Thursday 10 October 2013

Review - Dark World

Dark World

Dark World
Designed by Eamon Bloomfield
Published by Waddingtons
For 2 to 5 players, aged 10 to adult

The other day I was talking about stories. I explained how, when I play a game, I'm not playing to beat someone. I'm not playing to prove my intellect. I am playing so that I can sit down with people I love (or at least tolerate) and create stories. That's why I'm such a big fan of games with a strong theme. And frankly, there aren't many games that look more thematic than Dark World. A game with components that are so dripping with theme you expect them to play a tune when you open the box (a dark ominous tune, played on a pipe organ by a guy in a mask).

Dark World was very much a product of its time. It was released in 1992, when board game designers were doing everything they could to keep people interested in dice and cards. That meant lots of games were being released with a ridiculous amount of chrome (read "toys"). Unfortunately for Dark World, it missed the boat a bit. The incredible HeroQuest had been released three years earlier, setting a benchmark that few games could hope to match. Not that they weren't trying. Dark World was released into a market that was soon to be stuffed to the gills with dragon-slaying goodness, including the obscenely fun Legend of Zagor, and the much-maligned but surprisingly awesome Dragon Strike.

Dark World put up a brave fight in the face of better games, and even had two expansions (which are actually good games in their own right). Those expansions were Dark World: Village of Fear and Dark World: Dragon's Gate (I'll talk about those another time).

Dark World games
The full set. Awesome.

Put simply, Dark World was good, and it tried really hard to be great; but the competition was fierce. Most people never got to hear that theme tune, which is a shame, because it wasn't a bad little ditty.

But enough rambling, let's talk about what Dark World has to offer.

Well... What it offers is adventure. What it offers is a clutch of nicely moulded miniatures representing heroes and monsters (the heroes even have interchangeable weapons). What it offers is an entire three-dimensional dungeon.

What it offers, is stories.

And actually, a slightly more interesting rule set than you might suspect...

Dark World rules
Rules - showing the board set up.

You and up to four friends each select a hero, give him a basic grey weapon, a hand of three cards from the "hit/miss" deck, and then you set off into the dungeon. You're all working towards the same goal: Killing another one of your friends, who will be playing the awesomely named Korak the Cobran Nemesis (dum dum DUM), who is ruler of the dungeon, and master of its evil inhabitants. But here's the thing, while the heroes are all trying to kill the bad guy, they are not necessarily working together. They keep track of their own points (for killing monsters and gathering loot), and there will only be one overall winner. That's right, this is an early example of a comperative (?) game. It's all for one, and one for himself. After all, if you are going to overthrow an evil tyrant, you want to make sure you get the most credit for doing it.

But how do the heroes go about winning the day?

Each turn, a hero can take three actions, and each action is a movement of one space or a single attack.

Wait. Hold on.

No roll and move?



Heroes move through the oh-so-cool three-dimensional rooms until they reach an oh-so-cool plastic door that is on real hinges and really opens in such an oh-so-cool kind of way. And once the door is open, the proverbial really hits the fan.

Dark World - knight in action
The knight finds a magic hammer... and some new friends.

Each room has a number printed on it. This number represents the total strength of the monsters that the bad guy can spawn in that room. Each monster has a value printed under the base, which is kept secret from the heroes. The bad guy selects up to two monsters to place in the room, with total strength less than the printed value on the room. The bad guy can select weak monsters if he wants, or he can use the strongest possible combo possible. He could even place a single weak monster to make the heroes think that the monster is stronger than it really is.

Wait. Hold on.

Bluffing? Genuine decisions for the bad guy?



Monsters spring out of the shadows, your heroes prepare for battle. If a hero has a basic grey weapon, he rolls two dice when fighting, but if he has found a golden magical weapon he rolls three. These are really nice custom dice, with sides showing blanks, one sword, or two swords. Each sword represents a hit.

After rolling, a hero adds up his hits. He can now play hit cards if he has them. Each card played adds one hit.

So, you're in a room with a single orc and you have rolled four swords. The room has a printed strength of five, so the orc could have a strength of five (meaning you need five hits). But maybe the bad guy was bluffing? Maybe this orc is just a sentry with no real combat experience. Maybe he's a runt who got left behind because he was too weak to keep up with the rest. You have one valuable hit card in your hand... What do you do?

Dark World hit and miss cards
Hit and miss cards.

Shouting your battle cry (which in my group is something like "Tea, no sugar, please!") you throw down your hit card, and then you secretly check the base of the monster (because you don't want those other heroes to know what you know). The base strength of the orc is a one. You wasted your card, the bad guy laughs.

But as you casually slide the orc off the end of your sword, a small glass bottle slips from its hand and rolls across the cobbles. What's this? A healing potion.

