Board and tabletop gaming has seen a rise in popularity over the past ten years or so, with more people coming into the hobby and greater numbers of projects finding their way to the table through crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo or Gamefound. Tabletop gaming has a great breadth of styles, themes, mechanics, and genres to satisfy all sorts of tastes and experience levels. Every year there are conventions and expos across the globe attracting 1000s of visitors a day; one such event is the UK Games Expo, held in Birmingham, UK (pandemics permitting), over the first weekend after Whitsun (or the Late May Bank Holiday). I attended and kept my eye out for games on the darker end of the spectrum so that I could draw together five grim games to tempt you with, in no particular order.
Book of Skulls: Slayers of Eragoth
Described by our very own Matt Davis as “HeroQuest got all growed up and went metal”, Book of Skulls: Slayers of Eragoth is an ambitious dungeon crawler with its own soundtrack of, you guessed it, heavy metal. Soon to be looking for crowdfunding, this is a big game with lots to do and investigate. Besides the soundtrack, the game also features interesting mechanics, brilliant art, and one of the heroes is called Rei (OK, it’s spelled differently, but it’s pronounced the same: I can dream, can’t I?).
Each time your party fights the forces of evil the other player(s) are controlling the enemy and, when it’s their turn to slay through the hoards, it swaps, and you control the enemy forces. This is a nice little mechanic to minimise downtime between your turns. With 120 demons in the Book of Skulls and over 150 character cards, you’re going to see a lot of replayability over the 10 possible maps.
Book of Skulls: Slayers of Eragoth is currently in Prelaunch on Kickstarter and you can listen to some of the soundtrack already on their website: https://www.bookofskulls.co.uk/
Last Night on Earth
Coming from Ex Stasis Games, Last Night on Earth is an RPG “about making every moment count” as you live through your last night as a human. You are becoming a monster, literally, and you have unfinished business to attend to before you can no longer recognise yourself. It’s a tough balancing act as you try to settle your burden before its too late; if you push yourself, you embrace your monstrous nature and your time runs out faster, but if you don’t push it, you won’t lay your burden to rest.
Characters will die. Betrayal is part of the game. Violence and corruption are rife in a decaying world. This is a horror RPG in which you/your character is, put simply, “going to confront some shit”. These characters are living their last night and trying to make sure their lives had meaning. There’s not going to be some handily placed MacGuffin to stop the impending doom; no cures, or magic reverso spells, just the last few hours before you succumb to your curse.
Last Night on Earth is available digitally through itch.io and their website: https://exstasisgames.com/
Psychobabble from Cheatwell Games presents itself as a card game – how grim could that be? If we look a little closer at the context though, it’s plenty dark enough. In Psychobabble, you are in an institution, you’re all having shared dreams, and the psychotherapist is analysing you closely to see who can be released as sane and who is being kept behind. The dream cards are laid out on a grid on the table, one ‘patient’ isn’t having the same dream as everyone else, the psychotherapist needs to figure out what the shared dream card is, whereas other patients need to figure out who is the odd one out.
It feels a little sinister and the images on the dream cards are all black and white and a bit nightmarish in their artwork. Lots of eyes, skulls, monsters, and tentacles. If you realise you’re the odd one out and are trying to convince the others you aren’t, you can’t lie (unfortunately), so you may be doomed back to more of this quack therapy in the creepy institution of shared dreamers.
More information at: https://cheatwell.com/products/psychobabble
Blackwell Games is the creator of three solo RPG games that have deliciously dark vibes: Delve, Rise, and Umbra. In Delve, you are exploring your Dwarven hold and the underground world to find the Void Crystal, as you do you are as likely to encounter success as you are destruction. As you dig you can come across monsters, natural obstacles, and loot. There’s no guarantee you’ll find the crystal before your hold is destroyed by rampaging nightmares, gas-clouds and lava so proceed with caution.
Rise and Umbra are sister games of Delve. In Rise (the evil sister), you are spreading evil as you take charge of a dungeon and try to reach the surface and conquer those puny mortals. Providing your minions don’t mutiny along the way. Umbra, on the other hand, take a sci-fi setting and puts you in charge of a colony struggling against starvation, the void of space and the many terrors that surround you.
All available through itch.io and at Blackwell Games’ website: https://www.blackwellwriter.com/
Oathsworn: Into the Deepwood
Oathsworn: Into the Deepwood is a dark fantasy RPG miniatures dungeon crawler that comes with a novel-length interactive book to guide you, which you can either read in hardback or utilise the audiobook function in the companion app. The setting finds humanity collapsed in the face of the Deepwood, a corruption that has long covered the land with a thick twisted forest. The King has pledged, “if you can hold it, you can keep it” but few have ever survived. Creatures of the Deepwood are constantly trying to breach humanity’s last defences and it is the Oathsworn who keep hope alive.
The game focusses on Encounters, like boss battles, that you – as Oathsworn – will work through the story towards as the only force brave enough to face the Deepwood’s hoards. Replete with miniatures up to 100mm large, Oathsworn is a big, chunky box, that is wrapping up all your favourite elements of epic fantasy, minis gaming and RPGs.
Already planning a second printing via Kickstarter, more information can be found on Shadowborne Games’ website: https://www.shadowborne-games.com/