Because 'Dark Tower' was taken

As things begin, ever so slowly, to creep back to whatever can be defined as normal, I was excited to get a bit box in the mail with something I had kickstarted back in the bright ages of 2018.  Of course it was late, only part of which can be blamed on the current plague festering across the land (it was supposed to take a year, and it took two).  I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was worth the wait!

The Stygian Society is a board game with, I feel, a new and unique mechanic.  It is based around a dice tower, but doesn't use dice.  It makes me think that the designer was using a dice tower one day for a game, and a die got stuck and didn't drop out.  Much like Newton and the apple, this sparked an idea.

So the game uses a 'dice tower', but it has extra 'baffles' in it - with their sole purpose to temporarily trap some of the cubes you drop through it.  These aren't dice, because they have not numbers on them, they are simply arcylic cubes.  Each turn you drop so many in the tower, and a number of cubes come out.  It may be what you dropped, but playing it I found it generally isn't.  Some cubes get caught in the tower, and some cubes that were previously caught in the tower will fall out.

It is key not to touch the tower during the game, as anything caught inside is in a very precarious position and you can easily knock them out. (which defeats the randomization of the game).

The cubes are the resources you are generating each turn - the game will use half (red, black, yellow) to trigger the villain's abilities, while the players will spend their cubes (blue, green, clear) to trigger theirs.  Each game consists of six battles as you climb the tower, with a mid-level boss at level 3 and the big wizard at level 6.  While it is billed as a 'dungeon crawl', I don't really think it fits that category (as there is no exploring to do).

The kickstarter version came in an exclusive black paper wrapper around the box (and I'll apologize for the pictures now - I could make excuses but honestly, I just got lazy and didn't get out my light box).

One note - there is some assembly required before you can play, but it isn't difficult (and being a miniature gamer, I'm not afraid of putting things together).

It is a pretty big box, though it was dwarfed by another kickstarter that arrived the day after (a future blog post)

Inside is the rule book

The rule book is full color and nicely done.  It is only 12 pages, but could have used a couple more headings to help with looking up some rules.

There is an instruction sheet as well, to help with assembly of the tower and crypt.

Then there is a smaller booklet with the game story.  I honestly haven't read it.  I rarely by games based on the fluff - it is either the mechanic or the components that attract me (yes, if they include miniatures that immediately catches my eye).  Sometimes I get something because of the theme, but that is usually a theme that I'm already familiar with (i.e. a licensed product (like Hellboy, or the Umbrella Academy).

There are two game boards in the box.  Obviously you start on this one.

The other board is used for tracking things like wounds, experience, luck and peril.  It also has places for card decks, and some default abilities that any player can use. 

Luck is earned any time two or more cubes fall into the crypt, and each luck point can be used to add a cube of any color to your drop.  

Each monster will give the party a certain amount of experience.  Once experience reaches a specific level (starting at 8, and increasing each level) the characters level up.  

Individual players do not take wounds - the party as a whole does.  The base game has the party start with 25 wounds - there are some rare abilities that can increase this.  If you exceed your maximum health, you lose the game.

Peril is reset for each encounter.  Every time a monster takes an action, peril goes up by one.  Cubes can also be spent to raise the peril.  Each room with have different events that trigger as peril rises - if it ever reaches 20 then the players all lose (this can be modified to a lower number by some monsters).

There are a couple of numbered stickers for use on the tower

and the 'dice' tower - two sheets of heavy cardboard with the pieces and some tokens to be used in the game.

Under that is the inevitable game box divider - make of cardboard instead of plastic.  Baggies of stuff and lots of cards.  LOTS of extra space here (but not as much as I originally thought).  One of my first instincts with games is to throw this insert away, especially if there are expansions to store in the box as well.  DO NOT DO THIS.  This insert was well thought out, and you will like it.  Trust me.

There are three decks of cards, which have monster, treasure, chest, condition and 15 hero cards for each of the heroes.

The base game has 4 heroes, each with large heavy card.  The base heroes are interesting, as the cards are two sided, so you can pick a male or female version of each character.  Plus the character cards are the same, so you can use the sides of the cards that match the picture you prefer.  I see that as nicely inclusive, and this is a game that can appeal to anyone (the combat is nicely abstract).

Each hero has a deck of ability cards.  They start the game with one random 1st level card.  As the parties gain experience, they level up.  They can either draw a random ability of the current level, or pick a specific ability of a lower level (there are only three levels to abilities, so once the party gets to level 4 they can freely pick any new card).

Each ability card has an icon to indicate the type of ability (all the heroes also have a default ability, and there are three abilities always available on the board that any hero can use).  In the lower left of the card is a gem that is one of four colors
  • Yellow - support - this ability can be used before the character takes their action for the turn
  • Green - active - after support actions, the hero must take ONE active action.  This is usually an attack
  • White - reaction - this ability is triggered as the card text specifies when something happens
  • Blue - passive - this ability is always active
If there is a turn icon on the card, then once that card used it is exhausted, and cannot be used again until the party gains a level.

