Following my first game with Fallen last week, I felt like I had to come here and share my thoughts with the world. I’ve already talked about this once on a game day, but now that I’ve had a chance to play with it, and see how the game actually works, I feel the need to spread the word once again!
This is a card-based dungeon crawl game that launched on kickstarter almost two years ago now, although it only made it into my hot little hands at the beginning of this year. It’s a game that I had been very excited to take delivery of, as it had really captured my imagination back in the day. However, the long kickstarter wait dulled that somewhat, and by the time I actually got it, my enthusiasm had somewhat cooled. Hence why it took over three months to actually make time for a game.
Having now played a game, I can’t begin to praise this enough (nor berate myself for having taken so long to get round to it!) It’s a fantastic experience, and one that I can recommend to anyone who has a love of a wide variety of games.
The game pits a hero against a dungeon lord in a classic choose your own adventure style of dungeon crawl. I wouldn’t say you have to be a fan of that genre to enjoy this game, however, as the choices you make feel much more like a RPG than an adventure book. Over the course of your turn, the dungeon lord will read a short amount of story text aloud from one of the three Story cards that make up the adventure, and offer you a choice.
Once you’ve made that choice, more story is followed by an attribute test of some sort called a Challenge, which can also involve drawing Treasure cards (for the hero) or Omen cards (for the dungeon lord), which will beef up your character in the usual boardgame manner. The winner will gain XP, which can be used to upgrade skills (for the hero) or creatures (for the dungeon lord), and also access to rewards in the shape of drawing cards, dealing wounds, and charging your character’s special Ultimate ability (more shortly).
Creatures, you say?
While the hero follows the traditional model of being equipped with weapons, armour and items, and training in certain skills, the dungeon lord attacks through his (or her) minion creatures, which I thought a really awesome thematic idea – in the game, the hero is delving through a dungeon to fight its lord, so it makes sense that he wouldn’t be fighting that lord all the way through, right? It just felt like you are actually moving through the events of the story rather than merely pitting attribute-to-attribute.
Skills come in three different types, each of three levels, and the hero uses his (or her) XP to purchase higher-level skills that will grant you more dice to roll and specific effects to buff your character. Creatures can essentially be levelled-up, wherein they are replaced with more powerful creatures that grant the dungeon lord more dice to roll as well as more powerful abilities to trigger when they are used. Something I liked about these abilities is they often trigger on a win or a loss, so it’s not that you can just let your opponent win because even the loser gets the chance to draw a reward: you can often find yourself agonizing over whether to use a weapon (as the hero) to tip the balance in your favour.
During a challenge, you will always roll at least two dice, and the one who rolled the most swords wins. However, there are ways and means to add more dice to your pool – creatures bolster the dungeon lord, and weapons and skills do this for the hero. You also have a deck of 20 power cards, half of which are specific to your character. You need to pay for these, using Fortune that is only recharged at the very end of the Story card, so when to use this can be crucial. Some of them can also be really powerful, so there’s a strong strategic element involved here – especially as, in the game I played, the dungeon lord can force a lot of discards to the hero, making it unwise to hold on to them.
While the dungeon lord has his own power cards, he also has the deck of Omen cards that act as something of a cross between Power and Treasure cards (though more like the former). I really like the card back to this deck, it feels really classic-fantasy:
Finally, each character has an Ultimate ability, which needs to be charged before use. While a hero will usually have an innate ability with certain attributes – and buff these with skills and weapons – and the dungeon lord relies on his minion creatures, using your Ultimate ability can increase your dice pool at a critical moment, but can sometimes take a while before you can re-charge it. More strategy!
Something that I really like with about all of this is the Shadow Track. Six cards arranged in a vertical column from Brilliant to Night, which alter the flow of the game depending on how dark it is in the dungeon. A lot of effects can depend on this, predominantly the Ultimate ability of your character, which is affected by the dark in terms of which dice (and how many) you roll for it. One of the rewards you can receive for winning a challenge is to move the track one step, so you can pull it in whichever direction may be more favourable to you. It really makes for an atmospheric experience, and in my game I pretty much let it run down to Night as the end game approached for the thematic implications.
