- Designer: Marc Andre
- Publisher: One For All
- Players: 2-4
- Time: 10+
- Time: 1.5 to 4 hrs per chapter
- Played with preview scenario sent to us by the publisher
I have been excited about Soul Raiders since meeting up with Marc Andre at SPIEL 2018 – where I got to finally meet one of my favorite designers and also get a sneak peak at his new narrative style game. From the little bit (first 2 locations) that I was able to see, I instantly wanted to know more about the game.
In the intervening years, the game has apparently been worked on a great deal. The planned final game is going to have over 120 locations and over 1,000 cards to support the playing through those locations! While it is not yet finished (planned to come to Kickstarted later this year) – I was invited to play an prototype “Prologue” Scenario to get a feel for the mechanics and start the epic story.
In this fast-paced narrative game, the players become powerful heroes. They will be able to roam freely in a variety of settings, cooperating to overcome the threat of an impending doom before it is too late! Below is the description of the game from the publisher:
An epic narrative game
- Soul Raiders immerse the players in a high-fantasy setting; as powerful heroes, they will overcome the many threats to their order of warrior-mages and the universe as a whole.
- Designed like a book, the game is divided in chapters, or game sessions (1 to 2 hours per session). Each chapter depicts a specific setting in which players will complete quests, collect information and increase their power to progress through the overarching story.
- Soul Raiders will spread on several chapters, woving an epic tale around the players and their characters from one book to the next.
A fast-paced and cinematic game system
- The game system features a fast-paced and streamlined gameplay’, entirely geared towards the experience of a story-driven, cinematic and cooperative adventure.
- The players act simultaneously to explore their surroundings. Without turn order, they can progress together or split the party as they see fit to hop from one scene to the next.
- Each setting is composed of a set of tiles, places where the heroes can interact with their environment. Taking a variety of actions while battling the forces pitted against them, they jump from one tile to another as the story unfolds, sometimes spread out on different scenes, always focusing on the heart of the action.
Building cooperative tension
- The heroes live and die as one. Their health points is a common pool, tracked on the side of the board: each time a player takes damage, the marker progresses. If it goes too far, the whole party fail at completing the chapter.
- Even if they manage to stay safe, time runs out fast… The Threat track is another timer that brings the heroes to their demise. It progresses as they encounter new creatures and events, leading to their capture if they stay idle for too long.
Narrative story with a strong replay value
- If they cooperate efficiently, any path can lead to the completion of the current chapter, as the players do not have to follow a specific set of events, but try to achieve independent and interwoven quests.
- If the party fails, it can still move onto the next chapter, triggering a unique setback. Only the final chapter of the story needs to be completed successfully — or else they will go back to the beginning of the tome.
- This non-linear approach to a narrative system, combined to the time pressure and the possibility to push the story further, ensure a very good replay value to the gaming experience.
Summary of play
Each time you play Soul Raiders, you will play one or more chapters in the game. In general, the main board is set up on the table, and the deck of Random enemy cards is shuffled and placed next to the board. This board has a Vitae (group life) track around the outside. In this game, the group has a single Vitae value – each time the marker goes all the way around the track (loss of 30 Vitae), the Exhaustion marker goes down one space on the Exhaustion track (which in turn determines how many cards the Heroes draw each turn.) Interestingly, the team can never gain more than 30 Vitae, so once you lose an Exhaustion, you never gain it back, even if you were to gain back some Vitae. The Threat track is also found on this board, it marks the danger level – there are three different colored areas on this track, and the location of the marker can affect how certain Locations, enemies or effects resolve. For both the Threat and Exhaustion tracks, if you get to the final space, the team automatically loses.
Each player gets a hero board, and the miniatures that match the chosen hero. There is also a deck of Action cards for that hero which are shuffled to make a deck. (There are also Heroic Action cards which are set aside, and can be gained later and added to the Hero deck). These cards have varying numbers (1 to 5) as well as a special ability on the lower half of the card. These cards will be used to accomplish actions, and in each round, players take actions until they run out of cards.
For the specific chapter, place the Location sheets on the table as well as the Scripted Enemies and Story cards. Two event cards for the chapter are placed on the main boards. Read the first Location sheet to understand the main and secondary goals for the chapter. This sheet will also tell you which location or locations are available to the group at the start of the game – these sheets are revealed (on the A side) on the table.
