all the hard-board with tokens and character cards inserted within, then the board tiles, the rule book, the cards and finally, the boxed-up miniatures. Needless to say, there is an intimidating amount of stuff here that even my phone camera struggled to contend with.
Before we move on, I do think it pertinent to praise Steamforged Games’ approach to packaging, and you’ll see why. First, look at this plastic tray full of cards;
Most board games I’ve played or owned do have dedicated plastic inserts to store the cards, but often, on the same plastic tray, they are stored with the other game items. Here, Steamforged Games give the cards a tray of their own, with a plastic covering that tightly keeps them in place, so you have no fear of losing them. The only thing is that the separate deck piles have to be in line with one another (in terms of height), otherwise a couple cards may slip in the packet. Regardless, this method really speaks to me as someone who hates disorganisation and chaos in all forms.
But this not why Steamforged Games deserve praise for looking after our game.
In the larger of the two boxes sitting comfortably at the bottom, we have this;
We’ll cover the miniatures shortly, but here’s a sneak peek at the goods we’re getting – and boy, do they look fragile, with all those pointy bits and thin appendages. Steamforged Games realised this and reacted accordingly with a bespoke plastic tray and lid and is designed only for the larger boss and mini-boss miniatures. You don’t have to worry about your spears and hammers getting bent – though I would advise that you remove the miniatures carefully from the tray to prevent that happening. Now, the only thing negative I can say is trying to put them back – at least for me. Because of the various tails, wings and weapons overhanging from the bases, the miniatures have to be inserted in a certain order and in a certain tray. Because it had been a while since I tried doing that (they’ve been on display), it took me a while for my monkey brain to figure it out. The image above shows the correct configuration, and the storage is incredibly handy if you need to be lugging the set about or aren’t displaying them. Regardless of that, it is ingeniously designed and big props to the designers.
On another note, the bag of dice and bag of cubes are also designed to be slotted above the tray before it goes back into the box. There is a hole on top where you can insert and retrieve them. Again, a well-thought out solution to storage.
How about the other box?
Though smaller than the previous, this one contains more miniatures in a neatly folded package.
What’s going on here then? It’s like a can of sardines – a well-organised and stacked can of sardines.
So there are two plastic trays that very efficiently stack without causing any grief or contact with the miniatures in the bottom tray. Again, this is some impressive packaging design from Steamforged Games. So pull them apart gently and what do you get?
The top tray gives you these – the larger (of the smaller) miniatures with big and thin weapons that require more room and delicate care. Again, the tray is bespoke to these minis, and much easier to work out what goes where once you need to put them away again. Though it has kept the majority of the mini’s weapons straight as intended, there is one whose spear is bent – that would be Ornstein, the third from the right. Unfortunately, his spear has not fared well when pressed up against the tray. This can be resolved with the hot water trick or a hair dryer, but it’s still disappointing to see.
The second tray hosts the final selection of miniatures – your common mobs and hero characters. Despite the tragedy of Ornstein’s spear, all the swords and axes kept in this tray have remained as sharp and straight as ever, which is again testament to the product designers of the packaging.
In the words of Brad Pitt in Se7en, ‘WHAT’S IN THE BOX?’
It’s astonishing, isn’t it? Here’s a full list:
- 27 plastic miniatures
- 4 player characters (Knight, Assassin, Warrior, Herald)
- 3 Crossbow Hollows
- 3 Hollow Soldiers
- 2 Large Hollow Soldiers
- 3 Silver Knights
- 3 Silver Knight Greatbowmen
- 2 Sentinels
- 1 Titanite Demon (mini-boss)
- 1 Outrider Knight (mini-boss)
- 1 Winged Knight (mini-boss)
- 1 Bell Gargoyle (mini-boss)
- 1 Dragon Slayer Ornstein (boss)
- 1 Executioner Smough (boss)
- 1 Dancer of the Boreal Valley (boss)
- 4 Character boards
- 9 Double-sided room tiles
- 15 Dice
- 121 Tokens
- 252 Cards
- 64 Health and Stamina cubes
- 8 Tracker dials
- 1 Rule book
It’s truly hard to believe this all fit in one box. But enough about packaging – shall we move beyond the bonfire and roll straight into this dungeon of goods?
Ah, the rulebook. The game is complex and that alone is intimidating, but this rulebook is here to put you at ease.
