What is this game about?
Dark Gothic is a deck builder set in the same world as Flying Frog's A Touch of Evil. The main version of Dark Gothic is semi-cooperative, and you are out to prove that you are the best monster slayer by defeating more monsters and collecting more victory points than your friends do. The game also, however, includes rules that make it fully cooperative—and therefore able to be played solo.
To win the game, players must defeat three boss monsters of increasing difficulty. As with all deck builders, players begin with relatively weak starting decks. Each hero, however, has a different starter deck and special ability, which adds a bit of spice. To build up the strength they need to defeat monsters, each hero purchases better cards from a central market row. Most types of cards are outright beneficial. These include gear, allies, or locations that remain in play and offer persistent benefits. Other cards, however, are minions—lesser monsters who can offer benefits, but also have negative effects.
Some cards have "strike" or "mystery" functions that harm other players or cause cards to be added to the Shadows—a separate discard pile that also acts as a timer for the game. If there are ever ten minion cards in the Shadows, then all players automatically lose.
Other cards cause players to add "secret" cards to their decks. When secrets are drawn into a player's hand, they then force that player to draw a "shocking discovery." These discoveries are usually unpleasant—but not always.
How does it play solo?
The rules included with Dark Gothic offer semi-cooperative and cooperative ways to play. Solo players will need to control decks for two or more characters, but that is not too difficult to manage.
Dark Gothic's cooperative rules introduce two changes designed to allow players to work together without the game becoming too easy. The first is that all "strike" cards—cards that have harmful effects and allow players to attack each other in semi-cooperative play—must be played, and must affect all players. The second is that at the end of each round, after each player has taken a turn, the first player must roll a die for every minion visible on the market row. If the player rolls a zero on the custom die that comes with the game, then that minion is added to the Shadows. The increased risk of minions going into the shadows puts time pressure on the player(s), since they need to defeat all of the more major monsters before ten cards are banished to the Shadows.
I wanted to love Dark Gothic. I certainly love the theme, and I think that Flying Frog productions has fun games and great art. But Dark Gothic is... well... boring. The game has moments where it feels sluggish, especially if it takes you a while to acquire enough good cards to beat a boss monster. The fun, dramatic aspects of the game, such as the "secret" cards, don't show up consistently enough to add entertainment value. I found this to be true both in solo play and when playing semi-cooperatively with my boyfriend.
In solo play, the cooperative rules do not work as well as they should. The strike cards feel like they are making the game difficult for difficulty's sake. And rolling dice to determine whether to put minions into the Shadows can be frustrating, either because there are too many minions on the row and you can't do anything about it, or because there are none and the game has no tension. It just doesn't quite land right.
Do I recommend it?
Sadly, no. The theme is awesome, the art is awesome, and when I heard about this game I really wanted to love it. I am sure there are plenty of people who do love it. But I'd rather play a different deck builder.
Overall Rating: 2 stars
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.