From Software is known for basically one thing: the Dark Souls phenomenon. In addition to the three Dark Souls games, this includes Bloodborne, a faster-paced affair still predicated on knowledge of enemy patterns, a high degree of skill, and grinding out some levels and items if your skill isn’t quite there.
The Dark Souls board game, for better or worse, stayed fairly true to these ideas, especially grinding through the same level to get stronger if you ran into a roadblock. Does Bloodborne in card form manage the same feat?
The Bloodborne card game looks like a psuedo-coop affair, where players work together to defeat monsters but try to end up with more blood echoes than their fellow hunters by the end of the game. ‘Pseudo-coop’, however, is overstating the cooperative nature. In reality, the monsters are something of a filter through which you fight each other. Non-boss monsters are either killed in one round or run away; boss monsters, including the final boss, stay and accumulate wounds until they die. If you damage a monster during the round in which it dies, you earn blood echoes and trophies in accordance with what’s printed on the card. Trophies lead to bonus blood echoes at the end of the game. If you can work it so you help kill a monster and someone else doesn’t, you gain an advantage over them.
Bloodborne is a hand-building game—you don’t have a deck you draw from, you just hold all your cards in your hand and discard them after use. One of those cards is the Hunter’s Dream; when you play it, you take half damage for the round, stash all your blood echoes, collect your discards, and choose an item from the three on display. Usually you go to the dream when you’re concerned about dying, because death makes you lose all your unstashed blood echoes, but it can also be beneficial to go when a strong item is available, especially if your absence will make it difficult or impossible for the other hunters to kill the current enemy.
Battling the monsters is pretty straightforward. Every card has an amount of damage that it does, an ability, or both. If the damage done amongst all hunters is enough to kill the monster, it dies. Of course, some items screw with other hunters if they use a certain type of weapon (ranged or melee), does damage to all other hunters or all hunters including yourself, or otherwise goofs with the math everyone is doing to figure out if they’ll survive the fight. After all, the monster swings first, and you only have eight health at most; you need to not just survive, but survive with enough health to make it back to the Dream on a following turn, unless you have a way to not lose your blood echoes if you die.
And this is where the game starts to collapse. Bloodborne is predicated on walking the line between life and death and being good enough not to cross over, or at least not too often. Damage is done via dice rolls, which is the polar opposite of this.
Now, a bit of unpredictability is ok. Calculating the odds may not be exactly how the video game works, but it’s a skill. How safely can I play this without letting my opponents back into the game? How poor are my odds if I make this risky play? Do I have to take that risk anyway because I can’t win if I don’t?
Bloodborne, however, amplifies this by putting faces on the dice with plus symbols. If you roll one of these faces, it does that much damage and you roll again. If a die has two faces with plus symbols, you have a one in three chance on any roll that you’ll roll again. One in nine times, you’ll roll three damage dice. That’s potentially once per game, depending on the dice of the monsters in the deck.
In addition, each die has a zero. So if you roll a red die for a monster, you have a one in six chance of it doing no damage, and a one in nine chance of it doing almost certainly half your life in damage. Yellows are slightly less bad in terms of top end damage, but you can still take a major hit, or no hit at all. But you have no way to plan for the damage any given monster will do. That’s part of what Bloodborne is about, knowing your margin for error and using it to the greatest possible extent. This game gives you none. It’s very unlikely you’ll take eight damage in a round, but that doesn’t really matter; if you get knocked down to two from full or high health, the next round you could easily die while trying to get into the dream. And taking four to six damage is liable to happen at some point, so you either play ultra safe or get lucky, neither of which are satisfying methods of play.
There’s an expansion out called The Hunter’s Nightmare. It adds many more monsters and end bosses, which are fine. You get two special abilities at the start of the game and choose one to keep; these are pretty fun. And it adds death tokens, so when you die your maximum number of each trophy type gets capped lower and lower depending on what killed you. I’m sure there are maniacs who think the game is too easy, but it’s neither too easy nor too hard—you might play better than your opponents, but how much you die is highly luck dependent, so being punished for death is the worst idea possible. You can leave it out, but holy hell, what was this guy thinking?
Maybe with a more lighthearted, screw-your-neighbor theme, this game would have come off better. As Bloodborne… it doesn’t give the sense of being Bloodborne at all.
Score: Two out of four umbilical cords.