At 40 pages, this is a pretty thin book – or booklet, dare I say – but herein lies the beauty of it. The beauty of its simplicity.
Naturally, it opens on a contents page and an introduction to the world of the game, and explains your role in it. As pictured above, it is image heavy for troglodytes like me who like the pretty pictures and good visual references. It lays out and explains all the symbols, the tokens and the various types of cards you should have and employ in little words. It’s a quick reference, and it’s perfect for game set-up, as a swift glance to and fro gets your board up in no time. It also tells you in clear steps how to set-up your first game, and examples how encounters should go, with precise guidance on all the idiosyncrasies of the game and how to deal with them.
There is even a section on how to maintain campaigns, and all the contents needed to play through them. On the penultimate page, there is a campaign tracking sheet where you can write the necessary notes to keep track of things, though pencil would be recommended if you want to keep use of this particular page long term.
Again, coming from experience with previous Steamforged products, the rulebooks are consistently concise and accessible, designed to immediately get you on your way rather than bogging you down with walls of text.
It would be amiss of me not to mention the artwork that accompanies the book. They’re all worthy of having a gallery of their own. The book includes wracked yet hauntingly beautiful landscapes of mountains and cities, and the heroes and monsters that roam them.
And to top it all off, the last page is a very handy key with all the symbols and diagrams you’ll find on the dice, cards, tokens and character boards should you need that quick reference during a game, or an argument to see who’s right. Being on the back cover means you aren’t leafing through pages and pages just to clarify one thing.
The final point I’d like to make is that this should be an example of how game rulebooks should be made. Steamforged Games have the formula down in a grand slam. Simple, yet cohesive, concise and with plenty of visual reference.
There are 9 of these board tiles, and they are all double-sided with different environs represented on each side, depending on your flavour – do you want to explore the classic dingy dungeon that’s a bit waterlogged and looking like some medieval tavern’s dank basement? You’re covered. How about something more regal, like an ancient temple with a sacrificial altar and a nice red carpet? You’re covered there too.
You’ll notice there are lots of coloured circles – these are nodes, and they exist to mark down the placement of certain tokens, and make the game more dangerous (or exciting, based on your point of view). The tiles themselves are made of a very sturdy card that lie perfectly flush on any hard, flat surface. You can set them on the carpet without issue as well. They are easy to wipe if you spill liquid on them, and are only likely to break if you are actively trying to (like an absolute madman).
This is your starting tile, and ought to be the first thing you consider when setting up. This is your safe zone – there is nothing to harm you here. This is where you spawn, upgrade your gear and stats, store your treasure deck, keep inventory and pool your souls – the game’s currency. Make sure this tile is easily accessible once you start expanding – it’s your only brief reprieve, should you need it (and you will need it).
Here is an example board tile. Each node gives you an idea of how much movement your character will have, where they can move to, and what lies ahead in the room. The red nodes spawn monsters, the purple nodes spawn terrain (like barrels) and the yellow nodes only contain tokens based on what the encounter cards tell you to place, like traps or nothing at all.
Of course, the longer you play, the more tiles you rack up, and a mid-playing time game could end up looking like this.
Even if you’re not going for an extended play, make sure you have the table (or floor) space for the game.
There are 4 character types available to play as; the Knight, the Assassin, the Warrior and the Herald. Thus, there are 4 boards to reflect each one.
These are all made of the same material as the board tiles, and pop out easily from the card frame (and can just as easily slot back in for storage). As you can see, there is ample room for the various cards needed to represent your current loadout, and keep track of your stats and health. Again, these are well-designed with ergonomics in mind – you can have everything laid out in front of you, making it easier to see your gear and effects without having piles of stuff splayed haphazardly about like you might in a Warhammer game.
One thing to note – though you can punch out the little squares that make up your health, stamina and skill stats, I would recommend against it. For one, you may lose the tiny tiles, and two, there are little plastic cubes that accompany the game that you can place on top of the character board instead. Very nifty idea.
There are 64 of these bad boys, and each colour is used to keep track of a different level. The red is your health, the black is your stamina and the white are your skill levels.
Here things can get a little overwhelming, merely by sheer amount of pieces and things to think about for the game. I will do a quick overview of the tokens included for the game. They come on multiple boards, including the ones the character boards are attached to.
