Barnes on Games: Darkest Night Expansions in Review, Undercity, Xia

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MB Updated September 18, 2015
Darkest Night
There Will Be Games

A Darkest Night Smorgasbord

A couple of weeks ago, I had a cliffhanger at the end of my Darkest Night review. Well, here is the follow-up. All expansions reviewed here at No High Scores. The short version is that the first and latest expansions are the must-haves, but they are strangely sort of redundant because both completely alter the main quest line of the game. With An Inner Light adds quests to add objectives other than looking for keys and bettering your characters, In Tales of Old adds a slightly different kind of quest (Mysteries) that do away with the keys and have you looking for clues to find Holy Relics instead.

It does actually feel like Darkest Night has sort of been developed as it goes along, I can’t disagree with that criticism. But it’s still a really great game, one of the better big-scale co-op adventure games on the market. I think there is a rumor about an all-in Kickstarter, which would probably be worth buying when it releases to the public. Especially if it sort of irons out some of the seams between expansions.

In the forums I asked the question, “why aren’t you people talking about Undercity”. It really demonstrates a lapse of taste and judgment among the F:AT membership that folks aren’t like “Undercity, whoa”. Because so far, the game is awesome. It’s true that we need a new dungeoncrawler about as much as we need another strip mall with a Chinese restaurant, a nail place and a mattress store. But when the quality is as high as it is in Undercity, it may be worth jettisoning one or more of the also-rans to make room for it.

It’s a very studied design in that it is clearly nicking some of the best bits from other games, and those familiar with the genre will be able to play “spot the influence”. But it comes together supremely well and it manages to bring its own flavor. I love that it is definitely an Iron Kingdoms/Warmachine game and it totally feels like it- on the second scenario, I had a rampaging Warjack show up in the middle of the mission and that led to some of the bone-crunching, body-slamming combat that made Warmachine so much fun. Classes and characters are fun, and the scenario design is superlative- it’s MUCH better than Imperial Assault in this regard with some unique setups and objectives.

It’s all very simple- not much more complicated than D&DAS. I think this may be a real contender, don’t let all of the bellyaching about the bland board put you off from it. It’s actually pretty smart. Setup takes five minutes instead of fifteen.

In contrast, Secrets of the Lost Tomb seems to be a sprawling, unwieldy mess of a dungeoncrawler. There are some interesting things about it, but I dunno. Very iffy on it so far. The high level concept of doing an Arkham Horror/Indiana Jones inspired “tombcrawler” is a great one. But the design is classic Kickstarter in all the wrong ways.

On the more positive Kickstarter end…I requested Xia: Legends of a Drift System from the publisher in December of last year. I got an email last week asking if I still wanted one, the new second printing. So yay, that came in the mail yesterday. I soloed a three player game last night and…hoo boy, I’m on a roll with pickin’ ‘em. This game is GREAT. My knee-jerk reaction was to toss Merchant of Venus into a Big Barnes Sale and possibly put Merchants and Marauders in there as well. I think it is probably better than Firefly, despite losing the specific flavor of that title.

The one thing I love most about is that it looks INSANELY complicated. I flipped through the rules and was like “oh man…” But then I saw that it was really just a very easy to grasp energy management thing with a logical upgrade path for the component types based on what die they get to roll and their size. After the first turn I totally got it, and in a way it feels like a very high-end family game with just a bit more detail. I like the missions, I like the “terrain”, love the energy mechanics. It seems much more like an “opportunities” game rather than a long-term strategic planning one, which I really like because it creates a truly open world environment.

The production is just obnoxious…I scoff at metal coins regularly, but these things are SWANK. And the painted ship miniatures are really fun. Definitely looking forward to bringing this out with a group, but I am really thinking that this needs to top out at three players.

Star Trek: Five Year Mission is probably the worst game I’ve played this year.

