Calvin’s Commentaries: Direwild

The idea of using deck building as a core mechanic in a dungeon-crawl game is not a new concept.

In general terms, the combo is a good one for our group, all having deep game roots in the role-playing world of Dungeons and Dragons, and all tending to favour deck building games as well.

Still, there are in fact a rather large number of such games, Direwild another among them.

So let’s set the mood here; all the creatures found here can be deadly in their own right. The tenuous balance between creatures and humans is maintained through the powers of ancient tribal animists. These animists commune with the creatures of Direwild, creating a symbiotic relationship between the human clans and their environments. While the tribes lived in harmony with the Direwild, they were constantly at war with one another. One such war led to the annihilation of a complete tribe, with the only remaining survivor being a young animist in training, Karn. This animist, overcome with loss and hatred, sought to end the tribal warfare by dominating the Direwild. If Karn ruled over the Direwild, he could use that power to end the tribal warfare. Karn left his home and relentlessly sought out ways to push the limits of his powers, embracing the dangerous dark arts, untouched by other animists. In this pursuit of dominance, Karn sacrificed any sense of his previous humanity. His mind slowly transitioned from ruling the Direwild, to destroy it. The creatures he communes with have been warped and distorted into dangerous minions. They, in turn, roam the land, further corrupting and destroying the Direwild.

“Brimming with newfound power, Karn began hunting and destroying any potential rival animists. Desperate, the remaining clans formed an alliance, gathering their few remaining animists to work together in an attempt to defeat Karn. The creatures of the land, instinctively realizing that their fate is interwoven with these heroes, allow the animists to call on them to aid in the fight. The heroes’ journey will take them through lands scourged by Karn’s minions, with the goal of defeating them and weakening Karn’s power. The heroes must work quickly because spending too much time clearing the lands could allow Karn to hunt them down and destroy them before they are strong enough to stand a chance!”

“You and your friends work together to collect creatures and build decks powerful enough to defeat the minions of the rogue animist Karn—eventually gaining enough power to take on Karn himself. The players win if they can defeat Karn, but that won’t be easy to accomplish!”

In the game, the players assume the role of one of 10 unique heroes, represented in-game by cardboard standees. I would have preferred plastic minis, an option during the Kickstarter campaign to fund Direwild, but the standees are functional. The one issue is that some don’t fit tight enough, so there was some inconvenience Gerry-rigging a solution.

“The heroes will start with a unique deck comprised of basic creatures (mostly puppies and kittens). Every turn, the players will draw five cards from their deck, and summon the creatures drawn! The creatures’ attack will help the hero fight minions, and the creatures’ Charm will allow the hero to gain new creatures for their deck. The choices the player makes regarding these creatures will dictate how powerful their hero becomes and the style of hero they will be. Whenever a player’s deck runs out of cards, the player will shuffle their discard pile to make a new deck, which will now include all the new creatures they had charmed,” denotes the rules.

“All the while, the heroes will need to work as a team, moving tactically around the land to fight minions and collect treasure. The game will control all enemies, so every player will assume the role of a hero.”

The game plays out over a series of ‘rounds’ called chapters here, each one harder to conquer than the one before it.

Again from the rules, “The Direwild game unfolds in three dramatic chapters. The players progress the first two chapters of the game by clearing the land board of Karn’s minions. They win the entire game if they defeat Karn. The best chance to defeat Karn occurs in the third and final chapter. A stack of six Fatal Wound cards populates each chapter. These wounds represent the party’s fortitude and resilience against the dark forces of Karn. The players lose the game if there are no more Fatal Wounds available in a chapter. Fatal Wounds are taken from the pile when heroes lose a battle, disengage from a battle, or because Karn roams the land. (All other effects that damage heroes are drawn from the regular Wound pile.) Remember: players win as a team and lose as a team, so everyone needs to work together.”

This is a difficult game to win, co-operative games are by nature, or they really lack any sort of in-game tension.

The first run through was actually quite an enjoyable gaming session. There was a nice balance between the chosen characters, an opportunity to co-operate for the good of the party.

The ‘bad guys’ within the game do follow a rather straight forward course, that on game one was fine, but detracts from the replayability. That said I’d expect an expansion one day that could help overcome the shortfall.

Hand of Fate is a better game of the same mix of genres in my mind, but just a smidge, with Direwild a tad better than Village of Legends, and all three are certainly worth playing.

Thanks to fellow gamers Trevor Lyons, Jeff Chasse, and Adam Daniels for their help in running through this game for review.

For a bonus game review head to where a review of the game Rona has been posted this week.

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