Imagine you’re a flunky, a goon, in the employ of a nefarious underworld crime boss in a dark and gritty city. The City Watch is brutal, the upper crust both decadent and dangerous. Somewhere in your organization, someone goofed. Perhaps he found himself in the crosshairs of a Bounty Hunter, perhaps the Tax Collector audited his returns, perhaps an over-enthusiastic Nosticant dragged him before the Pontiff… one way or another, there’s a vacancy higher up the ranks, and if you can catch the eye of the head of the organization, you might find yourself advancing. How to do that? Commit some Dark Deeds…
In other words, yes, there’s still stuff from the GenCon hoard to show you.
It all started as I wandered past the Games & Gears booth at GenCon, and saw that there was a game especially for bald people with facial hair! I was informed later that it was in fact for pretty much everyone, but for a brief shining moment there…
What’s in the box?
The game is pretty much as the intro described. You’re a flunky in an organisation, and you’re out to commit some dark deeds to catch the eye of the big boss. Designed by Andy Chambers and illustrated by Mark Gibbons, the game has pedigree right out of the gate. What else does it have?
Opening the box you’ll find a rulebook, two decks of cards, a rubberized playmat and a branded bag full of things. Let’s have a quick looky.
The playmat is 21″ x 5.5″, and represents the street. Cards will move down the street, slot by slot, while you lurk in the shadows and wait to pounce on your prey. Who’s wandering?
The Street Deck is full of citizens of the city. White, Green and Blue bordered cards represent the hoi polloi of various sorts. Green cards tend to be Artisans, White are the Clerics, and Green are Merchants. Black bordered cards are the City Watch, who you need to avoid drawing the attention of. The Purple edged cards are unique nemeses and generally speaking the most difficult – and yet the most rewarding – to inhume… but you can’t do that with your bare hands, can you.
Enter the Tavern deck, where you can learn new tricks, get a lead on some sweet swag, or even get a mission – a dark deed. It’s not as simple as drawing a cool Loot piece though. See the crossbow there? Your drawing the card just means you’ve heard that one of the Artisans is carrying one. To be able to equip it you must … relieve said Artisan of his weapon. Of course, word of such an action is sure to spread, and draw the attention of the gendarmerie…
Inside the bag await a pile of wooden tokens representing the attention you’re drawing to yourself, and a nice, heavy metal coin – a badge of honour that you don’t actually want, as it signifies that the wielder is the most suspicious character, and thus the thug the city watch is most on the lookout for.
Okay, so how does it all work?
The citizens of the city cycle along the street. Each player starts with a few Tavern cards in hand and, handily nearby, the Tavern deck sits within reach with two cards face up beside it, representing opportunities in the Tavern. Each turn the players can either take one of the two face up cards, or draw blind from the top of the deck, discarding both face up cards and replacing them with new ones. This is where your first opportunity to mess with your opponents arises, as you can deny them the two cards that were discarded, assuming neither was of interest to you either.
With your lead from the Tavern you take to the street. Your informant tells you that there’s some Monk’s Robes out there that you could purloin from the Mortificator, to use as a disguise for future endeavors. You have a choice. You can either lay low and wait for a better opportunity, you can attack a Guard or Nemesis, or you can rob the Mortificator by rolling a d12 and rolling higher than the combined value of the Mortificator and the Robes in your hand. The Mortificator has a value of 3, the Robes 2, so if you roll a 5 or more you successfully steal the shirt off of his back, which will give you a bonus. However, the robbery was reported to the Guards. While you gain 3 victory points, which will determine the winner at the end of the game, you also gain 3 suspicion marks as the coppers start to keep an eye out for you.
What about the Guards?
If there is a guard between you and your intended victim, then you need to either sneak past him, or remove him more… permanently. Sneaking is the easier of the two options, but not without its own peril. As the game progresses, cards move off the end of the street. While the Artisans, Clerics and Merchants will go about their business, Guards will actively start pursuing whoever has the Most Suspicious Minion coin. At that point, any time that player even wants to get to the street in the first place, they need to sneak past the Guard that’s tailing them, and if you have a Guard following you and end up with 10 or more suspicion marks, you get arrested. Your dark overlord will arrange for your release, but you’ll lose all that cool swag you’ve been nicking from the populace.
The assorted Nemesis cards represent wealthy and/or powerful people in the city. They’re all worth a decent chunk of victory points, but if one leaves the end of the street they start paying close attention to the player whose turn it is, and become a personal nemesis. The issue here is that they’re still hard to get rid of, but now you have to deal with them yourself, and if you don’t bu the end of the game, active nemesis are worth negative victory points, reducing from your total.
They *are* difficult to remove – you need to roll an 11 to defeat the Pontiff, for example – but some decent loot will help there, such as the Master Sword giving you +3 Strength to your attack rolls.
What about the Dark Deeds?
The Red bordered cards in the Tavern deck aren’t just leads to some cool stuff, they’re missions. Each gives you a target, and if you can pull it off, they’re worth extra victory points. Upset The Applecart sends you after the Patient, the Alewife or the Merchant Baron. Mug any of the three for 5 bonus points. The Love Triangle is worth 8 bonus victory points if you can remove the Prince, the Courtesan or the Pontiff. They’re not all hits though. Scapegoat scores you bonus victory points if you accrue 10 suspicion, and Infiltrate The Keep scores if you get arrested.
The game ends when there’s no more citizens to wander the streets. At that point whoever has accrued the most victory points – earned by taking out nemeses and guards, completing dark deeds and mugging the citizenry – is the winner, and advances in the organization. The game doesn’t take up a lot of space, can easily be played in under an hour, and gears from 2-5 players reasonably well.
So is it fun?
Yes. The art is beautifully atmospheric, there’s a decent degree of screw-your-neighbour as you try to manipulate events so that the guards follow them and not you, and as you strategically remove targets you know they’re aiming for. Heck, getting yourself arrested at the right time can make life a merry hell for your rivals. There’s decent replayability, it’s quick to learn, the components are gorgeous and it’s very portable in its little box, meaning you can take it with you just about anywhere. It’s not really a party game, but it’s certainly an easy addition to any game night, or something to goof with when you’ve got a bye for a tournament round.
Wasn’t there a second box?
Oh yes, the GenCon bonus box. If you were lucky enough to score the game at GenCon, it has a selection of cards to add to both the Tavern and Street decks, and a shiny purple d20. Now you actually have to worry about a party of adventurers wandering through town as well. Great… just great. 😛
Dark Deeds is currently available directly from Games & Gears, is being distributed in the United States by Alliance, and will soon be available in Canada as well. Oh, and there’s a copy in the Lost Hemisphere Prize Pool. Have you signed up for CaptainCon yet? 😉