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Editor-in-Chief

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 FortressAT.com and Nohighscores.com 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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Legomancer's Avatar
Legomancer replied the topic: #210880 18 Sep 2015 07:58
I'm really interested in Xia, but what kills it for me is that a) supposedly it doesn't play well with 2, which is a deal-breaker and b) the price. I'm glad the KS backers were happy with metal coins and bullshit, but I'm not paying $80 for it.
Deleted's Avatar
Deleted replied the topic: #210881 18 Sep 2015 08:20
I've wanted Xia from day 1, but the price is what kills me. I was hoping for a review copy many moons ago, but now it's kind of hard to ask for one.
Scott_F's Avatar
Scott_F replied the topic: #210889 18 Sep 2015 08:36
I loved Xia my first play. Second play I liked it. Third play I wanted it to burn and vowed to never play again.
Mr. White's Avatar
Mr. White replied the topic: #210890 18 Sep 2015 08:37
"In the forums I asked the question, “why aren’t you people talking about Undercity”. It really demonstrates a lapse of taste and judgment among the F:AT membership that folks aren’t like “Undercity, whoa”."

I'd guess part of it is...there's just too many damn games coming out. I didn't even know this existed. Even if I did, your comment about dungeon crawlers is on point. Too many. Especially if one bought into any line (DDAS, Super Dungeon Explore, Mice and Mystics, Descent, Imperial Assault, Shadows of Brimstone, etc...) they may want to explore what they have deeper before going for others. I dunno. We're drinking from a fire hose at this point.

Personally, I find the Iron Kingdoms to be one of the lamest fantasy settings in gaming. Besides all the Warhammer knock-off names, it's just silly. The fact that they put cavalry in Warmachine just because fans wanted it ("Warhammer has them!") shows they have no real vision for the universe. When there are robots shooting real bullets and rockets (to go along with all the magic slung around) I don't think riding around up on a horse is where anyone wants to be...
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #210892 18 Sep 2015 08:45
I agree, the Iron Kingdoms setting sucks.

Also, the enemy AI looked bland as hell. Just like the D&D Adventure series games. The board also looks ridiculously clean/boring.
Deleted's Avatar
Deleted replied the topic: #210894 18 Sep 2015 09:00

Scott_F wrote: I loved Xia my first play. Second play I liked it. Third play I wanted it to burn and vowed to never play again.


Trade it to me, sucka!!
airmarkus's Avatar
airmarkus replied the topic: #210898 18 Sep 2015 09:14
It's funny, I played Xia earlier this year and was bored out of my skull. We were playing it two player so maybe that was the problem, but at that price, I'm not willing to take the plunge to find out.

I've given up on dungeon crawler board games. I've owned a couple of the D&D Adventure System games and Level 7: Omega Protocol, but after a couple of plays they all fall flat for me. The only one that I have enjoyed every play of is Mage Knight and that hardly ever comes out to the table anyway. I think with most dungeon crawls, I either feel like there is plenty to discover when it comes to items and monsters or whatever, but the combat gets repetitive and boring or there is a very slight feeling of character progression which leaves me wanting more that I know I won't get. Because of that, I tend to lose interest pretty quickly.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #210900 18 Sep 2015 09:51

Scott_F wrote: I loved Xia my first play. Second play I liked it. Third play I wanted it to burn and vowed to never play again.


You can't leave us hanging with just that...
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #210901 18 Sep 2015 10:17
Definitely stick to 3 with Xia Barnes. 4 is too slow IMO.
Egg Shen's Avatar
Egg Shen replied the topic: #210905 18 Sep 2015 11:15
Undercity has a few strikes going against it. This coming from someone that is basically a gullible rube that is easily taken advantage of when we're talking dungeon crawls. I love the genre and have to talk myself out of most of em.

Undercity has a pretty drab ass looking board. The look and artwork as a whole seems sort of uneven. Not the end all be all...but it's a valid complaint.
Game looks like it comes with only four characters. Kind of a bummer.
Price point - This is competing price wise with the heavy hitters in the genre.

On the plus side though

Those feat cards you constantly get are a great idea. Plus I like that your character has lots of options from the word, "Go"
The characters that they included are not your standard, warrior, mage, rogue, healer. They sort of are, but with a twist.
Game seems pretty easy and intuitive to play. Scenarios seems interesting to play through.

