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Dark Minions

Reviewed by Greg J. Schloesser

(Z-Man Games, 3-5 players, ages 10 and up, 45-60 minutes; $39.99)

 

darkminionsboxThe darkness has been evident on the horizon for many months. Evil was stirring and growing, and it was only a matter of time before the dark minions poured forth, threatening every town and village in the realm. Nay, “threatening” does not begin to describe the horrors in store for the peaceful villagers. What are in store are terror, destruction and death … and there is no hope for salvation.

No, really. There is no hope. Dark Minions isn’t a game where players represent gallant knights defending the realm against demon hordes. There will be no last-minute cavalry charge to save the day. Evil will win. Players step into the role of leaders of these demon hordes. Their job is to send forth their minions to plunder and destroy the realm’s villages and towns. The players are the bad guys.

Designed by Alan Newman and published by Z-Man Games, Dark Minions is essentially a dice game. Players roll dice and use the numbers rolled to allocate their minions to attack villages and towers, resurrect deceased minions and, when playing with the advanced rules, acquire the services of Overlords. The object is to accumulate the most points by successfully sacking towns and increasing in experience.

Each player receives a horde of minions – fifty, to be exact – and a mat whereupon they track their experience level. The mat also graphically displays the dice they can roll and the options they have each turn. Three town hexes are revealed, each receiving three-to-four towers as depicted on the hex.

Each turn, the active player rolls the number and color of dice allowed by his current experience level. For example, at level one, the player rolls three black dice. At level three, the player rolls two red dice (which have greater values) and one black die. Thus, increasing in experience improves a player’s potential dice rolls, as well as earns the player victory points. A player may opt to roll a white die instead of another die. The white die will provide a “+1” modifier or result in a skull, which can be used to retrieve minions from the graveyard.

darkminon2After rolling the dice, the player must allocate them to one of three different locations: town, tower or graveyard. It is important to note that, with the exception of the graveyard, only one die may be allocated to each location. Furthermore, if a player allocates a die to a town, he cannot allocate a die to a tower located at that town (and vice versa). After allocating all dice, the player places minions on the towns and towers where he allocated dice. The number of minions placed equals the value of the respective die.

Destroying towers is a fairly easy process. Towers require four, five or six minions to be deployed, depending upon the color of the tower. The tower is taken by the player and the minions involved in the assault are dispatched to the graveyard. Destroying towers and towns is a messy – and fatal – business. Collecting a set of three different towers allows the player to advance an experience level, which, as mentioned, earns victory points and allows the player to roll more powerful dice.

Attacking towns is usually a sustained and somewhat cooperative effort. Each town has an inherent strength that must be met or exceeded in order for it to be conquered. This occurs once the accumulated group of minions – whether from one or more players – reaches or exceeds that total. When that occurs, the player with the greatest number of minions receives the town hex, the number of victory points it grants (ranging from 3 – 15) and possibly one or more skull tokens. The player with the second most minions receives two victory points, while the player who placed the final minions that precipitated the collapse of the town receives one victory point. All minions participating in the assault suffer a grim fate – they are dispatched to the graveyard. The value of the towns increases as the game progresses, making them more and more valuable as the game continues.

Initially, players have an abundance of minions. However, it doesn’t take long before their supply is dangerously low and the graveyard is packed with spent minions. It is vital to regularly resurrect minions, thereby returning them to your supply. Players can use dice or skulls to retrieve minions. Skulls are more effective, as players can retrieve ten minions by rolling or surrendering just one skull. Surrender three skulls and a player can retrieve ALL of his minions. Skulls can either be rolled on the white die or gained by conquering towns.

Play continues in this fashion until one player achieves the required number of victory points, which varies from 35 – 50, depending upon the number of players. While the box states the time frame as 45 minutes to an hour, my experience has been more in the neighborhood one to one and one-half hour. That is still acceptable, however, as the game is entertaining and does not overstay its welcome.

The advanced rules introduce the Overlords. These are special characters whose services can be acquired by allocating one or more dice. Overlords grant players special powers, and there are a decent number of cards with a variety of powers. Most are one-time-use cards, being discarded after their power is invoked. There are a few, however, that can be kept as long as players commit minions each turn for their upkeep. I prefer playing the game using the Overlord cards, as it adds more variety and options.

Dark Minions is what I like to term a “dice allocation” game. Players roll dice then decide how to allocate those dice in pursuit of their strategies. While there is considerable luck involved with the rolling of the dice there are numerous options to help mitigate that luck. As players advance in experience, they roll more powerful dice. Certain Overlords allow the player to alter or re-roll their dice. Further, each player begins the game with two tokens that can be surrendered to re-roll one or more dice. Saving those tokens, however, will yield up to three victory points at game’s end.

So, while there is no denying the luck aspect, the choices players make regarding the strategies they will pursue and the allocation of the dice they roll will ultimately determine their fate. These are fun and sometimes tough decisions. Capturing towns grants the most victory points and those valuable skull tokens, but there is usually keen competition for them. It is wise to try to obtain first or second place in as many competitions as possible, which is certainly easier said than done. Increasing in experience also earns victory points and grants more powerful dice, so players should regularly destroy and collect sets of towers in order to accomplish this. Overlords can be quite powerful, often altering the minions participating in a siege or affecting players’ dice rolls. Their timely use can often have dramatic results. Further, players must maintain a healthy supply of minions, so retrieving them from the graveyard requires regular attention. Players face these choices every time they roll the dice.

My only quibbles with the game are the rules, which are vague in some places, and have a relatively abstract feel. I find myself appreciating more and more a strong theme-to-game play connection, something which is often lacking in many European-style games. As a European game enthusiast, I understand this, but I still appreciate the games that manage to evoke a strong sense of the theme. Dark Minions does this a bit, but I wish the foreboding, dark atmosphere would be more prevalent.

In spite of these minor issues, Dark Minions is a fun and reasonably challenging game that truly can be played by just about any age group. For me, it is one of the better dice allocation games, a genre I am increasingly appreciating.

 


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