Dicebreaker Recommends is a series of monthly board game, RPG and other tabletop recommendations from our friends at our sibling site, Dicebreaker. This month, the team go on the hunt in one of the best video game board games around – Bloodborne: The Card Game.
The Soulsborne series has had a mixed showing on the tabletop so far. Arguably the series’ most popular entries before the release of Elden Ring earlier this year, the original Dark Souls and cosmic horror Bloodborne, have both seen full-blooded board game and card game adaptations, with Dark Souls also making a recent leap into a D&D-like tabletop RPG.
Until Elden Ring inevitably gets its own tabletop outing, the Soulsborne board games are well worth revisiting when you need a moment to stop dying to Malenia and unwind with some good ol’ fashioned cardboard for a couple of hours.
While Dark Souls: The Board Game and Bloodborne: The Board Game have both proved as popular as you’d expect from Popular Thing: The Board Game, raising millions of dollars on Kickstarter, some of the games’ other adaptations have been somewhat overlooked despite their tie to the series.
Most notably, Bloodborne: The Card Game, an earlier 2016 take on Miyazaki’s Lovecraftian horror masterpiece that stands out for veering away from a more direct translation of the game’s single-player exploration elements for a semi-cooperative multiplayer affair.
Rather than Bloodborne’s main story, Bloodborne: The Card Game takes the game’s Chalice Dungeons as its inspiration. In the video game, Chalice Dungeons are procedurally generated levels that players can work their way through in search of specific items, encountering both new bosses and reappearances from some of the monsters found out in Yharnam.
Bloodborne: TCG similarly puts a different spin on Bloodborne’s co-op multiplayer, offering up a semi-cooperative, semi-competitive boss rush as players’ hunters slash and shoot their way through a series of monster cards, hoping to rack up as many blood echoes as they can ahead of their rivals.
Like the Soulsborne series’ ‘Prepare to Die’ mantra, collecting blood echoes comes with a risk-reward. Rather than throwing themselves into the next battle, players can choose to ‘warp’ back to the Hunter’s Dream, banking the echoes on their board to avoid losing them on their next death and recovering any used weapon cards.
Missing out on the fight means sacrificing the chance to get more blood echoes by damaging monsters, the main way of chasing victory. Like the video game, timing is everything; warping away can lose a juicy bounty, but waiting too long could cost you everything you’ve earned so far.
The result is a tense, tight game of chicken as players try to guess when their fellow hunters will cash in. Though a tactical jump back to the Hunter’s Dream can leave an opponent in the lurch, if too many players duck out in a single round the resulting damage from a surviving monster can spell bad news for everyone. Death at least comes with the chance to upgrade your weapons before venturing back into the labyrinth in search of foes to slay.
Bloodborne is decorated with the weapons, tools and enemies from the video game, yet it’s an adaptation of the video game more in spirit than to the letter. Designer Eric M. Lang – beloved creator of games such as Blood Rage and XCOM: The Board Game, who also co-designed the Bloodborne board game – manages to keep the pacey back-and-forth feel of the video game’s combat even in a deck of cards, with little downtime between turns and no enormous tome of rules to digest.
While the Dark Souls and Bloodborne board games attempt to capture more of the full scope of the video games’ gameplay and worlds – to varying degrees of successes – Bloodborne: The Card Game drills down to one of the most compelling parts of the series, stripping away any pretence of story or exploration in favour of a pure rush of bloodlust. Fitting, no?
In some ways, Bloodborne: The Card Game feels like the perfect tabletop adaptation for those Soulsborne players who relish the chance to jump into the video games’ player-versus-player invasions and test their mettle against fellow humans. Rather than threats themselves, the monsters here become pawns – twisted, oozing pawns – to use against your fellow hunter, hoping to lead them unwillingly into a self-inflicted checkmate.
Between board games, card games and RPGs, Soulsborne fans are hardly short of ways to delve back into the worlds of Lordran or Yharnam on the tabletop. Lacking the visual flash of plastic miniatures or the in-depth lore and story of a roleplaying book, Bloodborne: The Card Game may not be first on the list for many players, but it deserves a place alongside its bigger brethren. If nothing else, its sub-hour playtime makes it an easy way to unwind before you venture back into The Lands Between – before we inevitably see an Elden Ring board game, that is.