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Ruins: Death Binder – Solo Against All Odds

As an avid solo gamer I always get hyped about each announced board game that focuses on single player mode. Sure, many titles have these nowadays, but when it’s THE way to play a game, you can always count me in. Sadly, not many of these titles end up leaving the drawing board. Many creators are afraid to tackle solo genre or simply lack ideas to create a single player game that people would enjoy.

Recently thanks to Marek Vogelsinger, the designer of Ruins: Death Binder, we got our hands on a prototype of the game. R:DB is about to launch on Kickstarter and before I talk about mechanics and my impressions, here’s a little spoiler for you: It’s what many solo gaming fans might have been waiting for. 

Ruins: Death Binder. Trademarks and visuals belong to their rightful owners.

Setting Out for an Adventure

I tested the solo mode of the game and it easily feels like the main dish here. Not the only dish though, as you can also play the two player version. It doesn’t allow playing the story mode, but something called “descend mode” where you tackle a randomized dungeon and keep going down with a friend – Diablo style.

Ruins: Death Binder. Trademarks and visuals belong to their rightful owners.

As for the solo mode, it’s intuitive, brainy and rather fast paced (unless you want to make a perfect move each time and spend 10 minutes on every turn). The set-up also felt speedy (2-3 minutes tops). After placing your hero’s miniboard, a dungeon board with its tokens, and a few different decks (action, skill, event etc.) – you’re pretty much ready to go.

>>> Campaign link

Meet Your Protagonist

The playable hero of Ruins: Death Binder, is an unnamed, amnesiac character who has found himself in the middle of mysterious ruins. He wakes up in some dark, deserted room leading to a series of dungeons. His goal is venturing through these, while slaying monsters, powering up and defeating the ultimate boss.

Ruins: Death Binder. Trademarks and visuals belong to their rightful owners.

Character’s miniboard contains a number correlated tracks that affect the game a lot. 

  • There’s a defense track depleted after each point of damage is taken. 
  • HP track shows your remaining health and depletes when the defense is at zero and you get attacked. 
  • Experience track is pretty much self explanatory. You gain XP after finishing certain events and can spend it on a variety of things (more on that later). 
  • A concept called “taint” also has its own track and many cards or risky situations make it go higher. The higher your taint is – the more enemies you’ll have to fight at once
Ruins: Death Binder. Trademarks and visuals belong to their rightful owners.

Upper part of your miniboard shows actions available while resting and upgrades that can be bought with XP points. Overall the entire miniboard looks clear and minimalistic – all the info you need presented in a clear manner, with no unnecessary decorations.

Despite so many tracks, you obviously start as a weak and unskilled character with no taint at all. Why not change that and go dungeon crawling?

Deeper and Deeper

The exploration takes place on a board showing the map of the entire area you’ll be wandering through. Roads are divided by intersections and each intersection contains a token with a chain of actions you’ll have to perform. Usually there are a few different tokens to proceed towards. A token may for example tell you to resolve an event, take part in battles and rest. During my initial gameplay I failed to predict how much taint I’ll get by picking tokens with many actions on them and that quickly made the monsters appear in deadly packs. Lesson learned.

What Lies Behind the Corner

Ruins: Death Binder. Trademarks and visuals belong to their rightful owners.

Tokens are one of my favourite parts of Ruins: Death Binder. When you reach one of these you have to perform all actions shown on its face to receive rewards hidden on its back. Let’s quickly talk about these chained actions. All of them can appear in various orders.

Events (EV) have you draw a card from the Event Deck. You can never predict what you’ll get here, but many cards can hurt you if you’re unlucky or try risking too often. Events are divided into four types. 

  • Ambushes make you fight a set of enemies. 
  • Decisions make you pick an option (out of 2) and get its assigned rewards and penalties. 
  • Obstacles have monster-like stats and require defeating them to proceed. 
  • Discoveries make you toss a coin-like token and either win or lose something.

Encounters (ENC) mean battles with enemies. The more taint you have, the more you’ll have to fight at once. The game starts with only one at a time, but it will quickly grow to 2, 3 and finally 4. 

Rest (REST) action gives you a chance to recover, renew your armor points and improve your character by making permanent changes in armor stats and the amount of cards removed/saved at the end of a turn. 

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Swords, Spells and Deck Deconstruction

Combat in Ruins: Death Binder usually determines whether you progress further or fail your adventure miserably. Each enemy has a basic HP value, a set of weaknesses/resistances and often: a special skill

Ruins: Death Binder. Trademarks and visuals belong to their rightful owners.

To attack you draw 6 action cards from the draw deck, pick one and use the stat available there to attack the enemy. To do this you multiply your attack (magic or melee) with your opponent’s weakness. A value of zero means that the monster is immune to a type of damage and cannot be defeated with it. When you finally get their health to zero they get defeated and you can keep going (unless you have more foes to deal with).

Here’s when a great concept comes into play. After combat you discard most cards but can keep some of them. Thanks to that, you start with a weak deck full of things you don’t need and later you upgrade it each turn, to create a set of cards perfect for your current strategy.  

Ruins: Death Binder. Trademarks and visuals belong to their rightful owners.

To get to the very end of the dungeon and defeat the final boss, you’ll require a perfect deck able to take care of even the mightiest monstrosities. The “deck deconstruction” mechanic is by no means new, but still remains a really fun and rare idea that’s opposite to what we usually expect in card heavy games. The way it was implemented in Ruins: Death Binder is commendable.

To Back or Not to Back

So what’s our final verdict? Ruins: Death Binder is certainly worth checking out if you’re an avid solo player or would at least want to try a game of this type. There’s lots of thinking here and some situations require making perfect decisions to proceed. The difficulty is high overall, but the more you play and learn about skills and enemies – the bigger your chances to survive the dreadful dungeon are. And for those who are really good at solo games, there’s an additional hard mode version of the player board available.

When you get better, you discover various ways to power your character up. The reverse deck building allows for tailoring your set of cards to perfection and meeting your personal, and situational preferences.

Ruins: Death Binder. Trademarks and visuals belong to their rightful owners.

As for the theme, there’s very little flavor text on cards, but that makes the game more mysterious and stimulates your imagination. All you get are incomplete scraps of lore – kind of like in Dark Souls and Bloodborne video games. 

As for the randomness aspect: Ruins: Death Binder uses no dice and usually gives you at least a few different cards to choose from. The only slightly random things are coin-like flippable tokens, and while they can make a situation more complicated, they also make some events more exciting.

Finally: a bonus variant to play with a friend is a great addition. Let’s not kid ourselves: most backers will get this game for the solo mode, but sometimes, when you have another human being around, it might be fun to share the experience.

After my initial plays I’m certainly hyped for this Kickstarter campaign. Good solo games, that try something new, are hard to come by nowadays. Count me in!

>>> Campaign link

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