The Apocalypse of Darkness Warfare
- Designer: Chih-Fan Chen
- Publisher: Antler Studio
- Players: 3-4
- Age: 12+
- Time: 30 minutes
- Played with review copy provided by Taiwan Boardgame Design (who distributes the game)
Chih-Fan Chen is one of my favorite Taiwanese designers – while possibly unknown to many Western gamers… I have enjoyed Butts away! Heroes, Dairyman, Design Town, Flip 9, Flip City, Fortune City, Harvest Island, PaiMiahh, and UBike Tour: Taiwan in the past. That’s a pretty lengthy list! Each year, around SPIEL, I’m almost assured of getting one game from this prolific designer.
This year, the game comes from Antler Studio, a design house previously unknown to me. In this game (per the publisher): “The Evil Spirits are coming! You must work together to fight the Demons and seal the Darkness Channel to send them back to the void. Meanwhile, you have to search for the crucial artifacts, “Divine Cloak” and “Staff of Desire,” to revive Mo-Niang’s spirit so that you can stand a chance to defeat the ultimate Boss and save the world! The Apocalypse of Darkness Warfare is a cooperative card game based on a popular comics book of the same name in Taiwan. You will play as the leading characters in the story and search for the crucial artifacts to revive the legendary Goddess Mo-Niang and defeat the Demons.”
I knew nothing about the comic, so I did a bit of Google searching to learn more – “The Apocalypse of Darkness Warfare takes as backdrop the September 21, 1999 earthquake that shook Taiwan. The introduction of local deity Ma Zu, a.k.a. Lin Mo-Niang, adds another dimension to the work. After the earthquake devastates Nantou in central Taiwan, demons begin to wreak havoc in the terrestrial realm, leading the police to set up “Project Blackout” to eliminate them. One day, a terrible monster appears in the fashionable Ximending neighborhood of Taipei. The police team up with gifted teenage magician Chen Po-Jung to behead the beast and banish its evil spirit. In the process, Po-Jung runs into high-school girl Lin Mo-Niang, who bears the name of a deity worshipped by many in temples around Taiwan. Po-Jung takes the pretty Lin under his wing only to discover that unrest in the underworld and her sudden appearance have a surprising hidden connection…”
Well, now that I have tried to explain the background, now a bit about the game. In this game, one player is Mo-Niang (the spirit your team is trying to revive) while the other players choose other characters. There are two different missions in the game as well as a deck of Demon cards. These are all placed on the table. Additionally, the Action (gold) decks and the Resolution (Silver) decks are independently shuffled. Each player draws 4 Action cards to start the game.
There are 2 phases to each turn: First the Player actions followed by the Demon Action.
To start the Player actions, first all the tapped cards in front of the player are restored to their upright position. Then 2 cards are drawn from the Action deck. If they are Demon or Event cards, they are played face up on the table – it will be easy to identify these cards as they are in landscape orientation. All regular action cards (in portrait orientation) are added to your hand. Then, you can play as many cards from your hand as you like. You can also use your unique character ability during this phase. Finally, if you have any permanent items, you can use them now – tapping them after use. The two main types of cards are Items and Attacks. Items can be either permanent or one-time instant effects. Just follow the directions on the cards. Attacks are color coded to a specific element – when you play attack cards, all of the played cards are summed up, and they will be applied to EACH Demon card in front of you.
Note that there are two different Missions what likely need to be accomplished for the players to win. Each requires you to use the Search Action to dig through the Resolution deck to find the needed card to solve the Mission. The “Revive Mo-Niang’s Spirit” makes the final boss easier to defeat. The “Seal the Channel of Darkness” mission speeds up the game by getting you to the final Boss card faster.
Once you have done all the things that you want to do, the Demons left in front of you get a chance to attack, from highest to lowest strength. For each red starburst on an attacking Demon, you must reveal one Resolution card and resolve it. If a damage icon is seen on this card, the card goes in front of you to track your damage. Other cards are simply discarded. If a non Mo-Niang character takes three damage cards, they are out of the game. Their hand is discarded and their turns are skipped from here forward. Mo-Niang deals with damage differently. Each time she would take a Damage, she discards the Damage card as well as one card from her hand. If she ever needs to discard a card and her hand is empty, the game is immediately lost.
