Barnes on Games- Darkest Night in Review (part one), Eldritch Horror returns, more Argent

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Darkest Night
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VPG rides again

Hey look! A co-op fantasy adventure game where you flip tokens/cards and roll dice! It's like the olden days of gaming...last week. Darkest Night certainly doesn't come across like the most original game out there, but the good news is that it is actually a DAMN good example of its genre. The main thing that I think sets it apart are the something like 30 characters across the base game and all of its expansions. Each of these has a unique deck of Power cards (with some cool iconography) that cause each one to play totally different from the others. I don't know if I've ever seen a board game handle class distinctions so well. Pathfinder had some of that, but it's even more pronounced in this game.

And there's this cool stealth theme going on, which makes up for the lackluster setting. You aren't supposed to just charge in and fight the bad guys. You've got to do this kind of guerilla war/Fellowship thing.

I really like Darkest Night a lot, there's a TON of game here. But I think it's actually best for solo players, unless you want to hear endless complaining from the guy that drew the Alchemist and either can't sort out how to play him or winds up with a few too many turns where he feels like he doesn't have anything to fight or roll a die at.

Review is at No High Scores this week.

I don't think Darkest Night is quite as good as Eldritch Horror in this particular style of game, but it's up there. I got Strange Remnants in and I've messed around with the Syzygy GOO. Both games were, weirdly, too easy. One of them I had the waitress and the new chef character because...well, I just had to. It's an odd expansion, it doesn't really add anything other than cards and it repeats some of the mechanical ideas. Now there's a Mystic Ruins deck that works just like the Expeditions. So much for Eldritch Horror being a more streamlined, accessible take on the AH concept. It's got card creep going on.

Argent is still hot with my folks, and I'm perfectly fine with that because it's one of the best things I've played in a while. We've tried the expansion, 'Mancers of the University, and at first I thought it was something to wait and see about but the additions are easy to implement and they really do a lot to enhance the setting. Which should, in a just world, be Harry Potter.

Imperial Assault stuff is coming from MM, we'll see how that goes. I understand that there's a new "mini campaign" in it, which is a step in the right direction IMO.

Charlie and I are in the middle of doing a head-to-head review on the very workmanlike Forbidden Stars, it should be a good one.


Michael BarnesFollow Michael Barnes Follow Michael Barnes Message Michael Barnes


Sometime in the early 1980s, MichaelBarnes’ parents thought it would be a good idea to buy him a board game to keep him busy with some friends during one of those high-pressure, “free” timeshare vacations. It turned out to be a terrible idea, because the game was TSR’s Dungeon! - and the rest, as they say, is history. Michael has been involved with writing professionally about games since 2002, when he busked for store credit writing for Boulder Games’ newsletter. He has written for a number of international hobby gaming periodicals and popular Web sites. From 2004-2008, he was the co-owner of Atlanta Game Factory, a brick-and-mortar retail store. He is currently the co-founder of and as well as the Editor-in-Chief of Miniature Market’s Review Corner feature. He is married with two childen and when he’s not playing some kind of game he enjoys stockpiling trivial information about music, comics and film.

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Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #208918 20 Aug 2015 19:33
Thanks for the review, VPG games easily slip under my radar.
ThirstyMan's Avatar
ThirstyMan replied the topic: #208921 20 Aug 2015 20:54
So overall, this is better, more thematic than Pathfinder? I don't have either but I'm tempted to pull the trigger on this one.
OldHippy's Avatar
OldHippy replied the topic: #208922 20 Aug 2015 21:28
I lost all interest in Forbidden Stars very quickly. But I have to admit that you've got me wondering about Argent. I've been trying to find a modern heavy Euro-ish game to buy into. I toyed with the idea of getting Caverna and Terra Mystica but everything I read turned me off big time. At this moment it's 504 that I'm thinking about the most and I didn't think anything could change that... but when you write about Argent I do consider plunging into that instead. Everything about it sounds very appealing to me.
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #208934 21 Aug 2015 08:57
Only a fuddy duddy would call Forbidden Stars workmanlike.
Deleted's Avatar
Deleted replied the topic: #208944 21 Aug 2015 10:27
Urbanization is a modern HEAVY EURO-ISH game, JJ. IT's pretty decent, but dry. Really, really dry. I rather like it but it took me several plays to kind of "get it".

