Table for One Kickstarter Tabletop Alert: ‘Dark Dealings’

DarkDealings-FeaturedTable for One is a new series focusing on solo tabletop gaming. The series will cover two flavors of solo games–games designed to be played by a single person exclusively and games that are multi-player but have a solo version. I’ll also be talking to some solitaire game designers and covering the 2015 Solitaire Print and Play Contest as it progresses.

If you like deck building, bidding, dungeon building, and competitive strategy game elements like I do, then you’ll love Dark Dealings. The game combines all of these mechanics with fun, beautiful artwork as you take on the role of an evil overlord trying to defend your home from the heroes of the realm. Dark Dealings is for one to six players.

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Please note that I used an advanced print-and-play version I received from Nevermore games so not all of the rules and art were finalized when I played and took the pictures that follow.

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My print and play game. Photo by Will James.

The game contents are pretty simple–a Hero deck of 54 cards, a Defense deck of 53 cards, the First Player card, and a rulebook. The game will come in a nice box so it’s very portable. The game plays in 15-20 minutes so it’s also a great game to play when you don’t have a lot of time or as a palate cleanser between longer games. That being said, I enjoyed the game so much both solo and when playing with my wife that I’ve never been able to stop at just one playthrough.

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The Defense deck has some pretty sick-looking monsters. Photo by Will James.

Before getting in to the game play, I wanted to mention two things that impressed me very much about Dark Dealings before I even cracked open the rules. First of all, there is no print-and-play available as part of their campaign, but they designed a print-and-play version that made it very easy to play. The cards were laid out so that each cut card is just folded then stuck into a sleeve. This was way better than trying to figure out how to print properly on both sides of the paper to get a decent card and back. As someone who is starting to do a lot of print-and-play testing, I really appreciated this.

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Hero cards sans Ranger artwork. Photo by Will James.

The second thing that impressed me while making the cards was the design of the heroes. The heroes and races are pretty standard fare–halflings, berserkers, wizards, knights, thieves, and rangers–but, in addition to the art just being fun and well-executed, the characters were designed to be diverse. The berserker is a female as is the thief and one of the halfling pair, and the wizard is black. It’s rare to see so many female characters (and mostly fully clothed), much less a black wizard!

I won’t go in to details on the multiplayer rules and the details of each card because the guys at Nevermore games did a great job of boiling the rules down in to a quick start guide on their Kickstarter page. Suffice it to say that after many rounds of solo play, I convinced my wife, who normally doesn’t like deck-building games, to try multiplayer with me. She was so drawn into the game that we played four rounds in a row despite it being late and past our bedtime.

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One of my solo rounds. Photo by Will James.

The solitaire variant of the game still plays through all three phases–Hero Phase, Defense Phase, and Combat Phase–but the game is quite a bit more streamlined so you can play a game in about five to ten minutes.

In the Hero Phase your goal is still to decide which heroes you will face off against and which heroes you will use to bid on defenses in the Defense Phase. There is a precarious balance between choosing heroes that are easy to defeat versus heroes that are more difficult but give you higher bidding power for better defenses. You draw three hero cards, keep two, and discard one. You do this a total of four times until you have your hand of eight heroes. That ends the Hero Phase.

In the Defense Phase, you still bid with your heroes for defenses, but, instead of bidding against other players, you will be bidding against random heroes from the hero deck. You draw five defense cards and lay them out in front of you. You then choose two of your heroes to bid with and place them face up. You then draw three random “enemy” heroes from the deck. Heroes are ordered by their challenge value (the number in the bottom left corner) and “select” the defense card they want. If the hero is an enemy hero, the defense card with the highest rank (the number in the bottom right corner) is taken and discarded. If the hero is one of yours, the hero goes face down into your combat pile and the defense card is added to your defense hand. This is repeated three times until you have a defense hand of eight cards and a combat pile of your eight heroes. There is definitely a lot of strategy here as well as you are not only bidding on defenses but putting the heroes in the order you’ll be fighting them.

Let the heroes come! In the Combat Phase, you flip a hero from your combat pile and then play defenses to defeat that hero. You continue through the combat pile until all heroes have been vanquished and you win or a hero cannot be defeated, in which case you are routed from your castle and the heroes win. One of the cool mechanics on defense cards is that some of them can be used multiple times. This is represented by an attack strength on multiple sides of the card. Every time a defense is used, it is rotated clockwise one-quarter turn. When the side has no attack value, the card is discarded.

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Dark Dealings is just a great easy-to-learn, fun-to-play card game that is challenging enough to make you keep playing but not so challenging that it is frustrating. I am now winning two out of three solo games, and there are rules to make solo play even more difficult. While Dark Dealings certainly wasn’t designed as a solo game, it does very well as both a solo and multiplayer game.

One thing I will mention about multiplayer is that we both enjoyed it a lot more using the “No-Elimination Variant.” The only change to the rules is that players are not eliminated if a hero makes it through their defenses. Instead, at the end of the game, the person with the fewest heroes who made it through is the winner. Playing with this variant made the games last longer and increased the tension until the very end.

I really enjoyed Dark Dealings and will be adding it to several of our game lists–“I Just Want to Play a Quick Solo Game,” “Games to Start the Night Off With,” and “Palate Cleanser Games.” Some nights it may even be the only game we play because it’s so much fun. Head over to their campaign and get a great portable game for as little as $15. Only 5 days left!

Will is a geek, athlete, husband to a geek mom, and father of 4-year-old and 1-year-old geeks-in-the-making living in Seattle, Washington. He loves reading, comics, cosplay, games (tabletop and video sorts), and robots - especially Transformers. He's also the co-host of the Sunday Evening with Captain Owen podcast (available on iTunes) and custom prop builder at Billythebrick Cosplay.