Sunday, July 13, 2014

Game Review: Cities of Darkscorch

In an earlier post, I crowed a bit about receiving my copy of Cities of Darkscorch, but it wasn't until last night that I had a chance to play it. The wife and child joined me for fantasy rockband madness, as we dodged the blacklist, dueled with opposing quartets (and each other), and tried to get ourselves to Numenor for ultimate battle. Short version: It was fun.

Long version

The game is a turn-based boardgame. The contents consist of:

  • 16 wooden counters imprinted with the name of a band (the bands on the Warfaring Strangers: Canticles of Darkscorch compilation). I got Stoned Mace, the wife got Wrath, and the daughter got Medusa. 
  • 3 dice (d4, d6, and d20)
  • 25x25 inch game board (not shown below)
  • 2 decks of card (Fate cards and Foe cards)6 "city banner" cards with sliding windows
  • Warfaring Strangers: The Darkscorch Canticles double LP, with band bio insert
  • CD of Warfaring Strangers compilation
Box Contents (not including game board or double LP)

The production quality for everything included is very good. The double LP cover and insert are extremely nice, as is the box that everything comes in. Some of the game pieces (especially the banner boards) are not as well-made, but nothing aggregiously terrible. The art style is simple, and invokes a sense of nostalgia. I can totally see this stuff drawn on a school notebook or on a backpatch. I mean, seriously, look at that wizard on that chopper! The main gripe I have is the choice of fonts used for the flavor text and city markers. They're quirky and in-theme. They're also pretty hard to read, at times, which can get in the way of fun. For example:

Reading this stuff can be a pain in the ass, and the little windows don't like to stay put.

Same font used  on game board. Also a pain in the ass.

Gameplay itself is very simple, and reminds me a little of Munchkin (but only a little). Here are the basics:
  • You place your counter on the "City" written its reverse side. This is your home city. You must win a battle in your home city and claim that city's "banner" before you move out onto the board.
  • Each player gets three Fate cards to start, and can get more through battles or by landing on particular board locations. They include advantages, disadvantages, transportation, new band mates, and getting placed on (or getting off) The Blacklist.
  • Battles require you to go head to head with an opponent from the Foe deck. Draw the card and roll a d4. At the bottom of the foe card is a list of symbols each with an associated number. So, a "2" shows an "X" symbol and a 17. This is the drummer, who has a value of 17. You must roll the Battle Die (a d20) and get that number or above to win the battle. Defeating the foe also entitles you to receive 1 or more Fate cards as loot.
  • Fate cards can be played during a battle to enhance a roll. You play cards that give you positive modifiers. Other players can throw down cards to give you negative modifiers, just to screw you over. Many a battle was lost, last night, because of this. To be fair, though, other players can certainly work to help, as well.
  • If you win a battle on a city space, you win a banner from that city. You must collect all 16 banners to make it to the final battle, in the city of Numenor.
  • The first player to get 16 banners advances to Numenor, and is immediately joined by every other player. This person is the headliner. You don't get to be the headliner if you haven't acquired the 16 banners.
  • Once in Numenor, everyone tallies a band score, including the bonus numbers of any band members those on any advantage cards. You also can play your disadvantage cards against the headliner (at least that's how we did it). 
  • To battle, everyone rolls a d20 and adds the band score. If the headliner wins the roll, the game is over. If not, he or she must leave Numenor (moving at least one space outside) and return to try again. 

Going for atmosphere
As I said earlier, the game is a lot of fun. The cards are often pretty damned funny (and a bit bawdy), with references to sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll. I found myself laughing at a lot of the cards as we played the game. One example:

Again with the hard-to-read font.
 Overall, I have to say I'm glad I picked this up. We had a lot of fun playing it with three people, and I think it would be even better with four or five. That would provide more opportunities for PvP battles, and chances to screw over the other players (which is always fun).

So, to summarize. Simple, easy to play, fun, and pretty well-conceived game. I'll play it again.

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