I enjoy cooperative games for a number of reasons. The best cooperative games often tell memorable stories, and many are difficult, which provides a fun layer of tension that builds as the game unfolds. The best cooperative games can even make losing fun as the players share both victory and defeat as a team.
Darkness Comes Rattling, published by Wyrd Games and designed by Kevin Wilson, has an interesting story, is certainly difficult, and has a layer of tension throughout the first half of the game, but the pieces just don’t fit together the way that they should as often as they should for it to earn our recommendation.
The story of Darkness Comes Rattling places players in the role of members of the Tribes of Man. The players have been chosen by Mother Moon, the god of the game’s world of Talil, to rescue the sun from Darkness. When Mother Moon created the sun in order to provide light and warmth to the Tribes of Man, she inadvertently created the great serpent Darkness. Darkness was jealous of Mother Moon’s power and crept into the sky and swallowed the sun.
As Darkness slowly digests the sun, he steals Mother Moon’s power. The players, with the help of Talil’s Four Winds, must stop Darkness and retrieve the sun from his stomach before he can completely digest it, and all of Talil is lost. This unique creation myth is interesting and provides a fun motivation, even if it is essentially just another use of the “save the world before it is engulfed in darkness” trope.
The first half of the game tasks players with fighting against the corruption and dangers that appear on Talil as the sun moves further and further into Darkness’ body. The players need to work together, moving around Talil, to tackle obstacles in an attempt to gather strength—in the form of gear, items, and weapons—with which to enter Darkness and retrieve the sun.
The first spot of trouble for Darkness Comes Rattling lies in the cards that represent the obstacles on Talil. Each section of the board—North, South, East, and West—has their own decks of obstacle cards and each deck carries a theme. The players will be facing icy, wintry obstacles in the north while they will often be facing obstacles pertaining to swamps in the east, and so on. The problem is that, while each card in a deck shares a theme, that theme is really only represented in a small blurb of flavor text, and doesn’t really have any effect on gameplay. Once you’ve seen the card a few times there is no real reason to pay attention to anything other than the number that you need to roll on the dice in order to overcome its challenge. You will see so many of these cards during one playthrough that they begin to blur together and don’t really stand out nor add to the narrative and, while they have different themes, there isn’t really any gameplay different between the four decks.
The second problem is that there is one piece of gear in the west deck that feels nearly mandatory if the players want to have any true shot at actually winning, which leads into the third, and biggest, problem.
There are only a few times in which players can actually enter Darkness and attempt to chase down and retrieve the sun. The first part of this problem is that only one player can ever enter Darkness, so, while that player gets to step into the shoes of the hero and their adventure changes half way through the game, the other players are essentially stuck doing the same thing throughout the rest of the game.
The most disappointing aspect of the game comes from being limited as to when you can enter Darkness. The first opportunity to enter Darkness is when the sun reaches the half way point on the Darkness track. If the sun passes this point without landing on it, or the players don’t have their chosen hero completely ready to enter Darkness, it feels like they might as well restart from the beginning because the game becomes a slog towards nigh-inevitable defeat.
As with many cooperative games there are many ways to lose but only one way to win. If the sun gets too far ahead there will not be enough time for the player who enters Darkness to chase it down, barring numerous miraculous dice rolls in a row. Similarly, if the player enters Darkness before they are prepared to, they are likely to be killed while trying to chase down the sun.
The players who stay on Talil will still have to work on keeping the Four Winds in play. Loss of all four of the Four Winds also ends in a game loss for the players. This is made more difficult by the loss of one of the players as they can no longer help deal with threats on Talil while they are in Darkness.
On the other hand, if players are ready to enter Darkness, the game continues to be tense and fun. The game remains difficult and victory, when it can be achieved, is usually snatched from the jaws of defeat. The tension builds as the chosen player races to recover the sun before it reaches Darkness’ tail and a victory creates a high-five-and-cheer worthy moment. Unfortunately the opportunity and desire to play the game to its natural conclusion only happen about once every 5 or 6 games.
A note on “chrome”: Darkness Comes Rattling has great art and a very good rule book. Some of the components are really nice, like the plastic heart tokens, and the cards are good quality. The cardboard used in the game is of poor quality though. The edges of all of the cardboard pieces are ‘naked’ cardboard that is very crumbly. I had to glue a number of the cardboard tokens as they began to de-laminate during play. The character tokens are cardboard standees that slot into plastic stands. The stands work well enough, but there aren’t enough stands included in the game to accommodate all of the standees, so the standees need to be slid in and out of the stands, which took a toll on the low quality cardboard and chewed up the bottoms of the standees pretty badly.
The bottom line:
Darkness Comes Rattling can be a ton of fun if, and that’s a HUGE ‘if’, the cards and dice rolls line up just right for the players throughout the first half of the game. Unfortunately, if the odds aren’t completely in the player’s favor, there isn’t really any motivation to continue playing after the half way point of most games because defeat becomes obvious and almost certainly inevitable. Knowing that defeat is inevitable is fine as long as that defeat happens in the next few turns of a game. Knowing that there is no chance of success when there is still an hour left to play isn’t fun.
Get this game if:
You like very difficult cooperative games
You think the phrase “We need to make the next 20 rolls in a row to have any chance at winning.” is exciting
Avoid this game if:
You dislike cooperative games
You don’t want a game that you will likely restart at the half way point more often than not
You dislike dice
Darkness Comes Rattling can be purchased from Amazon here.
The copy of Darkness Comes Rattling used for this review was provided by Wyrd.
Darkness Comes Rattling can be fun if the dice and cards fall just right during the first half of the game. Unfortunately, it's often more fun to quit half way through than it would be to continue playing.