Bloodborne: The Low-Tech Port
I’ve never played Bloodborne, at least not the original PlayStation 4 version. So whether the card game by Eric Lang is a faithful port, I can’t say. Is the original a press-your-luck affair where you kill monsters for their body parts and get to be a dick to your friends, though never worse than, say, a medium dick? Then sure, maybe.
The central idea that’s alive and kicking in Bloodborne is going to be familiar to most connoisseurs of card and board. There’s a dungeon that’s become clogged with smelly monsters — or it’s a haunted town or evil cathedral, it’s not of any particular importance — and it isn’t going to plumb itself. Unfortunately, your hunters don’t come in the get-along flavor. Cue a bunch of slashing, shooting, stabbing, and other action verbs that spill the blood of monsters who probably just wanted a warm place to pass the winter months.
What makes this pop is that fighting monsters happens to be a little bit dangerous. Every time you opt to face one of these foul creatures — your alternative being to go and have a dream, which I don’t understand either — you run the risk of taking damage. Nicely, while you can guess at how much resistance a particular monster will put up, you can’t ever be completely sure. Even a Church Servant, which under regular circumstances is exactly as ineffective as he sounds unless your idea of dire peril is being offered unsolicited advice, might roll a bunch of exploding numbers and kill you outright. It isn’t likely, mind you. But it’s possible.
Each round, you play a card. That’s it. Simple. Sometimes you’ll be fighting with a cleaver, sometimes with a pistol. Other times you’ll fall back on your transformation card because you aren’t sure what to do and you’d rather see what everybody else plays. And whenever you hurt a monster, you earn some of its blood, which is a particularly gruesome stand-in for victory points.
Death comes early and often for hunters who push too hard, but escaping into a dream not only heals your body and lets you pick up your spent cards, but also provides a new piece of equipment and banks your previously collected blood. There’s nothing quite as disheartening as pushing one round too far, only to have some jerk fire a cannon that hurts hunter and monster alike and forcing you to lose eight blood droplets.
There are a couple of tricks when it comes to avoiding death and draining as much blood as possible. For one thing, much of your success as a hunter revolves around your position in the turn order, whether taking advantage of going early in the process or trying to mitigate the difficulty of firing off your weapon later. The juiciest monster in the world won’t be worth even a puddle of spilled lard if you don’t get in a stab of your own, prompting you to carefully time when to use your items or bow out of a fight. For instance, if you’re on the verge of slaying Father Gascoigne but last in the turn order, you might use your standard issue Hunter’s Revolver to extract a bit of his blood before everyone else exsanguinates him dry. Or use a special weapon like the Blunderbuss to lessen the effectiveness of your opponent’s weapons, or burn your friends with a Molotov Cocktail to punish them for beating you to the punch, or use a Threaded Cane to somehow take blood from the monster even after it’s been drained. The point is, there are plenty of ways to get ahead, and Bloodborne requires a surprising bit of cleverness for such a straightforward game.
There’s also a nice bit of variety to the monsters themselves. Simple stuff includes monsters who bestow blood on the current losers and the obnoxious guys who deal damage the instant they appear, but there are a few more interesting varieties, like the miniboss who makes your melee weapons also harm the hunter sitting next to you.
In spite of some cleverness and variety, however, Bloodborne never quite transcends its status as an all-too-simple press-your-luck game. It’s a rather gussied-up version of a familiar format, with plenty of stomach-churning illustrations and a few moments of trickery, but after a handful of games it never bothers to shake up its formula other than throwing the same weapons, monsters, and preferred strategies at you in a different order. Perhaps if it had trusted its players to spend more time hindering one another, or even just provided more game-concluding bosses and a greater selection of special weapons to acquire, it could have become an interesting game of take-that. Instead, the bulk of its experience is a mind-numbing procession of un-pretty things waiting to be killed, the occasional armor-chinking ping from a buddy, and the odd dull round of stepping back from the action.
In some games, familiarity creates a greater breadth to the approaches you can take in your pursuit of victory. In Bloodborne, familiarity breeds little more than a better idea of when to press, when to dream, and when to sell off your copy.