Robert Burke’s Battle for Souls
Disclosure: I was provided a complimentary review copy of Battle for Souls. I have played 4 2-player games of BfS to provide a foundation for this review.
Battle for Souls is a card game in which players assume the role of Good or Evil, vying for the immortal souls of humans. You will have to keep up not only with the winning of souls to your side, but also with the use of divine powers to keep your opponent from getting the better of you, and mankind.
The heart of the game is your basic deck of Traits, good or evil. Each side wages battle with these Traits to win souls. A set of similar cards as well as a set of unique cards will provide the player an action. I’ll not go into what each card set begets, but suffice to say that much like poker, a pair is less powerful and 5 card set. If you are not satisfied with your hand of cards, you can change it through a discard/recard or the addition of a single card to create a set for the following turn. Though it might seem simple to decide between getting a whole new hand or adding just 1 single card to what you have, it is a decision that will impact every subsequent turn. When your deck of Traits runs out, you reshuffle and begin again, until all of the souls have been won to a side or banished to Purgatory.
If it were only as simple as deciding how to stock your hand, BfS would be interesting but forgettable. The set you collect is not just for the manipulation of souls. Depending on the side you choose, your card set might also be used to acquire Intercessions or Sins, as well as Holy and Unholy Relics. There are a good number of these cards, and they can have a powerful impact on the game, as well as add points to your final score. For example, having 2 pair allows you to gain a free Intercession or Sin, and play a second turn. But if you can manage to get a full house with one more like card, you can acquire a Holy or Unholy relic. So do you play for now, or will the next card you turn be the one you need? All the while you have to keep up with your opponent, making sure he is not winning souls to his side while you maximize your hand. A very difficult decision indeed, and therein the tension lies.
Throughout the game there are 21 souls available for manipulation, available 3 at a time. Every soul begins in neutral position, and it is up to the player to tip the soul’s balance to their favor. Once a soul has 4-6 Holy or Unholy points, it can be won with a special Reap card. However, a player cannot just Reap at any time, and when you Reap you may be giving points to your opponent. Reaping at the right time can make a big difference to who gets the souls, as all souls are Reaped and replaced at once. So you might play a Reap card that wins a soul for you, a soul for your opponent, and perhaps banished the third to Purgatory. Deciding when to play that Reap card really matters. And holding that Reap card back takes up space in your hand, affecting your ability to get future cards.
The other way to earn souls is to push the Holy/Unholy point value past 6. If you can do that, the soul is declared wholly Good or Evil, and won to a side without the use of a Reap card. You begin the game with one Archangel/Demon to help you, but earning a soul this way allows for the revelation of another. That both affects gameplay and is worth points at game end. This is a powerful move, but takes valuable time to execute.
BfS ends when all souls have been reaped and taken to Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory. Each soul has a 3-point value. Add to that the points earned through Intercessons/Sins and Holy/Unholy Relics, and the player with the most points wins.
I really liked Battle for Souls. It perfectly fills the 2-player niche. It also supports solo and 4-player games, but I have not yet tried either. The theme in the game is very heavy, both in the language and the art. The art is all drawn from classical works of a religious nature. I can see where the theme might be a barrier to some, but that only enhanced my enjoyment.
BfS can be very luck-driven. I played one game with my son where he kept getting 2 pair hands—a very powerful hand indeed—and I could not get anything to synch. It seemed as if he truly had the devil’s own luck. For those who are better at keeping track of cards this might not be a problem, but that is not my style.
Where BfS falls a little short for me is in that each soul is worth the same 3 points. It would have varied play just a bit if there were souls that were worth more or less. It would have made me more invested in the decision to Reap at a particular time, and significantly affected how desirable or dismissable any set of souls was to my end game. That said, this is a minor quibble, and one that could be easily fixed with some additional souls.
Overall I see Battle for Souls as a very enjoyable 2-player game that can be pulled out for a lunchtime game or for part of a night’s entertainment. If you have not already gone and backed it on Kickstarter, I recommend you do. As of this posting it has 12 days to go and is 91% funded. Check it out at: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/478379924/battle-for-souls?ref=live. Battle for Souls is a solid game: unique theme, beautiful art, tight gameplay, and significant, challenging decisions.
Marc Specter is an infrequent game reviewer, as well as founder and Team Leader of the Grand Gaming Academy, a team of game ambassadors who represent publishers at conventions large and small. He is also half of Team GrandCon, who will bring GrandCon Gaming & Comics Convention to Grand Rapids MI in September 2013. Check it out at grand-con.com and facebook.com/grandcongca.