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Review: Demonslayer

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demonslayer_boxcover

Sharpen your blades and gather your armies, boys and girls, because we’ve got some demons to slay and they are nasty. Fortunately you’ve got famed Chinese warriors, mystical powers, and legendary artifacts to aid your battles.

And while defeat of your enemies is no doubt inevitable, you’re not the only clan setting out to defeat the invading soul eaters. 4 of China’s greatest clans are competing to earn the most glory and honor by defeating demons and recovering artifacts. Will you bring home the glory for your clan, or will you stumble and see another take the fame and renown for theirs?

How It Plays

Demonslayer: The Siege of Mt. Kunlun tasks you with building an army to fight off seven waves of demons, each with their own demon lord. It’s a deckbuilding game, much like Dominion. What’s that mean, you ask? Well, each player has their own deck of cards that provide currency and abilities, and over the course of the game you will use those cards to add new, more powerful cards to your deck which will cycle through and make future hands even stronger. In this game you’ll use Clarity to obtain new meditations, units, and spells for your deck, and Strength to defeat your enemies.

Here is your battlefield
Here is your battlefield

The structure of deckbuilding may be fairly familiar – you draw a hand of cards, play and resolve them, buy new cards and attack enemies, and then discard everything into your own discard pile to be reshuffled later. Hit “A Sample Turn” below to walk through… wait for it… a sample turn.

A Sample Turn

 Lets start by looking at your hand – you've got some attack, some clarity, but not much of either. Lets use the Clarion Call to see if we can land some more Immortals.
Lets start by looking at your hand – you’ve got some attack, some clarity, but not much of either. Lets use the Clarion Call to see if we can land some more Immortals.

Oh, that's too bad. Two meditations go straight to your Waiting deck (aka your discard pile). Fortunately you keep your Disciple of the Scabbard.
Oh, that’s too bad. Two meditations go straight to your Waiting deck (aka your discard pile). Fortunately you keep your Disciple of the Scabbard.

You haven't got enough Clarity to spend, but you do have Pure Heart Incantation, which we'll use to ditch the weak meditation. In this case, Discard returns the card to the purchase area.
You haven’t got enough Clarity to spend, but you do have Pure Heart Incantation, which we’ll use to ditch the weak meditation. In this case, Discard returns the card to the purchase area.

Now to calculate our attack power. Fortunately many of our cards stack together, boosting our strength up quite nicely. We can only attack one enemy, though, so…
Now to calculate our attack power. Fortunately many of our cards stack together, boosting our strength up quite nicely. We can only attack one enemy, though, so…

 …lets wipe out a powerful one. This enemy forces us to take a Miasma, which will hurt later, but it's worth it for the extra points.  Fortunately our turn isn't over.
…lets wipe out a powerful one. This enemy forces us to take a Miasma, which will hurt later, but it’s worth it for the extra points. Fortunately our turn isn’t over.

All these point tokens have a further use – alchemy. We can use Alchemy to obtain powerful Artifacts.  This doesn't technically cost us points, since we factor in the value of an Artifact for points, but we can play a little game to boost our points. We can choose to spend fewer points than we need and roll a die – if the total is enough to buy the card we want, score! Extra points! If not, we lose the points and fail to get the card. We're going to risk it.
All these point tokens have a further use – alchemy. We can use Alchemy to obtain powerful Artifacts. This doesn’t technically cost us points, since we factor in the value of an Artifact for points, but we can play a little game to boost our points. We can choose to spend fewer points than we need and roll a die – if the total is enough to buy the card we want, score! Extra points! If not, we lose the points and fail to get the card. We’re going to risk it.

Time to discard everything and draw a new hand!
Finally, time to discard everything and draw a new hand!

Clearly Demonslayer shares several elements with other deckbuilders, but there are a few tweaks to the formula. For one thing, there’s no distinction between “in hand” and “in play” except for Artifacts. That means you can use your weak Clarity cards to buy something and THEN use that Pure Heart Incantation to get it out of your deck.

You also start with only 7 cards, yet still have a 5-card hand, which means you can quickly get your deckbuilding strategy moving. You can also spend a turn to Discard a card away instead of doing other actions – the perfect way to bypass an otherwise weak hand.

Each player has 3 unique cards to their faction, of which the most powerful requires ponying up some points to actually obtain.

Enemies come in waves of 8 minions and an Overlord – only when the Overlord is defeated does a new wave come out.

These guys.
These guys.

Dominion Slayer or Player Slayer?

Dominion smashed its way on the scene back in 2008 with a new-to-boardgaming mechanism that changed the hobby forever. Since then Dominion has remained popular, and while many games have spun off their own version of the formula (games that range from very enjoyable to exceedingly lackluster), none have really come close to replacing Dominion’s near-perfect deckbuilding formula. I’m talking about pure deckbuilding here; a number of games have taken deckbuilding and used it as part of a larger experience with exceeding brilliance, and other forms of the tool – dice building and bag-building – have forged their own ground. But Dominion does an amazing job of putting player choice front and center, of eliminating luck almost entirely, and yet remaining accessible, fun, and replayable with short game time. While other pure deckbuilders are fine, I think the randomness inherent in the 6-card rows that so many have adapted takes away from the mechanical experience. You may enjoy or even prefer others for different experiences, but as far as deckbuilding goes, Dominion nails it.

