Greetings, good hunters. Bloodborne: The Board Game by CMON is currently on Kickstarter and is one that I am incredibly excited for. There are quite a few reasons why I’m more excited about this than other current campaigns available: my love for horror, lovecraftian elements, and Bloodborne itself, but I’ve also been vigilant online to get a feel for why others are backing it and what they’re hoping for out of the campaign, and I’ve seen a fair amount of noise regarding people actively not backing it, which I find unusual. Why would you go out of your way to say you’re not going to do something, even though the act doesn’t affect anyone else? Well, from what I’ve seen in the past, it’s either from a genuine critic giving a fair balanced arguments, someone explaining their poor experiences with a publisher, or its someone trying to derail the hype train out of spite. Clearly the game blew up as it were on the launch doing incredibly well. I wasn’t one of the first backers but did manage to get in within the first 24hours, during which time I received 7 updates on the stretch goals unlocked within 30 minutes. Since then the game had continued to attract attention and gather pledges, but at the same time people have been more and more vocal about their criticisms of the game.
Truly negative board game blogs are hard to come by. Most review, blog about and play games they enjoy and they want to share that enjoyment and enthusiasm to expand people’s shelves and encourage more people to game (myself included… I can be blunt, but I always end up finding positives). And I’ve honestly never sought out to find reviews or previews of games that say they are bad, that would be counter productive. Non-bloggers who post about games online will also focus mainly on games they enjoy or will give a decently balanced view on games, often explaining why they see the appeal but acknowledging it’s not for them. Much like the past campaigns of other video game themed board games, Bloodborne: The Board Game has come under lots of criticism before it’s been played or even produced fully. So, as an avid fan of the video game counterpart, I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring and give my own thoughts on the game, the challenges it may face, and why I’m personally excited for this! It’s impossible that everything I’d say is going to be correct, nor am I striving to make you want/not want to back it, I just fancy rambling.
A lot of people are huge Bloodborne fans and will therefore back the game because of that. For some, the theme alone will make the game, for others it’s the miniatures and within and opportunities to paint and exhibition their collection. The immediate question raised is, would the game have received as much hype were it not directly linked to Bloodborne? Possibly. Would the theme still matter? Definitely. You absolutely cannot tell me some of your favourite games’ themes aren’t a huge player in what makes them great in your opinion. I find some of my favourite games are built on theme. The mechanics and gameplay are suited to it but the theme is the overarching element, impacting the game’s visuals, flavour text, style and even when you’d want to play it. But were a game to be reskinned under a new theme, you’d immediately put off a whole range of players and open it up to another host of them. Some people hate a specific theme and everything about it, some people adore it. It’s what humans do. Which is why I question whether the game would have received the same hype, based on the mechanisms and gameplay were it themed differently. Well… So long as it was survival horror, yeah. I’d argue so. The gameplay of the game lends itself heavily to mystery, exploration and the unknown, which conveniently fits Bloodborne perfectly. But it would also fit a Cthulhu Mythos theme or a zombie apocalypse theme. So long as you’re wanting to survive and explore, you’ll get along with the game without worries of it being Bloodborne!
I’ll admit the high levels of convenience Bloodborne: The Board Game has tapped into with its theme as the universe of Bloodborne is already a developed and polished thing. The risk with that? Upsetting those who are purchasing only for theme. These are the backers who will definitely be appreciating the artwork, flavour text and even the cards’ fonts. Sounds mad, but you can’t say that Comic Sans would fit beautifully into a heavy game’s deck. I’ll admit I have backed purely on theme before, Dark Souls: The Board Game is my main example. Luckily, I thoroughly enjoyed the game, however there is endless frustration and anger at the developer for promising certain elements that have not yet been delivered and because of that, the theme suffers. The expectation that it would have these elements supersedes the elements it has and therefore takes away from the theme. Luckily the developed for DS:TBG has said they are committed to fulfilling everything promised and is working towards that, however it doesn’t remove that element of ‘missing theme’ from the immediate.
The biggest theme element I can see with Bloodborne: The Board Game is the developing night and the difference between the reality, the dream and the nightmares. There’s a lot of debate amongst players as to which was the dream, the reality and the nightmare, and how hunters experienced the world around them fed into that decision. The trouble with that is showing players they are in the nightmare through a consistent theme but still keeping it clearly different to the dream. Bloodborne was fantastic at have three different phases of the night and the world changed accordingly. The Blood Moon rose and things got progressively worse across the town of Yharnam, most curiously that the beast scourge got more powerful and the common folk succumbed to the illness. It was clear how what the player was doing was affecting the world, and the changes were obvious. The less obvious was the differences between the Hunter’s Dream, Nightmares and what could be deemed as reality. They all screamed lovecraftian horror and Old Arkham, but were not so different that you wouldn’t know they were Bloodborne. Looking at the campaign, I’d assume the three chapters to each campaign would reflect the progression of the night, however they might simply follow the Bloodborne story. If CMON can nail the subtle changes in theme then they’ve won. If not, a consistent theming of horror would sell it for me still!
