It’s never good for the bad guys when the good guys come and save the day. Designers Matt Loomis and Isaac Shalev designed a game around this idea in Retreat to Darkmoor. In Retreat to Darkmoor, 2-4 players assume the roles of dark overlords of the realm in the lands of Darkmoor and have 24 different minions under their command. The Capital City was to be the target of our minions’ sieges, however a band of legendary heroes in the king’s council were waiting to defend the city. Now, us as dark overlords must command our minions to retreat to various locations in Darkmoor trying to reach their safe havens. During this retreat, it seems all of the overlords are out for themselves and will use any means necessary for their minions to control the safe havens in Darkmoor. Retreat to Darkmoor is a card game that is driven by hand management and area control mechanics. Throw in some cool card abilities and a good dose of player interaction and you have the makeup of this family-friendly game. And the good thing, the game plays in roughly 30-40 minutes.
The object of Retreat to Darkmoor is to have as many of your minions escape to the safe havens of Darkmoor. The more peril your minions bring to each location when they escape, the better the chance you have of controlling that location. You will earn victory points for controlling locations, victory points for each of your escaped minions, and even victory points if you cause your opponent’s minions to be defeated. At the end of the game, the player with the most victory points wins.
The game comes with
- 96 minion cards; four identical 24 card decks, each with a player color and banner icon.
10 Legendary Hero cards
- 8 double-sided location cards, giving 16 different locations in Darkmoor
- Victory Point tokens
- Peril Tokens
Minion decks for each player
Playing the Game
- To set up the game, make sure you have a table with a good amount of space as cards will be placed, taking up a decent amount of area.
- First, deal out a number of location cards equal to one more than the total number of players, choosing whichever side of the locations you want. Any remaining location cards are returned to the game box.
- Shuffle the Legendary Hero cards and form a stack of cards according to the number of players, from 5 to 7 cards. Place the Legendary Hero deck across the play area from the location cards, leaving a generous space to play cards in between. Flip over the top card of the deck revealing the first Legendary Hero.
- Each player takes a deck of minion cards in one color, shuffles the deck and draws a starting hand of five cards.
- The person who last ran from a fight is the start player.
The best way to get into how the game is played is to first explain the three card types that make up the game.
The location cards have the name of the location, the victory point value that will be awarded to the player who controls that location at the end of the game, and also an ability that affects the horde of minions that will gather there. Some of the abilities are Ongoing that will be in effect the whole game, and others are Scoring abilities that will affect the player who controls the location during the Final Scoring.
Location Card with ability
The Legendary Hero card has information on it that sets up a few things. First is has the name of the hero and what type of hero he or she is. There is also a Peril threshold value in the upper left corner that dictates when the Legendary Hero attacks. There are also abilities for each of the heroes that will either be ongoing as long as the Hero is in play, or will be resolved only when the Hero attacks.
The minion card information is: the name of the minion and also the icon of what type of minion it is: undead, beast, or humanoid. There is a peril value in the upper left corner that shows how much ferocity this minion has. This value contributes to the total peril value for the horde in which the minion is placed. The peril value is also important in determining control of a location by escaped minions. The player whose minions total the most peril controls the location and will earn the location VPs. There is victory point value for the minions as well, in the center of the bottom of the card. Most minions also have abilities that are either Immediate, where the resolve when played, or Ongoing, that is in effect the whole time the minion is in play. Ongoing abilites will show an hourglass icon at the bottom of the card.
The rulebook makes a great summary of the gameplay:
“On your turn, play a minion card from your hand, then check to see if the Legendary Hero attacks. Finally, draw cards from your deck until you have five cards in your hand. Then the player to your left will take the next turn.
The rules on the cards always override the rules in the rulebook.
When a player plays a minion card from their hand, the card will go into a horde at a location. Playing certain cards at certain locations may trigger location abilities. The minion card played may have an ability that will trigger if it is immediate, or have an ongoing effect that changes the rules as long as the card is in play. One thing to note, as cards are added to hordes, do not overlap the cards, place them end to end. There are many cards that will affect adjacent cards and those cards will be the cards above and below the card played as well as cards to the left and right of it, which will be in other hordes. If a card is ever removed from a horde and it creates a gap, slide the cards forward to fill the gap. The act of playing the card itself it simple.
Next, calculate the total peril value of all of the minions in each horde at each location and compare it to the peril threshold of the Legendary Hero in play. If any horde has a total peril value equal to or greater than the threshold the Legendary Hero will attack. If more than one horde is able to be attacked, the active player chooses which horde will be attacked. If the threshold has not been reached, then draw cards to bring your hand size back to five and end your turn. The player to your left takes their turn.
If a Legendary Hero attacks, first identify the closest valid minion to the Legendary Hero and defeat it. A valid minion is one that is able to be defeated that is not protected by any card abilities. Sometimes the defeated minion may be at the back of the horde, other times the Hero may attack specific minions. The defeated minion is placed in the discard pile of the player who controls that minion. The active player will receive 2 VP if the defeated minion belongs to an opponent. Next, resolve any applicable ongoing effects of the Legendary Hero and defeated minion. Resolve any ongoing triggered abilities in the horde that was attacked starting from the back of the horde. Then resolve any ongoing minion abilities in each other horde, starting from the leftmost horde. For example, if you have a Necromancer in play, your Necromancer will score you 1 VP if a minion is defeated. Discard the Legendary Hero to the game box, and discard any other defeated minions to their owners’ discard piles.
After a Legendary Hero attacks a horde, any remaining minions in the horde move to the other side of the location card into the safe haven. Collect any VP tokens that were added to the minion cards during play and discard any peril tokens added. Also, resolve any ongoing abilities of minions that may be affected by escapes. For example, the Ominous Raven may escape if an adjacent horde escapes.
