Aegis is humanity’s last bastion against the Blight that has taken over the Forsaken Lands. Four factions struggle for dominance on the Edge of Darkness.
Today’s post is a bit of a combination between a “Reaping the Rewards” post and a “Kickstarter Tabletop Alert.” Edge of Darkness was originally funded on Kickstarter in early 2018, and was delivered to backers this summer. However, because of the scale and expense of the game, AEG has decided not to sell it in retail at this time. They’re running a Kickstarter campaign now for an expansion, Cliffs of Coldharbor, but there are also tiers available if you missed the original so that you can get the same product as the original Kickstarter backers. This write-up will focus on the base game, with a brief mention of what the expansion adds.
What Is Edge of Darkness?
Edge of Darkness is a card-crafting game by John D. Clair for 1 to 4 players, ages 14 and up, and takes about 120 minutes to play. It is currently available only through Kickstarter, with a pledge level of $120 for the core game, or $40 each for the two new expansions (Cliffs of Coldharbor and Sands of Dunestar). The game uses a similar system as Clair’s Mystic Vale with the transparent cards, but with many key differences. I’ve played the game with my 12-year-old daughter, who picked up on the rules just fine; it’s set in a fantasy world with monsters, but there’s nothing too horrific or inappropriate for kids that I’ve come across.
New to Kickstarter? Check out our crowdfunding primer.
Edge of Darkness Components
Edge of Darkness comes with a lot of stuff, packed into a monster box comparable to Gloomhaven. The Kickstarter stretch goals added plastic components in addition to the cardboard tokens, but since there doesn’t appear to be a retail edition, I’ll include the entire list here.
- Main board
- 2 Extension boards
- 37 Location boards
- 1 Threat Tower
- 1 Threat bag
- 75 Threat cubes (15 per player, plus 15 black)
- 40 Agents tokens (10 per player)
- 4 Player boards
- 28 Allegiance slips (7 per player)
- 16 Guild Starter cards (4 per player)
- 17 Neutral Starter cards
- 286 Advancement cards
- 50 Card Sleeves
- 8 Reference cards
- 37 Randomizer cards
- First Player marker
- Round marker
- Scoring pad
- 32 Coin tokens
- 28 Reputation tokens
- 48 Player Aid tokens (12 per player)
- 26 Influence/Goodwill tokens
- 4 Defense tokens (1 per player)
- Solo Variant cards
The additional Kickstarter components are plastic replacements for the cardboard tokens:
- 40 Agent miniatures (10 per player)
- 40 Base covers (10 per player)
- 4 Defense Tower tokens (1 per player)
- Plastic versions of the player aid tokens, coins, reputation, and influence/goodwill tokens
- 3 Coffers (square bowls for tokens)
As you can see, there’s a whole lot in the box, and a big box to put it in, but let’s take a closer look at some of those bits. As with many AEG titles, this is one in which there are parts that I think are done well, and some that I think could have been done much better. I will note that, despite all my critiques of the components, I do enjoy the game, but because this is an expensive game, I think it’s worth making sure you know what you’re getting for your money.
The artwork is good: this game is set in the human portion of the Mystic Vale universe so it has a lot more humans and fewer fantastical creatures, though you do get some of those on the threat cards. The main board and extensions are a brighter, close-up view of the fortress city you see on the box cover, and if you have the table space it’s worth using those boards for the uncropped view. The location boards are also a nice, large size—big enough to hold several agents, and (if necessary) a stack of cards. On the cards themselves, the artwork is fairly small because it needs to fit on a third of a card.
The cards themselves are tarot-sized cards, printed on transparent plastic, and each card has something on one third, so that you can layer three together to fill a complete card. Unlike Mystic Vale, the cards in Edge of Darkness are double-sided: one side has the effects that you get when you play the card, and the other side has a threat that may come into play if the card attacks players. The card sleeves are sturdy and aren’t just for card protection—they’re a necessary component to hold cards together. Allegiance slips are almost all clear, with just a player banner in the top left corner, and can be added to a card sleeve to turn it from a neutral card into a player’s guild card.
Where things aren’t so great is in making the graphic design intuitive and legible. For instance, the back of a card advancement shows two things: the damage level of the threat, and the reward for defeating that threat. (Some cards may have some additional effects.) The problem is that both the damage and the reward are often a single icon and a large number, printed above each other in the same column. So when you have three advancements sleeved in a card and you want to total up the damage value of the threat, you add up every other number. It’s easy to glance at the threat tower and completely misread the attack value because everything—damage and reward—is in a single column, with the same color background.