The Location sheets show all the different parts of the world that you can explore in this chapter. As you encounter a new area, place it on the table – remembering also to keep the A side visible! You should not ever flip a Location sheet over unless instructed by the game to do so. At the top of the sheet, you’ll see an identifying number and title – and beneath this, you will see and Location entrance effects – things that happen to the Hero who first enters said location. If another Hero enters the location, they would only have to apply specific entrance effects that target “Any Hero”.
Locations can flip to Side B if certain events tell you to do so. Also, if a Hero re-enters a location (with no one on it), that may also trigger the location to flip over. The counters/markers on the sheet are placed on the opposite side; this new image will usually show a slightly different situation – maybe new doors are available, or previously open doors are now shut. Once a sheet is on the B side, it remains on that side for the rest of this run. When a card flips over, you apply any blue colored Entrance effects (but not the red ones). There may be Reaction (yellow box) effects at the bottom of the location – these are applied at the end of each round if a Hero is present. There also may be some conditional effects that are resolved if the conditions are right (usually a specific Threat level, etc).
So now, you know what the components are – but how do we play the game?! Remember, from the intro – the game is played in a series of rounds, but each round is fairly free form with players able to take actions in whatever order they like – there is no set turn order as in most games.
To start each round, players draw cards into their hand – equal to the number seen on the Exhaustion chart – at the start of the game, they get 4 cards per round. Later, it could be as few as 2 per round.
Then, players simultaneously participate in the action phase. Players can act independently and can sometimes collaborate, and there is no specific turn order. However, actions never take place at the same time as their effects can alter conditions for other players. As actions are announced and completed, they are resolved.
There are four types of actions: movement, combat, scripted action, spell. You can also discard and play to/from the reserve as well as spend Heroism tokens.
Movement – Movement usually follows arrows on the location sheet. The number in the arrow tells you the difficulty; and you must play cards from your hand that equal or exceed that number. The number at the end of the arrow tells you where you go when you move. Only one movement can be taken per action.
Scripted Actions – these are actions seen on the Location sheet in scrolls. If you are not engaged with an enemy, you can perform the printed action. If there are other Heroes who are not engaged, they can assist by also playing cards. However, only one Hero will take the action, and that chosen hero will get all the effects of the action (good or bad).
Combat – play cards to fight enemies. Each enemy card has potential special abilities found on their top edge. In the bottom left, you will see one or more shields; this shows how many points of damage they take per hit. You always go from left to right. You can never hit an enemy more than once per action, but you can hit multiple enemies if your action value is high enough. If you have defeated the final shield, the enemy is beaten and the card is discarded. If there are any effects in the bottom right corner, they are resolved now. You could also choose to flee the fight – if you do so, these enemies will engage any other hero still in the location; if there are none, they are simply put back into their respective decks.
Spells – Some of the cards have spells on the bottom half. Based on the text, they could be instant effect, temporary or ongoing. Certain spells are notated as “Single-Use”; if they are cast as spells, those cards as discarded to the box, not to be used again during this entire run.
Reserve – you can choose to play cards into a reserve area, up to a max of 3. Later, you can discard cards from your hand to pick up the same number of cards from your reserve area. This is helpful to keep a good spell or other card for later use
Discard – you can also simply discard a card without attempting an action in order to speed up the end of a round.
Play Heroism Tokens – you earn these token primarily by defeating enemies. You can spend 3 tokens to take the topmost Heroic Action card from your supply. If you want a different card that the top, you must pay extra for it. The purchased card goes directly into your hand and can be used immediately. You can also spend 2 Heroism tokens to draw the top card of your Action draw pile into your hand.
When all players have played or discarded all their cards, there is a reaction phase. Due to stress, the team loses an amount of Vitae equal to the current Threat value. Also, the team loses 1 Vitae for each poison, fracture or fear token found on their player boards. The enemies engaged with the heroes also now attack, with a base damage of 1 Vitae per visible shield on their card (sometimes enemies have other modifiers on the damage they cause). Finally, each Location that has a Hero in it will resolve any orange effects found at the bottom of the Location sheet. If there are multiple Locations, they can be resolved in any order that the team chooses, but each Location must be completed prior to moving onto another one.
