Bloodborne: the Card Game

I've written quite a few wishlist and feature proposals for video games on this blog. But today I'm going to do something that I don't think I've done before: suggest ideas for a board game expansion. In this case, I'm going to outline some ideas for my own user-made expansion ("mod"?) for Bloodborne: the Card Game. An official expansion may be due out later this year, so perhaps designer Eric Lang might come across this post and incorporate some of these ideas.

In my review of the card game, I mentioned that the card game adaptation is very simple, that a lot of stuff from the source material seemed strangely absent, and that it almost seemed as though the designers were leaving the door open for some easy expansion material. So I'm going to go ahead and try my hand at creating some of that material.

This isn't the first time I've ever tried my hand at modding a board game, but it is the first time that I've publicly posted my ideas. One of my better ideas (I think) was to try to write a series of national agendas for each of the factions in Axis & Allies, which would be drawn in secret at the start of the game. Only the faction(s) that fulfilled their agendas (and won the war) would be considered victorious. The idea was to make the game more interesting for more than just two players. Probably my most successful mod idea was for the Battlestar Galactica board game (specifically the Exodus expansion). Nobody in our BSG group ever liked playing as Laura Roslin, as we didn't feel that her benefits offset the handicap of having to sacrifice cards from her hand. In order to make her feel more viable, we all agreed that instead of having to discard two cards, Roslin could chose to take a trauma token. This introduced the risk that she might suddenly die (if a blood stain was drawn), but also allowed the player to keep her cards in her hand if they were going to be needed.

So let's see if I can come up with some workable expansion suggestions for Bloodborne...


Bloodborne - the Card Game

It seems like everything has a board game these days. I wouldn't think that a license like Dark Souls or Bloodborne would warrant a board / card game adaptation, but apparently, I'm just not creative enough. The kickstarted Dark Souls board game is shaping up to be something similar to Descent, and is slated for release later this year. Bloodborne, on the other hand, already has a card game sitting on the shelf of a hobby store near you since last year. A copy of the game showed up under my Christmas tree this year.

Bloodborne: the Card Game Is very easy to learn, and it plays very fast and smooth! This is good, since most of my games are epic-length, 4-plus-hour games that we rarely have time to play. So it's always good to find a new game that people like and which can be played in an hour or less. Our first learning game of Bloodborne (including reading the rules) took about an hour and a half. We had planned on playing a sample round to learn the rules and then doing a mulligan on the game, but we didn't even need to because the game process is so simple that we all grasped the basic mechanics pretty much immediately.

"Selfish Phlebotomy": A game of kill-stealing

The game is a competitive card drafting game in which players sort-of cooperate to defeat a series of monsters, but compete against each other to score the most points. It's basically a Bloodborne-themed reskin of Cutthroat Caverns. Thematically, each player takes on the role of a hunter, the group fights a series of monsters in a Chalice Dungeon, and the hunters acquire Blood Echoes (points) by fighting and killing the monsters. Blood Echoes are directly earned by damaging a monster with a weapon attack. Each player who deals damage to a monster in the round in which the monster is killed also gains one or more trophies (based on the strength of the monster), which are converted to Blood Echoes at the end of the game for scoring.

Bloodborne the Card Game - Hunter's Dream
You're playing for Blood Echoes, which are lost if you die - unless you bank them in the Hunter's Dream.

The major mechanical gimmick of this game (and the one that is most inspired by the source material, and which most separates it from Cutthroat Caverns) is that when a player's character dies, that character loses all of his or her collected Blood Echoes, and then resurrects to fight again the next round. However, a player can use an action during the round to return to the Hunter's Dream and bank their collected Blood Echoes so that they cannot be lost. While in the Hunter's Dream, a player can also select new cards to add to his or her hand, and going to the Hunter's Dream is the only way to cycle your previously-played cards back into your hand. The drawback, of course, is that you can't participate in the fight and gain more blood. It's a risk / reward mechanic, and it works very well.

Dominion base game
Dominion is a short and simple deck-building card game.

Most of the board games that I like are very long, epic games that take hours to play. Games like Civilization, Battlestar Galactica, and Eclipse can take four or five hours to complete - all of which can still be finished before I'm even done setting up Axis & Allies 1940!. But sometimes, my friends and I don't have hours to burn on a board game, and we need something shorter to play. Fortunately, I have a handful of shorter games as well. And one of the best and shortest games that I play is the deck-building game Dominion.

Dominion is an exceedingly simple game to learn, set up, and play. The basic concept is that each player spends money from his hand to buy kingdom cards to place in your deck. Each kingdom card has special abilities that you can execute when you play it from your hand, and the strategy of the game comes from which cards you buy and how you chain their effects together to maximize your ability to buy victory point cards. Each game will have a group of treasure cards and victory point cards, some of which are distributed to each player to form their starting hands. Each player receives seven "Copper" treasures and three "Estate" victory cards. Shuffle them, and draw five for your starting hand.

Dominion - action card
To play the game, simply follow the
directions printed on each card.

When your turn comes along, you can have an Action Phase and a Buy Phase. During the Action Phase, you play any "Action" cards from your hand and resolve their effects. During the Buy Phase, you play any treasure cards in your hand to purchase new cards to add to your deck. Each card has a cost to buy it, which is printed in the bottom corner. Certain cards will grant you additional actions or buys (i.e. the ability to split your treasure to purchase multiple cards of smaller value), and chaining them together efficiently is the key to victory.

There's very few actual rules to learn, since all the actions in the game are resolved by simply reading the effects from the card. The only things you have to learn are some of the game's basic vocabulary (e.g. "action", "buy", "gain", "discard", "trash", "attack", and so on). Once you know what all those words mean in relation to the game (and most of them are self-explanatory), you are ready to play! The result is a simple and elegant game that can be picked-up and played within a matter of minutes.