The icons for placing and retrieving agents are up and down arrows, which one of my players remarked was unintuitive: the down arrow is used for sending an agent to a location (presumably placing it “down” on the board), but as the card is played, it looks like it’s pointing toward you—which seems to imply pulling an agent toward your own board rather than sending it out. This is complicated by the fact that the icon for the agent itself (a person wearing a hooded cloak) kind of looks like an up arrow from across the table. The icon for training a new agent is a small shield. The shield-looking resource is reputation, which is worth points. Neither of the shield-looking icons actually represents defense.
Of course, once you get used to the game, you’ll learn what things are—but it would definitely speed up the learning process if things were visually more clear.
The Kickstarter stretch goals added a lot of plastic to the game, and that’s a mixed bag. I really like the plastic miniatures for the agents rather than the flat cardboard discs. Each faction has 10 agents (5 men and 5 women), and each faction’s agents are different, so you get some variety in the characters standing on the board. The small plastic tower for your defense track is a small touch, but it’s significantly better than the cardboard token, which is an isometric view of a tower.
I don’t feel as strongly about the resource tokens (coins, influence, reputation) and the player aid tokens: they’re fun, but the cardboard versions may actually be more visually distinct. The plastic reputation and goodwill are the same gold color, but there’s more of a color difference in the cardboard versions. The other issue is that the resources come in 1 and 4 value (some have 10s and some have 20s as well): the cardboard versions have large numbers printed in black, but the plastic versions just have a raised number that’s the same color. It can be easy to grab the wrong one if you’re not careful because they look so similar.
One other thing we ran into was that we didn’t have quite enough of the 1-value double-sided influence/goodwill tokens. These tokens are blue on one side (influence) and gold on the other (goodwill), and those two resources aren’t interchangeable, so you have to be careful not to flip them over accidentally. Because they come in 1s and 4s, you could theoretically need as many as 24 of the 1-value tokens before somebody made change for a 4—but the game only comes with 16, so in one game I ended up getting out some additional tokens to make up the difference. That’s complicated by the fact that goodwill, when earned, is never spent, so players will start accumulating that, which takes tokens out of the economy. For my first couple plays, I did not punch out the cardboard and opted to use the plastic, but I may actually punch out at least the resource tokens so that I have double the number for future games.
A note about the denominations: usually I’d think it was really odd to have things come in 1, 4, 20, but in Edge of Darkness several of the resources are worth 1/4 point at the end of the game, so it makes sense to have 4s and 20s because those are even numbers of points. However, that doesn’t explain why reputation—which is 1 point per reputation—also comes in 4s. I think it would make it easier to remember that reputation is not 1/4 point if it had a different denomination.
The dual-layered player boards are nice to have some sections to keep resources, agents, and threat cubes from sliding around. But it seems weird that there are three slots for resources when there are actually four to keep track of. We weren’t sure whether goodwill was supposed to be kept in the slot with influence, or set aside entirely. It would also have been nice to have a “current” and “future” threat cubes space, because there’s a point in which you have some threat cubes that are just “in hand” and there’s no good place to place them so they don’t get mixed up with new cubes you’ve drawn.
The threat tower is impressive: it comes in three pieces, which slot together to form an upside-down T shape. The top has a funnel, and then some Pachinko-style pegs to tumble the cubes around. The base splits into thirds and dumps the cubes into three shallow trays. The whole thing is made to look like a crumbling stone tower with three doorways. Just above the doorways, there are slots that hold a single card each. My biggest complaint about the tower is that I wish those slots were a little deeper, and angled back, so that when you put the cards in the slots they’re more easily visible across the table. Depending on how many advancements are in one sleeve, they sometimes lean forward instead of back. It also would have been nice to have a reminder somewhere about how many cubes triggers an attack, because it’s based on the number of players, and is not printed anywhere except within the rulebook, not even on the reference cards.