I'm really on the fence for this one. I just re-acquired DungeonQuest...still have a ton of Imperial Assault to play through and buying Undercity seems like a pretty over indulgent thing to do at the moment. I wish it were more of a slam dunk for me...I really do. But I think I can pass on it for now.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #210907 18 Sep 2015 11:41
Here's the thing about a title like Undercity...this is probably article fodder, really...but it's salient to the discussion here.

When I look at something like Undercity, I may comment on the flooded dungeoncrawl market, grouse about how there are too many new games, and so forth but ultimately if what I am looking at is something that I have a high opinion of and think is a superlative example of the genre...then it's my duty to emphasize that aspect of it. The high quality of the design, the product, the uniqueness of the setting or whatever. Because ultimately, I'm analyzing and commenting on that game- not on market trend or saturation. And it isn't up to me as a critic to determine for you, Joe Gameplayer or Joe Gamebuyer, if this game is "one too many" for you. But yeah, damn straight I'll mention that it's a saturated genre in the review. Because that's just the truth of it right now.

In other words, I am not going to express a negative opinion about a high quality game because there are too many others in its genre or class. That would be like saying "welp, there's already enough science fiction movies, there can't ever be any more good ones because we have plenty, thanks".

It does help that I really like low complexity dungeoncrawls, regardless of how many there are.

Per Egg's comments...the board is actually a really good idea. It's a plan grid and you just lay the wall tiles on it. No puzzle-work involved. It's an area-based game, so it allows for big zones with many figures in them. They really should have dressed up the textures a bit, I do agree that it looks bland. But the rest of the artwork and graphic design is top notch- the figures are REALLY good, I think some of them are actually just Warmachine/IK sculpts put in plastic. I know I've painted that alchemist dude before.

It is only four (technically five) characters, but they are well done, and they extensive upgrade paths. This doesn't really bother me. The storyline is very specific to these characters, you can tell that they wanted it to be their story.

Price is high, definitely agree there, but it's still lower than a Kickstarter with a similar number of figures (44).

I like the Iron Kingdoms stuff...of course, I used to play Warmachine so that helps there. I liked that it had horses and mechs, it kind of has a WWI like feel because of that.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #210908 18 Sep 2015 11:47
Oh, Charlie's comment about the AI. It is pretty much the system from Galaxy Defenders. The villains have three options and you do the first one that they are eligible to take. They are basically attack, shoot, charge or approach- at least from what I've seen so far. There is some nuance to it, like a crossbowman in range can hold and shoot, meaning they get to aim. But they won't shoot into a fray, they'll approach it to get a better angle. Some special villain abilities and scenario rules mix some of this up.

For example, in the second scenario, the story is that you're trying to apprehend these four suspects that are expected to travel through this common thoroughfare. They activate and behave completely differently because they are trying to avoid you. During that scenario when I played it, a rampaging Warjack showed up and it sort of intermittently worked. Which was really neat, because this broke-down mech was in the middle of this brawl and when it activated, it pretty much always flattened one of my guys.
Mr. White's Avatar
Mr. White replied the topic: #210909 18 Sep 2015 11:47
You are correct in how you should review a game. My response was only directly pointed at the comment as to maybe why we, the peanut gallery, haven't been talking it up in the forums. It could be great, but are there enough of us with funds/interest left over to buy it? Enough of us to carry on a forum discussion?

Ravenloft dropped just prior to this glut, so interest was sky high. Even if we didn't have the game yet, we wanted to talk about it. At this point, I'm not sure how many radar's this was even on...
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #210910 18 Sep 2015 11:50
That's getting at a much larger cultural shift that's happened in the hobby over the last 10 years, Jeff. It used to be that there was a sense that everyone was kind of on the same page- a game would come out, and of course you had played it or knew someone that had it and were going to play it next weekend. And then there'd be discussion about it here or elsewhere. Now, it's harder to have those conversations because of how dispersed interest is and the avalanche of games that are out there.

