Addendum Time: With an Inner Light
For this month’s issue of Alone Time, I covered a stellar little game called Darkest Night from Victory Point Games, the “Little Game Company That Could” (no really, that’s their actual self-designated nickname) (no, really, would I lie to you about that?). Well, as much as I loved Darkest Night, now I have to retract some of my praise — because however good it is, I’m never going to play it again… unless I’m also using With an Inner Light, which takes a fabulous game and makes it even fabulous-er.
How does With an Inner Light manage such a makeover? Good question! Let’s find out together.
Makeover Method #1: More, More, More
I’m not usually a fan of “more” expansions, known in the business as “morepansions” because there are people in this wacky industry that is boardgaming whose entire career is to invent obvious and un-catchy portmanteaus. You know the ones I mean (the morepansions, not the people) — just… more. More crap. More unnecessary characters, superfluous cards, maps of different continents for you to string trains across, cosmetic changes. More.
This brings me to two points. First, With an Inner Light adds some of that “more.” A whole lot of it, in fact. But second, and listen up, this is the good type of more. In part because there’s more than just the more to this expansion (if you understand what I’m saying), though also because all the little extra bits are surprisingly worthwhile.
The most conspicuous addition comes in the form of four new characters. These are nice supplements to the vanilla game’s “ninefecta” (another of those portmanteaus: seriously, I’m not responsible for these) of the Acolyte, Druid, Knight, Priest, Prince, Rogue, Scholar, Seer, and Wizard. You’ll notice I’ve listed these in alphabetical order rather than preference out of fear of damaging the self-esteem of those who can’t play as anyone but the goofball Druid. You’re welcome.
Anyway, the most impressive thing about the new characters — the Crusader, Monk, Paragon, and Shaman — is that they’re completely distinct from the original cast. The Monk, for instance, can supercharge many of his powers into impressive “Chi” forms, such as the “Patience” card that lets him fight with three dice when the Necromancer’s darkness track is on an odd number, with a +1 to his highest die roll in Chi mode. Conditionally awesome! The catch is that you have to use another card to activate Chi, like the “Chi Burst” ability, which exhausts to activate another card’s Chi effect, or “Harness Chi” which activates when you take damage. The result is a character who can hit incredibly hard, travel multiple spaces for free, and elude the Necromancer’s best hunters — provided he manages his Chi properly.
Or consider the Shaman, who specializes in setting up powerful actions over time, like the ability to draw and keep a map card in order to manipulate which blight the Necromancer will place or what item a successful search will uncover, or the insane “Hydra Totem” that once prepared lets the Shaman roll eight dice, destroying a blight for every rolled 6 — a huge gamble, but one that sometimes pays off big, cleansing an entire region in one swift beam of totemic doom. Even the Paragon and Crusader, who ran the risk of bearing too much in common with the original Knight, have their own tricks, from the Paragon’s auras that confer impressive benefits to anyone he travels with, to the Crusader’s cavalier approach to grace, which he discards like stale Halloween candy after a tense visit to the dentist, though his efforts enable more blight-destroying and less cavity-preventing.
There are other little additions too — the new charm item is nice, as it lets you give a failed roll another try; there are also new events and artifacts — but these four new characters are the real attraction.
Even so, I could have lived without these additions. It’s the next bit that I’ve fallen in love with.
Makeover Method #2: Substance over Style
Most of the time, there’s already a lot going on in Darkest Night. You’ve got to put a stop to those blights before they spill over into the monastery, search for upgrades to empower your character and keys to recover relics, avoid the Necromancer’s some-seeing gaze, and keep yourself healthy. But if all that isn’t enough, With an Inner Light adds an entirely new challenge: quests!
These change the pace of the entire game for the better. Certain (new) events add these to the map at random, providing extra opportunities and dangers on your journey to rid the kingdom of darkness. So while in the past you might have avoided the swamp because it was far away from the sanctuary of the monastery and difficult to search, not to mention your irrational fear of bogs, now there’s the possibility you’ll have to make the trek in order to halt the construction of a threatening dark tower being erected in the midst of the marsh’s stinking morass. Succeed and you can move the darkness track back a little; fail and it jumps forward.
Or maybe you’ll have to plunge into the ruins in order to save an isolated group of children before they’re discovered and brutally slaughtered, which just demoralizes the hell out of everyone. If you’re bold enough to save them, then maybe the villagers will reward you with something nice they found. Or maybe the quest will be to execute a gang of collaborators hiding in the woods and steal their loot before they can call more attention to your activities, or investigate some unearthly mists plaguing the village, or hunt down a rogue reaper. There are all sorts of new threats to contend with, twists to straighten, and distractions to consider. Will you bother hunting down those spawning shades, or just accept the blight they’ll add to that location upon maturating? In a game riddled with hard choices, these new difficult decisions are warmly welcome.
And if you’re the sort of masochist who loves a soul-crushing challenge, the new “Pall of Suffering” mode ensures you’ll see loads of quests, and that expired quests act as additional life-points for the already-tough-to-murder Necromancer — though successful quests will chip away at his defenses and even cancel blights at his location, lending additional incentive to halt that revenant’s demands of tribute from the farmers outside the castle. Good luck!
So that’s With an Inner Light, one of the best expansions I’ve played this year. It not only adds more, it makes its more meaningful, with distinct new characters and an excellent questing system that makes the map doubly dynamic and dangerous. For fans of Darkest Night, I cannot recommend this enough.
* * * * * * *
The Necromancer still doesn’t want you to support Space-Biff! by buying Darkest Night: With an Inner Light through Amazon using this special link. Better defy that crusty old bastard, eh?