It’s tough out there, on the road. Corralling roadies, rationing your beer and various illicit substances- not to mention dodging the terrifying groupies. But if you can make it- if you can climb to the musical pinnacle and claim the title of Rock God- well, then… that makes it all worth it, doesn’t it?
|We who are about to rock salute you!|
Cities of Darkscorch is a dice rolling, hand management game from Numero Group (originally a record label) and designed by Dustin Drase. It plays 3-6 players and games generally last around two hours. Your goal in this game is relatively straightforward: you need to move your band across the board from city to city. In each city, you need to win a band battle to collect that city’s flag. Once they have collected all sixteen city flags, they may move on to the central city: Numenor. Once there, they will battle one last time in order to claim their record contract and win the game.
|The player pawns are just like 45 adapters- a nice touch|
So, how do you battle? Well, you flip over a foe card, revealing the band you are battling. You then roll the four sided die to determine which band member you are trying to beat. That band member (either vocalist, guitarist, bassist, or drummer) has a number next to their symbol on their card. You simply need to match or beat that number to defeat the band. You do that by adding up the value of your corresponding band member (if you have one), any bonuses (such as a +5 home turf advantage), any cards you can play to increase your number (likewise, other players can play cards on you to decrease your number), and then you add this number to the outcome of a roll of a twenty-sided die. Hey presto, you get your result. If you win, you collect that city’s flag and any loot (the amount is shown on your foe’s band card) and continue your turn, rolling to see how many spaces you move on the board. If you don’t succeed, your turn ends and it’s the next player’s turn.
|Claimed a city’s flag? Slide up the red window of that city on your player board|
So right off the bat, let me say that I absolutely love the style and theme of this game. You can tell that a lot of love and care went into crafting this beauty. The instruction manual and the cards themselves have the look of something sketched out on graph paper by a teenager as they listen to some brutal tracks while in a dingy, smoke-filled basement. The humor of the cards (which are decidedly NSFW… there’s a lot of nipples and seventies bush in this game) are spot on. It is clear from them that Dustin Drase has at least some experience of what it’s like to work with musicians. What’s more (and this is really the cream of the crop when it comes to adding theme to a game) included in the box is a two disc vinyl album (along with a matching cd, if you’re lame and don’t own a record player) for you to play as you play the game! Now, I’m not a music critic- not by any means- so I won’t critique the album. What I will say is that myself and those who joined me in playing this game really enjoyed it and thought that it was an excellent complement to the experience of the game. Furthermore, when listening to the album, you can see why it earned Mr. Drase a Grammy nomination (2015- Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package) and frankly, I’m baffled that he didn’t win.
|Dice and numbers, chance and rolling|
So, dear reader, do we at A Space Ahead recommend Cities of Darkscorch? Well, yes and no. Now put down that broken beer bottle- let me explain. It is clear that a lot of love and attention to detail went into this game- from the look of the board to the cards themselves, to the amazing inclusion of the vinyl album- however, when it comes to the mechanics of the game itself, Cities of Darkscorch is somewhat lacking. We played through the whole game and not once did I feel like I was making a meaningful decision. Everything came down to the cards in my hand and ultimately the roll of a large twenty-sided die. It felt a little too much like a game of luck- which would be fine on its own. However, the sheer size of the game is much too large to be so heavily luck based and quickly leads to frustration on the part of the player. You’ll find yourself sitting in the same city turn after turn, never gaining new cards to improve your position and just hoping that the roll of your four-sided die will allow you to battle the weakest band member- then you’ll just be hoping that the roll of the twenty-sided die will give you a high enough number to beat them. What’s more, the difficulty of these foe cards aren’t scaled- meaning there are many cards in there with band members with really high values (sixteen and above- there are even some that are 20+) but with only one loot card as a reward. Furthermore, much of the game we ended up holding hands of cards that either we couldn’t play (because the conditions to play those cards had not been met, such as a card to fix a broken-down van) or cards that we simply didn’t want to play. It would have been really nice if there was some sort of discard and redraw action available to players- it would have given us a sense of agency, a sense that we had some sort of control over what was happening with our band on its quest for glory. It is such a shame that a game with such love and care for its theme didn’t execute that same care in the mechanics. I really hope that when they come out with a second edition, they’ll either tweak some of these cards or give the players some more options when it comes to actions they can take.
|These cards are a work of pure love|
So what I have for you, dear readers, is a mixed bag. I wanted to love this game, I really did- but I simply don’t. I would say that if you are a fan of the music, by all means- find yourself a copy of this game. The album and the art in this box are worth it alone. But unless you are a diehard metal-head, I would suggest you keep an eye open for the next edition (or keep your eyes peeled for any mention of revised rules made available online).
Want to rock out? If you live in the Bloomington area, you can find this game at The Game Preserve. If not, check it out at your local game store. Support local game stores!