Yes, like all good dungeon-crawling games, looting the dead is a prerequisite for victory. Each monster will drop a healing potion, some magic boots, or a grenade (!). All one-use items, and all incredibly useful. The best thing: They are represented with cute little plastic miniatures that clip into the bases of the monsters, so you can see in advance what loot you will get when you kill something.

So, wait. Hold on.

Dice rolling, push-your-luck, bluffing based combat? The ability to target the monster that gives you the loot you need? Grenades!



After you have finished an attack, the monster gets to fight back in the same way (if it's not dead, of course). The bad guy rolls two dice and adds up hits. The hero can then play miss cards to reduce the number of hits. The remainder i deducted from the hero's hit points, and are recorded by rotating the hero's clicky base.

Wait. What? Clicky base?

Yeah. Hit points for heroes are recorded with a Heroclix style click base.

Dark World dwarf
Clicky bases are cool.



Once all the heroes have activated, the bad guy gets a go. Korak gets three actions with each visible monster, and if there are more than a couple of monsters, the heroes are in a world of pain.

Korak the Cobran Nemesis
Korak the Cobran Nemesis.

And then, the echoing clash of steel on steel dies down. The barbarian and the dwarf exchange a nervous glance. They've faced tougher monsters before, but there is something else... Something wrong with this place. The hairs on the back of their necks stand up, and the haunter silently glides through the chamber, stealing the life force of any hero or monster unlucky enough to get in its path.

Yeah. There are spooky goings on in this dungeon, and I don't just mean all the skeletons and mummies shambling around the place. The haunter is a very cool Grim Reaper type character. At the end of each of the bad guy's turns, a dice is rolled, and the haunter will fly along the board following a path dictated by that dice roll. Anything it touches dies instantly. Luckily, heroes regenerate, and the worst that happens is they lose a bit of ground by being sent back to the starting space (where there also happens to be a handy teleporter to get them back into the thick of the action quickly).

After the haunter has done his thing, a new turn begins. The awesomely named and oh-so-cool "Mace of Chaos" (a big, plastic rattle) is given a good shake, and the order of the coloured balls inside it dictate the order in which the heroes will move in the new round. Then it's back into the fray for more of the same...

I guess that's basically how the game plays out. The heroes advance, they fight some monsters, they find treasure chests that contain magical weapons that make them better at fighting monsters, they occasionally die and get respawned, and then, eventually, they make it to the awesome three-dimensional tower at the end of the board, where there is an epic showdown with Korak and his pet manticore. It's all quite simple really.

Dark World castle
The final showdown.

And that's the major problem with the game. It's quite simple.

Too simple.

There are some really interesting game mechanisms in the design, but they just aren't layered enough.

Take, for example, the four heroes you can pick from. They look different, but in the game they all work in exactly the same way. Same hit points, same number of actions, same number of attack dice. No special powers.

Take, for example, the starting grey weapons you can pick from and slot into the hands of your totally generic hero. They look different, but in the game they all work in exactly the same way.

Take, for example, the magic golden weapons you can find in oh-so-cool plastic chests that open on real hinges in an oh-so-cool kind of way. Those weapons look different, but guess what? They all work in exactly the same way. It isn't even necessary for each hero to find a specific golden weapon to use. Any weapon will do.

And then there are the monsters. Skeletons, mummies, orcs, and ogres. A beautiful, horrible wave of merciless dungeon denizens that want to rip your throat out... by rolling two combat dice at a time. Yeah. It doesn't matter what kind of monster you are facing. An orc works the same way as every other creature. There are no special powers, no variable attack strengths. Nothing.


Ogres and Orcs - Dark World

And that's a real shame. The game has so much chrome you might go blind when you open the box, but none of that chrome got applied to the rules. It's almost like half a job. The rules are good. They actually solve a lot of problems that rules for these sorts of games often have (roll and move, limited combat choices, nothing for the bad guy to do). The game isn't even scenario based, so is technically more replayable than something like Heroquest.

But you won't replay it.

Not as much as you should. Not as much as you want to.

Because this is a game that does tell stories. Stories of adventure. Stories of heroes fighting impossible odds. Stories of monsters and ghosts and evil tyrants.

But almost all of those stories will be exactly the same.

Dark World game
That knight's in trouble...

Before you go, I also wanted to mention a little curio I've heard about but never seen. It turns out that, a few years ago, this game got rereleased. It was completely reskinned with the Chaotic brand, looked completely different; but most of the mechanisms and board design from the original game were preserved. I would love to get a copy of this retheme so I can do a good comparison. If anyone in the UK has a complete copy they might be interested in passing on, do let me know.


  1. what is the name of the rethemed game?