The set includes (from left to right);
- 5 frostbite condition tokens
- 5 bleed condition tokens
- 5 poison condition tokens
- 5 stagger condition tokens
- 4 Heroic action tokens
- 4 luck tokens
- 4 ember tokens
- 20 trap tokens
- 4 Estus flask tokens
- 1 first activation token
- 4 treasure chest tokens
- 3 boss dials
- 3 boss health tracker dials
- 1 spark dial
- 1 death tracker dial
- 1 fog gate token
- 1 five wound token
- 6 one wound tokens
- 3 three wound tokens
- 8 barrel tokens
- 3 mini-boss dials
- 3 mini-boss health tracker dials
- 5 gravestone tokens
- 1 aggro token
- 10 one soul tokens
- 5 three soul tokens
- 3 five soul tokens
- 1 eight soul token
It would be a colossal understatement to say that’s a lot of tokens. Regardless of that, they are very high quality, much like the board tiles and character boards. They are made of the same card material, meaning they are not likely to get damaged during gameplay, and the artwork they feature is very crisp and in-line with the game and its source material’s universe. They are all high quality pieces, and easy push out and push back into the card if necessary.
On the topic of tokens, the best designed ones of the bunch are the boss dials and the spark dials. Here’s why.
The game comes with a bag of small, transparent circular pegs. I wasn’t sure what they were at first, until I punched out the boss tokens and their corresponding health tokens and saw they had all holes at their centre. It suddenly clicked that both tokens were supposed to go together like a clock – with the bizarre pegs connecting the two pieces. As you can see above, there is a notch where you can see the health points the creature has left, and you can rotate it downward whenever it takes a hit. This is a very clever device for the game, and I wish I had thought of it myself. The only thing worth noting as a downside is that, though you could possibly take it apart, I felt that the effort to do so would potentially break the token, as the transparent pegs clip in very tightly, so I would recommend against taking it apart personally.
You have the same rotating token system for the spark dial, which represents how many lives you and your team have left in the game. The game gives you something of a doomsday clock. How fitting.
If you thought you were drowning in tokens, you’ll want to hold your breath a little while longer. With a whopping 252 cards, you’ll be up to your ears in tiny circles and rectangles. Again, though that may seem daunting, there is purpose to them, and really recreate the immersive experience of the video game.
The game contains two different sizes of cards, and above are the smaller variety. These cards form the treasure decks, which include the following;
- 13 Starting equipment cards
- 40 Class specific treasure cards
- 60 Common treasure cards
- 10 Legendary treasure cards
- 18 Boss treasure cards
The reason these cards are smaller than the other ones we’ll visit shortly is so they can slot nicely on top of the character boards where indicated. All the cards are made of good stock with a laminate surface, so could survive any liquid spillages after a wipe. The artwork of the items are exact replicas from the video game – and considering the high bar the game set for art and illustration, this is no complaint at all. The cards themselves are awash with symbols and contain almost no words at all – this makes them very user friendly in my eyes, as they are not inundated with unnecessary minutia that couldn’t be explained in the nearby rulebook. Once you’ve learned the game, the symbols and numbers are all you need.
It’s worth noting that all the cards have a symbol on the back that denotes which deck it belongs to, and so it’s easy to sort them into the appropriate decks.
We also have a much smaller deck – the encounter deck. These cards just detail what you need to place in each room. There are 36 in total.
The larger cards are all dedicated to the nasty gribblies you’ll encounter in the world before you. Above are the basic mobs – again, we must praise the artwork like Solaire praises the the grossly incandescent Sun. They look to be concept art stills. Once you’ve learned the ropes of the game, the symbols will be second nature to you – they represent movement, attacks and health.
Finally, we’ll take a look at the boss cards.
This is just an example of a card set for a single boss. Yikes.
Again, the artwork, though simple in composition, really stands out. It’s much better than some of the Yu-Gi-Oh cards I’ve ever owned.
Regardless, it gives you an idea of the depth that Steamforged Games have gone to not only to replicate the video game, but present it as an entirely new tactical challenge for the table top. You can’t button mash these attacks and swipes away, or spam the roll button – you have to engage the game system and strategise with your team (or by yourself if playing solo, Gold help you) because one bad roll can send you back to the start, and that spark dial ticking down the game clock.