So what happens at the end game?
Once three Story cards have resolved (each has four challenges on, so it can take a fair amount of time to get through), the Final Battle begins. As an interesting twist, it’s now the hero’s turn to read aloud the adventure, as he (or she) battles the dungeon lord in his (or her) lair! The Final Battle cards are basically challenges much like the Story cards, though don’t necessarily follow on from each other based on the hero’s choice of action – a ‘battle begins’ card is read aloud first, then the cards resolve, then a ‘conclusion’ is read to end the game. The first person to succeed at three Final Battle challenges is the winner.
This game could so easily be reduced to ‘roll attribute dice, determine winner, draw reward, repeat at least fourteen more times’, but it really transcends this in my view to be a truly amazing game experience. The artwork on all the cards is just beautiful, and the stories can be truly immersive when you embrace the role-playing aspect of being your character.
All through this review, I’ve been struggling to think of something bad to say, as I don’t want to appear gushing, but there’s really very little that I can say against this thing. The cards are a little too smooth, and slide around all over the table if you’re not careful? It’s seriously just an amazing experience, with both sides quite evenly matched (the Final Battle in my game came to hinge on one card, as we each won two). There’s nothing that seems ridiculous/overpowered or anything like that. It’s just a tremendous game!
One of the kickstarter stretch goals was a multi-player expansion, which is apparently in development. It sounds interesting, as it possibly changes the entire nature of the game – obviously, tweaks would be needed if you have up to three heroes going against the lone dungeon lord, but rather than just an alternate set of rules, it looks like almost a whole new game, which intrigues me.
Something that I want to address is the nature of the kickstarter campaign. As I said at the beginning, I have everything currently available for this game due to the fact that I caught the kickstarter. A lot of people have missed out, and as a result they have slightly less than the backers, who have almost another game’s worth of content. There are nine sets of exclusive Story Cards, three new heroes and three new dungeon lords, along with a small pack of more Final Battle cards. While I don’t believe that any of these are integral to anybody’s enjoyment of the game – while I played against one of these dungeon lords (not the chap used in the pictures here, incidentally), only one weapon card I saw was ks exclusive, everything else in my game was base-game content and was fantastic – I fully understand the completionist mentality, which has driven me to throw money away at ebay in the past. I’m obviously glad to have this content, but I don’t agree it should be kept as kickstarter exclusive content, as I don’t believe gaming should be such an elitist hobby in this manner. I would really like the designers to be able to make this content available, perhaps as a webstore-exclusive thing. It’s a thorny issue, as I discovered when I started a topic on this a while back, but I would much rather see the game designer be able to make money off content that must have required a considerable investment of resource, rather than have so much one-time-deal stuff they can’t use ever again. No doubt so much ks exclusive content helped their campaign at the time, but it seems to foster an attitude of wanting to avoid this game at retail among a lot of people who, like me, are of the all-or-nothing mentality.
But I’ll get off my soapbox now!
Expansions have already been announced, hopefully coming out this summer, and they look pretty awesome already. Cursed Sands is the big one here, with really interesting new characters and new quirks to the flow of the game. Definitely looking forward to seeing these!
This game is such a massively enjoyable experience, I really do urge you to get yourselves a copy, which I think is currently only available direct from the company. But hey, you can get yourself an awesome game while supporting the publisher directly! Win, win!
I think I’ve prattled on enough about this now, so I’ll stop. Bravo if you actually read all of that, anyway! Some brief take-aways from this review are that the game is awesome, super thematic and wonderfully balanced, and while I don’t agree with the way the kickstarter has excluded so much content from so many people, the retail version of this game is so awesome that you really shouldn’t let it stand in your way of what is, ultimately, a really fantastic game!
Ten out of ten, Watchtower Games!