Bloodborne is an action-rpg videogame developed for PlayStation 4 by FromSoftware, the same company that created the Dark Souls series. The videogame, released in 2015, was quite successful and won several awards prompting CMON, a Singapore-based company, famous for their miniature ranges and board game series like Zombicide, to make a board game adaptation.
Bloodborne: The Board Game was launched successfully via Kickstarter in 2019, delivered in 2021 and is now available to the retail market. This is our Bloodborne The Board Game Review and in it we will discuss the board game, ignoring the adaptation from the videogame and seeing how the game plays on its own merit.
What is Bloodborne the Board Game?
Bloodborne is set in a grim fantasy world where a plague spreads across the land transforming people into beasts. Your role, as a Hunter, is to discover the source and stop it once and for all.
The game is a campaign-based adventure game for 1-4 players entirely played without dice. Instead, your abilities all have a speed and are resolved comparing with the speed of your enemy. You choose which actions to perform with cards.
The game is played with highly detailed plastic miniatures representing both the heroes (called Hunters) and the enemies. In total there are 37 miniatures in the core box:
- 4 Hunters
- 4 for each of the 7 type of regular enemies
- and 5 bosses
The setting is a decrepit Gothic city and its surroundings, attacked by all sorts of monsters and horrors because of the plague that you are investigating. You will face the monsters with different medieval weapons and the occasional firearm. Each hunter has its own weapon with different type of attacks (like in a videogame when combinations are linked to different buttons) and the ability to equip a different gun including those found as loot.
The core game contains 4 campaigns, each with 3 chapters that need to be played in sequence so that it can be easily split into three game sessions. There’s no order for the campaigns, and each campaign can be replayed multiple times with different hunters as there’s enough randomization to allow each hunt to feel different.
The scope of the game is to follow the instruction in the mission card and accomplish it before the timer runs out. This can be anything from killing a specific enemy to reaching a certain tile. Failure in achieving this objective before the Blood Moon rises, means the entire hunt is unsuccessful and you need to restart from Chapter 1.
Should you succeed, from chapter to chapter your deck of cards can be upgraded, allowing you to further personalise your hunter and better cope with the challenges thrown to you by the game.
On top of the main mission, you have several side missions that you can complete (and in some cases you must) that provide you with a better background on the situation and allow you to make decisions that carry over consequences at later stages of the same campaign. You will not have time to complete all side missions, allowing high re-playability in Bloodborne the Board Game.
The exploration works through tiles that are drawn from a shuffled deck, so the sequence of tiles and the distance between points of interest is new in every playthrough, but this also can greatly influence the difficulty of a mission.
We are going to see the combat in more details in the First Round section, but we can introduce that this game is brutal. You will die, often, but death is not the end as you end up in a different place (Hunter’s Dream) where you can heal, refresh your abilities, upgrade and then re-spawn in one of the marked places.
The game itself is not super complex, the rulebook in its entirety is 28 pages and is easy to read. There are few points where you may need to consult online how to interpret a certain situation, but for the most part it is straightforward. But that doesn’t make it easy, on the contrary, the game can be extremely hard.
There are 2 main factors that makes the game difficult:
- The timer that forces you to rush forward, limiting how long you can spend exploring
- And the fact that all enemies will respawn multiple times each session, forcing you to cope with them while handling everything else.
Set up of Bloodborne the Board Game
The first thing to choose is your Hunter between the 4 of the core game (there’s 11 more in the various expansions), each one comes with its own dashboard, weapon and of course miniature. Each Hunter has a Stat deck of 12 cards that is created equally for each player and is improved during the course of the campaign. These cards are used to perform actions (when discarded) or attacks, more on this later.
Once all players are ready, it is time to set up the Hunt Board. You should start reading the Chapter card as it will tell you which enemies will be used during that game and which tiles to take plus any other extra condition that will apply. You will also create the deck for the upgrades and rewards.