The Village is a great MEDIUM EURO-ISH game. Really enjoying it, and I love the stolen idea of killing people off when time rolls on. It's really very deep. It's also very fun, which is odd for a game like this.

Caverna is better than Agricola only in that there's more things you can do, so it's sort of like an Agricola where you rarely get blocked for your action. Not a huge fan, but it's a good game. I think it's the kind of game where you are in the Ag camp or the Ca camp (see what I did there, lab man?).

Terra Mystica is fucking horrible. It's a messy design and it's really kind of tedious. That's after one play, so maybe I'm wrong, but I wouldn't play it again.

I'm looking at Argent with disdain, because I'm pretty sure I'd love it, and I don't want to spend any money.
airmarkus's Avatar
airmarkus replied the topic: #208946 21 Aug 2015 10:44
After all the forum discussion on Argent this week I went ahead and ordered it and the expansion from Coolstuff. Now I just have to make my way over there and pick it up.

I played Eldritch Horror at the Dice Tower con this year with 6 players. Never again! That being said, I thought the game was pretty cool, just way too long with that many players and boredom set in. I think it would be great solo or up to 3 players, possibly 4. I may pick it up sometime in the near future, or possibly Relic instead.

Forbidden Stars sounds like the kind of game that I really dig, considering Twilight Imperium and Runewars are among my favorites. I can't wait to read that one.
Chaz's Avatar
Chaz replied the topic: #208947 21 Aug 2015 11:13
I finally get to try my copy of Forbidden Stars on Sunday, probably with three. I look forward to finding out that Barnes is wrong. :D
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #208952 21 Aug 2015 11:45
Yeah, Forbidden Stars is awesome. It'll likely be my GOTY 2015, not that anyone gives two shits about my list. The only big conflict game by FFG that tops it is TI3. Runewars, Starcraft, AGOT are squarely behind it.
waddball's Avatar
waddball replied the topic: #208956 21 Aug 2015 12:40
I can't agree with the "card creep" observation in Eldritch. FFG has done a great job keeping things modular. You only use the Mystic Ruins deck if you're using Syzygy or one Prelude. Mechanically, it works the same as Expeditions, so no new rules there, which is really nice. They could add a Forsaken Remnants or Strange Lore stack later, and it wouldn't add sprawl (except in the box) because you would never use all three options at the same time.

I'm not sure I would want it to remain perfectly static, anyway. They're doling out new mechanisms slowly (Mystic Ruins isn't really a new mechanism, but Adventures are, and I suppose the sideboard movement options, but all pretty simple stuff). I guess you can call that creep, but it isn't like the old Arkham mess. The most you would ever have in play are two optional modules, depending on the GOO and Prelude. That could lead to a rare situation where two sideboards are in play (once Under the Pyramids comes out), but that's the max sprawl possible. Contrast that with Arkham. I don't feel any sense of dread opening the EH box and getting a game started up.
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #208958 21 Aug 2015 12:43
I don't know yet if Forbidden Stars is better than StarCraft. In some ways definitely, in others not really. It's kind of a toss up. It is MUCH cleaner than SC for sure though.

My biggest complaint is that I think with 3-4 players it's actually longer for us than StarCraft.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #208974 21 Aug 2015 15:18

ThirstyMan wrote: So overall, this is better, more thematic than Pathfinder? I don't have either but I'm tempted to pull the trigger on this one.

100% yes. It also has quite a bit more depth, yet it isn't very much more complicated rules-wise. It's really a pretty compact game. I would definitely rate it over Pathfinder. Which is, BTW, one of only two games that I think I over-rated when it came time to write the review. The other was MEQ. I kind of don't ever want to play Pathfinder again, although I did really enjoy it for the period that I was into it. Just no desire to return to it.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #208975 21 Aug 2015 15:22
That is true, Waddball...and the times I've played with Strange Remnants have all been with Syzygy AND the Cosmic Alignment thing. So the full deal. But I still think the game is toeing that line, threatening to start getting into those irritating counters and such you only use once in every ten games and only if certain elements are in play.

The problem I have with Adventures and the Ruins are that they are really just more ways to push the mysteries along...I'm not sure they really add any depth or additional narrative, really they just give you more options if you can't do what the mystery requires for whatever reason.

Definitely glad to have it, and I do like encountering the new content.
waddball's Avatar
waddball replied the topic: #209154 24 Aug 2015 12:36
Michael, I see your point. I'm reassured, though, that so far they've introduced at most one "new" thing in each expansion, and everything so far has been simple. Using Eldritch tokens as a stand-in for any number of specific effects is great, so for token bloat we've really only got Adventure and Ruins, both just one new token on the board and only used under certain circumstances. But yeah, add another, and's a potential worry.

