Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Wednesday, 7 March 2018

The Game Shelf Previews:- Darkness


Game: Darkness

Publisher: Green Meadow Games

Designer: Taylor Hayward

Year: 2018


As an ambitious mystic during the Dark Ages you are seeking out ancient stone artifacts. To activate these you need energy drawn from different spirits which match the affinity of the different artifacts, such as Obelisks, Torches or Altars.

In the game of Darkness all mystics have equal quantities on animal spirit cards, but they each much decide which artifacts to try and obtain in order to concentrate on building the most power. By bluffing and deception with the use of ancient relics you'll obtain artifacts and also try to dispel darkness so that darkness does not fall.

Gameplay

At the start of a game of darkness you Darkness you shuffle the deck of artifacts and darkness cards, before removing a number depending on the player count. Place this deck in the center of the table, surrounding it with a number of face up cards from the deck depending on player count. Then you will shuffle the deck of relics and lay out three that will be available, and give each player a hand of 15 cards (3 of each colour).

Darkness set up ready for a two-player game
Each round consists of three phases, during which you will play cards, in the first phase you will p[lay 3 cards each, before revealing them, in the second phase you will do the same with 2 cards, and finally you will play one last card in the third phase. Your objective is to try and claim all of the artifacts you can by being the player with the most in the required colours. Each Artifact has two colours on it, a major and a minor, the player with the most of the major colour will win the card, however in the result of a tie (or no contest) the minor colour will dictate who gets the card, in the case of a continued tie the card is discarded and no-one gets it. The game ends when the artifact deck runs dry, at which point scores are decided by a set collection mechanic. Larger sets of artifact types are worth exponential numbers of points, so the victor doesn't simply go to the player with the most artifacts, but the player with the bests sets.

In addition to artifacts darkness can turn up in the deck. Darkness cards feature 4 colours on them, and are dispelled if any player plays those 4 cards this round. Should this not happen then the darkness will be placed on a pile, whenever this pile reaches a multiple of three the player with the most artifacts must some, allowing players who are behind to catch up. Finally the relics are another bonus that you can get each round, each relic requires a combination of 2 pairs of colours and 1 single colour to be played in order to claim it. Relics give you various powers, some are simply worth points, while others allow you to play some cards face down, or to change a card after all cards have been decided, but before artifacts are handed out.

Amy’s Final Thoughts

My first impression of Darkness was definitely one of interest, the rules are simple, but as you reveal your hand slowly this gives a lot of room for bluffing, or changing your plan based on your opponents. The idea of the catch up mechanic of the darkness cards sounded like a good way to give polayers who are behind a chance to catch up, given that the player who is ahead can either play obviously, and usually wastefully, to dispel the darkness, or ignore it and suffer the loss of cards.

Unfortunately when we sat down to play all this potential dissipated. in many rounds there were 3 artifacts that were relying on 1 colour, so it was almost a no-brainer to play 3 of that colour. In a larger player game you might consider ignoring those cards and claiming the lower hanging fruit while your opponents battle amongst themselves. In a two player game we often found ourselves playing near identical hands.The relics sounded cool at first, and I certainly liked the one that let you play your first two cards face down, but the one that let you change a card after the round had ended just resulted in long pauses while you worked out which card you could change for ultimate effect. A problem that was asseverated as often you could do nothing, or your opponent also had one of these cards completely nullifying yours.

Darknessended up being a sub-par set collection game, while it was filled with nice ideas, these ideas simply didn't work for two players. A lot of these issues would be improved at higher play counts, but even then I fear that there are better small card games to be playing.

Fi’s Final Thoughts

Darkness is a simple combination of bluffing and set collection. You need to be mindful of what you want, but also keep your eye on other players so that they don't get huge sets, benefiting from an exponential point scoring. The rule set is very long for such a simple concept but initially it felt like this was going to be quite an interesting game.
Most rounds it it quite easy to identify which will be the most popular cards, and with two players in particular it's also very easy to see what your opponent wants. In our games we often found ourselves playing a very similar hand of cards to maximise the artifacts we were winning. I imagine this might lessen in a multiplayer game, but on the other hand there is more likelihood of people 'drawing' over cards.
  
My favourite element of the game was the darkness mechanism. The player in the lead is incentivized to match the four cards on top of the darkness cards. If more than one is drawn for the round that's often very difficult and it can also mean the winning player is less likely to win artifacts in the round. When 3 darkness cards exist in the veil, all players will discard down to the same number of artifacts as the losing player. I like how this levels the playing field slightly but not completely because the winning player can select to discard cards that belong to their worst sets.

The Good
  • The 'darkness' mechanism prevents the runaway leader and acts as a good catch-up mechanism.
  • The relics give you interesting bluffing and deception opportunities.
The Bad
  • It's quite easy to have a stalemate in a round and if not then one player is just giving into another to try and make the game more interesting.
  • The game doesn't seem to excel at two players, so we would not recommend it at this player count.
The Verdict
4.5/10 We enjoyed some of the mechanisms in Darkness, but overall it lacked interest as a two player game. There were too many opportunities to have draws occur and some relic cards felt weak at two players.


Darkness was a preview copy provided to the Board Game Exposure reviewer collective. It is currently live on Kickstarter.

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