Alone Time: Darkness Returns Twice

I know they're supposed to be evil eyes, but I keep thinking the green streaks around the Valkyrie's head are some sort of lame magic.

When you’re a force for righteousness like myself, there’s nothing quite so satisfying as driving a holy relic through the eye socket of a foul necromancer. Ah! The splash of his brain-ichor, cold and rancid, soaking the cuff of my tunic!

There are very few games that provide necromancer-slaying goodness quite so well as Darkest Night, one of my favorite solo and co-op games from last year. Its first expansion, With an Inner Light, which added the incentive of quests to get you roaming the map more and just hanging out in the mountains and forest less, was too.

So the question: are the two newest expansions for Darkest Night, On Shifting Winds and From the Abyss, as good as we’ve come to expect from Victory Point Games?

From afar, like chrysanthemums.

The heroes from On Shifting Winds combat the Necromancer.

Part I: On Shifting Winds

Back in my review of With an Inner Light, I complained about how there are too many “morepansions” out there — which is the actual real-life industry portmanteau for expansions that don’t add anything of substance to the games they’re ostensibly expanding. Rather than refining the experience, a morepansion seeks to create the illusion of an expanded experience, when in fact you’re just being tricked by cardboard and psychology.

On the one hand, On Shifting Winds could be considered a morepansion. Where With an Inner Light added quests, which refined Darkest Night by giving you reasons to travel all over the map for bonuses or to prevent the necromancer from making bad crap happen, On Shifting Winds mostly adds a little bit of everything. More map cards, more blights, more artifacts, more events, more heroes. Certainly nothing groundbreaking like quests.

But on the other hand, so much of what makes Darkest Night work is the sheer randomness it brings to the table, ensuring that every game is unique. It’s memorable because you’ll have a random party of heroes fighting against an ever-changing series of events. Sometimes the Necromancer will chase you down, other times he’ll overrun the castle with blights. Maybe the village is surrounded by zombies and infiltrated by spies, or the ruins are fortuitously abandoned this once, letting you pick up all the keys you could ever need.

On Shifting Winds adds to that. Now there are pesky persistent blights like Decay, which makes items unusable everywhere, and Gate, which lets the Necromancer hunt exposed heroes that much easier by teleporting directly to their location. Webs trap you at a location unless you’re willing to lose a turn, and Omens make your event draws worse.

To combat these new challenges, the heroes have a (slight, meager) chance of finding new items like the Soothing Lyre, which refreshes everyone’s powers, and Tome of Retraining, which does exactly what it says it does.

Of course, the best addition are the four new characters.

The Scout thinks the Wind Dancer's a bit of chrysanthemum too.

Two of the new heroes, the Wind Dancer and Scout.

First up is the Ranger, a surprisingly well-groomed young man with a penchant for surviving in inhospitable locations. At first he looks a bit like your regular “I’m good at running away from stuff” sort of fella, albeit with a powerful Poison Arrow that lets him do great in fights while still getting beaten up a lot. However, once you’ve gained a couple extra powers, he becomes good at hanging out in oddly specific areas. Learn Forgotten Ways, for example, and he’s suddenly a champ at searching the ruins. Become a Hermit, and he’s invisible to the Necromancer, blights, and events in the swamp. Or perhaps he’ll become a Forester or Mountaineer, gaining abilities in those areas. With some grooming, he quickly becomes a pro at thriving in the wilderness, briskly stepping past civilized areas and melting back into the shadows.

You might think the Scout, who’s also good at running from a fight, would be too similar, but she’s got a distinct feel all of her own. For one thing, her abilities aren’t limited to one location. Even better, they help other heroes too, so when she activates Treasure Maps, everyone at that location searches better, or they use Probe Defenses to dispel blights more easily, or Shelters to avoid drawing events. The tradeoff is that they exhaust at the end of the round, so while she’s more versatile than the Ranger, she also needs to spend a lot more time resting to keep her powers topped off.

The Wayfarer is all about staying on the move. A couple of his abilities constantly encourage him to wander the map, like Guiding Star, which randomly places a treasure chest somewhere that only he can find (and in addition to whatever else he discovers when he searches there!), and Walkabout, which heals him when he reaches a certain location. And he has good reason to move, since most of his abilities activate when he travels, meaning his best powers are only usable if he’s constantly bouncing from place to place.

Finally, the Wind Dancer gets powerful but inconsistent powers, determined by a roll of the dice. To give just one example, when she uses Gale in a fight, she rolls a special pre-fight die. The result might let her ignore any damage if she fails, or reroll any 1s, or add to her result, or even roll an extra die. All powerful stuff, but since you never know which powerful stuff she’ll get that turn, it makes her sort of a tease.