The stretch goals are another reason people will back a game. These incentives are to entice people to back more to develop the game further, and the Kickstarter exclusives are to ensure you’re rewarded for backing during the campaign. I actually love the way Bloodborne: The Board Game has done its stretch goal system! Genius! Giving the backers an opportunity to vote on which elements of the game they’d want to focus on is great and allows people to help control and develop the game they want further. Of course, as a backer, I’m now questioning when my favourite elements will be included. Where is the Nightmare Frontier? When will we get Amygdala? Where are the cursed Winter Lanterns? (Full blown fanboy moment).
I’ve also seen that they’ve added additional exclusive campaign expansions already too, which means they won’t be guaranteed for everyone unless they pay a premium. Personal positive? I don’t have to have One Reborn or the Yahar’gul campaign. Actual positive? Those wanting to purchase more can acquire it without affecting the core game’s production. Negative? I question whether this mean there’s risk of my favourite elements becoming expansions. I mean, I’d pay for them. I can’t claim they’re my favourites and I need them but refuse to pay, nor would I be throwing my toys out of the pram and removing my pledge. The worry is, some people would! They’d kick up a fuss and go full blown keyboard warrior claiming CMON isn’t in it for the backers and they’re not being fair to us… But you’ve got to remember they’re a business, and if they were to over promise and not meet expectations they’d then upset everyone.
I also think it’s quite clever that they’re including some campaign expansions within the stretch goals. The core game is what I’ve backed for, I’m excited for the extras but would have been satisfied with the core alone! Knowing they’re including whole chunks of the Bloodborne universe within the unlockable stretch goals does settle some worries! I have seen some campaigns get half way through unlocking a larger element – whole chunks broken up it up into individual items – and then say “Welp! That’s tough!”. As much as I’ve previously acknowledged that a business needs to make money and work within its constraints of budgets, it’s a bit of a kick in the teeth knowing you’ve got half a working chunk of a game element.
Reflection of the Video Game
The big question on every backers mind; will it be like Bloodborne? Well, hopefully! Let’s not be silly about this, it’s called Bloodborne: The Board Game. I’d be pretty upset if it didn’t reflect the game in some respects. The questions that’ll raise isn’t how accurately it reflects it, but how much is reflective of it. The combat is going to be card driven as opposed to dice, which guarantees that player’s outcomes are based on their decisions not luck so that’s a great reflection! No matter how many times you claim it, you died in Bloodborne because you messed up and not because the game is *insert expletives*. On the flip side, the happenings within the chapters will be unpredictable which for me is excellent, I love not knowing! Others may question the game’s continuity… but being a die hard for the lore shouldn’t get in the way of the fun!
The models, so far at sample, look incredible! I’m an advocate of guaranteeing theme, and any game with miniatures needs to nail them to a tee. Obviously the final miniatures may not reflect them exactly, and production errors/unforeseen occurrences can cause change, but it’s expected. What I have noticed as an immediate plus point is that they are scaled quite nicely. Bosses aren’t all massive but reflect the expectation of their video game counterparts; large bosses are generally slow and hard hitting and small bosses move quick and react a lot. This, alongside the enemy models being sized this way too, would immediately make the board game look good and help you identify the level of threat the enemy would pose. As previously stated, some may purchase purely for miniatures to paint and this will open up opportunity to paint many minis. Some would prefer to buy them painted, and CMON appear to have reflected the video game excellently. They look gorgeous in all their hideousness!
The other reflection of the game is the tiles that models are placed upon. It seems obvious, but it might be overlooked by some! The tiles need the mechanical elements on them; activations, elements etc. But the visuals would need to also be on point. Lovecraftian horror is big on the setting being perfect for the tone set, and cosmic horror meets old religious town is the usual scene for Bloodborne, but it doesn’t stop there. Yahar’gul isn’t too unlike Yharnam, but it is definitely different. One is further along being affect by the scourge and the details may only be minor but they have to be there. Bloodborne is known for having a lot of monuments to the questionable and idols to the unspeakable, and even these develop as the game progresses to become even more horrific. Managing to make the tiles readable and to ensure the reflect the game is important, especially to the hardcore amongst us, but shouldn’t be biggest task. Executed well and it will aid the game no end. Done incredibly and it will help make it! From what CMON have said, they’ve done a lot of homework and ensuring everything is accurate, even the scale of the houses against one another! They’ve also included many classic locations from the video game which will be used in specific campaigns alongside random choices, meaning the exploration element of the tiles should reflect well and help develop the idea of the unknown!