The Chapter card will tell you if there’s any different configuration from the usual “place the Central Lamp tile”, but this is where you will usually start the game. Each tile is divided in areas or spaces, Hunters and enemies move within adjacent spaces. If a space has an exit, a Hunter can then decide to move there and draw a new tile from the tiles deck so that the two connect to each other.
While there are some tiles predetermined for that chapter, those are usually shuffled together with another selection of random tiles meaning that every hunt will look different as you don’t know where the interest points will end up or how far they will be from each other.
The last thing you need to do is to read the introductory cards and familiarise yourself with the mission. Often side missions will be prompted by the special tiles you have selected should you reach them, sometimes those are mandatory. Don’t lose focus on the main mission but try to complete as many side missions you can as those provide extremely useful rewards to complete the final objective which is usually a big boss fight.
And that’s it, you are now ready to take your first turn.
First round: How it Works in Bloodborne
A Hunter will draw a hand of 3 cards from his Stat deck. Those have different effects depending on how they are used. Outside of combat, you have to discard a card to perform any action like move, interact, transform your trick weapon and enter the hunter’s dream.
The first two are self explanatory, so let’s talk about the hunter’s dream instead. This is the place where you go when you are killed or when you go on purpose to upgrade yourself. This is also where you heal, refresh your deck and reset the trick weapon and firearm. It is extremely important to get there to recharge, but be careful because every trip increases the time tracker meaning you have less time to complete your mission.
There is no levelling up as classic games, instead your reward for killing enemies consists in a selection between 4 randomly selected stat cards that are more powerful than the basic ones you start the game with. Every enemy you kill gives you a Blood Echoes token. Should you go the Hunter’s Dream of your own accord, i.e. without dying, you can then exchange each token with a new stat card. Note that you can’t have more than 3 Blood Echoes at a time.
While this means that every hunt is dissimilar as you will have a different choice of cards available, there is also a downside, as you can’t choose the cards that best complement your playstyle or your hunter abilities, but rather rely on luck. If you die too often, you don’t progress and you will eventually fail. As you carry over your upgraded deck from one chapter to another, mistakes made in the first one may hinder your chances of survival in the later chapters. And this is how Bloodborne can quickly become very brutal.
How combat works in Bloodborne the Board Game
Finally combat. This is the most interesting part of the game as you have to use the same stat cards to initiate combat. Your trick weapon has different slots available and, to perform an attack, you need to place a card in one of these slots. If your slots are all full, you need to swap your trick weapon to the other side (that’s an action, meaning a card discarded) or you will be unable to attack (and defend). There are cards that can clear the slots when used meaning that you can use the same attack action multiple times, so which card to use is actually important.
For example you could use a Dodge to attack so that you keep the slot clear, a Stagger that will cancel an attack with lower speed, or cards that heal you after the attack, increase the damage or speed and so on. Whichever card you want to use, each attack slot has a speed, normally ranging from 1 to 3 but various effects can increase or decrease it. Whoever is faster resolves its attack first, followed by its opponent if still alive. At same speed both attacks are resolved simultaneously, meaning you could have an epic self-immolation with your enemy.
And then the enemy attacks back…
But what kind of attacks the enemies perform?
Every normal enemy has 3 types of attacks: basic, special and ability with various levels of efficacy. All enemies share an action deck of 6 cards (3 basic, 2 special and 1 ability) and each time they attack, you draw a card meaning that you could be able to foresee which attack is coming next after few draws (you reshuffle the deck only after all cards have been drawn). This is extremely important as it allows you to calculate better when to use your slower attacks (usually more damaging) instead of the faster attacks.
This interesting mechanic represents the core of the enemy’s AI. The other part is that enemies activate only if in range of the active Hunter (the last one who had a turn) and would always pursue that and only that player. After every Hunter activation, there is an enemy activation meaning that you can use this to move enemies away from wounded hunters or risk that the same enemy attacks multiple hunters in a single turn.