Like, I'd really like to have a conversation with F:ATties about Mistfall...but I might be the only one out of our membership that even owns it.
Deleted's Avatar
Deleted replied the topic: #210911 18 Sep 2015 11:54
The problem is that there's just too many fucking games now. (Thanks, Kickstarter!) It's virtually impossible for even the tastemakers to keep up with everything, so you end up basically only hearing about what your go-to guys and friends are talking about.

I've never even heard of Mistfall until you brought it up.

Too much chaff, not enough wheat.
Mr. White's Avatar
Mr. White replied the topic: #210913 18 Sep 2015 12:02
I hadn't heard of Mistfall until now either.

At one point I was thinking of doing up an article focusing on 2005. It felt like a new era of board gaming particularly with FFG starting their reprints (FoD, WK, Britannia) and there were still decent Euros coming out. The cool thing about that year, in addition to the new games and promise of games to come, was that the overall release schedule was still at the point where, yeah, you and your game group could collectively be aware of and talk up/play the games as they were released.

Last year I was posting 'tiring of board gaming' threads and really it was because the hobby has now moved too fast for me. I could no longer keep up even if I wanted too. So, going towards the alternative, I went back to playing fewer titles and only log onto BGG for trades and sales. I don't have the time to research every title that appears on the hotness list (a list that turns over weekly), every title mentioned in the news section, or coming up through KS, etc.

I'm not solely blaming KS. There are also a ton of publishers doing the regular thing, but all together ... I had to tap out.

Naturally, the 'too many games' situation is likely also why the comment count on these review articles have gone down drastically over the years.

It's unfortunate, and I don't know where we go from here. I always feel like the 'old man' on this site, but is this good? Maybe, maybe not, I dunno, but I'll have to watch from the sidelines.
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #210917 18 Sep 2015 12:30

Michael Barnes wrote: Oh, Charlie's comment about the AI. It is pretty much the system from Galaxy Defenders. The villains have three options and you do the first one that they are eligible to take. They are basically attack, shoot, charge or approach- at least from what I've seen so far. There is some nuance to it, like a crossbowman in range can hold and shoot, meaning they get to aim. But they won't shoot into a fray, they'll approach it to get a better angle. Some special villain abilities and scenario rules mix some of this up.

For example, in the second scenario, the story is that you're trying to apprehend these four suspects that are expected to travel through this common thoroughfare. They activate and behave completely differently because they are trying to avoid you. During that scenario when I played it, a rampaging Warjack showed up and it sort of intermittently worked. Which was really neat, because this broke-down mech was in the middle of this brawl and when it activated, it pretty much always flattened one of my guys.


Wait - The AI is card driven? When researching it awhile back I thought they always activated in between heroes? Never mind, that takes care of my AI complaint.

Mistfall looked cool but man, it has a ton of errata and component issues. Just the weight of the BGG threads discussing all of the mis-marked stuff and rules misunderstandings kept me away.

mikecl who posts here is a huge fan though.
Space Ghost's Avatar
Space Ghost replied the topic: #210918 18 Sep 2015 12:31
Michael - what are your thoughts on Mistfall vs. Darkest Night? To me, Mistfall seems like an ambitious, if coming up short, attempt to meld Mage Knight and the Pathfinder games. Even though it was on kickstarter, it seems light on unique content. The two times I have played it, I didn't see a lot of variability in terms of loot. Also, the "challenge" curve seemed not to scale well -- the game became progressively easier as we worked towards the boss....but perhaps this was just randomness?
iguanaDitty's Avatar
iguanaDitty replied the topic: #210920 18 Sep 2015 12:48
From what I've read Mistfall seems interesting but pretty much wholly focused on combat. Sort of a Sentinels of the Multiverse dungeon crawler. Which, I love Sentinels but I really only need one Sentinels. And unlike Pathfinder I don't think there's really any campaign sense of building your character up right?
Space Ghost's Avatar
Space Ghost replied the topic: #210921 18 Sep 2015 12:55
The copy I played had a campaign as a stretch goal add-on. I looked through it, and it seemed to look like it was added on after the fact. I haven't played it, so I can't comment to whether it will integrate well or not.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #210924 18 Sep 2015 13:05
Oh wow, OK, so folks have played it/heard about it!