But this simple game also hides some serious depth and versatility...

Star Trek: Fleet Captains - manual shows painted miniatures
Star Trek: Fleet Captains is an exploration and combat board game by WizKids.

Good Star Trek games are few and far between. That goes for both video games and board games. Part of the reason for this is that it's often difficult to capture the spirit of Star Trek when trying to adapt it into en existing game genre. This is why Trek-themed games end up turning into dull shooters or tactical combat games. Games about exploration or scientific discovery, or role-play are sadly uncommon in video game formats (which is what makes 1999's PC game Birth of the Federation stand out to me as an underrated Trek classic). Sure it was just a reskin of Master of Orion II, and it had lots of technical and A.I. flaws, but in a market dominated by cookie-cutter games like Star Trek: Armada, Elite Force, and Invasion, Birth of the Federation was a rare game in which "exploring strange new worlds" and "seeking out new life and new civilizations" was a primary game mechanic.

Board games and table-top games have maybe fared a bit better than video game adaptations. We have our Dungeons & Dragons-inspired role playing games, our tactical starship simulators, and then countless board game reskins (ranging from Monopoly to Settlers of Catan, and virtually everything in between). Most of these games are pretty old, but there's also a handful of newer Star Trek games that run the gamut. One such game is WizKids' Star Trek: Fleet Captains.

WizKids is probably best known for its Mage Knight and Hero Clix miniatures games based on fantasy, video game, and comic book characters. The bases for these figures include a rotating dial that allows the player to change the attributes of the character to one of several pre-set values. This can include altering their combat attack power, hit points, mana, or any other value that the specific game might require. Fleet Captains uses a similar clix system as the backbone of its starship management mechanics.

Unboxing impressions

My first impressions upon opening the box was a bit disappointing. I'm not a big fan of the ship miniatures. They're fairly well-detailed and made out of a sturdy plastic and seem like they should stand up to a lot of play, but that's the only thing that I like about them. They take up a lot of space, making it difficult to cram more than two or three ships on any single hex. There seems to have been some effort made to scale the size of the Federation ships with one another, but it isn't consistent. Voyager, for example, is almost as large as the Enterprise E, but the Enterprise A and Reliant are noticeably smaller and appear decently-scaled against the Galaxy class Venture. Klingon ships, however, seem to have no effort put into trying to appropriately scale them. Birds of Prey and classic cruisers look huge compared to most Federation ships and to other Klingon ships. The Negh'var, despite being one of the largest ships in the game, just doesn't seem as massive and intimidating as it should be.

Despite the manual showing painted miniatures in its components list [LEFT],
the actual miniatures [RIGHT] are unpainted and not to-scale with one another.

The ships are also all are made of the same mono-chrome plastic and are un-painted (even though the instructions appear to show painted miniatures in the components list). These ships are different enough in design that it's really not hard to tell them apart, and so I see no reason why they couldn't have been painted (as opposed to being the same color for ease of recognition)...


Sails of Glory

I haven't reviewed many board games. I like to play board games, and there's quite a few that I'd like to review. Sadly, it's been difficult to organize regular board game meetings over the past few years due to the ever-changing work schedules of my social circle and other adult responsibilities. Stupid jobs and chores, always getting in the way of the stuff I want to do! Most of the board games that I play only get played once or twice (and sessions are often months or years apart), which is certainly not enough play-time to justify writing a review, since it's barely enough time to get a really good feel for how the mechanics and strategies of the game work.

But one game that really piqued my interest was Sails of Glory: Napoleonic Wars, a game about naval combat in the age of sail. It is made by Ares Games, the same company that created the WWI and WWII dogfighting game Wings of Glory. If you've ever played the more popular Fantasy Flight games Star Wars: X-Wing or its sister game Star Wars: Armada (both being games that I'd like to review), then you should feel pretty comfortable with Sails of Glory. X-Wing was based off of Ares' Wings of Glory game, and both Armada and Sails of Glory use similar mechanics and rules. Sails of Glory certainly shares more in common with Armada though, since both games involve slow-paced battles between large capital ships, rather than the faster dogfighting mechanics of their predecessors. And both Sails of Glory and Armada simulate the lumbering nature of their respective ships with mechanics that require players to pre-plan their movements ahead of time, which adds a whole new element of strategy and challenge.

Sails of Glory : box
Sails of Glory includes 4 pre-assembled French and British ship miniatures.

Sails of Glory isn't a traditional board game, in that it doesn't include an actual board to play on. Instead, the game requires the players to move their ship miniatures across a playing surface (the size of which is determined by the specific scenario being played) by using a deck of maneuver cards. Movement isn't restrained to a grid of squares or hexes, so lots of careful measurement and manipulation of the models is necessary. Players must maneuver their ships in order to get the enemy ships into the firing arc of their cannons in order to attack, and the winner of the game is usually the one who destroys all the enemy ships; though, some scenarios have other winning conditions.

Another key difference between X-Wing / Armada versus Sails of Glory is that all of Sails of Glory's actions are treated as simultaneous. This helps to keep the game flowing a bit more quickly by allowing the player to move their ships and determine combat damage at the same time, rather than having to take turns moving one ship at a time. It also alters the strategy a little bit by permitting "mutual destruction". Since all ships are considered to fire at the same time, there is the possibility that ships may destroy each other in the same turn. It is only in the case of collisions (or possible collisions) that the game requires ships to be moved in a specific order.

Grid Clock Widget
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Grid Clock provided by trowaSoft.

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