On a turn, the character can first play support abilities. They then choose a single active card to perform.  The card will list the cubes the player drops in the tower - adding in the peril cubes listed on the room or boss card.  The cubes that fall out are then available to spend. 

There are also larger room cards - which specify the minions you will face as you climb the tower.  There are lower (level 1 & 2) which are blue bordered, and upper level (4 & 5) which are purple bordered.

The room has a name, then on the left side are the monsters in the room.  The left row is the front, right row is the back (generally melee attacks can only hit the front row).  The peril cubes are what you must add to your hero cubes each turn you drop cubes.  Then there are the room powers that are triggered by the appropriate number of cubes (these are usually to increase the peril).   There are also effects that happen as the peril hits specific numbers - with 20 usually being the players lose the game (though for some it comes earlier).

Lower level rooms are blue, while upper level rooms are purple.   On the left hand side are two columns of boxes with some icons (and the monster names above them).  The icons indicate how many of each of the monsters are in this room, with the leftmost column being those in the front row ( melee attacks can only target monsters in the front row).  When the room is drawn, pull the red / yellow / black monster cards listed on the room, and place the plastic minion figures as shown on the card.

Monster cards are either red, yellow or black (with red being the weakest, and black the strongest).  The heart in the upper left corner specifies how much life each figure for this monster has, and the number in the upper right is how much experience the party earns each time they kill one of these.  There is the name and picture of the monster, and then the bottom box lists the special rules they have.  They may then have abilities triggered by cubes.  Once cubes are dropped on a players turn, then the monsters go.  First the red card is checked to see if it can trigger.  Then the red effect on the room card (if there are no more red monsters).  The same for yellow, then for black.  

After defeating all the monsters in a room, the party may choose to open the number of chests as specified by the icon on the upper right.  All chests are trapped, so drawing the chest card generally does something bad.  However, after dealing with the trap, you then draw two treasure cards (appropriate the room level).  You do not HAVE to open chests, but they are the only way to get treasures.

The base game has four mid-bosses and 4 wizards (final bosses)

There are also status cards.  There are four types, with one card for each hero.  When a hero gains the status (not a good thing), they take the appropriate card, and draw a status marker (all turned so the black side it showing), flip it over and place it on the card.  The status tokens are either blue, green or black (for clear).  When a hero gains a status they already have, they draw an additional token to add to the card. 

In order to get rid of a status card, you must spend one of the appropriate color cube to remove the token (though this cannot be done the turn the status is gained).  If there are not more tokens, then discard the status card.  

Level 3 is always a mid-level boss.  Once this is defeated, you have to flip their card over - and some minor effect will then add to the increased difficulty of the final three levels.  Boss cards are a combination of room and monster cards.  They may have monsters placed on the left (not all do), and will list peril cubes and peril events.

The final boss (or wizard) is the toughest battle - if you win then you win the game.

There are several status tracking pieces, as well as life counters for the monsters.

The kickstarter did hit several stretch goals, including upgrading the cubes to clear acrylic.  Very nice.

The set included several small baggies for the components - I actually had more than I needed because I kept all the hero and cubes together, and all the villain cubes together - so only needed 2 bags instead of 6.

There are also several plastic components - the crypt and floors of the tower.  There are also red, yellow and black minis used to represent the monsters on each floor card.

Yes, I know I already used this picture once.

So some assembly required.  First was the crypt - for fences and four corners.  The all seemed to fit pretty well, and I figured I'd just glue it together.  However I did take the time to fit it on the board - and it was too big.  Hmmmm.

Well I started fiddling with the parts, and one of the fences slipped deeper in (that sounds so much dirtier than it actually was).  Pushing the fence in ALL THE WAY first made it very secure (no glue required).

It does take a bit of pressure to get all the pieces in.  Just keep pushing until you feel it give a little and finally slip into place.

You know it is done when you can pick it up by any piece and it stays together, and it fits into the holes in the board perfectly.

The instructions for the tower are fairly clear. 

I thought about putting just a little glue to help hold it together.  Pay attention to which side is up for each piece, the platform should be on the bottom side of the plastic piece, and for the bottom piece, the are small tabs that need to be on the bottom (to fit into the board).

The 3 and 6 stickers are for the plastic platforms.

As I mentioned about the cardboard divider - they did a fantastic job of making it fit the assembled tower (and the crypt sits right on top).  No one wants to put this together each game.

In fact, after the first two games I decided that it was worth it to add a little PVA (i.e. white glue) inside the plastic pieces to hold this together.  It doesn't affect game play, but it keeps the tower from coming apart when you take it out or put it in the box.

Kickstarter backers got some extras as well.  They are listed as NOT being available at retail - but will be available at the Ape Games website.  

The first is the kickstarter version came in an exclusive black wrapper

I'm not a fan of these box wraps - to me they just get in the way, and never seem to have as good of appearance as the actual box art (which needs to look good to appeal to people when sitting on store shelves)

In the box is then a shrink-wrapped set of the other kickstarter exclusives.  Unfortunately these are marked with the same icon as the base set, so once mixed in they are hard to identify as being different than the base retail box.

