Book Of Skulls – Slayers Of Eragoth Preview
Disclaimer: All pictures and artwork are from a prototype version of the game. Final artwork, components, and rules are subject to change before release.
Every so often a game comes along, and I think “That sounds like the name of a Black Metal concept album”, and this is one of them. Book of Skulls – Slayers of Eragoth wasn’t named this way accidentally, either. Andy, the brains behind this new, team vs team fantasy dungeon crawl, is clearly a metalhead, much like me. It probably won’t come as a surprise then, to learn that the final game comes with a full metal soundtrack too. Get ready to throw some horns.
Let me get the music thing out of the way first. You’re here to read about a board game, after all, not my reminiscing of the days when I went headbanging at metal concerts, back when I had hair to swing. So far we’ve only got the battle theme to listen to, but I think it strikes the tone perfectly. It sounds like what you’d get if you mashed-up Iron Maiden, Dragonforce, Rhapsody, and a few other favourites. Harmonic distorted guitars, machine gun double-bass drumming, just awesome. Have a listen for yourselves.
Book of Skulls is an unapologetic, balls-to-the-wall dungeon crawler. My first impression when the prototype turned up at my house was “Ooh, is this like Talisman??”. I think it was the mixture of high fantasy and roll-and-move in the rules that did it, and for a first-time designer, I’d actually call it high praise. I directly asked Andy if he’d been inspired by Talisman, and he told me he’d never played it, so the genesis of something like this, now, is as surprising as it is refreshing.
There might be some of you now taking a sharp intake of breath and thinking “Yikes, roll-and-move…”, and I admit that it was my first worry too. However, having played through the game a few times now, I can honestly say it doesn’t influence the speed or perceived fairness of the game in any notable way. There is so much else going on in Book of Skulls, that the overworld map and movement (or navigation as the game calls it) around it is a smaller part of the game.
Where Book Of Skulls shines, and shines brightly, is in the encounters. And by encounters, I mean fights. Boys, girls, and everything in-between beating the snot out of each other, with big weapons and more magic than Paul Daniels’ underpants.
Angel of Death
The clever twist Book Of Skulls applies to the genre, is to make each team act as each others’ opponents. For every turn the Slayers take (the folks you’re controlling to try to win), the opposing team acts as the various Demons they’ll encounter. Each Slayer has a cool range of abilities, giving tons of variety and tactical depth. When they face-off against the nasties, the opposing team chooses how they want to spend their Demon Coins, in order to summon in a team of diabolical creatures for them to fight.
Battle is by-the-book for the most part, and there’s a really cool feature whereby each Slayer card has a Guardian card beneath it, with the top edge protruding. A special die is rolled before each combat, and if one of your Slayers’ Guardians still has its symbol on the top edge, you can cover it. Cover all six on a Guardian, and Bingo! Literally, bingo, it’s like playing bingo. You then get to control the Guardian, who’s a bit like a Slayer on steroids. You haven’t even seen my final form, and all that gubbins.
The overworld map is what ties the fights together into an adventure, and there are all manner of dungeons and other places of interest along the way. I like the way the map and your choice of direction matters, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. Deciding how best to use your Slayers to emerge victorious from each encounter is great fun, and I take a perverse amount of pleasure from controlling the Demons. It’s immensely satisfying to shove a stick in the proverbial spokes of the other team’s bicycle.
Not that you get many bicycles in dungeons, you understand. It’s just a poorly chosen analogy by yours truly, but it made me smile, so it’s staying in.
For a first attempt at a tabletop game of any kind, I’m very impressed with Book Of Skulls – Slayers Of Eragoth. I’ve been in touch with Andy for weeks now, and it’s been fascinating watching the rate of development in the game. I’ve played before and after big mechanical changes were made, and with each iteration it’s feeling more and more like a finished game.
There are a few rough edges, sure, but that’s to be expected. I’m still not 100% sold on roll-and-move, but it doesn’t cramp the game’s style for a moment. The combat – which, let’s be honest, is the most important part of these games – feels great. It works even in this prototype, where I’m sliding paperclips to track rage levels. I’m so engaged in the process that it doesn’t break the immersion.
By the time you throw in an app to track your characters, a full soundtrack, and goodness-knows-what-else, this has all the hallmarks of being a sleeper hit. The modular board is great, and means you can shorter games if you don’t have the time for a full-length game, and I really like the fact that the boards are small. Dungeon crawlers especially are guilty of throwing more and more in the box, and the boxes get bigger and bigger (looking at you, Descent 2nd Edition). Book Of Skulls is in a smaller box, and fits on the sort of table a normal person might have.
This might be the first time you’ve heard of Book Of Skulls – Slayers Of Eragoth, and the first time you’ve heard of CloudRunner Games, but it’s almost certainly not going to be the last. Keep an eye on this one folks. The Kickstarter campaign goes live on 31st May 2022, and you can sign up for updates here.
Prototype copy kindly provided by CloudRunner Games. Thoughts and opinions are my own.
Book Of Skulls – Slayers Of Eragoth (2022)
Designer: Andy Feehan
Publisher: CloudRunner Games
Art: Various (TBC)
Playing time: 120-240 mins