I think Adventures definitely contribute to the narrative (especially in Mountains of Madness; I'm leery of the more "on rails" stack in Strange Remnants), but I doubt they add much depth. Still, this is an adventure game front and center, and it's pretty minimal mechanical fuss when I compare it to basically anything in the Arkham expansions.
Feelitmon's Avatar
Feelitmon replied the topic: #210727 15 Sep 2015 22:02
Barnes. Dude! Darkest Night fucking rocks.

It had been in the back of my mind for a while and your review prompted me to do some more research on the game, which led to my buying the Necromancer Bundle and the two remaining expansions. At this point I've played it twice solo and I can't wait to get my buddies into some sessions. There is so much to appreciate about the game, from its design to its presentation. The game mechanics are elegant and easily teachable, the graphic design is spare but beautiful, and the art is excellent at conveying the desperate and yet heroic tone of the game's setting and events.

One of the things that I most appreciate about the game is that it generates striking stories and vignettes without relying on flavor text. I don't have anything against flavor text but it's neat to play a game that has so little of it and yet is so thematically satisfying. These stories emerge from the interplay between character abilities and core stats, random events, the activities of the Necromancer, and your own decisions as a player. Here, I'll give an example from my first game. Anyone not interested in a geek geeking out about geek stuff should stop reading now. Fair warning!

In search of clues to the whereabouts of a holy relic that would be crucial in defeating the Necromancer, our Wizard had travelled to some ancient Ruins that sprinkled one corner of the kingdom. While there he received word that the peasantry were in a panic because something was snatching their children in the middle of the night and leaving no trace behind. The Wizard used his ability to turn invisible to track the creatures back to their lair, sneak in undetected, and spirit the children away to safety. The experience changed his outlook, and he realized that with the proper attack spells he could have defeated the creatures outright. This epiphany prompted him to master the devastating Fiendfire spell. Later he discovered a straggler from the original group of kidnapped children, and once again the Wizard used his invisibility to rescue her. He decided to put an end to this atrocity and assaulted a vast host of animated skeletons with his Fiendfire, reducing them all to ash. Sifting through their remains he found regimental insignia on some of the skeletons' armor that indicated that the most recently animated corpses had served the king, while living, in the Mountains on the opposite side of the kingdom. What could have kept them alive longer than their brothers had in the face of the Necromancer's foul magic? After paying his respects at an ancient altar he teleported to the Mountains to investigate this lead.

Now the mechanics of what happened there:

Round 11 Event Phase -- The Wizard starts the round in the Ruins and draws the Panic card, which has you draw a Quest card, roll for its location, and immediately add an hourglass token to it to indicate that it is already a bit closer to expiration. He draws the Without a Trace Quest card ("Something is stealing children from the local populace without leaving any witnesses. Track it to its lair or you will lose the sympathy of the townsfolk.") and randomly determines that its location is the Ruins. This quest can be resolved by taking a quest action in that location and then successfully eluding an Awareness 6 opponent. Failure to resolve the quest in time costs all heroes 2 Secrecy; success gives the questing hero an Epiphany, which lets them search their powers deck and learn the power of their choice.

Round 11 Action Phase -- The Wizard takes a quest action, then activates his Invisibility spell to help with the challenge. This gives him +2 dice (3 dice total, in this case) when eluding, but will exhaust itself automatically if he ever fails in a fight or uses another attack spell. Rolling 3d6 (looking for individual values rather than summing their total) he tries to match the Awareness rating of the challenge (6) and succeeds! This means that at least one of his three dice came up as a 6. The quest is completed and for his reward he learns the Fiendfire spell.

Round 12 Event Phase -- He draws the Rescue event card, which is an immediate challenge to either fight with a target number of 5 or elude with a target number of 4. With his Invisibility still active from last round he chooses to elude, rolling 3d6 (again, just looking for the highest individual values rather than summing the dice) and succeeding. The reward is a slight increase to his Grace.

