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Item - Four Against Darkness




Series: Four Against Darkness — no. 1
Author: Sfiligoi, Andrea
Date: September 13, 2017
ISBN: 1976371457 / 9781976371455
Length: 90 pages
Demian's Thoughts:

Florik's review does a good job of conveying what this game is all about, and my opinions are similar. If you enjoy the thrill of finding out what's behind the next door and whacking down endless monsters without a whole lot of challenge, you'll have fun with this. If you want plot or deep strategy, you probably won't. For my part, this was just the thing when my son wanted to play a dungeon crawl and there wasn't enough time to prepare something more substantial, and I suspect we'll return to it from time to time.

More reviews by Demian

Florik's Thoughts:

This "solitaire dungeon-delving pen-and-paper game" has recently received quite a bit of attention from the solo boardgaming community as a highly portable "roll and write" dungeon game. Four Against Darkness is, in fact, two things: 1) a set of simple role-playing rules, mostly for combat situations, quite similar to those found in many gamebooks, and 2) an on-the-fly dungeon generator so you can play without a GM.

Let's take a look at the rules system first. There's a basic premise: Monsters never roll the dice. Monsters consist of nothing but a target level, which has to be rolled against for attacks as well as defence, and possibly some rules exceptions. You see, most monsters die after the first hit taken. Tougher ones don't. Most monsters get one attack per member of the horde; exceptional ones may have more than one attack, and so forth.

To fight those critters, you'll have to create a posse of four adventurers. There is no rolling of stats, no way of customizing. One Barbarian will be like any other Barbarian, apart from starting money, which is rolled for. Rather, the picking of classes you want in your band of adventurers is the customizing. By the way, in true 1980s style, races are also classes here. A Dwarf is a Dwarf and never a Dwarven Shaman or Dwarven Druid.

Once the characters have been picked, they can visit the dungeon, which consists of random rooms drawn out on grid paper. Each room has one random feature, usually just a monster which guards some treasure, but there are weird exceptions like riddle rooms or magic fountains. My preferred rooms, however, are empty ones, because you can search them and stand a 1 in 3 chance of finding some really helpful boon, a secret door or hidden treasure.

Monsters can be vermin (annoying but rather harmless, they give no XP), minions (standard monsters like a few trolls or a goblin horde) and bosses. Every boss could be the final boss of the dungeon, with steadily increasing chances. If you've filled out all of your graph paper, the next boss is always the final one. Beat the final boss, clear out (still rolling for wandering monsters), and if you make it, you win.

I've now explained the rules in some detail, but is the game any fun, you may ask. The answer is the dreaded one: it depends.

It should be clear by now that Four Against Darkness is pretty random. Meet random monsters in random rooms. Roll dice to fight. One of very few choices you have to make is, after you enter a room, whether to fight the creature within or not. Provided a door exists, an ordered withdrawal with minimum casualties is often possible. However, this is rarely a hard decision to make. You'll need (and want) to fight most fights: to get at the monster's treasure, to be able to move on, to gather experience for leveling up. Only rarely will you encounter a boss early and close the door rather than fight.

Imagine a gamebook with no descriptions other than the dimensions of rooms, the number and species of residents. Your only options are Fight and Withdraw. Sounds boring?

Well, I hate to admit it, but it actually can be fun if you're someone who enjoys mapping, rolling dice, going along with the flow. Even then, you'll probably have to be in the right mood. However, I suspect that most people playing gamebooks like a little more story than at least the basic Four Against Darkness volume provides. The dozen existing expansions to the game may well deliver more narrative and decision space.

More reviews by Florik

Users Who Own This Item: Demian, Erikwinslow, Florik, gryff, mir1812, Sir Olli, Twise
Users Who Want This Item: Sheridan77

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