First off was a new character - giving players 5 to choose from instead of the standard 4.  This (and all characters from the expansions) are only one sided however.  I really didn't find this a big deal myself - because the character art is not a part of the actual game - there are no minis or character movement, just the one marker to indicate which level of the tower you are on.  The picture identifies the cards for the characters is all.

One of the interesting features of the seer is she only drops a single color, but to trigger he action she needs multiple colors.  She does have cards that actually spend the villain (red, yellow and black) cubes.

The woe and lamentation cards were also part of this pack.  These optional cards can give you an additional challenge by adding a handicap to each player. It is unfortunate that the instructions for these are NOT included - I had to look them up in the kickstarter.  They are simple, each hero gets a random card (none for the base game / woe for hard, lamentation for very hard).  These work like conditions, however instead of having tokens added to them, they have a fixed cost that must be paid to get rid of them.  This is 2 blue, 2 green and 2 white cubes for a woe, and 3 of each plus 5 luck (the party earns a luck point each time 2 or more cubes fall in the crypt.   A luck point can be used to add a single cube of any color to your drop) for a lamentation.  This makes them fairly difficult to get rid of, because you have to save up the cubes by NOT taking actions that spend them, and generate luck.  One lamentation is particularly nasty (Unlucky), as it prevents you from earning luck OR using - so there is no way to get rid of it.

The kickstarter also funded 6 new chest cards - which are actually GOOD things instead of the standard traps.  This gives the players about a 20% chance of something good happening when they open a chest after clearing a floor.

The kickstarter also funded a new midlevel boss and Wizard - Rita and Dolores, and Eigenstein.

A week after I got the base game, I received the expansions (because why not?)  There is no order to the expansions.

If you pledged early on, you got the hunter character expansion free.  You could also buy it for $7.  The Hunter was a character from another game that they translated for this one.  Once again, these are not marked differently than the base game (though it is easy enough to remember a single character and their cards)

The tower laboratory moves the story into the early 20th century - becoming less classic monster and more steampunk driven.

There is a new story book for it

And a simple one page instruction sheet.

There are four new characters for the expansion,

new room cards and 2 new mid-bosses and 2 new wizards.  

There are also new monster and treasure cards, though you use the chests from the base game.

One new factor is there is a new player color cube - purple.  This represents electrical power to do new abilities.  There is also a new figure to mark your progress up the tower.

While Ape games did not playtest mixing this expansion in with the base game (as opposed to playing it alone), there is nothing to keep you from doing it.

The Cursed Library is the second full expansion.  It really changes up some of the mechanics, and is NOT compatible with the base game (except for the board and base rules).

The concept here is you are playing a famous author, and characters from books are coming to life and you have to stop them.  You do this by bringing to life (writing) additional characters from your books as well as new abilities.

Once again it has a storybook.  While I still haven't read them, it is a nice little touch to tie everything together.

This expansion has a 4 page rule book, which definitely shows that it changes things up a bit.

There are four heroes to use in the expansion.  These are actually all famous authors - Jane Austin, Mary Shelly, H. G. Wells and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  They each have their own deck as well.  Each of them also has a icon indicating the genre they write in - Austen is 'Literature', Shelly is 'Horror', Wells is 'Science Fiction' and Doyle is 'Mysteries'.  There are cards and abilities that work with certain genres, so this is important to note.

They have a new figure (Jane Austin I believe) that you can use to mark your progress as you move up through the library.  In addition you now have Ink tokens.  You do not gain experience in this version (so you don't use the experience track on the board), instead as you defeat a monster the player who beat it gains a specific amount of ink, with which to write new abilities or characters (so it is the currency of the game).  You get two new default abilities - to write a new character or to give another player ink.

There are new rooms for this set, and new monsters as well.  These are a bit different than the base set.  First they are larger (though not as big as the hero or boss cards).  Once all of a specific monster are defeated, then you turn the card over, and it becomes a friendly character that you can write (i.e. spend ink to purchase).  These then act like normal character cards - however if you use one of their actions, and it generates damage, it goes to that character instead of the party.  Once they die, they are simply returned to the deck.  There are no chests or treasure in this version - all monsters generate ink instead.

There are four mid-level bosses, and 4 wizards in this set.

We actually played against Dracula - and I think he needs some slight tweaking as he was actually fairly easy to beat (he needs to start similar to Dr. Frankenstein and have a bit more control, because it was quite easy to avoid his main ability).

I played the Cursed Library with my son and his girlfriend.  He is actually a professional game designer himself, so of course had LOTS of comments, especially as I tried to explain the cubes and tower.  He wasn't seeing the difference between using the cubes and rolling dice, but once we started to play, and he saw how the tower worked to help randomize what resources were available each turn, he said he actually liked this mechanic and enjoyed the game.

 With the new mechanic for resource distribution, I am finding this quite a fun board game.  The first game I did solo, and had by butt handed to me by .

This is definitely finding a spot on my newly cleaned out game shelf as one I want to play again.

Because it is all fun and games . . .