The final thing I personally believe needs to be nailed is the development and evolution of the characters and enemies. Progression is key in Bloodborne the video game, and you do get to a point where you feel like your character is getting stronger; enemies are easier, the dungeons can be finished and optional bosses you skipped are much more manageable. Determining how characters can be changed is imperative to players’ decisions and ensuring their play style suits them. The campaign shows a main tile where the Hunter’s Dream sits, the place you’d upgrade your skills in the video game, and it has four upgrade openings on it. I’d assume this is where you can go back to in order to improve your skills, equipment and abilities (and where you’ll go when you inevitably die), however how quickly this can be done or how much cost each purchase will be may change in the final product as changes do occur through testing.
The other more notable change that you’d expect to have happen in the game is the change in the weapons on the fly. Bloodborne’s vast arsenal was mostly comprised of “Trick Weapons”, melee weapons that had more than one form. As example, the saw spear could be used as a spear for ranged attacks, or contracted into a short blade for a quick flurry of blows. Some other weapons had much larger changes like the Kirkhammer, changing from a short sword into a massive hammer for an excellent variation of approaches to any challenge. I have seen that the character sheets have two sides, one for each weapon transformation. These both have different attacks and values in terms of buffs. Which you’d choose to use would determine how you’d approach a challenge, but there would need to be clear benefits to changing the style on the fly to approach an enemy as opposed to utilising just one throughout play. You can apply specific upgrades to your weapon to help enable that speed of your weapon further, allowing for more specialised play styles. I personally believe this is brilliant! It fully grasps the whole element of the upgrade system of Bloodborne, knowing that you can choose how you’ll play and take on enemies, or how your group might delegate tasks or roles.
In Short (ish)
Hype is an interesting thing. Some things receive all the hype, before during and after their production, and still manage to be a huge flop. Some games receive no attention at all and become “hidden gems”. It’s weird. Does hype actually contribute to the quality of a game? Or just focus people’s attention to it? Well… more often than not the hype is down to good advertising, clever incentives or a known ground catching attention. Most board games that are based on video game are of the latter hype, which is then fed into by the latter, and sadly it’s these games that often result in a flop as the hype was the expectation of a reflection of the game’s origin. Makes you question whether the same game with a differently focussed theme would still gather the same attention and critique? When people say the hype is real, it does panic me as it’s usually unREAListic (quality wordplay.)
The main things for me for Bloodborne: The Board Game to live up to any expectations is its theme, replay-ability and how it feels to handle. I’ve talked a lot about theme and the ifs and buts, but honestly CMON are generally very good at hitting a theme correctly. Look at their track record and survival horror appears to be their forte, which then sits nicely within the convenience of Bloodborne being primarily a survival horror video game. A lot can be done with this, and done well. I just hope the execution is on point to really make it feel bleak but not impassable. The replay-ability of this game is handily produced through the number of stretch goals unlocked; each weapon specialisation will enable the game to feel different each time around, and the mixing of tiles for each campaign allows for the unknown. But that’s through the Kickstarter campaign, not just the core. With 4 characters alone, the core game alone may not be as replay-able, but I’d expect it would still be equally as enjoyable. I mean, you’ve got to take it for what it is; if you’re waiting for the core to go retail, you’ll receive the core alone. The handling of the game will be the down time between player turns, set up and set down. No one wants to set up a heavy game for a 20 minute stint, nor does anyone appreciate a longer set down as it takes away from the whole gaming experience. From the look of it, you’d only need to get the elements for the specific campaign and wouldn’t need to get everything else out, however the game doesn’t seem overly heavy on tokens. Cards do seem plentiful, but with some common sense organisation I can’t imagine you’d have tonnes of downtime. In terms of player turns, it’s a funny one. It’s a coop game so you’d be discussing within every player’s turn, but you’d also need to be planning your own turn ahead… I guess it would entirely depend on who you’re playing with! Too much over analysis would kill any pace, and not enough would cause a nest of problems you’d have no choice but to sit and talk through.
I’m still incredibly excited for this campaign, and am excited to see what CMON do in terms of both optional buys and stretch goals. Bloodborne isn’t so extensive in terms of content compared with other game of the same calibre, but it had everything it needed perfectly placed. If you haven’t already seen the campaign I’d recommend you do so, even if your not a Bloodborne fan and simply out of curiosity.
The sky and the cosmos are one, good hunters.