Blight Chronicles is a new solo deckbuilding game that continues a series started with the game Agent Decker. I haven't played any of Board & Dice's previous games so I came into this game blind. The demo was recently released on Tabletopia, and with the Kickstarter ending next week I gave the game a spin to see if it would be worth backing. The demo is pretty meaty, allowing you to play three consecutive scenarios (although you aren't allowed to take all the branches.)
Solo Deckbuilding: While the game initially feels similar to the Legendary: X games, you'll find as you start playing that it flows differently. The game challenges you to build a deck, but since the power values on the cards are so low (basically all in the demo are one or two power), you have to focus on building card combos that will give you more optimized powers. Additionally several rules tweaks make Blight Chronicles more experimental than most other deckbuilding games (e.g. you don't need to use all your cards every time, and you are penalized for having too small of a deck by increasing the game's timer.)
Superb Gameboard: The gameboard that comes with the full version of the game is excellent. Not only does it provide guides to where to place cards on the playfield, it also provides you with means of tracking all of your stats, and important reminders of the games' keywords.
Campaign play: Most deckbuilders that have a campaign mode reset your deck after each mission (the power creep can be difficult to balance.) By limiting the pool of cards available in the mission, the game can keep up with you as you carry (and optimize) your deck between missions. Since each mission has a branching choice at the end, the game will also have a lot of replayability.
Extended Storytelling: You don't need to read it at all to enjoy the game, but there are extensive stories that correspond to and setup each scenario. This is a pretty neat way to enhance the immersion. However, I was better immersed by the gameplay rather than reading the lengthy story setups.
What We Liked
This game oozes theme, and it's easy to be come immersed in moving through a secure base and overcoming obstacles that get in your way. In this way, it reminded me of the Hitman video games which tasked you with evading or eliminating obstacles to infiltrate a base and get to a target.
The theme is linked directly with the gameplay (particularly in this demo scenario, it will be interesting to see how later scenarios are structured.) I also really liked the "choose your own scenario" aspect that exists as you win each section of the campaign. This makes it really feel like you are infiltrating a base, and making decisions on how to proceed.
The gameplay itself is an interesting puzzle, and the best strategy to succeed in each scenario is not immediately obvious as you start out. The game is at its best when you are optimizing your deck and making decisions whether or not a you have room to add a card in your deck. Having a big deck means you'll progress through your deck more slowly (which is a good thing) but the larger your deck, the harder it is to link combos.
What Could Be Improved
The biggest fault I had with the game is the automatic-failure of later scenarios. In the first scenario, you are tasked with managing your Suspicion by using cards to keep it under control as you move through the base's security. In the next scenario, you have an instant mission fail if you cannot defeat an enemy before it quickly moves to the "Avoided" pile. In the scenario after that, you can get an unlucky combination of cards that makes it virtually impossible to avoid losing failure tokens and failing the mission. Unfortunately, once you've failed a mission, you must restart the game from the beginning because there's no way to "replay" a mission halfway in without writing down exactly what cards you had in your deck before starting the mission.
Additionally, the rule book needs work. It doesn't emphasize the new rules that makes Blight Chronicles different from other deckbuilders. It's important to remember that people who have played 100 deck builders are going to get annoyed at having to read all the "boilerplate" deckbuilder rules. It would be a good idea that small rules like Visibility increasing each time you reshuffle your deck are emphasized in bold or in a "Commonly overlooked rules" section.
Probably the biggest missing explanation is exactly how the avoid phase works. There is a great example of how the Targetting works, but no example of how Avoid works. Avoid is a bit "fiddly" and doesn't make the most logical sense. Walking through the various scenarios Avoid would be a smart thing to include in the next version of the rule book.
Finally, there is some keyword confusion in the game, with the rule book referring on the Sidestep keyword as "Discard[ing]" a card from Slot 1 and 2. Discard means nothing in the context of the rest of the rules (you don't Discard from the slots, you Eliminate, Knock Out, or Avoid.) Luckily the text on the board has this corrected to "Avoid," so I'm sure this will be fixed in the final rule book.
Not to pick on the game too much, but the art and story are mediocre. If you look at the cover art, you might be a bit shocked to discover the hero you are playing is actually the character in the shadows behind the security guard. This so-so art direction continues onto the cards which I would describe as clip art meets anime. That said, the design is fantastic, and definitely makes the art less bothersome.
The story is fine, but isn't very engaging and fairly cliche as far as the spy genre goes. I don't think I'd read the story as I'm playing if I had purchased the full game.
Notes on the Tabletopia Version
As with most Tabletopia releases, the scans and art are very high quality. We get the full game board, high-quality scans of the cards, and a nice substitute for the "box" area where extra card types are stored for later missions. The only misstep from the Tabletopia adapters is that when placing cards in the top row (slots 3-6), you cannot see the extra stealth points required for each slot (it is blocked by the card.)
Additionally, while not a fault of Blight Chronicles, the Prepare action is very difficult to take with a large player deck. You must look through all cards in the discard pile and find one to put back on top of your deck. Peeling cards off the discard to find the one you want was tedious enough to make me avoid taking that card keyword.
Where to Buy
Time to Learn: Watch this 18 minute video rather than reading the rule book.
Price: Currently available at several price points on the Kickstarter: $15 for Print and Play only, $29 for the "Small Box", which includes a smaller, modular board, and $45 for the full version + expansion.
7 out of 10 (Good - usually willing to play)
Kickstarter Verdict: we decided not to back as the game (at least the demo missions) feel a bit bland. Hopefully the final version will include rules for replaying a later mission so the instant-fails are less painful.
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