Bloodborne: The Card Game
Bloodborne, the PS4 game by FromSoftware, has gotten quite a few mentions here at Geekundspiel. Eric has long touted his love for the game, as well as the other entries in the "SoulsBorne" series. Even I've watched a couple of gameplay videos online, knowing that I'd probably get destroyed if I played it myself, but I do enjoy the creepy atmosphere and monster designs. But Bloodborne: The Card Game is a whole different animal, and a bit of an oddity. There's already a board game (with miniatures!) being released for Dark Souls by Steamforged Games Ltd., so there's clearly a market for a Bloodborne board game. Designer Eric Lang, somewhat of a legend amongst hobby enthusiasts, is known for his work with publisher CMON, which would often release games with gorgeous miniatures. And yet here they both are, working together on a Bloodborne game that doesn't have any miniatures, or even a board. Rather, it's a press-your-luck, take-that card game. So how does this little oddity hold up? Jeff listed it as his #3 favorite game of 2016, so they've definitely done something right. If you're familiar with the game and don't need a rules explanation, skip down to "Deeper Strategy" and "Final Thoughts."
Born(e) of the Blood
In Bloodborne, 3 to 5 players act as Hunters entering a lair known as a "Chalice Dungeons" in order to slay the monsters inside and collect "blood echoes." These blood echoes act as the the final victory points at the end of the game. Each turn, a new monster is revealed and fought by every player simultaneously until all Boss monsters, as well as the Final Boss, are defeated. Hunters will make use of their hand of cards which have different weapons, special items, and abilities in order to attack the monsters and collect their blood echoes.
The game is very straightforward: a monster is revealed, players secretly choose one card to play, all cards are revealed, the monster attacks the players, and then the hunters attack the monster. Every hit on the monster rewards a player with a blood echo, so more powerful weapons can collect more echoes. The cards also allow the hunters to play some tricks, such as getting to attack first, protecting yourself from damage, or even hurting other hunters as well as the monster. There are a lot of cards and effects that can occur that throw off this simple process, but the game provides detailed steps of the game so that timing issues are quickly addressed and understood. The boards also act as a location for hunters to tally and "bank" blood echoes and keep track of their collected trophies.
As mentioned, the monsters do attack the hunters. Each monster has a lantern depicting a red, yellow, or green light. Green is the weakest die, while red is the strongest. The players need to roll the corresponding colored die, which can range from 0 to 4, and if a number with an asterisk is rolled, the die is rolled again (and again as necessary) and all totals added together. Turns where all of the players are completely wiped our aren't common, but are possible.
However, dying isn't as bad as it seems. You'll receive a new item at the end of the turn and return to full health. The downside of dying is that you could possibly lose all of your blood echoes, as blood echoes that aren't "banked" are lost when you die. In order to bank them, you need to enter the "Hunter's Dream."
Each player has a Hunter's Dream card which is essentially the "out" option for the push-your-luck aspect of the game. Players will want to keep playing their cards and fighting monsters until the cards run out and they're almost out of health. How do you get your health and cards back? Through the Hunter's Dream. When played, the hunter won't attack the monster. They'll take half as much damage (giving them a little protection), gain a new action card, and recover their health at the end of the turn. They'll also bank their blood... provided they don't die before the end of the turn. Figuring out when to fight and when to enter the Hunter's Dream are imperative for victory.
Winning the game comes down to two factors: trophies and blood echoes. Players receive one of three types of trophies whenever a monster is killed on a turn where they dealt it damage (and collected a blood echo). If you didn't attack the monster that turn, no trophy. It if it didn't die the turn you did hit it, no trophy. Each one of the three trophies (Kin, Humanoids, and Beasts) becomes increasingly more valuable as more are collected. At the end of the game, players add those number to their number of blood echoes, and the highest score wins.
The game lives and dies on its action cards, and each hunter will find themselves drawn to the different strategies they offer. Do you do massive quantities of damage with larger melee weapons? Or do you try to be sneaky with ranged guns that will protect you or allow you to attack first? Or do you go for items that instant-heal, or damage other players, or steal blood echoes from someone else? There's a wide variety of cards with all sorts of abilities, and while there are multiple copies of a few of them, they're ultimately limited. You might even go an entire game without seeing certain ones.
Each player starts with five action cards:
- Two melee weapons (which are always in red), a 1-damage "Saw Cleaver" and a 2-damage "Hunter Axe."
- One ranged weapon (which are always in blue), a 1-damage "Hunter Pistol" that, if no one else plays their own, allows you to get the first attack.
- One "Transform," that allows you to see what everyone else is playing first before you choose a melee or ranged weapon (but not an item).
- One "Hunter's Dream," which allows you to bunker down for a turn in order to reclaim your health and action cards, bank your blood echoes, and choose a new action card. Unlike the other cards, this can never be removed from the game.
Weapons (blue/red) can help you and/or hurt others by reducing the amount of damage they'll deal to the monster, steal their blood echoes, or even hurt people who played a certain type of card that turn. Items (which are always in grey) are versatile, but usually weaker than weapons. A "Molotov Cocktail" or "Blood Vial" can help out in a pinch, but might not be recommended for every situation. Either way, hunters can never have more than 7 cards, so they'll continuously cycle away useless or less powerful weapons and items as the game progresses.