Another thing to consider is that you can avoid an enemy attack only if you have special cards like Dodge in your hand AND if you have a free attack slot in your trick weapon with a speed greater or equal than the enemy’s attack. Or you could Stagger them while attacking if you have greater speed, meaning they skip the next attack (but not abilities). If you ran out of cards once it’s the enemy turn to attack, you just take the brunt from the enemies. Meaning that rushing forward and being pursued by multiple monsters will eventually end with your untimely demise.
Once a Hunter had his turn, the enemies activate but will pursue/attack only the active Hunter. Once all Hunters had their turn, it’s time for a new round.
Further rounds and beyond
And that’s basically it. The rulebook is quite thin and clear on most points. Every new round, you advance the time tracker, refresh your hand and start again. If the tracker reaches one of the reset points, all enemies and consumables are restored to their starting position and bosses are healed. On one side this gives you more chances for loot and some respite against mobs pursuing you. On the other, it means that areas previously cleared become dangerous once again, half dead monsters are back to their starting point at full health, and of course if you were one point from inflicting the final blow to a boss, now you have a longer way to go.
Bosses work differently from normal enemies:
They have more wounds and those depend on how many hunters are playing, they have a Phase 1 and a Phase 2 aspect (meaning you have to kill them twice) and a separate Boss Action deck for each Phase. Encounters with bosses are not to be trifled with! They are veritable beasts able to kill you in one blow, and of course dying in an encounter against them means that you then have to trace back wherever the monster is, wasting precious time.
To help you out, the entire campaign is set to provide useful items or other rewards that can give you an advantage in the fight. One last mechanic to reference is related to Insight tokens: those are tokens you can receive by completing certain tasks/side missions and then can be used as instructed in a mission card. To not confuse with Insight Missions that are your side missions and that, once completed, provide a reward and an Insight. That is a note on a specific event and how you handled it, and could be referred to further down in the campaign. For example your decision to save a specific NPC at a certain stage may reveal the consequences further down the line.
Campaign(s) in Bloodborne the Board Game
Bloodborne narrative is described through numbered cards that have to be read only when certain triggers are reached. The fact that you are unable to complete all side missions in a single hunt increases re-playability on one side, but decreases your understanding of the context on the other.
The facts that all these cards interact with each other providing various outcomes depending on your decisions, makes the game compelling and interesting to explore. The grim, almost horror, world in which the game is set makes for an excellent setting greatly accentuated by the use of grey colours and fantastic designs.
To win a campaign you need to complete the three chapters it is composed of. This can be achieved in a really long sitting (3 to 6 hours) or split in different sessions terminating at the end of any chapter. You carry over from one to the other all updated decks and rewards obtained.
Because of the randomness in tiles, side missions you can complete, monsters (the order the monsters are selected in a chapter is random and each monster has 2 sides, also to choose randomly) and even the choices of hunters, each campaign can be played multiple timed and always feel fresh.
Assuming you have the full content from the KS campaign (described in the last section of this review), some fans from BoardGameGeek created a printable PDF to follow the campaigns in order using the videogame as inspiration.
Note that neither the videogame nor the board game enforce any order, so you are free to pick any sequence that you prefer or even use any chapter as a one-off game. The only recommendation is to start the game from the Long Hunt campaign from the Core Box.
This means that the full game (should you find the entire content) is composed of 14 campaigns and 15 hunters for almost infinite re-playability.
Final Thoughts on our Bloodborne the Board Game Review
If you are into deeply narrative games, this is not the game for you. While there is a gripping narrative behind each chapter and all the side missions, you cannot complete all of them in one single hunt and you are more likely to fail a campaign and restart from scratch than to win it.
This is an action game at its core, following the footsteps of the videogame, where every mistake is paid dearly and there is not much room for forgiveness. It is fast paced, there is no time to just take a breather and recharge: you are always prompted to move forward. Enemies will respawn more frequently later in the game and, every time you die, the tracker goes forward and if you run out of time is game over. And you will run out of time!
This means that if you enjoy the game style, replaying it knowing what to do is a great advantage. But if you are here for the narrative, even considering multiple side missions, it may be frustrating to fail at the end of the third session and have to restart all from the beginning. It is understandable as the reason you fail may be linked to the upgrades you took or the missions you completed, and resetting them would be nearly impossible.