Now, check to see if the game ends. Have the Heroes met all the victory conditions? If so, the game ends in a success. Are the Exhaustion or Threat markers on the final spot? If so, the team loses. Otherwise, start another round by drawing cards into your hand…
If you have won, read the appropriate section from the Chapter sheet. If you win, you can move onto the next chapter – though it is recommended to create a save page at this time. The game is mostly reset between chapters; you will keep your current Action deck (including any Heroic Action cards that have been added), unspent Heroism tokens, Quest cards and artifacts. You can either do this on paper, or collect all the Hero’s stuff in a separate ziploc bag which can be quickly retrieved next time.
If you have lost, you have to play the chapter again. You don’t keep anything that you have earned this run. You could start from scratch or resume from a previous Save state. The one thing that you carry through is the knowledge of the Locations and enemies from your experiences; this is (in game terms) the intuition of your Hero…
Initial thoughts on the game
Well, first off, this is an abbreviated excursion into the world of Soul Raiders. The rules note that a typical chapter will have 40+ locations, and in this prologue, there are only 9 locations – which is still a nice amount of exploration, but I can only imagine how much more depth will be found in a game with 3 chapters of 40+ locations!
Our game ended in a success; and it took just under an hour. Interestingly, we managed to win the chapter and we did not see all of the location sheets. Not sure whether we took a more direct path – or whether there are multiple paths through the locations to get to the same end result – but it does lead to some interesting possibilities. I think it’s nice that we didn’t need to see everything – maybe we managed to finish the chapter, but we missed out on a side path that would have awarded us some epic artifact that would have come in handy later in the game. It definitely seems to add to the potential replay ability for the game.
We did manage to make it through the prologue on our first run – but I think the relative difficulty of this prologue is meant to be easy. After all, it is really there to teach you the rules and mechanics. Yet, I can already see how a more difficult scenario would work with the need for multiple runs. Having prior knowledge of the locations could come in handy. For example, remembering that a certain location has an initial action of 3 large enemies plus a threat level of regular enemies would be helpful; you would not want to enter that location near the end of the round as you would set yourself up for a huge counter attack at the end of the round. You might also remember where certain traps were found, and not waste the Vitae or time of your team by avoiding that trap in the future.
Speaking of Vitae – I really like how the group health system works. It makes it easier to calculate how the damage will affect your team and prevents you from having to nurse a particularly weak character around. Also, the interplay between your life force and your ability to draw cards meshes well and is a nice organic system to mimic the effects of stress and fatigue on a hero’s ability.
The pacing of the game is interesting – in one way, it is free-form, and there aren’t really turns. However, the rules specifically say that no actions take place simultaneously, so there is still an order of sorts. Also, it is probably to the benefit of the heroes to get their actions in order, so a little bit of discussion can help everyone be more efficient in using their cards. Like any cooperative game, there is some possibility for quarterbacking, but it’s not that large here as each player has their own hand of cards and is control of how/when those cards are played.
The card system works great. I really like the way that every card has multiple possibilities. I wouldn’t say that there is a great sense of deckbuilding in the game (Well at least not in the prologue), but it is a nice puzzle trying to manage the abilities of the different cards, using them at the right time, sometimes even having to put them into your reserve to wait for the exact best moment to use them. The prologue only gives you 4 Special Action cards to work with, but I can already see how the addition of some of these cards can give your deck a huge boost. It will be really interesting to see how a larger selection of these cards will work.
The artwork is fantastic. All of the scenes are richly illustrated on the location sheets as are the enemies on the cards. Though I still have a pre-production prototype, I believe that this art is nearly final, and I’m definitely impressed.
So after a brief taste of the game, color me super interested in learning more about the game. Again, the full game is reportedly going to be three chapters, each with 40+ location sheets. This little prologue was only 9 sheets, and I think we only saw 7 of them – and that little adventure took about an hour. The amount of game that could be had over 120+ location sheets is staggering, and I can’t wait for my chance to see the full game.
Not coincidentally, the game went live on KS today – https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/one4all/soul-raiders
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
Provisional I love it from Dale, but hard to say for sure only seeing the first little bit…
Like (could go to love) – John P