Deeper Strategy: Order of Play and Card Choices
Bloodborne is all about turn order. Each turn, the first-player marker moves clockwise, changing who goes first and who goes last. If you're fighting a normal monster (as in, not a boss or final boss), that monster is gone at the end of the turn whether it's killed or not, since they run away after the fight. Your strategy completely depends on whose turn it is, and the more players there are, the more you have to consider your options.
In a 3-player game, at most only two people will go before you. But in 4- or 5-player games, being the last player means there's a good chance that the monster could be killed before it gets to your card, thus missing out on blood echoes and possible trophies. So what do you do? Well, you could enter the Hunter's Dream, banking what you've got and healing up until a more opportune turn comes around. You could play a weapon or item that lets you deal damage before anyone else does. Or you could play "Transform" and wait to see what everyone else is playing, giving you an opportunity to decide with a little more information (but then you're stuck with playing a weapon: no items, no Hunter's Dream). But what if the monster is a boss, which doesn't disappear until it's killed? Then maybe it's worth it not to attack, and hope that everyone else keeps it alive for one more turn, until you're in a better place to strike.
As you can see, turn order determines what your choices are, leading to some interesting decision making. For example, if you're first player in a 5-player game, you may see a monster that only has, say, 7 hit points. That means there are only 7 blood echoes to go around between the 5 of you. You're first: you feel confident that, even if someone else uses an item or a weapon that lets them attack first, that you'll get an early crack at it. You could hit it with something big (like a 4-damage "Kirkhammer" which would give you more than half of its remaining blood echoes). But have you checked your health? What if you're sitting at only a couple of hits left until you die, and the monster attacks and kills you before you can beat it? And we haven't even touched on the fact that the final boss monster has an ongoing effect in the game, or that some monsters do some pretty nasty things, like force you to discard any weapon used to hit it. It's these decisions that help keep the game fresh, and the fact that you could lose your acquired victory points by making the wrong move means that their are actual consequences to your actions.
At first I figured this game was semi-cooperative, since players were killing monsters together. As it turns out, there is nothing cooperative at all about this game. To win, you need to be consistent with your damage and time your "Hunter's Dream" or other healing items before you get killed by an ugly beast. You can also inconvenience your opponents by pinging them with little hits, stealing their blood echoes, or, if they've been negligent, outright kill them.
The horror theme of the game might not fully come across as well as intended, mostly because it's set up as flavor and not as part of the game itself. The creatures are pulled straight from the video game, and they're every bit as grotesque on the cards as they are on screen, although here you can't see them making their terrifying noises or shuffling in their twisted forms as they attack you. Just as I had originally thought Bloodborne would be semi-cooperative, I also figured we were working together not to die, until I realized that death in this game is rare. Enemies can and will hit you, sure, but going up against the monsters quickly went from "Oh no how will we beat this?" to "OK how do I get more blood echoes than everyone else when we take this jerk down?" Suddenly I started feeling the same way the characters in the video game are supposed to feel: like hunters. These big, bad meanies are scary and violent, but in the end they're prey, and we're sitting around them, attacking with guns and saws and all manner of vicious tools until only one remains standing. It's a pretty big departure from other tabletop games with common enemies, where you're fighting for survival or trying to defend against something. In Bloodborne, you hold all the power.
The game has a lot going for it: fantastic production quality; tight gameplay; variability in monsters, bosses and final bosses to keep it interesting; and all in a box that actually comes with an insert that holds everything properly (we all know how much I love those). But there are some things to consider if you're looking into getting this game. For one, the player count. If you're a fan of 2-player games, or find yourself mostly playing with one friend or a significant other, this one's a no-go. Even then, the 3-player game is doable, but the game really reaches its full potential at higher player counts. Also, even with the interesting decisions, this is not a deep game (or "crunchy" as game hobbyists like to say). The mechanics are simple, it offers very little exploration of the Bloodborne world, and is not a narrative-driven game by any means (although that won't stop creative players). I was actually a bit surprised at how lightweight the game actually was. These are not knocks against the game, mind you, but they're things you should consider.
This is a great game for a group of players who are into titles like Munchkin or Smash Up and want to try something a little unique. This is the sort of game that could easily create its own meta environment after a couple of plays, as certain strategies and cards will become "preferred" amongst different play groups. And if you're a huge fan of the video game, this one's a no brainer.
Special thanks to Eric for letting us use his copy, and to Anita, Jeff, Shawn, and Luke for their help.
Final notes from other contributors: Eric really enjoys how they interpreted the video game into a card game, and is hoping that there's an expansion released. Jeff thinks this game is its most fun at the max number of players (5). Both give it a score of 4/5.
This copy of Bloodborne was purchased from Cardboard Castle Games, located in Evans, GA. Mention Geekundspiel and receive 15% off MSRP on any board game that can be ordered or is available in-store.