Each of the common mobs have a data card each (so 6 in total), whilst each mini-boss and boss will have a unique deck of their own, including 2 treasure cards (for the mini-bosses) and 4 treasure cards for the bosses.
The last bit of ‘wargear’ to look at would be the dice, an essential item to any board game.
I mean, is there much else to say, than they are dice? What sets these apart from your regular dice is that instead of numbers, they are populated with symbols unique for the game. The green dice are dodge dice – so you roll these when you evade an attack. The rest function as regular dice would; the swords represent a number, like 2 swords being 2, and correspond to gear or attack cards for both the players and the monsters.
They are nice and sturdy dice, and fit with the theme and aesthetic of the game, and so serve well as part of the package.
It took a while, but we finally made it to arguably the best part of the entire game – the fantastic miniatures. With a whopping 27 of them in varying sizes and shape, you will not be disappointed if that’s what you came for. As a lover of medieval fantasy, I certainly was not.
Of the 27 miniatures, 4 of them represent classes that the players can choose, as covered in the character boards section.
From left to right, we have the Warrior, the Assassin, the Knight and the Herald.
These figures are actually very well detailed, and reflect the source material down to the tiny chainmail scales, and capture its very artistic essence. The swords are also quite sharp and thin too, and because the miniatures are made of a softer plastic, I imagine they can be easily bent, so bear that in mind when handling any of them in the game. The poses are very dynamic, much like in recent Warhammer miniatures, giving a sense of action – they are either always on the attack or on the defensive. Speaking of Warhammer, these miniatures are similar in scale to ones from Age of Sigmar, and could seamlessly fit into one of their armies, or as a Dungeons and Dragons proxy model.
My personal favourite is the Knight, which Dark Souls players might recognise as one of the favoured starter classes. His pose combined with the realistic facsimile of a medieval knight will make him a joy to paint. In fact, all these heroes are just begging to be painted, and add some colour to the bleak and grim world of Dark Souls.
We’ve only looked at four minis, and they’ve already set a high bar. Can we get much higher?
In Dark Souls, Hollows are undead that have lost their humanity entirely and are nothing more than shambling corpses. They are the basic common enemy encountered in the games, however they are no less dangerous – some of them kill you in a single swipe!
Hollows come in a few variations, usually dependent on the weapon they use, and the game surprises us with 3 of these variations.
The first are the Hollow Soldiers.
The game contains 3, all in the same pose. That can be easily forgiven, as these miniatures bear some incredible detail to them, as you can see particularly on the shield (which is just screaming to be drybrushed or edge highlighted) and the decaying clothing. As all the common enemies in the board game share the same pose, it’s good they at least chose the most action-oriented and visually striking one for an enemy we will encounter often.
Again, the Hollows could easily belong in an Age of Sigmar Death faction, like the Soulblight Gravelords. They are of a similar scale, as you can see above with this skeletal watchman from the Cursed City board game.
Next up, we have 3 Crossbow Hollows.
Whilst not as dynamic as the Hollow Soldiers, the Crossbow Hollows still look excellent and boast some deep details on their ragged clothing. You’ll notice a mould line on the base of the most left Hollow – overall, the miniatures have been very good for lacking any blatant ones, but some still slip through. Being on the base, at least it’s easier to file away with a craft knife or file.
The last of the Hollows included are 2 Large Hollow Soldiers.
During play, I’ve just been calling these guys ‘axe hollows’, but the original name does not tell a lie – they are slightly larger than the average Hollow Soldier. They come on a larger base too, to signify that these two are more dangerous than the previous ones. Their hunched-over pose while holding a massive axe in tow hands is perfect, coupled with their empty eyes and mouths. The zombie feel is very much prevalent here, if you’re into that kind of thing.
The Silver Knights
The other type of common adversary are the Silver Knights, and these are not spooky skeletons or maggot-ridden zombies. You can find them in the first game guarding the cathedral of the Gods at Anor Londo, where they show to be much deadlier with the blade and bow than your average Hollow milling about in a rotten village. They’re a bit hardier in the board game too.
First up, we have 3 regular Silver Knights.
Earlier, we were admiring the detailing on the Hollow shields. Now, ramp that up to a 10 and you get the impressively fine Silver Knight shields. Again, they really are asking for an intense wash and drybrush session. Though my knights’ swords have come out looking alright, I can imagine these getting bent and askew with extensive handling or improper storage, so be warned there.
