Before I begin, I was sent a prototype copy, and may receive a copy of the game should it fund. I have received no money for this preview. You can check out my video review below. Get your own copy here.
I have, in general, been hesitant about app based board games. For me, I usually play board games so I am not looking at a screen. However, recently, one of my favorite publishers has become the leading force in the app driven game market. This has left me unsure how I feel about things. Usually, I like Lucky Duck games. I may not keep all of them on my shelf forever, but I have yet to play one that I did not like. Yet, here they go again with another app driven game, so I have found myself experimenting more and more with them, mostly because they keep sending them my way to review…but slowly, ever so slowly, I find that I am having my mind changed about them.
After all, I thought the Divinus app was an absolute work of art, and I am, as a result, supremely excited about that game and I backed it without hesitation. The Chronicles of Crime apps have always worked very well, and most recently the Yummy Yummy Monster Tummy app was almost perfect. Now to that, you add on to that involvement from Van Ryder Games – who is behind the pretty gosh darn good Final Girl series, and publisher of an underrated, if not ridiculously hard, Salvation Road – and I am in to check out whatever they want to throw at me.
The Dark Quarter is a game that feels like an evolution of Destinies. It uses the same core system of app driven choose your own adventure and card scanning, but it is set in an occult filled 1980’s New Orleans. Through the 4 or five stories you will strive to unravel an overarching mystery that will span the entirety of the game. As you play you will be faced with various occult/supernatural themed events, and quite a bit of murder and depravity-this game is not rated “M” for nothing!
Each player will take on the role of a unique, well developed character with their own skill set, backstory, miniature, and unique side quests. As you work through the story of the game, traversing New Orleans, and exploring smaller locations via card tiles, you will make choices in the app. Do you want to intimidate the bum on the corner, or do you want to be a little kinder and gentler in your approach. Make the wrong choice and they just might stop talking to you, and disappear from the board altogther.
Often enough you will have to make a test on one of the varying stats, be it physical, observational, charisma, or arcane. When you do you will roll your two dice, plus as many of your available “effort” dice as you would like and compare it to your player board. On the player board you will have 3 cubes marking certain numbers, say a 4, 7, and 9. You compare your roll to it, in this case we will pretend it was an 8, this means you have 2 success. Input these successes into the app and it will tell you what happens. This may give you experience (lets you improve your odds of success, and lets you buy new abilities), it may give you story items or consumables (which you can scan into the app for results), or it may add new locations for you to go an explore.
You play through the game, working together to unravel the mystery, or you lose. The game will let you know. Assuming you unravel the mystery and win the game will let you know just how well (or in my case disastrously-literally it said I was disastrous) you have done, and it will give you more awards to carry on to the next mission.
So what do I think?
Theme. Theme. Theme. Dang, this game feels immersive as heck. The music in the app is great, the art is great, and text is great, the choices you make are great. It just does all of it right. They were going for dark and gritty, and they got it. They got it without it feeling gratuitous either, which is a hard balance to manage. (Though I suppose it could become akin to a slasher film later on I suppose).
When I covered Destinies, I said I was a big fan of the dice system. It was, and still is wonderful. I love the hard choices of what skills to improve, I love the hard choices you have to make of when to spend XP for a skill upgrade and when to unlock a new ability, it just works.
I also really enjoy the character development options the player is given, several times in the first scenario I was told that I was going to have to make a choice, and I would only have 45 seconds to do so. The choice I made was completely dependent on how I thought the character would react, and that choice would affect what happened in the game going forward. I LOVED that I was given 45 seconds to decide if I was going to see revenge, or if I would show mercy, even after I had slowly unraveled all of the backstory. It was an amazing moment.
While I like the app ambience, a few more music choices would be great, sometimes it repeats a bit if you are staying on a screen while you ponder.
I played this game multi-handed, but solo and I thought it was a fantastic experience, though I do wonder if the experience will lose something if you play at four players, with a bit of time where you just await your turn to come back around-though this should be lessened somewhat by the collaborative nature of the puzzle/mystery solving.
I will also add that, like Destinies, it is possible to play this game without the board, and only use the cards and dice. I think that the board in Dark Quarter is more valuable than it was in Destinies, but you could pretty easily ignore it if you wanted. This is both good and bad. It makes it more portable, but might take away some of the board game feel. Though I will say that in Dark Quarter, I kept the board out and used it, while with Destinies I put it away.
Replay. I just don’t see the game as having a ton of it. I am curious to replay the first scenario with a different character combo to experience their personal side-quests, and to make some different choices regarding some of the plot points that I biffed on my way to being a disaster, but I know the story, I know how to solve it and where to go. With that said, I think you are getting a good story in the box, but are you gonna play it more than once? Maybe. More than twice? I can’t imagine you will.
Also, just in case it was missed above, this is a mature game. This is absolutely not a game to play with little kids. Goodness, it is dark. You will make dark choices, sometimes you will be faced with making a lesser of two evils choice, and I can only imagine as the game progresses there will be some pretty darn disturbing choices to be made.
Bringing it all together
The Dark Quarter is the game that I think Destinies wanted to be. It has a little bit more of the Chronicles of Crime vibe to it, and I think that is for the better. While you can get away without the board in DQ, you don’t really want to do away with the board…it just adds to the already wonderfully thematic nature of this game. I find that I am completely intrigued by the story here. I want to learn what is going to happen, I want to help the characters I have played grow and heal. Everything about the story, and the character progression is just on point here. You are not going to find a lot of replay in this game, and when it says it is a “mature” game, it means it.
Just the facts man.
* Takes what Destinies created and builds on it…it is improved in every way
* Incredibly immersive theme
* Fantastic story to follow
* Characters all well developed, and have unique and interesting abilities to choose from
* Dice mechanics are delightful
* Does not seem like there is a ton of replay here
* I think it likely plays better at 1 or 2 players
* This is a very mature, dark, and disturbing story-be aware
* If you like Destinies, and are ok with the theme, you will love this