Finally, reveal a new Legendary Hero and apply any effects. If a Legendary Hero cannot be revealed, proceed to Final Scoring.
There are a few things that happen in the Final Scoring phase. First, after the last Legendary Hero attacks, all remaining minions in any horde zones, escape to their respective safe havens.
For each location, add the total value of peril from all of your minions in that safe haven. Whichever player has the most peril, earns the victory points of that location. In case of a tie, no VP are awarded. Next add up the VP values of all the minions you own who are in safe havens, add the VP value of all locations you control plus any VP tokens earned during the game. The player with the most VP is the winner. In case of a tie, the player who would have taken the next turn is the winner.
Cards in a safe haven
First of all, I continue to be impressed with the production quality that Action Phase Games is putting out there. The game boxes are sturdy, the cardboard tokens are a good thickness and the cards are of good quality. I also like the size of the box for this series of games that also includes: Ninja Camp and Kodama. The artwork is done by Jacqui Davis, who also did the artwork for Ninja Camp. Also, the rulebook is well-written, with plenty of examples, illustrations, and a reference sheet on the back page, getting players up and playing the game within minutes.
Retreat to Darkmoor is #4 in the Small Box Big Fun series. When I opened the box and saw the cards, they reminded me of the game Epic Resort. Jacqui Davis did the artwork for that game as well and they share a similar graphic design. The style of artwork works well for this game, giving a more light-hearted, family friendly feel to the game, especially the Dire Bear. My one complaint is that the card art is dark and so there is no “pop” when looking at the cards. Some of the cards have a night scene and so the minions don’t really stand out. All of the cards fit in the box fine, however, sleeving the cards, I don’t think the box will completely close.
The gameplay itself reminds me of Smash Up. So to me, Retreat to Darkmoor is kind of like Smash Up Lite. The reason I say this is: the locations have special abilities, much like the bases do in Smash Up. Also the minion cards have abilities and effects that are also like minion cards in Smash Up. And playing Retreat to Darkmoor has some feeling similar to Smash Up, with abilities that will affect other cards and sometimes even other players. However, it is my opinion that Retreat to Darkmoor is a better game. First of all, there are not tons of cards to worry about what they do and what changes come by mixing up or constructing a deck. A player has 24 minion cards in each deck to control and there are 16 different location abilities, but no more than 5 will ever be in play in any game. And the Legendary Heroes are only 1 at a time, so there is not as much chaos in the game unlike Smash Up. But the strength of this game is the hand management. Looking at the cards in hand, looking at the location abilities and the other minion cards in play in the hordes, as well as the Hero abilities lends to some interesting choices when it comes to playing cards. Sometimes is can feel like a sure thing to play a card into a horde where it will escape easily.Other times, it will be playing a card to set a trap to defeat your opponents when some tricky ability triggers on another turn. It all comes down to perception and what players see going on in the game.
In playing Retreat to Darkmoor, I did get some mixed responses from the people I played with. One player, going into the game could tell this was not her type of game but did play the game and did pretty well. Another player, who tends to excel at games that have a take that aspect, exploited that side of this game and ended up winning. Another player was a bit overwhelmed by having to pay attention to the location abilities, the card effects, and the Legendary Hero abilities. Others did think the game was clever and liked how the cards interacted with each other. I think these are valid points that people who play this game may experience, but overall think there are more positives to the game than any negatives.
There are a couple of things that could be considered negative about Retreat to Darkmoor. I think the biggest thing would be its similarity to Smash Up. Smash Up is a polarizing game and people who do not like Smash Up will probably not be interested in Retreat to Darkmoor because it can be compared to it. Another thing that some may view as a negative is that it can be seen by some as fiddly, always having to look at the locations, other minion cards and the Legendary Hero for any effects that change the rules.
I see a number of positives in this game. First of all, I do like Smash Up and I like the fact that Retreat to Darkmoor is like a streamlined version of it. I like the card interactions and how the minions are affected by the different locations, the Hero and minion abilities. I think the game keeps players engaged, because players need to be aware of what minions their opponents put into play. There is a good amount of player interaction as players are competing to escape and control the different locations. I like the fact that the game can be played in about a half an hour, which I think is a good amount of time to be playing a game that has an underlying screw your neighbor vein.
An initial impression about Retreat to Darkmoor can be made after 1 play, however I feel that a solid opinion of the game will be valid after a handful of plays. It takes a play or 2 to get to know the minion cards in the deck and also realize the location abilities. I think Retreat to Darkmoor gets better with more plays if playing with others who have the same amount of experience with the game. Like many other games, a person who has played Retreat to Darkmoor a few times will have a sizeable advantage over someone playing for the first time. However, with more plays of the game, as players are more comfortable with the cards in the game, play becomes more competitive. Despite there being the luck of the draw, there can still be a lot of strategy in playing out cards into the horde zones. Players become more aware of what their minions can do, and will play them differently with more experience, leading to some games that will have more tension throughout.
Retreat to Darkmoor is another solid entry into the Small Box Big Fun series of games from Action Phase. The game has enough going on to keep gamers engaged, but can still be played by inexperienced gamers, especially since the rules are rather simple in order to play the game. I think that families will dig this one as younger players tend to like a lot of take that! and Retreat to Darkmoor delivers on that. Although there are a few different things to be paying attention to in the game in regards to card effects, I feel the majority of players won’t be overwhelmed by rule modifications. I think the game gets better with more plays and I see the game having legs enough to hit the table enough to get one’s money’s worth from buying the game. I recommend this game for people who like games like Smash Up or card games that manipulate rules, but I also would have to say to those who have a strong dislike Smash Up this one is along the same lines.
Disclaimer: This copy of Retreat to Darkmoor was provided by the publisher for the purpose of review.