Court of the Dead Dark Harvest is a bidding game where players compete for power and ultimately win by saving as many souls as possible. Court of the Dead is a setting designed by Tom Gilliland and Dark Harvest is a product of the creative might of Skybound Tabletop and Sideshow.
As expected with anything related to Sideshow, a company known for their beautiful collectibles, the components for Dark Harvest are awesome. Everything from the box layout, artwork, and individual components are extremely thematic and well laid out. The tarot-sized cards used throughout the game are clear, even with the dark gothic coloring of the cards.
If we were to look for a criticism, it's that the influence tokens are colored meeples and the failure tokens are glassy gems. The glassy gems are extremely in-keeping with the theme, and influence tokens of similar quality would have been awesome. The tokens are still well colored and work well for the bidding they're used for, but something to match the underworld tones of the game would have really made them pop.
Court of the Dead Dark Harvest is played across several rounds, each with 2 phases of bidding. The first bidding phase is the Court phase, and players bid over court cards with influence. There are 3 court cards in play, one from each faction of death. If you win the bid for the court card, you get the favor of the matching faction. Winning the court card gives an immediate bonus, such as gaining influence or souls and the faction favor provides you with an ability until it is taken away from you by another player winning that faction's court card in the next phase.
The second bidding phase is the harvest, and a randomly drawn harvest card shows the number of souls that must be collectively donated by all players. Players secretly offer souls, and if the harvest is met, the player who bid the most souls gains a bonus influence cube. If the harvest isn't met, the player bidding the lowest carries out the failure text on the card. Each time the group fails, they take a failure token. When the group takes their third failure token, the player with the lowest bid is eliminated.
After the final harvest card is completed, the player with the most souls wins and as souls are used to pay the harvest, it's a careful balance of not spending more than you need to win cards and harvests. Each player has a screen to hide their soul counters, and it acts as a cheat sheet for the phases and rules of the game, but also has the thematic act of protecting your souls behind your screen.
Games of Dark Harvest are extremely straight-forward, even in your first game. The phases and timings are clear. It takes a game to get into the flow and get a feeling for the different court cards and harvests but after that, it's fast-paced and extremely fun. It is essentially a bidding game, so players who are able to keep track of who bid what across the 2 game currencies from turn to turn will do better than others. Every player has access to the same resources, and it's your ability to bid the right amount on the right cards that will win you the game. Dark Harvest is very accessible and the low component count and table space requirement make it a perfect travel game.
We first thought that the player elimination would mean some players sitting around after being knocked out, but as players start to fall away, games do speed up and it becomes more challenging to meet harvests. This means that keeping other players in is actually helpful, and deliberately trying to take other players out, while it is a path to victory, makes it harder for you as well. Bidding a huge amount of souls, trying to take out another player, leaves you vulnerable the next round, and as souls are a victory condition, it makes it harder to win.
Dark Harvest plays with between 3 and 6 players and plays well with all counts. 6 players is challenging, as only 3 can get cards each round. With 6 players, keeping track of everyone's bid keeps everyone on their toes. Game length doesn't vary greatly with different player counts, but we found that more players is always more fun.
The Bottom Line
Court of the Dead Dark Harvest is a tight package. The components look fantastic and the component count is low enough to make it extremely portable. Games are fast and balanced with all player counts between 3 and 6. The rules are light and straight-forward and games are fast with no timing issues or confusing rules combinations. There is player elimination, but that does speed up the end game, so it doesn't cause a huge issue with players waiting around. Dark Harvest grabs the Court of the Dead theme by the throat and doesn't let go.
Get This Game If:
- You want a great, quick, and accessible game.
- You're a Court of the Dead fan or collector.
- You love bidding games.
Avoid This Game If:
- You don't like bidding games.
- You don't like player elimination.
This copy of Court of the Dead Dark Harvest was provided by Skybound Tabletop.