Why am I talking so much about Dominion? Well, because when you review a game it often becomes very useful to compare it to something, especially something many of you are familiar with. So I bring up Dominion in order to say that Demonslayer comes the closest I’ve seen to reproducing the masterful core deckbuilding experience with its own unique twists and turns. Unfortunately, it’s also riddled with a number of flaws that prevent it from becoming a masterpiece.

Buy some of these
Buy some of these

You’ve got all the features of player control in the right place; the set of cards you can buy is always available, so you’ll never worry that a card you really want will cycle through before you get a chance to nab it. All the current enemies are face-up so you know what you have to face and the consequences you’ll suffer. And, your deck starts small so your purchases have an immediate effect on the strength of your deck, which keeps things moving alone.

The different currencies are balanced nicely as well – and I’m not just talking about Clarity versus Strength. You’re also limited to buying 1 card and fighting 1 enemy per turn, unless you get abilities to boost those numbers. But you do have a nice balance with Clarity and Strength as well – since both can be used on every turn, you rarely have to worry that no enemies will be available the turn your strength is mighty.

Everyone has their own squad of unique recruits
Everyone has their own squad of unique recruits

The card abilities are also pretty well designed, and each one provides something unique. You have your basic meditations that provide Clarity. You’ve got cards with massive attack power; cards that combine with other cards. Spells that let you cycle through your deck, or get rid of cards, and some mixed combos. Nothing feels like a waste of space or time, and you can pursue different strategies that will work. Add that to the unique cards for each player faction, and no two player decks will look alike.

The enemies are varied as well; although, for the most part they’re just amounts of strength tied to differing point values. However, there is variety in the enemy abilities that will force you to choose what you’re going to face; will you take the Miasma, a hurtful card you’ll be forced to play later, in order to get more immediate points? Some enemies let you attack further; some must be attacked before anything else; some let you cycle a card out of another player’s hand, while others force you to Discard one of your own. The abilities are straightforward enough, but they keep things interesting.

Miasma... these are bad cards that get forcibly added to your deck.
Miasma… these are bad cards that get forcibly added to your deck.

Unfortunately it’s not all candy and ponies in la-la land, friends. We’ve got a few problems; the game lasts a little too long, or maybe much too long; with 7 waves of enemies to work your way through, the time racks up. You’re also playing with the same set of cards in the Infinity Isles; the complete set, and they’re always available, so once you try all the factions there isn’t a huge amount of room for experimentation. Without expansions, Demonslayer isn’t going to last more than a few plays. According to the box the english version already contains 1 expansion (I don’t know which elements that entails) and more expansions should be on their way.

The insert is pretty terrible, with the player boards taking up far too much space – the player boards don’t really need to be that thick cardboard, and there are no dividers or organizational tools for the cards whatsoever. And, of course, the rulebook is a bit of a mess; there are plenty of unclear rules situations that have to be extrapolated (or maybe just guessed), and the solo play advertised on the box is simply missing entirely.

Artifacts can really boost your power
Artifacts can really boost your power

Moving on from any more criticisms, let’s get back to the good. Demonslayer is possibly one of the most thematic deckbuilders ever, with the consistent looming presence of nasty enemies and cards that seem to do what their name implies. You’re building up an army to face your foes, learning spells and committing resources to defeat them. The rulebook itself is about 50% narrative backstory to the game, and it’s part of a larger franchise universe – the Taiyi Magical Legends game series.

It’s all beautifully illustrated to boot; never have I seen finer paintings decking out the components of a game. Let me emphasize this: everything from the player boards to the basic cards has fantastic depictions of the characters and spells they represent. It’s a pleasure to look at, unfortunately with one caveat; while the good guys are clean, the “heart-eaters” and overlords contain depictions of very scantily clad women. The game assumes mature adult players, and while there is nothing graphic or explicity nude, you’re going to see a lot of skin. Just be aware this is what you’re getting into.

At least you have a nice player board.
At least you have a nice player board.

So there you have it; once you get through the rules and figure out what’s going on, Demonslayer is a nicely-constructed deckbuilder. While it might go a little long, it’s got an excellent structure that puts deck building front and center, with a lot of interesting cards to allow different strategies. And yet it’s got a level of theme reinforced by incredibly beautiful art. If you’re into deckbuilders, you should definitely give Demonslayer a look.

iSlaytheDragon would like to thank EOS SAMA for providing a review copy of Demonslayer: The Siege of Mt. Kunlun

The Final Word

  • Rating 7.5
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Summary

Pros:

Great deckbuilding structure
A variety of cool, useful cards
Incredibly beautiful art
Interesting theme
Cool balance between combat and deckbuilding

Cons:

Takes too long
Infinite Isles cards never change, limiting replay value
Some inappropriate art

7.5 Good

Futurewolfie loves epic games, space, and epic games set in space. You’ll find him rolling fistfuls of dice, reveling in thematic goodness, and giving Farmerlenny a hard time for liking boring stuff.

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