Title: Battle for Souls
Release Date: November 2013
Publisher: Robert Burke Games
Age: 10 and older
Pros: Very old school, awesome artwork
Cons: 1, 2 or 4 players only (really seems best as 2), some artwork is adult-ish, morally squeamish might not play
In the olden days of gaming, and I mean the really olden days of medieval times, playing games was serious business. The Church felt that such idle pastimes were the tools of the devil, especial “devil games” that involved cards–playing these games endangered your very soul! Players of this religion-dominated era just went with the flow and made cards games with religious themes. Battle for Souls is a modern game based on the rules of a (presumably similar) medieval card game of dragging souls down to Hell or lifting them up to Heaven. I don’t know enough about medieval games to know about modern influences on the rules, but the amazing religious artwork on many of the cards does a good job of making me at least think I’m playing a medieval card game.
Heaven or Hell?
The game (initial set-up pictured) pits one player acting for Heaven, while the other acts for Hell. Three souls are initially put into play, and each player gets a starting demon/angel, which may grant bonus influence over a soul. Each player also gets an initial hand of cards (Temptation/Virtue cards–much like demon/angel, each player has his own counterpart for the same concept). The basic goal of the game is to put holy/unholy points on souls, then either cash in the points for further benefits (Holy/Unholy relics, for example), or cash in the soul for victory points (the ultimate key to winning).
Are we playing Poker now?
Outside of devils/angels, the primary way of putting points on souls is to play Temptation/Virtuecards. While, artistically, the cards are the low point of the game (lacking the gorgeous artwork everywhere else), thematically, they work well. You’re usually trying to get “two pair” or “four of a kind” or the like, the basis of many older card games. I could honestly see people playing this sort of game by torchlight, or at least by posers in Victorian England. These cards are basically drawn randomly, so it’s no easy task to get the more challenging hands. It’s the careful discarding and use of the cards you get that makes for a challenging game.
Artwork or no, all cards are printed on very high quality cardstock. A fair warning on the artwork: it’s real artwork from prior centuries, so there is some nudity and gore here.
Fear the Reaper. Or love him. Whatever.
Players can fight for a soul, bending one towards heaven or hell, although usually it’s more efficient for each player to focus on a particular soul. At some point, someone will play a Reap card, sending all souls out of the game, to be replaced by new souls. The old souls, if sufficiently corrupt/blessed, go to Heaven/Hell (for Victory points, mysteriously not divided into Victory/Unvictory points). Souls insufficiently corrupt/blessed are sent to purgatory, worth nothing. It is for this reason that it’s best a player thoroughly work on one soul before going to the next. Let’s just say the game is perfectly balanced, although the artwork, and the randomness of all the cards, does a great job of distracting from that point.
Overall, Battle for Souls is a very fun and playable game. It’s no Magic: The Gathering, which is a brutally tough act to follow, and lacks the gambling aspect of Poker, but it’s a charming and attractive game that aficionados of old (or old-seeming) games should definitely check out. It’s focus on head-to-head play makes it tough to pull out on game night (unless exactly one or three friends show up), but there are also solid solitaire rules, again keeping with old school card games. While not groundbreaking, overall quality makes Battle for Souls nevertheless a worthy addition to a gamer’s closet.
Product Page [robertburkegames]