Next, we have 3 Silver Knight Greatbowmen, which may trigger who have tried the ‘Anor Londo Fun Run’.
And what do I mean about that? You see those nasty looking arrows, about the size of a man? They can one-shot you off a building. This becomes a problem, when in order to get inside said building, you will need to run on nothing but thin roof-tops while these guys gleefully throw you off from afar. And their accuracy is relatively decent.
Now, this is somewhat reflected in the stats of the bowmen in the board game too. Prepare to cry.
That ramble aside, these are great miniature, and retain high fidelity to the source. Starting to sound like a broken record, but blame Steamforged Games for making such quality content.
Finally, of the last non-boss beasties, we have the 2 Sentinels.
I guess technically they’re not Silver Knights, but they’re found in the same places and they are big old knights. Suddenly, we see a big shift in scale with these guys – they are almost twice the height of all the miniatures covered so far. And they are tougher too from a gameplay point of view – having two in the whole set is a mercy.
As you can imagine, their polearms are very thin and can be easily damaged if roughly handled. Otherwise, this is another amazing miniature to add to the arsenal. I can see these guys shambling around like Dreadnoughts, but then hitting you as hard as one if you get too close or confident. The minis really give a sense of their size and power.
The next set of miniatures will make the Sentinels look like children. The Mini-Bosses are truly the plastic equivalent of the ‘Go big or go home’ mantra (at least when it comes to board games). We have 4 of them in total, and each one is entirely unique and not like any other.
The Titanite Demon may be one of my favourites of the bunch. Just what is this design? What kind of mind came up with this? In the game, it drags itself around on one leg, but absolutely slaps with that funny-looking tennis racket there (actually a catchpole, a medieval tool used to snare unruly animals or people who don’t pay their taxes). Personally, I find this type of monster design horrific – it’s a geometric thing that defies all logic and rules of the natural order. The texturing of it gives it a broken statue vibe, which would explain the missing, blunted leg. If this thing came knocking on my door representing the HMRC, I’d never sign a cheque late ever again.
The miniature is incredibly sturdy and has a bit of a heft to it. Whilst I wouldn’t recommending throwing it to the wind, it definitely feels a lot less precious than the other mini-boss and boss miniatures we’re about to explore. The Titanite Demon is definitely weird enough to fit right into a Tzeentch daemon army.
As a quick note, you’ll notice some raised striations on the base forming a cross – all the mini-bosses and bosses have them, and there is a purpose at play. The player character miniatures are designed to stand upon the bases of the bigger monsters – as they dominate the board tile, it makes sense for the players to get right in and personal as the Titanite Demon absolutely rails them.
The Bell Gargoyle is perhaps even more impressive than the Titanite Demon – it’s basically a miniature dragon, but armed to the teeth with a massive axe and shield. These were some nasty boys in the video game, and that same level of nastiness has been replicated well. Even the tail has a battle-axe attached to it.
There are, however, some downsides to such a well-sculpted figure. The axe and tail have great potential to be bent and damaged, and I advise caution when storing this away back into the bespoke boss monster packaging highlighted earlier. You can also see some obvious mould-lines on the arm, wings and axe there – so a little clean-up may be required, if you choose to.
The next two mini-bosses are actually from Dark Souls III, but being set in the same universe, they retain the artistic vibe and design of the world.
This is the Outrider Knight, as fast and cunning foe that will jump-scare you a few times in the video game, as it hides behind walls or stairways to surprise you. This has a different level of creepiness to the Titanite Demon – it’s a humanoid knight that crawls on the floor like a gaunt, malformed spider. The pose captures the menace these creatures present perfectly.
The final mini-boss is the Winged Knight, who is a rather chunky lad. Like the Titanite Demon, he has some weight to him, but due to that daunting but thin halberd, I wouldn’t want to drop him. Again, the detailed touches are absolutely sublime, and a testament to Steamforged Games’ sculpting skills. The helmet sports a spooky grin and a comically creepy face. They even got the little wings on the back right.
The best inevitably are saved until last. We get gifted (if you can really call it that) 2 bosses in the form of 3 miniatures. And you’ll see why that’s such an odd number momentarily.
Ornstein and Smough.
Sorry, that’s Dragon Slayer Ornstein and Executioner Smough to us mere mortals. These two come for the price of one – and as arguably the most memorable bosses of the Dark Souls series, they have earned their spot here in the board game. Had they not been included, everyone would have been shaking their fists at the clouds and cursing forever at the void.
