You are Already Dead! Sword and Sorcery Board Game Review
Immortal Souls – Sword and Sorcery Board Game Review. Publisher: Ares Games Developed by: Gremlin Project studio Designers: Simone Romano and Nunzio Surace Price: $70.99
Passed Inspection: Beautiful components – great looking minis and wonderful dungeons and building tiles, exciting game play, perfect solo or group game, dynamic campaign, feels like a game run by a game master, exciting tactical battles
Failed Basic: Rules are a little overwhelming at first, too many symbols to learn, too few scenarios in the basic game
For those of us who remember the post apocalyptic Japanese animation “Hokuto no Ken” aka “Fist of the North Star” or “Ken North Star Fist”, the hero of the story would use a special attack on his enemies and then wait for them to die. He would tell them “Omae wa shindeiru” or “You are already dead” and then they would die usually in a pretty spectacular and gory way. In Ares Games’ new fantasy game series “Sword and Sorcery”, you can take “You are already dead” to a whole new level as your characters actually start out dead and are brought back to life in the first scenario in order to save a kingdom from great evil. “Immortal Souls – Sword and Sorcery” is an epic start to what should be a wonderful fantasy gaming franchise.
Fantasy board games hearken back to the days of “Chainmail” and “Dungeons and Dragons” in the mid 1970s, but the key difference between those role playing games and current games like “Gloomhaven” and “Sword and Sorcery”, is that you don’t need a game master to run the adventure (acting as the story teller) because the games, themselves, run your quest and control the people and monsters you meet along the way. The first games to do this were “Tunnels and Trolls” solo scenarios, “Barbarian Prince” and the sci-fi epic “Star Smuggler” back in the 1980s, but these fine games have been overshadowed by these recent game systems which focus on storytelling, combat and the ability to be played either solo or with friends all against the game system, itself.
Many will ask how does this game stand up to the legacy game “Gloomhaven”, a game which has one of the highest user scores on Board Game Geek? While “Gloomhaven” offers a complete continent to explore along with cities, dungeons, castles, etc., “Sword and Sorcery” focuses much more on adventures in one part of the city of Heavenshrine, its guild halls and under city. “Sword and Sorcery’s” scope is more limited and, consequently, much more intimate. The combat is much more tactical and doesn’t focus on the huge, large scale more abstract battles you get in “Gloomhaven”. With up to four characters on the hero side, the player has a much greater chance to utilize squad tactics and battle planning than in “Gloomhaven”.
“Immortal Souls – Sword and Sorcery” is the natural progression of the solo game experience originally presented in the excellent science fiction combat campaign game “Galaxy Defender” which was by the same design team, but with “Sword and Sorcery” Simone Romano and Nunzio Surace have expanded upon those systems and design elements and crafted a game with a broader scope and a more immersive gaming experience.
The box art as well as the artwork and design elements of the game are simply stunning. The box is sturdy and offers compartments for storing the various miniatures, dice, modular map boards, terrain, rule and scenario books, cards and counters.
The 56 page rule book is logically laid out and contains plenty of examples but some of the rules need a little unpacking to make them easier to absorb. The quantity of pages and rules may be somewhat intimidating for the uninitiated. Maybe providing a short scenario utilizing some “basic” rules would be the way to go to remove the “rule overload syndrome” that some may feel upon starting to learn the game? Tons of icons are used in all aspects of the game, from the stats of the heroes to the dice results. This is another “overload” area where many players will have to keep flipping through the rules to find what a symbol means. I think a master guide to the symbols would be a great addition to add to the “Sword and Sorcery” PDF library on Ares Games’ website.
The good news is that after playing the first two scenarios, the game rules become almost second nature to the scenario story and the player will have to reference the rules less and less. This is the sign of a good game – the rules begin to be used for reference and game play becomes more and more intuitive.
Two other books are included. One is a book of scenarios and the other is a book of story paragraphs that add to the role playing experience. Each scenario shows an illustration of how the terrain tiles fit together to for the “dungeon”; what terrain features to add to the map boards (for example – doors, traps, treasure chests, etc.); what monsters are involved; how to create the Encounter Cards, Enemy Cards, Event Cards, etc.
I have played the first three scenarios prior to writing this review. Each one can be played in 2 to 4 hours and is perfect for a weekend afternoon play session. One wishes more scenarios were included in the “Immortal Souls” game but more expansions are coming out soon.
There are 5 heroes included but each hero also has a “darker” version you can play so you have a total of 10 heroes in the starter box. For example, the two heroes that I played are a Knight and a Cleric. Both are “good” and try to do the right thing to help but, if I chose to, I could have played the “darker” and more “chaotic” versions of these heroes. The decisions I would have made in the game such as sparing the life of a villain, would be based upon whether I was playing the “hero” or “anti-hero” version of these characters and this decision would create ripples which would affect other story elements in the game. Each hero has a beautiful plastic miniature, a hero card and a hero sheet plus you get a dial called the “soul gem” which shows how powerful your hero is. When you gain power by performing certain actions in the game, you turn the dial to the next level and your hero becomes more powerful. The hero card has important information on it such as the character’s name and class, fighting styles, soul nature, powers, saving throw, how much he or she can carry and movement speed. The other side of the card has the “ghost soul form”. When the hero runs out of hit points, due to damage from combat, traps, etc., the hero doesn’t just die as he or she was already dead and brought back to life to save the kingdom! The hero takes on a soul form and gains other abilities as an ethereal spirit! The hero can regain his or her mortal coil by moving towards a shrine and re-materializing! Don’t think this lack of permanent death takes away from the urgentness of the game; it actually adds to it since you lose some powers if you revert to soul form!