Round 12 Action Phase -- The Wizard attacks the Skeletons blight that the Necromancer placed in the Ruins at the end of the last round. By attacking the blight the Wizard must fight a target number 5. He exhausts his Fiendfire spell to roll 5 dice and he succeeds, destroying the blight. This satisfies the Into the Dark mystery ("You can uncover critical secrets of the darkness if you can defeat its local manifestation.") that had been in place in the Ruins for several rounds, giving the heroes +3 Clues the first time a blight at that location is destroyed. The heroes need 10 clues to track down the location of a holy relic, and this leaves the group at 9 clues.

Round 13 Event Phase -- The Wizard encounters an Altar event, and his card-dictated roll determines that it is a Pure Altar. This gives him the ability to spend 1 Secrecy to gain 1 Grace, which he does.

Round 13 Action Phase -- The Wizard exhausts his Teleport spell to gain 2 Secrecy and move to the Mountains, which are the location of another Mystery card that may give the group enough clues to find a relic.

So maybe it was just me but when I played out that sequence the story just came alive and it was so easy to imagine the action unfold. And there have been quite a few other similarly evocative sequences just in the two games that I have played so far. From the Priest's Sanctuary spell flashing like a beacon so brightly in the Village that the Necromancer is practically summoned to the trap that we had laid for him there, to the Exorcist condeming a vicious blight so forcefully that the unnatural darkness afflicting the entire region is actually pushed back a bit, to the young Prince inspiring the Wind Dancer to perform so potent a dance that she summons a hurricane that annihilates several blights from the kingdom... man, it's cool. And a mechanically sound, fair, challenging, AT/Euro hybrid co-op to boot.

Yeah, Barnes, if we ever meet I owe you a drink for this recommendation.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #210730 16 Sep 2015 01:42
Ha ha, glad you liked it! My review Thursday is for all four expansions...I agree with a comment someone made here that they kind of feel like patches for the base game, but regardless- they make a great game better. It really does make a great narrative every game, and the characters are all really interesting to explore.
wkover's Avatar
wkover replied the topic: #210791 16 Sep 2015 18:16
Do the expansions make Darkest Night a whole different game? Even I'll admit that 'base game' pizza is better with the sauce expansion, the cheese expansion, and the pepperoni expansion.

Anyway, I played DN once (2-player) and thought that was plenty. For the price, there are so many better games available - Eldritch Horror, for starters.

Hmm...could be that DN fills a niche as an amazing solo game - is that the draw? I'm just curious.


Re-reading the posts above, I'd also add that - for me - Pathfinder has turned out to be the one of the best family-style games ever released. But as a solo game? I imagine it would be mediocre at best.

Some games just have to find their audience, I think.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #210793 16 Sep 2015 18:37
Let's hold on that to tomorrow. In short, yes, I think I does and I actually think it is a much better solo game than a multiplayer game. It's very different than Eldritch Horror or even Mage Knight, which would be the other top games in its class. But Eldritch Horror would be the one that is a better multiplayer game than either of its peers.
Feelitmon's Avatar
Feelitmon replied the topic: #210811 17 Sep 2015 03:33

Michael Barnes wrote: Let's hold on that to tomorrow. In short, yes, I think I does and I actually think it is a much better solo game than a multiplayer game. It's very different than Eldritch Horror or even Mage Knight, which would be the other top games in its class. But Eldritch Horror would be the one that is a better multiplayer game than either of its peers.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow's column, but that won't stop me from chiming in with something tonight. First of all, the expansions are amazing and I'm very impressed at how they expand the gameplay in natural ways. I haven't played without them and I don't intend to, so I guess the downside there is that it's about a $120 game after shipping and tax. Adjusted for inflation that's how about how much I paid for stuff like Wing Commander way back when, and I was dirt poor. I'm fine with that price for something like Darkest Night.

Regarding group vs. solo, I haven't played it with a group yet so I can't speak from experience on which mode works best. However, my intuition tells me that Mr. Barnes is correct on this, or at least that Eldritch Horror lends itself to communal play more than Darkest Night does. I think that Darkest Night presents the characters as a tiny team that is working in a relatively small area. The game's scope and mechanics reward good coordination of the characters' actions, which of course is great for solo play. In Eldritch Horror I get much more of a feeling that our characters, while certainly working together on the same side, nonetheless are pursuing their own adventures as part of the larger effort. In most of the Eldritch Horror games that I've played my character rarely even meets more than one or two of the others. This plus the globetrotting action seem to make Eldritch Horror very well suited to group play.

TLDR: In Eldritch Horror you play B.A., Hannibal, Face, and Murdock. In Darkest Night you play the A-Team.