So let’s praise the Sun eternally in gratitude that miniatures of these trauma-inducing monsters exist.
Ornstein on the left there is a bit more dynamic – he points the finger of scorn as he sees you cowering behind that pillar, thinking you’re safe for a brief moment. Smough grips his physics-waiving hammer and casually smashes the pillar into dust, leaving you back at the bonfire with shame and regret.
Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, Ornstein’s lance has been bent – I found him like this in the package. Whilst the bespoke plastic tray goes up and beyond when protecting your miniatures, there was still one casualty. Regardless, this could be fixed with the hot water trick or a hair dryer.
Smough’s greathammer has also suffered from a case of the bends. Maybe his droopy hammer is just a bit sad today? This highlights the problem of having a heavy blob of plastic like the hammerhead attached to a much thinner bit of plastic. Again, hot water or a hair dryer may remedy this, but due to the weight of the hammerhead, this may not be an easy permanent fix. There are also some noticeable mould lines on the haft, but can be filed down without much fanfare.
With those negatives aside, Ornstein and Smough are my personal pick for the best miniatures in the game. The detailing is perfect down to a tee, and I can’t wait to paint them down in a vibrant gold, slather them in nuln oil and drybrush them heavily. Even an amateur painter could make them look amazing.
Now, here’s the final boss.
This is the Dancer of the Boreal Valley, and she is one of the creepiest things I have ever faced in a video game. From Dark Souls III, she glides around the room on her tippy-toes slowly enough for you to land some hits on her backside, until she goes absolutely berserk and whirls around like Beyblade on fire and ends you. Not the kind of the dance I asked (or paid) for.
The miniature captures her ethereal elegance, and all the texturing on her sword, helmet and armour are just chef’s kiss. There is an insane amount of detail to rival a newer Games Workshop product.
My only concern with her is fragility. You can see her model is balanced on her tip-toes and the hem of her cape. She’s quite thin and light, and without great care, I can see this model getting bent and broken by carefree hands. Hopefully such a thing need not come to pass.
And with that, that’s all the miniatures covered. Breathe easy now.
As you’ve likely gathered already, Dark Souls: The Board Game is an enormous game. You’ve probably also gathered that setting up your first game may take some time – and on your first try, it will. However, the rulebook is very succinct and transparent how this ought to be done. Basically, it involves a lot of deck shuffling and token sorting.
Once you’ve got that out of the way, you’ll want to start exploring. Set your spark dial to 5 and get out there. The game works at a ‘one room at a time’ basis. You’ll have a deck of encounter cards with 3 levels of difficulty – draw one and it will detail exactly what you will need to set down in the room, and subsequently deal with. Dependent on the layout of the nodes on the board tile, your party will end up in a very claustrophobic chamber, where enemies and traps can be activated by stepping on or adjacent to them. An enemy can push you back as well as damage you – and the entire process, whether in combat or not, is turn based. Your options are fight the enemy or dodge them – you don’t need to risk your health if you choose not to, but there is no reward should you do so.
It cannot be emphasised enough the need for teamwork (if playing with others) to thrive in this game. Helping each other on an enemy will clear the room quicker. But working together can mean failing together – and the game holds no bars there. If one person in the party loses all their health and stamina, the encounter ends and the entire party loses a spark – and you only have 5. Lose all 5 and the game is over.
After every encounter, you’ll want to return to the safe Bonfire tile, upgrade your armour and weapons with Blacksmith Andre and spend souls earned from successful encounters to improve your skillset with the Firekeeper in order to be able to use certain treasures gained during the game. Resting at the bonfire replenishes your health and stamina, but also resets the rooms you’ve cleared – meaning all the nasty mobs will return. However, it’s also an opportunity to farm souls easily.
Naturally, the end goal is to fight a boss. This would be best done with fully upgraded armour, weapons or spells – but if you’re feeling bizarrely confident, then you could try pushing ahead without. However you do it, beating the boss beats the game – and you will likely ending up dying many times over when you get there.
Now, is this is a quick afternoon game? I would argue no. You could clear a few rooms in an afternoon on your first try, and once you get into the rhythm of it, things will pick up quicker and you’ll be able to get to that mini-boss next time. It is a game that expects a lot of time and space from you – so maybe not something to play at a family Christmas gathering.
