Publisher: Victory Point Games
Game Designer: Jeremy Lennert
Artwork: Clark Miller and Daniel Taylor
Players: 1-4 (Cooperative)
Ages: 12 and up
Playing Time: 150 minutes
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
The base game of Darkest Night is a lot fun, and I’ve enjoyed it every time I’ve played but it definitely had room to grow, and grow it has thanks to the continued work by developer Jeremy Lennert and publisher Victory Point Games. Since its release in 2012, there have been three expansions published, adding more heroes, powers and challenges to create a deep and customizable system that can be tailored to any play level.
The latest expansion, From the Abyss, can be played by itself with the main game or in concert with the others and I strongly recommend you play the expansions together to get the most enjoyment and challenge from your experience.
Just as in the first two expansions, From the Abyss adds four new heroes, bringing the total hero count to 21, along with their associated standees, hero mats and power cards. New event and artifact cards have been added along with eight active/inactive tokens for tracking hero powers, making things easier to manage in the heat of play. These active/inactive tokens are an example of the attention to detail of the little things that Victory Point Games continues to impress with and their usual excellent component quality. The rule book is concise and replete with examples explaining the new rule additions as well as the hero powers very clearly.
The final element of the expansion is a real game changer, literally and in a fantastic way. Darkness Cards are a tremendous addition to the Darkest Night saga that really, truly brings the pain and elevates the difficulty, enjoyment and challenge level. We’ll look at these cards later; first, we’ll review the new heroes that you can venture forth with into the blighted kingdom. The four new heroes in From the Abyss are the Channeler, Mesmer, Exorcist and Valkyrie; each with distinct skills and creative ways to fight the evil Necromancer and his blight minions.
The Channeler exists in both the normal and the astral planes, making her a powerful member of your party and a vital nemesis to the Necromancer. She gets extra dice for eluding, searching and fighting in the normal plane but once you activate her astral surge, her stock goes way up. Being able to attack or search in adjacent locations makes her valuable for ranged support or attacks while avoiding blights and potential injury. Activating her burst power buffs her up to four dice, making her a tank in tough fights against blights or the Necromancer. I like her versatility; she’s one of my go-to party member when battling the Necromancer.
The Mesmer likes mind games and using him can be quite a mind bender for the player at times because he’s able to share powers both ways, sharing his powers with other hero’s or using theirs. This means you’ll need to be mindful of what you use and when. If you are successful with another hero’s power it will usually exhaust it and come that hero’s turn, could prove costly if it was a power that hero needs. I find his Suggestion and Illusory Weaponry very useful, especially late in the game when the blights become numerous and the faceoff with the Necromancer barrels closer. Suggestion allows you to move a hero to or from an adjacent location and the Illusory power has you fighting blights using their awareness rather than strength which makes defeating some blights much easier. A fun hero to play that offers good utility at the right time.
The Exorcist is not only named after my favorite horror movie but is also the hero you want dealing with blights. Nearly half of his powers are boons, triggered by a free two dice roll at the beginning of each turn, so he can potentially earn two boon’s that replenish each turn. These boons allow him to add extra dice to rolls, ignore their consequences, reduce the darkness track, which is huge now with the addition of the darkness cards, or he can grant more secrecy to a hero at his location. He can also easily dispatch blights from his location or an adjacent location at will with a fresh Condemn power. The Exorcist’s grace (health) is the weakest of the bunch but his spiritual prowess more than makes up for it in taking out blights when he drops the holy hammer on them.
The final hero in From the Abyss is the Valkyrie and she has the strongest health in the new troupe and offers the most versatility, protecting members of the party with grace buffs, allowing them to exchange items regardless of location, forcing the Necromancer to not detect any of the other heroes and even sparing them from death. When you couple her powers with the Mesmer’s, you can save a hero in their last gasp of life and move them to a safer location, for example. She can move to any location using Sprout Wings and unleashes the best of Wagner riding in with her Death From Above powers, swooping down with a three dice attack, smiting any blight in her way. A mighty maiden to behold when she gets going!