I just soloed it yesterday...it looks really, really interesting but it's such a sloppy piece of work. It is definitely more Sentinels than Darkest Night, Mage Knight or Pathfinder. But unlike Sentinels, it seems like it may actually be a good design and not rely on endless +1/-1 modifiers and completely capricious difficulty. It seems like you have A LOT of options with your cards and it feels like there is a good sense of tension when you've got monsters stacked up on you and you have to puzzle out how to beat them all or at least mitigate their damage. There's a lot I really liked about it, but it feels VERY much like how- for whatever reason- these kinds of Eastern European games always do. Slightly overcomplicated, baffling rules, non-standard nomenclature. Like, why fuss around with "in the hero area" stuff when everybody else just says EQUIP.

The setting isn't particularly unique, but I like that it's a sort of barbarian-ish winter thing.

I did think of Darkest Night to some degree, at least in having the very unique characters, but DN is way different on every level. Just not even the same genre. I didn't really think of Mage Knight at all, to be honest. Pathfinder, eh, maybe. But this is a more detailed, complex game than Pathfinder for sure.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #210928 18 Sep 2015 13:18

Mr. White wrote:
Naturally, the 'too many games' situation is likely also why the comment count on these review articles have gone down drastically over the years.

It's unfortunate, and I don't know where we go from here. I always feel like the 'old man' on this site, but is this good? Maybe, maybe not, I dunno, but I'll have to watch from the sidelines.


I'm feeling as old as you, as I've largely chosen to ignore anything new. I can't keep up, so I'm waiting for things to settle out. But the message is so fractured now that really good games, Kickstarter or otherwise don't get the attention they deserve even after a year or more. On game night you get one shot with your new title, and if it doesn't really knock everyone's socks off it isn't coming out again. That $40 price tag is likely good for one session only. And I'd wager my group is a little more conservative than most.

It's odd that the mature half of the industry is in the middle of a huge merger-fest while Kickstarter is coming in from the bottom essentially with onesies.
wkover's Avatar
wkover replied the topic: #210932 18 Sep 2015 14:05
Is everyone who is enjoying Darkest Night playing it solo? If so, perhaps it should have been marketed as a 'solo' game in the first place.

(I'm not a solo gamer, so I would have passed it over for sure.)

I played it multiplayer and found it Not Fun.
Feelitmon's Avatar
Feelitmon replied the topic: #210934 18 Sep 2015 14:15

wkover wrote: Is everyone who is enjoying Darkest Night playing it solo? If so, perhaps it should have been marketed as a 'solo' game in the first place.

(I'm not a solo gamer, so I would have passed it over for sure.)

I played it multiplayer and found it Not Fun.


Uh oh, I'm about to introduce my friends to Darkest Night this weekend after having learned it solo to prep. Do you think that the things you don't like about the game are related to the multiplayer?
Feelitmon's Avatar
Feelitmon replied the topic: #210938 18 Sep 2015 14:32
Regarding a possible Darkest Night Kickstarter or version 2, I guess I wouldn't be surprised if Victory Point Games were to go that route. It looks like it's their #1 seller by a country mile right now, and they just Kickstarted a new edition of Dawn of the Zeds and are about to open a new KS campaign for their Captain Nemo game. I certainly wouldn't object to a new edition of Darkest Night even though I just jumped all in on the current stuff. However, the game as it is right now has a great mix of graphic design, art, and components, and with a new edition I'll bet that the urge to tinker with that stuff will be impossible for VPG to resist.

Barnes, I see what you mean about the seams between the expansions showing. In some sense it's inevitable when an expansion adds new stuff that interacts with existing game systems. The expansions out there that just add more cards for every deck or more characters are usually quite welcome and they don't introduce that issue, but I think it's to this game's credit that its expansions generally are more ambitious than that. Just how visible or troubling those seams are will vary by taste, of course, and I'm going to experiment with my friends by not introducing them to the base game at all. For example, to them a key will just be there to unlock a card from the Mystery deck, and that will be that. I'll be sure to ask them afterwards what they think about this topic.