And now for the storage: I will say that the box does get pretty filled up, so there’s not a huge amount of wasted space, which is my common complaint. But the storage isn’t well designed. There’s one deep box that is used for the location boards (which are the box’s height) and the cards (which are obviously much smaller than the box). That means you have to reach way down into a very deep box when you’re selecting advancement cards for setup. I ended up using the location boards as dividers for the cards, to make setup a little easier. I also found that the sleeved cards are just a smidge too wide to put into the bottom of this box horizontally. It just feels like a box that was designed for the initial packing, but doesn’t take into account how you’d want to put things away for actually playing the game. It’s hard to say whether this box, despite its size, will accommodate 24 more location boards and associated advancement cards while still having enough wiggle room that you could reach the advancement cards at the bottom of the box.
The plastic trays for the miniatures are set up so that each of the five trays has one copy of each miniature. That makes sense from a manufacturing perspective—creating a single tray rather than four trays—but it makes setup bizarre, because instead of handing each player a tray of their agents, you have to pass around all five trays and everyone takes two agents from each tray.
How to Play Edge of Darkness
The Kickstarter campaign is brief (and ends on Friday evening!) and I only received the game shortly before it launched, so I will try to give a high-level overview without going into too much detail about the gameplay here.
The goal of the game is to score the most reputation points in 8 rounds through defending your tower, defeating threats, gaining card advancements, and accumulating resources (coins, influence, and goodwill).
Set up the main board (and optionally the extension boards), along with 10 locations and their corresponding stack of advancement cards. When you’re starting off, you use the Player Handbook to choose these locations, but experienced players can use the randomizer cards to mix things up. The advancements are placed next to (or on top of) the location boards, depending on whether you’ve included the extension boards.
Place the threat tower nearby. Put all the black cubes into the threat bag, as well as all of the cubes of the participating players. Shuffle the neutral cards that will be used for the game (based on the number of players), and place three in the threat tower with the threat side showing. Place the rest of the cards in the discard area on the board. Choose a player to be starting player and give them the first player marker, and place the round marker on the “Prologue”.
Each player takes the components of their color: player board, 10 agents, 12 player aid tokens, defense token, 4 starting cards, and 7 allegiance slips. Four agents are placed in the “Trained Agents” section of the board, and the rest are set aside. Each player also takes 4 influence (blue) and 5 coins, placing them in the corresponding sections of the player board. Each player draws two random cubes from the threat bag and places them on the “threat zone” of their player board.
Unlike games like Mystic Vale or traditional deck-building games, in Edge of Darkness all players will be building on the same shared deck. Each player starts with 4 cards (3 citizens and 1 patrician) that are marked with their player color, and there are also a number of neutral cards (citizens and patricians). After the prologue round, the cards will be shuffled together into a single deck. When a card would be discarded—whether because played by a player or from the threat tower—it goes into the owner’s guild hall on their player board. The only exception is when you play your own card—then it is discarded to the common discard pile on the main board.
Before the game proper, there’s a prologue round that serves as a sort of extended setup. In turn order, each player will select one advancement to sleeve on one of their neutral cards. Then, in reverse turn order, each player selects a second advancement to sleeve. Each advancement chosen during the prologue must be unique, so use player aid tokens to mark which ones have been taken until the round is over. “Sleeving an advancement” means to take one of the cards and add it into the same card sleeve as a card in your hand. Typically you cannot cover up an existing section of a card—starting cards have the top section filled, and each card has three sections available total. When sleeving the advancements during the prologue, you also gain the effects of the advancement immediately, if applicable.
After everyone has chosen their starting advancements, take one copy of each unclaimed advancement and sleeve it onto a neutral citizen card. Finally, everyone places one of their cards that does not have an advancement into the Guild Hall on their player board, and puts the rest in the discard pile. Shuffle the discard pile, place it face-up in the Deck space, and then reveal the top five cards into the five open spaces on the main board—these five spaces, plus the top card of the deck, are known as the Street.
Each round, players will first assemble a hand of cards in turn order: To assemble your hand, first you draw all cards from your guild hall, as well as the cubes from your threat zone. Then, you draft cards from the Street until you have a hand of 3 cards total. (If you have more than 3 in your guild hall, then you draw all of them and don’t draft any additional.) You must take cards from the right end of the Street, but you can skip cards by putting 1 influence (blue) on each card that you skip. If you pick up a card that has influence on it, it flips over and becomes goodwill (gold), which will be worth points at the end of the game but otherwise doesn’t serve any additional purpose. Finally, you count up the cube icons shown on the cards in your hand, and draw that many cubes from the bag to put into your threat zone (for the next round).
After you’ve drafted cards, they slide to the right and refill from the deck for the next player.
Then, after everyone has drafted, players use their cards and resolve actions in turn order.
On your turn, you first drop all the cubes you picked up (not the cubes you just drew from the bag this round) into the threat tower. They’ll tumble down into the three trays. If any of the trays meets the attack threshold (6 for 2 players, 7 for 3 players, 8 for 4 players), then the card above that tray attacks the player who has the most cubes in the tray. If there’s a tie, all tied players get attacked; if there are more black cubes than any single player, then every player gets attacked. Remove the cubes and set them aside—cubes only go back into the bag if the bag runs out.
The attack adds up all the damage (scratch marks) on the card. If you’re able to defend against all of the damage, then you gain 1 reputation. If you can’t then your tower moves down your defense track on your board 1 step (regardless of how much damage you take). Typically you will need some agents at specific locations in order to defend against damage. After an attack, the threat card is discarded and the bottom card of the deck is drawn to replace it.
After resolving attacks, you must sleeve an advancement onto one of the cards in your hand if possible—you just claim any advancement from the board and add it to one of the cards.
Finally, you use the cards and locations to take their actions. Cards have various abilities, allowing you to send agents to locations or retrieve them, earn money, give you attack power, and so on. One important note: if a card belongs to another player (because it has their color at the top corner), then you must pay them 1 coin for each ability you want to use. So if the card has 3 advancements on it and you want to use two of them, you must pay that player 2 coins.
Some locations have ongoing abilities as long as you have agents present; others may have effects that trigger if you remove agents from that location and send them back to your player board.
There are effects that allow you to add one of your allegiance slips to a neutral card—that card now counts as “yours.” You cannot sleeve an allegiance slip on a card that already belongs to somebody.
If a location or card ability allows you to hunt, then you may attack one of the threat cards on the tower. Add up all of your attack power and compare it to the damage total on the threat card—if you meet or exceed it, you defeat the monster and gain all the rewards shown on the card. The monster is discarded and replaced from the bottom of the deck.
On your turn, you may also discard a card from your hand to retrieve one agent from any location; you may also discard two cards from your hand to activate one effect from a card in the Street (though you still must pay the owner if it belongs to another player). You may only discard cards that you haven’t used for any effects yet.
At the end of your turn, you discard all cards—played or unplayed. Opponents’ cards go into their guild halls, and all other cards (yours and neutral cards) are placed into the discard pile.
After each player has resolved their actions, the round advances, the first player marker passes to the left, and a new round begins.
The game ends after eight rounds are completed.
First, there is a bonus: you count up all the slots filled in all of your cards that are currently in the Street or in your guild hall and gain 1 goodwill per slot.
Then, sort out all of the cards (including the tower) and give them to their owners.
Score reputation bonuses as follows:
- 2 reputation for the player with the most reputation
- 2 reputation for the player with the most trained agents
- 2 reputation for the player with the most cards (not filled slots)
- 2 reputation for the player highest on the defense track
For ties, tied players each get 1 reputation instead.
Then you score points:
- 1 point per trained agent
- 1 point per reputation
- 1 point per filled slot on your cards
- Points as indicated by your defense track position
- 1/4 point per coin, influence, and goodwill
The highest total score wins—and you can win by 1/4 point. Ties are broken by most guild cards, then most trained agents, then total coins and influence.
There is a solo mode available as well, though I haven’t gotten to try it yet. The solo rulebook is available here.
Why You Should Play Edge of Darkness
Years ago, I had a vague idea about a deck-building game in which all players were building a single deck rather than individual decks. I had some ideas on how to make cards have different effects for different players and why you would want certain cards rather than others in the deck. How do you make a competitive game that involves collaborative deck-building? But I never got very far with the idea other than wondering if it were possible to make a compelling game like that.
Well, that’s kind of what John D. Clair has managed to do with Edge of Darkness, which is partly why it fascinates me so much. It’s not strictly deck-building: it’s card-crafting (as with Mystic Vale), where you’re adding to the cards but the total card count never changes. It does have a similar feel, though, in that you begin with some rudimentary abilities and the cards become more powerful as the game progresses. The way that Edge of Darkness grants players different card effects or makes some cards more valuable than others is with the guild cards: you can play your own cards for free, but you must pay other players to use their cards. That gives you some strong incentives to make sure that your cards have valuable effects on them (both for you to use and so others will want to pay you to use them), and also to add your allegiance slips to as many neutral cards as you can.