It is an advanced game, and will not molly-coddle you. We did not get to our selected mini-boss of the Titanite Demon on our first go – in fact, we had run out of lives on the room before, thanks to the 2 Sentinels. The death aspect and relentlessly tough fights will be off-putting to some, and that is understandable. However, if one would prefer, you could change a couple rules if all parties agreed, and make the game to your liking and preferred playstyle. The game does feel like a Dungeon and Dragons campaign, a collaborative process that challenges and engages you, and that appealed to all of us as players.
At the end of the day, having fun is the most important thing, and we found this game all of these things. We definitely wanted more.
Now here’s the kicker. Dark Souls: The Board Game is currently listed as ‘Out of Stock’ in the United Kingdom (as of writing this review) by the manufacturer Steamforged Games. However, that being said, the game is still available to buy directly in other regions like the United States and Europe. Furthermore, they have recently announced two new expansion packs for the base game, so a restock of the board game for UK customers is definitely possible.
The game normally retails at £129.99/€129.95/$129.95. The game can also be found if you shop around on other FLGS websites, Amazon or EBay (which is where I got my copy from for £80). The non-boss miniatures that come with the game, like the Hollows, Silver Knights and Player characters, can be purchased separately on Steamforged Games for £24.99/€24.95/$24.95 per set, whilst the set that includes the Outrider Knight and Winged Knight is available to pre-order for release on 5th October at £34.99/€34.95/$34.95 respectively – that’s if you’re in it for the miniatures alone.
The game sits on the expensive end of the board game market, however, for the sheer amount of content you get with it, the price feels justified. If you’re a big Dark Souls fan or an aficionado of dungeon crawlers in general, this will be worth it for you.
|Gorgeous, high quality miniatures – and lots of them|
Intelligently thought out board game that stays true to the source
Tokens, tiles and boards very sturdy
Accessible but thorough rulebook
Bespoke packaging modular and protects fragile parts
Makes efficient use of storage
Perfect for those looking for a serious challenge
|Miniature weapons and thin parts may get bent or damaged|
A lot of set up time required
Some items can be fiddly to fit back into the packaging
Gameplay may be longer than suggested time on box
Dark Souls: The Board Game is unlike any other board game I had played or purchased. The entire package is just there – a complex gaming system that was easy to pick up once stuck in, with fantastic miniatures and items to keep you engaged with the world of the game. You really will spend hours on this, determined to beat that Titanite Demon who keeps thwacking you over the head with his catchpole and sending you back to the start. Once you’ve learnt his moveset and hitting him where it hurts, unlocking that fog gate that leads to Ornstein and Smough will really give you that satisfaction that most board games cannot supply – knowing that you’ve earned entry to the big boys after working so hard pushing through the obstacles laid before you, even if it took multiple tries and lives. It’s really a game where you have to ask yourself, are you prepared to die?
Steamforged Games have really gone up and beyond with this game, and fans will be pleased to know that they have released several expansion packs for the board game. These include more miniatures representing more iconic characters and bosses from the franchise and new game mechanics, such as summoning NPC allies to the fight (or invaders to ruin your knight’s whole career), as well as new armour and gear options for your character, truly turning the board game into an ongoing interactive campaign. The potential is endless.
The amount of thought and care put into the game is astonishing at every angle – whether that be the storage aspect, the fidelity to the source, the artwork and the simplicity of the rulebook – it’s truly exemplary of the industry. Be warned though – first time board game players will be daunted by the amount of stuff they have to handle for the game, and the possibility of crushing defeat and failure before you’ve even reached a mini-boss (happened to me, believe it). But for the experienced and those looking for a serious challenge, put your sword where your mouth is and start learning the art of hit-and-dodge – you won’t last long.
The criticisms put forth do feel very minor in comparison to all the positives of the game. The negatives are definitely fixable – if you’re experienced with miniatures, you may have encountered floppy weapons and bits before, and know that it can be remedied. If you or your group are finding some of the rules and mechanics too tough, then you can change them. Overall, this game feels like it should be worth more than the price they’re asking – so if you can get a bargain price on it, all the better.
The game is epic in scope and invites further play, like a Dungeons and Dragons campaign would. It’s an easy recommend, but only if you’re prepared to ‘Git gud, scrub’.
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