The “soul gem” dial shows your hero’s various abilities from level 1 and up. Each time the hero gains enough points to advance a level, the dial is twisted one notch and new abilities are revealed. The gem shows the hero’s level, hit points, powers and talents plus the number of combat actions and non-combat actions the hero can take each turn.
To create the scenario simply go to the scenario book and set up the game board, Event Cards, Enemies, Enemy Cards, Encounter Cards and other cards. Yes – a lot of various cards are used in the game but this randomness adds so much to the story. The Event Cards have numbers on them and each scenario instructs you how to organize the Event Cards and then how to shuffle them to create a coherent narrative. The Event Cards also become a natural time limit for the scenario. When all the Event Cards are used, the scenario ends so you’d better plan your mission well. In addition, there are day and night Event Cards so the time of day can affect what happens during the scenario! Shadow Tokens are placed on the map boards to show that in those particular areas you may encounter enemies or simply innocent people rushing to and fro. For example, in one game I was trying to find a person in the market square of Heavenshrine. As I approached a Shadow Token to find out if this was the person I needed to talk to, I flipped over the token only to find out that the guy was a brigand who didn’t really like my looks! My only complaint about the Shadow Tokens is that they, ironically, seem to be printed a little too dark so in limited light, it was difficult to see them.
The sequence of play is an extension of the system used in “Galaxy Defender” so if you know that game series, this shouldn’t be too difficult to learn. Each turn is divided in to:
Time Phase – this is where things are reset or characters are resurrected from their Soul Ghost Form.
Combat Phase – this is where the action is! Heroes move, perform actions or fight and then the enemy goes.
Event Phase – draw and resolve Event Cards
Combat is elegantly handled and very, very tactical. Heroes and enemies can use one handed weapons, two handed weapons, missile weapons such as bows, attack with claws or hands and/or cast spells. Using the special dice included which are either blue for more defensive fighting or red for more offensive fighting, you have to roll various symbols to hit, critical hit, defend using your armor or shield, etc. If someone hits, the other party gets a chance to try and either dodge or utilize their shield or armor to avoid the hits. Critical hits include blindness, paralyses, being knocked down, etc. “Sword and Sorcery” has one of the most detailed fantasy combat systems I’ve ever seen in a board game. In one battle, my knight and cleric took on a major bad guy in a seedy tavern. Our enemy had a dagger in one hand and a long sword in the other. His dagger was dipped in poison so one hit could be very bad for our heroes. This rogue kept trying to use both weapons and would whip around with the poisoned dagger when he could. He hit the knight in the head with one attack which caused his helmet to fall over his eyes and then tried a close stab near a chink in the hero’s chain mail in order to poison him! Luckily my brave knight made his saves and the knocked the hero across the room hurting him badly. The rogue stopped to take a drink from a healing potion that he had but, just then, my two heroes slammed in to him and the fight was over! Sounds like a role playing game battle doesn’t it? That’s what this game does – it makes you feel that the adventure is being run by a game master!
Each enemy has their own beautifully sculpted miniature. Green colored minis are not too hard to defeat. Blue are a little tougher. Red minis are the bosses – pure hell to take on!
How does this game make you feel that the game run bad guys are intelligently using strategy and tactics to inconvenience our heroes? It does so through a brilliant combination of board game artificial intelligence using Enemy Cards which give general tactics to the bad guys plus Enemy Power Cards which give special abilities to the bad guys and then it uses Encounter Cards which add the element of surprise to the flow of the action! It is all of these, plus the Event Cards which bring this game to magnificent life!
If it sounds like I’m fawning over this game, you are right; I am! While I play ‘Advanced Dungeons and Dragons” (although I haven’t played in many years I still have my books) plus other role playing games such as Fasa’s “Doctor Who” and “Star Trek”, “Traveller” and “Call of Cthulhu”, and I am currently playing a very immersive multi-player “Gloomhaven” campaign, ‘Sword and Sorcery” has become my new “go to” game when I want do some fantasy role playing either solo or with a few friends. The realistic tactical combat system combined with immersive, dynamic scenarios makes this game highly addictive and fun. I have more games to review but all I want to do is keep playing “Sword and Sorcery”. Ares Games may need to start a group to help with addicted players!
So go to your friendly local game store and get “Sword and Sorcery”. Then head to Heavenshrine and start your adventure! Get addicted – I dare you!
Armchair General Rating: 95 %
Solitaire Rating: 5 ( 1 = not suitable to 5 = perfect for solo)
About the Author
A college film instructor and small business owner, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer who can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!