The new event cards are a mix of threats to face and positive or negative effects to dice rolls and grace, falling in line with the games existing event cards. The new artifacts are solid, giving the heroes better tools to do battle with the Necromancer such as the Mask of Indignation, which adds two dice to your fight roll against the evil lord or Prophecy, which lets you to take a search of your choice from a map card on a roll of six. These items are necessary and well-designed additions to balance out the increased difficulty of the Darkness cards.
Ah, the darkness cards. Yes, the name is rather bleak and it should be because they are all bad for your heroes, some of them very bad but all are good for the Necromancer. These play very much like the heroes power cards with some of them activating under specific circumstances, while others are persistent, but each of these make the Necromancer the nastiest he’s ever been.
To give you some examples without ruining too many surprises are the Hidden Tomb where the Necromancer moves to the swamp if defeated and not already at the swamp. Obviously, if this card is in play you’ll want to draw him to the swamp to defeat him there. Encroaching Shadows creates blights at the monastery on a roll of six for the Necromancer and my personal favorite, Shatter Hope. If you are thinking of just getting a single holy relic to do battle with the Necromancer and this card comes up, the relic is immediately destroyed. If you’ve not yet gotten one, the first one you recover gets destroyed. Yes, that can really screw up your day. There are many more that will leave you muttering curses at the Necromancer when they are played, trust me, I’ve been there.
Like everything in Darkest Night, you can scale the way you want to play and the Darkness Cards can be used in different formats. The less adventuresome will choose the standard way, drawing one card when you reach the 10th and 20th turns on the darkness track but you ignore the darkness track effects when doing this. This adds some variety to the base game because you don’t know what you’ll get on the 10th and 20th turns but you’re saying, “C’mon Moe, that’s nothing”! You’re right, it’s not that bad so I implore you to disregard the standard, bypass Twilight and go right to the witching hour at Midnight.
When you go with the Midnight path, you draw Darkness Cards every five turns starting on the fifth turn of the darkness track. You also apply the effects from the darkness track right alongside the card in play, which is manageable early on but gets exponentially worse the further you go. You deal with the normal addition of blights from each move of the Necromancer, while getting nasty surprises from the Darkness Cards along the way. Trust me, anyone who shrugged this game off as easy before will do so no longer because the kingdom gets filled with all sorts of nasties pretty quickly. These cards really change the game in a big and positive way, increasing the difficulty level and instilling a feeling of despair all while upping the playing pleasure. The days of mister nice Necromancer are over, he’s now a truly vile and evil entity to fear when you play and fear him you will!
There will, from time to time, be games that just totally go your way, getting great die rolls and the right card pulls on searches that may get you a holy relic quickly allowing you to easily defeat the Necromancer. This has been a complaint from players before and if chance is involved, it’s still a possibility however, it is now lessened. If you somehow still don’t feel challenged enough, start at the fifth spot on the darkness track with a Darkness Card in play and you’ll begin right in the thick of things. The game now has many more working parts to allow for customization to your comfort level and I hope Jeremy Lennert continues to build upon it with further expansions.
I’d love to see a bigger expansion added that builds upon the kingdom further, possibly a labyrinth beneath that adds new locations for the party to explore or holds the lair of the Necromancer himself. By destroying his lair, you destroy his essence which could be an alternate way to win. That would open up new tactics in splitting your party, while some search above ground for keys to the relics others are below ground hunting for his lair whose location could also change every game. Hmm, ok enough of my day dreaming.
I’ve been a big fan of this game since I first played it and three expansions in and the game has yet to disappoint me; Darkest Night is now a full gaming system, customizable to any level for group or solo play. These expansions can be played on their own, with the base game or combined into one epic game which is how I highly I recommend the game be played because the multiple layers and challenges give the game a great depth and is just plain fun as hell. When you do emerge victorious after a long battle, you will truly feel like the heroes your pawns represent because you know you worked hard to earn the win.
The addition of the Darkness Cards, balanced with the new artifacts and four heroes, gives the game a wider array of combinations that greatly increases the replay value of the base game and I can’t imagine playing without them. Darkest Night has become an epic saga, one that will delight, frustrate but ultimately satisfy your solo or cooperative gaming needs. If you have the base game, this expansion is a must have!
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Note: A review copy of this game was provided to me.