As you play the game, you will encounter cards which have a “Draw an Event card” icon on it – each time this happens, you take the topmost Demon card from the Demon pile and place it in front of you. It must be defeated as with any other Demon card. When the 6th and final Demon card is taken, the Boss Demon is revealed and this is also placed in front of that player. The Boss Demon will move with each player turn to be in front of the active player. If a player can defeat the Boss Demon (with 3 attacks of a matching color), the players win!
TL;DR – players win if someone beats the Boss Demon. Players lose if Mo-Niang is hit and cannot discard a card.
My thoughts on the game
The Apocalypse of Darkness Warfare is an interesting cooperative game which evokes some of the feeling of Ghost Stories, though it seems a bit less complex overall. In the game, players have to play attack cards of matching colors to the Demons in front of them to defeat them. Good teamwork, including passing cards amongst the players, will be necessary to save the day.
Well, based on the art I’ve seen online from the comic, the art here is unsurprisingly the same. I suppose if I were able to read Chinese, the story here would also coincide. However, as I cannot, all that I could do was try to piece together (or invent!) they story based on the detailed art. Lucky for us, while we might not have been able to read the Chinese characters – the necessary gameplay stuff is all in icons, so we were able to still play the game, even if we didn’t fully understand the story. It’s nice to see the extra cards with the necessary translations…and man, the art is fantastic – definitely still liked looking at all of the detailed illustrations on the cards.
I ended up reprinting the two pages from the rulebook as a player aid – these two pages have all the icon definitions as well as the possible action card translations. It made things much easier in our first game before we had really learned what the icons do. If you play this game, I would certainly recommend this as a way to make playing the game easier.
The game itself turns out to be pretty straightforward. Early on, there is a balance between spending cards to search the deck for keys versus making sure Mo-Niang has enough cards in her hand to stay alive. It is actually quite brutal to have to discard a card at the end of each of her turns; she only draws a max of 2 – so there isn’t a lot of room to play cards while remaining “healthy”.
There is a good decision point in deciding to leave demons in front of you (and risk taking hits) or attacking them as they come up. It is much less efficient to take on the demons one at a time – as your attacks hit all eligible demons in front of you, but sometimes you just can’t afford to wait to get a bunch of demons together to hit all at once.
The resolution card deck is an interesting and clever way to deal with the different parts of the game. As you go through the deck, it helps to pay attention to what has already come out and you can calculate the relative risks of searching or risking hits at any given time. I really liked this aspect of the game.
Once the Mo-Niang quest is complete, the game then moves into a focus on getting to the boss to win the game. The hard thing planning wise here is that it’s essentially a random draw when you are searching for the needed blue keys. Remember, there are two missions, but only the blue key “revive Mo-Niang” mission is mandatory. The yellow-key one is nice, but not necessary. We got fairly lucky and ran into the two blue keys pretty early in our game and it made things go much easier once we got there.
As you approach the end of the game, it’s a good idea to remember that you will need three attacks OF THE SAME COLOR in order to kill the final boss, so the team should work on figuring out how to get those three cards together in one player’s hand. [Note – we played this wrong initially thinking we needed 3 Red attacks, but the designer has corrected us and we now know it just needs to be 3 Matching attacks…]
The rules translation that we had didn’t really comment on what was allowed or disallowed communications wise, so we have played that players can share whatever information they like. It worked well for us, and while I’m awaiting confirmation of this from the publisher, this is the way we plan to play in the future as well.
Our first game took about 60 minutes, but some of that was teaching the rules and making sure we had the right cards in play. I’ve made a point to take the cards not used in my games and isolate them in a Ziploc bag so that they won’t be accidentally shuffled into my decks.
The game comes in a nice small box, and it packs a lot of action and strategy in that tiny footprint. The game certainly merits a few more games to explore it to see whether it has legs for repetition, but from the first game, the opinion around here is pretty positive – so I’m sure this will hit the table a few times this winter.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Until your next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor