OK, straight up, I’ve never played Bloodborne. I barely know about it. I know it’s an impressive looking, very dark, very difficult 3rd person action game where you go and slay some admittedly, impressive looking monsters with lots of blood and gore – sounds cool really, maybe I should go download it!
So when Bloodborne: The Card Game was announced, I didn’t go nuts for it. Eric Lang as a designer was interesting though as usually his games are more “grandios” style behemoths with a ton of miniatures or plastic in some form or another. So a small card game seemed outside of his comfort zone. And Cool Mini or Not’s for that matter – not a single miniature in the box – mind blown!
What actually drew me to Bloodborne was the claim about it being a shortened version of Cutthroat Caverns, an entertaining semi co-op game I used to own where you battled monsters in a dungeon, but while screwing over other players at the same time. Essentially you played a giant game of kill-stealing and it was great fun, though very fiddly in places, a bit too long and chaotic as hell with too many players. I eventually sold that game to make room for others, but I wouldn’t say no to a shorter, more compact alternative. Does Bloodborne fit the bill?
Designer: Eric Lang
Publisher: Cool Mini or Not
Time: 45-75 minutes
AWWW, CUTE LITTLE PIGGY…..ARRGGHHHH!!
In Bloodborne, 3 to 5 players act as Hunters entering a lair in order to slay the monsters inside and collect “blood echoes.” I’m sure that has more meaning to those who have played the game, but I’m just calling them blood! Blood represents victory points at the end of the game as well as collected trophies from monster kills. Each turn, a new monster is revealed and fought by every player simultaneously until all Boss monsters, as well as the Final Boss, are defeated. Hunters have at their disposal a selection of weapons, items and abilities in the form of a hand of cards that can be upgraded over the course of the game.
The core of the game is simultaneous card play. Each round a monster is revealed and players secretly choose a card to play. Upon revealing, any instant effects are resolved before the monster gets to attack all the players at once. Assuming the players survive the hit, their hunters then deal damage to the monster collecting its blood for each point of damage. Timing is everything as players will attack in turn order and some cards will allow for surprise attacks or damage out of sequence. The reason being that once the monster is out of blood, it dies and if you were late to the party to attack it, then too bad. On top of that you’ll only collect a trophy if you participated in its death for the round. Think the very definition of a kill-steal from every MMORPG you’ve ever played.
At various times you will choose to heal by entering the Hunters Dream, a state of mind that protects you from some damage and allows you to then fully heal as well as replace a card in your hand with a more powerful alternative. In addition you’ll “bank” any blood you’ve collected since your last dream. On occasion you will die and lose any unbanked blood you have, but you’ll respawn next round with a new upgrade card as well.
Normal monsters will escape at the end of a round allowing the game to progress, but bosses will stick around until you finish them off. Play continues each round with a new monster until eventually the Final Boss is slain.
Guessing what cards your opponents are likely to play based on what they’ve played already and the enemy present is what makes Bloodborne fun to play. Those who have played Cutthroat Caverns will instantly . Many factors will influence the order of damage such as ranged weapons and instant effects and timing is everything. It can get a bit fiddly at times with more players trying to deduce exactly what order everything triggers in, especially if someone at the table hasn’t been paying attention to the rules explanation (occupational hazard).
There’s also an element of push your luck as you have to decide when is the best time to enter The Hunters Dream and bank what you’ve collected. Do you think even with the damage reduction that you’ll be too weak to withstand another attack? The dice themselves have “burst” mechanics meaning that if you roll a star symbol, then you roll again and add the new result on, re-rolling if necessary. This means you can end up with some crazy spike damage moments and group wipes on occasion. It’s a laugh when it happens, but you have to go into this game knowing there’s a high degree of randomness present. This isn’t a skill-based game for the most part, more a light (despite the dark theme) card game with some chaos thrown in.
Once you’ve got the rules down particularly the order in which damage is dealt and received, Bloodborne moves along at a pretty quick pace thanks to most of the enemies running away after one round. 30 minutes is a bit of a lie on the box though even with 3 players, but 3-4 should be able to wrap this up in 45-60 minutes respectively. 5 players can make this overstay its welcome and coupled with the fact that everything is just that little bit too chaotic at that level, it’s a player count I won’t play this with any more. But all said and done, normally this much randomness would put me off a game, but because the length can be kept nice and low, it’s no different from playing something like Ticket to Ride and I don’t mind the luck in that game.
WE’VE ALREADY DONE THIS DUNGEON
The replay value of Bloodborne is one that’s going to be pulled into question, at least until the impending expansion in 2018 arrives. There really aren’t many cards in this game, be it items, enemies, bosses……basically the whole game. You’ll see most of the contents within one game and it won’t take long before repetition sets in.
Worst of all, there are only 5 final bosses in the game and 2 of them I will never play with, leaving me only 3 to pick from. I’m actually baffled as to how these two got past the playtesting stage. One allows for additional monsters to enter play thus meaning you have to fight more over the course of the game. Because you simply respawn upon death anyway, all this boss achieves is elongating the game. Bloodborne does well for keeping its length down to such a short time, why would I want to make it unnecessarily longer?
The other states that after two deaths, the hunter is out of the game. Player elimination, are you serious? Given that is death is inevitable really, this is a pretty bad way to ruin someone’s day. Elimination is rarely a good thing in a game unless the game is both incredibly short and fun to watch. I would argue Bloodborne isn’t the sort of game I would sit by and watch after I’ve been knocked out. So in summary, I leave those 2 bosses in the box permanently and use only the others. Now I need more bosses!
VERDICT ON BLOODBORNE: THE CARD GAME
Well Bloodborne has certainly replaced the need for Cutthroat Caverns. That same feeling of pushing your colleagues down to steal the kill is ever present here and yet it takes a much shorter period of time in doing so. The 30 minute claim is a bit of a fib, but you’re still looking at around a hour tops for most groups and that’s perfectly fine. The rules themselves are pretty straightforward, though the timings of when attacks and damage take place may get fiddly at times particularly with more players at the table.
It’s not without its flaws though. The variety is not very good in the box and the upcoming expansion is going to be a necessity for long term storage on the shelf. Upgrades are cool and all, but you’ll see 90% of them within one game. This issue is further compounded by the fact that two of the Final Bosses I will never play with again because they either drag the game out or ruin the experience entirely.
So Bloodborne is not perfect, but it’s a solid starting point that keeps its game length in check and looks the business from an aesthetic viewpoint. This won’t be for you if you hate randomness in all shapes and sizes as there’s a lot present, but otherwise it’s worth checking out especially when more content is added.
PERSONAL RATING – 7
YOU WILL LIKE BLOODBORNE IF:
You want a much, much shorter version of Cutthroat Caverns – this has effectively destroyed it.
You want a game that’s easy to grasp and teach – this is almost gateway level.
You want a game that for all its luck does include a healthy amount of tactical decision making.
YOU WILL NOT LIKE BLOODBORNE IF:
You’re put off by the limited replay value and don’t want to wait for expansion content.
You aren’t a fan of randomness in your games. It’s short enough to compensate, but there’s a lot of swings.
You’re a fan of the video game and wanted a more in depth thematic representation.
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I'm known as The Broken Meeple, a blog, podcast and YouTube channel devoted to board and card games. I live in Portsmouth, UK, working as a Chartered Tax Advisor and I enjoy playing games of many genres and varieties with as many people as possible.