Final Thoughts: On Shifting Winds is a worthwhile expansion, especially for its four new characters, but it isn’t a game-changer like the previous one… or the next, From the Abyss.

no chrysanthemums here

The Valkyrie and Exorcist face down what’s From the Abyss.

Part II: From the Abyss

From the Abyss adds a few morepansion items of its own, mostly artifacts and events, though it also comes with four characters to experiment with. We’ll start with those, because the other major addition is horrible. Which is a good thing in this context, I assure you.

The Valkyrie revolves around two ideas. The first is that she doesn’t mind getting injured on her quest against evil, letting her use cool moves like Visions of Death and Swan Song. Both activate when she gets hurt, the first letting her add an extra die to any roll and the second healing all heroes other than her, and both deactivating upon use — time to get hurt again! The second concept is that she can Sprout Wings. What use are wings? Well, she can fly with them, reaching any location instantly, though obviously she isn’t being very secretive flapping from one place to another. Alternatively, she can use Glide to evade enemies more easily, or un-sprout her wings to use Death from Above to attack with an obscene amount of dice.

The next two heroes, the Channeler and the Exorcist, both revolve around special card effects. The Channeler’s cards each have two states, boring old normal and beefed-up astral, and playing Astral Surge lets you use those astral effects for a round, transforming from a slightly below-average old lady into an absolute freak of nature, ignoring blights entirely, searching and fighting in adjacent locations, fighting with a whopping four dice, or keeping multiple search cards. My goodness. Then she powers down and starts being a below-average old lady again.

While the Channeler is vacillating between regular and über modes, the Exorcist is trying to gain all his boons. At the start of his turns, he rolls a pair of dice and activates any boons that match the results — so he might get the Radiant Boon, which decreases the Necromancer’s power when the Exorcist destroys a blight, Courageous Boon to gain an extra die on all his rolls, Protective Boon to ignore a failed roll’s consequence, or Mysterious Boon to become, ahem, mysterious. Which means he gains another secrecy. And while none of these are particularly impressive on their own, the fact that he has a good chance to activate two each turn helps pad his regular abilities.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I don’t understand the Mesmer. He uses other heroes’ powers, I guess? And consumes dreams? Sounds like an agent of the Necromancer to me. Best stay away.

And speaking of the Necromancer…

I couldn't bear to leave in the TORCH CHRYSANTHEMUMS card. Too soon. *sob*

Oh dear.

From the Abyss is another game-changing expansion, this time in the form of darkness cards. Turns out the Necromancer was jealous of all those persistent abilities the heroes were getting, so he decided it was only fair he gain a few of his own.

There are different difficulty levels, but in a normal game these show up once the darkness track reaches a certain level. And they’re absolutely awful.

Picture this. You’re trying to hoard three relics in the monastery, and you’ve almost accomplished your goal. Sweat, tears, and blood have gone into this. The Prince is almost dead, which is kind of sad, you guess. Worse, the other heroes are wounded too. And right as you journey through the village, relic in hand, the Necromancer’s shadow grows and — bam — he plays Shatter Hope, your relic exploding in your hand. You just got Necromancer’d.

Or you’re happily hiding right under the Necromancer’s nose, searching his home in the ruins. You’ve got plenty of secrecy, so there’s nothing to worry about but — bam — the All-Seeing Eye means he attacks you anyway. Not so secret now, heroes! Necromancer’d.

There are all flavors of these darkness cards, and they’re all terrible for your health. Faithful Servants let the Necromancer become a blight at random, gaining its powers permanently. Focused Rituals makes him place an extra blight wherever he goes. Encroaching Shadows increases his chances of playing a blight to the monastery, even when the location he’s attacking isn’t overrun yet.

Like I said, it’s horrible. In the best possible way, because now the Necromancer isn’t quite the one-trick undead pony he was in the past. Now he’s an ever-evolving threat, more unpredictable than ever.

Final Thoughts: From the Abyss changes the game in much the same way that With an Inner Light did. If you’re a Darkest Night fan, this is definitely an expansion to pick up.

Posted on September 18, 2014, in Board Game and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I’m inappropriately happy to see Alone Time making a return! It’s been far too long, especially as this is the only sort of board gaming I do. I didn’t pick up Darkest Night after the other two writeups, but this is enough to push me over that edge, because this sounds awesome!

  2. Excellent review indeed, though I would prefer they create miniature expansions to give a more 3D feel.

  3. Long live Alone Time! In other news, I love Darkest Night. I really should look into getting into the expansions.

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