Now for a very odd combination of game and publisher:
Dark, Darker, Darkest is a new game from designer David Ausloos, being published by Queen Games. Now, I don’t know about you, but just from the cover, this seems COMPLETELY DIFFERENT from what I expect a Queen game to be. I usually envision Queen games to be family friendly Euros, and this is definitely NOT. It’s a cooperative game for 2-5 players that takes about two hours to play. It’s themed around a band of survivors trying to find the antidote for a virus that is turning people into zombies.
The game comes with five survivor cards and miniatures; 50 item cards; 32 zombie miniatures; 3 creature cards and miniatures; 2 nemesis cards and miniatures; 24 modular board tiles; a d4 and a d6; a terror die; 4 creature dice; 4 survivor dice; a security panel; a team tracker; 35 wooden cubes; and 128 cardboard tokens. In the beginning, each player will choose a character, placing it on the entrance tile. The panel code is set using color code discs. You’ll be building the house using the tiles, building a 4×5 grid with 9 windows and 4 corners on the outside (plus the entrance tile). Each player gets a starting weapon, and you’re ready to go.
Each round has two phases: upkeep and actions.
UPKEEP: The upkeep phase consists of five steps:
- Cycle advancement: A gray cube marks progress on a cycle track. In this step, you’ll move it down a step. If it was at the bottom, it moves back to the top and a zombie spawning occurs. Reaching the second fire icon means a fire check occurs if a fire is active. Reaching the bottom clock space means the Darkness track increases by one.
- Adjust team tracker: The team tracker shows where everyone is, and indicates when people have finished their actions for the turn. Characters in the same room will be in the same box. In this step, you’ll be adjusting so the tracker reflects the board.
- Security camera check: There are security cameras throughout the house. If you are in a room that is in view of a camera, you must perform a sneak roll – roll a number of dice equal to the number of characters in that room plus the terror die. If one fail icon comes up, the alarm sounds and an event occurs that matches the icon shown on the terror die.
- Zombie spawning: Roll the d6 and d4 together. The d4 indicates the row and the d6 indicates the column in which a zombie spawn occurs. If a locked room is rolled, or a 6 is rolled, the players must put a zombie spawn token in a room adjacent to a character of their choice. The spawn token will turn into a horde of zombies when characters establish line of sight (the number is indicated on the other side of the token). If the cycle advancement results in a zombie spawn, there will be two this round.
- Zombification progression: Any characters that have been bitten twice put a red cube on their rightmost special ability. Move it to the left if a red cube is already present. These abilities are now inactive.
ACTION: Based on your energy level, you get a certain number of action points (3-4 in the beginning, depending on the number of players). Most actions cost one action point – only extinguish fire costs 2. Your options are:
- Move: To an adjacent orthogonal room. Some tiles have hallways, and it costs an action point to move into those as well. If you enter a room with a monster, you stop. You also can’t move out of a room with a monster, unless you roll a counter move during combat.
- Search: Roll a number of dice equal to the number of players in the room, plus the terror die. Each success means you find one item, and items are divided among the party in the room. If you roll a double icon (other than a double success), the event shown on the terror die is triggered. If you find at least one item, a black cube is placed in the room to indicate it was searched.
- Pass an item/take an item: You can pass an item per action point to and from a team member in the same room.
- Unlock door: Remove a lock disc from a door by having the colors in your inventory, and now you can enter.
- Attack: Attack creatures within a range indicated by your weapons. This is done by rolling dice and spending ammo cubes.
- Enter code disc into security panel: If you’re in the lab (your goal), you can spend APs to enter code discs into the security pane. These are lock discs you have collected, and allow you to take out the colors shown on the disc, or any one color. Once the security panel is fully unlocked, the endgame begins.
- Extinguish fire: Fire may be spreading throughout the house, and this action can be used to try to contain it.
Once the security panel is unlocked, several things happen. All locks are removed, fires ignite (and cannot be extinguished), all spawn tokens turn into zombie hordes, and a Nemesis apppears. You’ll draw a Nemesis card, and you must defeat it before you can get on the helicopter.
So that’s a brief look at the rules. I feel like I didn’t do them justice – there’s a lot going on here. It’s very different from Panic Station in that this is pure co-op – no traitors here. Still, it looks like there’s a healthy amount of tension and a really good narration going on. You start out exploring the house, trying to collect these locks and keep the zombie population under control. Once the security panel is open, the endgame looks like it gets majorly tense. A definite climax here with the appearance of a Nemesis to fight. That sounds really exciting. It seems very thematic, and theme seems to be something that Ausloos is very good at – Panic Station was also extremely thematic.
I’ve been critical in the past of Queen Games using Kickstarter as a preorder system – they’re a big company and a lot of their games they’ve been putting up don’t really need it. However, this time I will concede that Kickstarter was the way to go. It’s a $90 game ($80 on Kickstarter, and that doesn’t include stretch goal stuff), and it is nothing like a typical Queen game. It’s like they’re trying to reach a new market, and they picked a good way to extend the hand – zombies are huge.
For me, I’m not that big on zombies, but I do like a good narrative arc, and this game looks like it really nails that aspect. It’s way out of my price range right now, but I think I’d be up for playing if anyone else around me gets a copy. Check the game out, and if you’re interested, you have until July 13 to back. It’s over $100K past its initial $30,000 goal so far, so it will be coming out (scheduled for October). Thanks for reading!
- BGG page for Dark Darker Darkest
- Kickstarter project page
- Queen Games website
- Video overview from BoardGame Geek