But crafting a card doesn’t just make it more powerful and effective; it also makes the threat on the reverse side worse, while increasing the reward for defeating it. The number of threat cubes you draw on your turn is indicated by cube icons on the cards you’ve drawn. While not every advancement has cube icons on it, many of them do, and some add more than one. The Watchtower Lookout, for instance, is great because it lets you assign agents to the Watchtower for defense against attacks—but it also makes you draw 2 more cubes, which increases the likelihood of an attack. We’ve had players draw as many as 12 cubes in a single turn! As you choose advancements to add to cards, you’ll want to keep in mind the way they’ll affect threats as well. This is especially true in the upcoming expansions, where the threats often have special effects that are tied to the owner of the card.
The way that the locations and cards interact is clever. Not every location has a special ability—some location boards have no effects at the bottom, and all of the benefit comes from the card itself. But in many cases, there are specific abilities that are tied to having agents in a particular location. For instance, Millhollow (pictured above) will increase your hand size for every 2 agents you have there, which can be extremely useful. The corresponding Millhollow Landowner card lets you place an agent in Millhollow to gain 1 coin, or retrieve an agent from Millhollow to gain 3 coins. So while the increased hand size is nice, if you’re strapped for cash you’ll have to decide whether it’s worth it to bring your agents home for some quick income.
Each turn, you’re required to sleeve an advancement, which means that the cards become more and more powerful as the game progresses, with the threat levels rising alongside. In the early rounds of the game, you may only have 3 or 4 abilities to use on your turn. By the end, if you draw fully-sleeved cards, you could have access to 9 card abilities—and that’s not even considering the possibility of drawing even more cards.
That decision of which advancement to sleeve also forces you to weigh your short-term benefit against long-term effects. You’ll have access to the new ability immediately on your turn, but then that card goes into the system. Sometimes those short-term gains win out over long-term planning, and we end up regretting having too many of one advancement in the system and not enough of another.
There is, of course, a lot of randomness involved in the game, both in terms of the order that the cards come out (both in the Street and on the threat tower) and in which players get attacked by threats. Everyone has the same number of threat cubes in the bag at the beginning, so everyone is equally likely to get attacked. (Contrast that with a game like Clank!, where you’re more likely to get attacked if you acquire the more valuable cards, which make more noise.) There are some locations and cards that may let you manipulate the cubes to some extent, but without those in play, it’s a gamble who will get attacked and by what threats.
For the Street, that can make the difference between getting a hand of cards that you can use and having a slow turn. When it’s your turn to draft, if the cards on the right side all belong to other players, you’ll end up either spending influence to skip them or money to use them. That can feel a little frustrating at times. It’s balanced out a little bit by the fact that your cards come to your guild hall when discarded by anyone else. That’s a neat twist: it ensures that the cards you own will eventually come around to you.
The Player Handbook has eight “chapters” that you can play through: each one includes a story and tells you which locations to use for setup. For those who like a little more thematic description when playing a game, this is a nice way both to ensure that you have a setup that functions well but also lets you follow the story of Aegis and the Blight. It also introduces simpler location and card effects first, so you can familiarize yourself with the game before things get even more complicated. You can also create your own random setups, though there are some restrictions to follow so that you don’t omit anything crucial.
All in all, I’ve been enjoying Edge of Darkness. It really feels like a new approach to deck-building, not just because of the card-crafting but because of the way everyone’s cards feed into the same system, and the fact that threats are directly tied to the improvements you make to the cards. The agents add a worker placement aspect that’s also not typically seen in deck-building games. Put together, there’s definitely a lot to keep track of and I can’t say I have a good grasp yet on long-term strategies, so I’ll keep working on that. As I mentioned earlier, I do have a lot of nitpicking about the components (and the box in particular), but it’s been a blast to play and I’m excited to try out the other locations—and, eventually, the expansions!
For more information, visit the Edge of Darkness Kickstarter page—the current campaign ends on Friday, October 4, so don’t wait too long!
To subscribe to GeekDad’s tabletop gaming coverage, please copy this link and add it to your RSS reader.
Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.