On the contrary, failing after 6+ hours of game is pretty brutal and you need to have the stomach for it. If you are a fan of Dark Souls series, or you may already have played Bloodborne the videogame, you will know that feeling and maybe you are here for this. It is extremely satisfying to complete a hunt knowing what you went through and you were always just one step from complete failure.
Regarding the game mechanics, there are some interesting ideas, including the shared enemy deck that allows you to “count” which cards/actions are left to be performed, the attack speed that determines who attacks first depending on which cards and slots available you have, and so on.
There can be moments in which you feel powerless because of the limited number of actions you have available. In those situations you need to carefully consider how to use your cards. Would you rush towards an enemy because you really need to open a chest and risk being knocked down by that enemy? Or will you lose a turn to allow the enemy to come towards you so that you can dispatch it and then get the chest?
Can you play a game as a one-off adventure? Yes, you can, in particular adding the Chalice Dungeon expansion. If you become really good with the rules and quick in the decisions, it is not impossible to complete an entire campaign in one session. The rules are not complicated as seen above, but there will be some corner cases that make you think. The best approach in those situations is to take a decision (house rule) as a party and then proceed that way. Write down the doubt, so that you can refer to it later and discover if you made the right choice.
If you have unanswered questions, we would suggest the BoardGameGeek unofficial FAQ list that does a pretty good job explaining things otherwise unavailable in the official FAQ or rulebook.
One last note would about the quality of the components. Even after using them a while, the cardboard pieces are still in good conditions and the miniatures are rich in details that would be a pleasure to paint. Considering the starting price for the game (around £90 / 90€ on Amazon) and the content and quality of the core box, it is on the affordable game.
If you add the expansions, not all are available on retail and would increase the price considerably. We suggest getting the base game before to make sure you like it before making a big splurge.
We would recommend the game for a group that loves action-packed sessions, running on a knife-edge and sees narrative as a context for the game rather than the medium pushing it.
Optional extras and resources for Bloodborne the Board Game
If you are familiar with CMON’s Kickstarter projects, you probably well know that there are many Kickstarter-limited game expansions or add-ons that can reach insanely high prices in the second-hand market once they are delivered to the backers.
Despite so, it is still possible to find some expansions on the retail market. Those are:
- The Forbidden Woods: an expansion with 2 extra campaigns and more miniatures.
- Forsaken Cainhurst Castle: an expansion with 2 extra campaigns and more miniatures. The KS version has also an exclusive Reiterpallasch Hunter.
- Chalice Dungeon: an expansion that allows to play the game as a one-shot adventure with random tiles and enemies, in search of a boss and an epic fight. It contains 4 extra Hunters.
- Hunter’s Dream: an expansion without campaign that allows to introduce new rewards and challenges to any campaign. The KS version had 7 extra enemy Hunters.
On top of the list above, the original KS campaign contained two pledge levels. The Blood Moon pledge, the basic one, added to the core game a new box of exclusive rewards (sometimes called the Blood Moon Box) like 6 new Hunters, 1 boss, 18 enemies and miniatures to replace some in-game tokens like the Lamp, the Chest and the Doll. It contained also an expansion with a single campaign called Mergo’s Loft.
The complete pledge was called Full Moon and contained, aside all expansions already listed above, also the KS exclusives:
- Upper Cathedral Ward: new miniatures and 1 campaign.
- Byrgenwerth: new miniatures and 1 campaign.
- Yahar’Gul, Unseen Village: new miniatures and 1 campaign.
From the second-hand market but also from some retailers that sell KS exclusive items, is still possible to find some of these boxes. Our recommendation is to start from the core game and if you really love the game, you can then search the extra campaigns and expansions.
One final note, always verify the main page from CMON, as there’s an official FAQ to clarify some aspects of the game including an Errata on some cards, and a new updated rulebook (if you have the KS version then you will need to verify some small changes from the new version).
If you want the errata in printable format, a fan from BoardGameGeek presented one in card format.