    1. Hi, thanks for reading.

      The rethemed game is called "Underworld Battle," and it is part of the Chaotic franchise. You can find details of it here:

  2. I had this game as a kid... but I never actually played it. The rules were a bit hard for me to understand at age 10... Was also hard to gather a group to play this.
    Mostly I played around with the minis like they were action figures.

    But it definitely influenced me. The presence of the Manticore and its fearsome presence on the boxart definitely helped cement it as one of my favorite fantasy monsters.
    And Korak The Cobran made sure snake-themed villains remained a mainstay of my own creations, even as I tried to offset it with snake-themed good guys, because snakes really do get a bad rep.

    1. It's a great-looking game, with some fantastic enemies.

      Thanks for taking the time to read.

    2. Most assuredly! I just wish I still had more than just the Manticore, Orcs and Ogres.
      Although the Orcs are probably a bit on the puny side compared to most other modern takes on Orcs... not that it makes em look any less fierce with those mean scimitars.

    3. The orcs are my favourite, but that's probably because the design is so similar to the orcs from HeroQuest.

      (Well, let's be honest, most of the enemies look like they have just stepped out of HeroQuest; but the orcs are the most obvious.)

      Plus, back in the day, I had quite a sizeable "Waagh!" and I still have a soft spot for the old greenskins.

    4. I'm guessing the Orcs of Heroquest were on the short side too? I know their appearance but it's been decades since I saw the miniatures in person.

  3. Hi
    great Blog. I was looking for Village of fear info and found it :)
    I own both games - Dark world and Village of fear. I played Dark world alot and few days ago a friend gave me his "Village of fear" game. Unfortunately it doesnt have the rules book :( So Although I believe its based on Dark worlds rules, there are lots of game pieces there which I have no clue what to do with. Do you plan to post some review about it ? or maybe you know where can I get a copy of the rules manual?

    Thank you :)


    1. Thanks for reading. Reviews for Village of Fear and Dragon's Gate are on the cards. Unfortunately, there are a lot of cards to get through!

      In the meantime, my main man Universal Head has a crib sheet that will help you with the rules. Tell him I said, "Hi."

    2. great !!! thats what I was looking for. everything is in there, execpt for the Events cards.

      thank you :))

  4. I completely agree! The game pieces look amazing, from the board, to the heroes, monsters and the castle itself...BUT the rules are overly simplified! There is such diversity gone waste that's a real pity.

    As a result, me and some friends decided to create additional rules, abilities, items and stuff for the game to experience it in its full glory. And each time we gather to have a game session it's a blast!

    I trully recommend anyone who wants to enjoy this game to invest some time and add some simple features, not overthinking the details/balance at first, since these will become visible during gameplay. A few suggestions are: hero classes, monster abilities, chest traps/rewards, potion effects, shop equipment, game mechanics, even new custom content/pieces.

    This game has a huge potential to be enjoyed by both casual and hardcore players. It can be a great introduction to more complicated RPGs and a fun relaxing experience at the same time. So I hope my advice helps anyone enjoy it as much as I did.

    Thank you :)

    1. It's great to hear about people playing and enjoying these old games. Thanks for posting.

  5. I remember this game fondly. My brother bought it and taught me to play. He didn't care much for it as we got older, but I enjoyed it. I never got a group to play, so I'd usually play it by myself, sometimes experimenting with rules to make it more difficult or to try different game mechanics like racial/class abilities (dwarf moved slower but could hit harder, barbarian moved faster but took more damage).

    The game survived a few floods and some poor packing on my part, but eventually we had to trash it because the game itself had mold on it from the floods it survived. I was disappointed to say the least. My brother wanted nothing to do with the game as he hit adulthood, but I was still enamored by the story it told.

    Today, (25+ years after its release) I found out it had expansions. Unfortunately, I don't have anyone to enjoy them with where I live now. It's been ages since I've played, but I never forgot the feeling of adventure that the game instilled in me.

    The reason I thought of this game is I woke up from a dream where my brother and I were playing and he had mentioned an app to play this game online without needing a board or people nearby. I woke up thinking, "no, this game is far too obscure. Nobody remembers this game anymore." Glad to see I was wrong.

    As a side note, I still keep the manticore miniature on my book shelf. A reminder of the story that can be shared in a medium that people seem to neglect these days.

    1. That's a great story, thanks for sharing.

      I really need to get around to reviewing the expansions, but I have so much on my plate at the moment I'm not sure when it's going to happen.

    2. I was just checking to see if you had.

      Also, I realized that this article is about three years old and you're still replying to comments on it. Thanks for the reply.

    3. I always appreciate when people take the time to write and share their own experiences, so I always do my best to respond.

      I honestly don't know when I will review the other Dark World games, but one of my New Year resolutions was to up my content on the blog, and another was to get back to the roots of what the blog was originally about and review some older games. So... fingers crossed!


Go on, leave me a comment. You know you want to.