Bloodborne is rich in story, lore and hidden messages. Was it a dream? A nightmare? Or a reality of horrors with your only escape being a nap that allows you to visit a nice old man in a wheelchair who has a suspiciously lifelike doll? Depends who you ask really. But between the complicated, lovecraftian lore and questions that may or may not have been answered is a fast-paced combat heavy game involving a plethora of weapons and hideous enemies. It’s a game to behold. Bloodborne: The Card Game by CMON is a cooperative hand management homage to this and it does so in a more tactical, choice heavy way.
The game is cooperative to a point. You all need to work together to defeat enemies, sub-bosses and main bosses, but you also need to aim to be the one to put in the most effort whilst also maintaining your health. The more work you put into killing the enemies, the more blood echoes you’ll receive. Have the most blood echoes at the end of the game to be crowned as the greatest hunter. Simple right? Well, these enemies aren’t about to let you just massacre them without putting up somewhat of a fight and they’ll retaliate whether you want to kill them or not, doing damage to each player in turn. The damage they do will be indicated on their card by a lantern; green is the least dangerous and red is the most. However, even the most simple of enemies’ attacks can be devastating if chained in a combo! Imagine being taken out by a dog in Bloodborne! How embarrassing! (I keep telling myself it happens to everyone at least once…)
All players receive their own player board from which to track their scores, banked blood echoes and immediate blood echoes. Everyone starts with the same hunter equipment to kick off and upgrades can be gained throughout the course of the game. You also start with a weapon transform card and a Hunter’s Dream card, one allows you to choose your weapon after everyone else who has revealed, the other sends you to the Hunter’s Dream after the current round. The gameplay is composed of Hunters slaying enemies, a few sub-bosses and a main boss by playing hunter weapons, items and firearms to do damage. Other than the main boss, all others are chosen randomly. The main boss will have an effect on them which will affect the play of the game; some are terrible, some not so terrible. On top of that, most enemies also have an effect whilst in play meaning that they’ll also have some sort of impact on players, though it’s comparatively shorter lasting.
Much like the standard game, you’ll be claiming blood echoes from foes to enable you to win. These blood echoes are only yours so long as you’re holding them whilst outside of the hunters dream. If you kill an enemy then die, you lose all blood echoes from the immediate pool, adding a push your luck sense of danger. The only way to save them is to visit the Hunter’s Dream, a safe place in the game and also in the boardgame. The difference here is that you can bank your blood echoes to your bank at the bottom of your player board, meaning your score is saved! So the Hunter’s Dream is a wonderful place where you’re safe. You’ll be fully healed, store any immediate blood echoes in your bank and be able to collect one upgrade for free! These upgrades are more trick weapons, firearms and items to aid you in your fight against the beasts and kin of the Bloodborne universe! Of course, while ever you’re off relaxing with the doll and Gerhman, you’re not killing beasts. Picking your moment to run is important too, as playing the card to return to the Hunter’s Dream doesn’t take you out of combat immediately! You have to survive one more round before it takes effect (although you only take half damage rounded down).
The bottom line of being a Hunter is entirely around killing beasts, kin and other nasties. All enemies have a set amount of health indicates in the bottom left of their card and that is exactly how many blood echoes are available to players; do 4 damage, collect 4 blood echoes from their card. If at any point there are none left then the enemy is slain and children will sing songs of your triumph (maybe). Killing any of the varieties of enemies will also grant bonuses tracked on your hunter board which result in end game score bonuses. Should, for some reason unknown to true Hunters, your prey escape, they’ll vanish with any blood echoes they have left and no bonuses will be granted. Even worse, some monsters have an effect when they escape which can be detrimental to hunters who have pushed their luck a little too far!
What another player decides to do will vastly impact your choices, particularly if you’re low in the turn order. Pull out a Kirkhammer to deal massive damage but only be able to get 1 echo and you’ll be pretty frustrated. In the same way that if you choose to use a firearm and someone plays something that damages everyone using firearms. The game eventually becomes very backhanded; cooperation dies down to little more than participating in the same fight, which is something my group particularly enjoyed. Usually we’re big on cooperatives being 100% coop, but having that die away gradually went unnoticed… We just became much worse people!
None of the weapons seemed over powered either, especially when we went full back-stab with other players. Some of the items on the other hand did seem a little over the top – the bolt paper allows you to do damage equal to every trick weapon in your discard pile. I guess the balance there would be to have survived long enough to have plenty of trick weapons in the discard. The worst card we found was the cannon. Horrible card! It did damage to the enemy but also 1 damage to other players. Fine in practice until 2 people whip out cannons in the same round and wreck any hopes you had of survival! That was more coincidental than malicious though..
Despite these growing evil tendencies amongst the group, you’ll still need to pull your weight in terms of taking enemies out. No one wants an enemy to escape unscathed, and letting some enemies run can be pretty bad too! You’ll start out holding hands and singing, and end in a Mexican stand off with guns drawn whilst eyeing one-another’s health dials.
The cards’ artwork reflect the dark, lovecraftian theme of the game and do the video game counterpart’s atmosphere justice. The blood echo tokens are excellently made, but I’ve got to say, in my greedy haste, my instant reaction was that they were sweets and not tokens. (Or am I just afflicted by the beast scourge?) The health dial is a great choice over the classic token choice as it allows easy tracking of one’s health without fiddling about endlessly. The cards are well made and of good quality and the first player token is a nice standee of the staple hunter design of the game – a nice addition but potentially not needed! My only qualm with the game is the categorisation of bosses. Any Bloodborne geek will agree with me on this one; some of the main bosses don’t hold as much weight as the sub-bosses in comparison with the video game, and some of the missing bosses are those which hold more weight in terms of the fandom. That’s not to say the decisions for the bosses aren’t suitable nor to say they don’t give appropriate challenge! But hey, I’m just geeking out.
Bloodborne: The Card Game is a brilliant take-that come hand management come semi-cooperative card game. It’s an excellent example of how a video game can be turned into a boardgame without ruining the aesthetics by trying so hard to mirror the gameplay and style. If you’re not a Bloodborne fan then this game may not be entirely for you, however the devolving coop element and beautifully designed cards are enough to keep anyone occupied; two of our group despise soulsborne video games but happily fired cannons at us and took out Great Ones with scary efficiency. Not only that. They loved the discussions and elements of treachery with one another, using the transform card to hide their motives excellently.