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UK Games Expo 2024 – A First Look at Dark Blood

by on June 10, 2024
 
A look across the prototype of Dark Blood.

”Of course, we can all sacrifice peasants,” Aiollus says nonchalantly, like he’s talking about something as basic as tying shoelaces. The trick with sacrificing the peasants in Dark Blood, he explains, is that everyone’s sacrifices can do different things.

Dark Blood was not being exhibited on a big stand at the UK Games Expo, it wasn’t a hot new release getting coverage at stalls or in live shows. Instead, I saw Panos and his partner lugging a giant box that looks like a hardback book into the space outside the Starbucks. My friend Graham and I were there having a bit of a break, a coffee and some shade, when we saw it. At first I thought they were Blood on the Clocktower people, but the spine of the box was too rounded. 

Graham, ever the more outgoing person out of us, walked over and asked what was in the box, then summoned me over.

”What’s in the box?” I asked. 

“Dark Blood,” Panos said. Again, if a stranger told you this normally, you’d back away slowly. He explained that it was a board game he and a friend designed and that they were showing it to a few people. It would be imminently on GameFound and already had over seven thousand followers. We were on our way to an RPG and Panos was booked in to see someone else, so we arranged to meet on the Saturday evening.

Hall Three.

Hall Three was packed and after taking a bit of time trying to find Panos and his partner, we found them and Aiollus, one of the designers of the game, who I would spend most of my time speaking to while checking out the prototype components.

Dark Blood sat out on the table in front of us, with one central board with inlaid spaces to place your cultists (workers). There was also a large miniature of a tree with a couple of miniatures dangling from nooses. Four player boards were also there, designed to look like old tomes, each with their own look but similar spaces. They all had one page with different actions on double-sided tokens. The other page had a few extra little things like a coffin, a crate and a big monster unique to the faction.

Who wouldn’t want to be a giant hag?

One thing Panos and Aiollus stressed was the asymmetry. Some things like sacrificing peasants was common, but with different elements. Doomsayers manipulated the future. Necromancers could use the copies of their sacrifices. The Warlocks corrupt people or send out a big hag. The Demonologists befoul the land with sigils.

You’re probably noticing the miniatures despite me calling this a worker placement game. Like Scythe and other games, this blends the euro elements with miniatures and Ameritrash elements.

People’s cultists and the Necromancer’s monstrosity all hang out together.

The land repopulates with peasants each round and people can send their cultists out to try and take control of areas, or appease the weird tree. Your action phase takes up the majority of the gameplay, so you’ll want to be upgrading what you do. Ultimately the one who’s caused the most taint wins, but it sounds like there’s a lot of fun in the getting there, especially if you want to revel in the over the top villainy it allows you to indulge in.

Even for a prototype, the boards, the miniatures and the tokens all look pretty. I was reassured that they had left the proper bones behind, so they had some temporary replacements. That’s good, I said, as my partner was generally a fan of skulls and bones, so prettier ones would be nice to have. They had admired the bottles from My Father’s Work, so they had some bottles as resources for this game. 

A faction board, with their monstrosity, a couple of Bloodborne-looking cultists, their coffin and crate.

This isn’t the first crowdfunding campaign Aiollus has taken part in and it shows. This is his ninth project and Meeple Pug’s second after Age of Invention. Just to be clear, the reviews of Age of Invention have been positive and it’s still in the process of shipping. Meeple Pug are still reassuring people that it’s on its way and even hand delivered a copy to a Greek backer. They seem confident it won’t interfere with this campaign.

Aiollus explained that he was a fan and backer of games as well as a publisher of them. He’s wary of the over-promising of board game campaigns and was eager to share that while there are going to be stretch goals, they’re not funding several expansions before the main game’s even out. There will be one pledge level, for the game itself. Despite that, there will be some add-ons such as a set of minis with a wash to help them visually pop. Of course, there are ideas about potential expansions and future factions, however their priority is getting the game out first and seeing how it does.

There will also be a solo mode which won’t be an Automa, but will turn the game into a bit more of a puzzle. They seem pretty proud of factoring this in from the start rather than tacking it on later or having to simulate other players.

A view of the village with a lot of workers and a few monstrosities placed. Also someone dangling from a tree.

I admit the theme feels like the kind of thing which makes me wary. The ‘blood and tits’ aesthetic of Kingdom Death: Monster and the more immature, puerile side of some OSR RPGs can be off-putting. despite that, the use of the mechanics and the glee which the designers discuss this shows that they’ve put a lot of thought into it. They have even asked in the game’s BoardGameGeek page about people’s concerns or issues with anything covered in the theme.

I asked about the switch from Kickstarter to GameFound and Aiollus explained that they had been incredibly supportive. They have helped with marketing and they support payments in instalments. 

Looking at their Facebook Group while doing my due diligence for this article I saw that there was a post explaining that there will be no AI art in the finished game, which is always reassuring to hear.

The Tree of the Damned up close, missing some hanging villagers this time.

While I didn’t get to play the game, it’s impressive seeing what this company has done and I wish them the best in their campaign. You can find the campaign on GameFound here. It goes live on the 11th of June. They’ve been posting tidbits about each faction and fielding questions on their BoardGameGeek page here.