Dark Legacy: The Rising by Upper Deck Entertainment Review

Theme and What is it?

You live on the planet Titan, a world crazed by chaos at the hands of a battle mage known as The Kaiser. There are six different factions: Chaos, Tech, Earth, Wind, Darkness, and Divine. You are the general of one of these armies and you must use your wits, your spells, and your d20 to crush your opponents under your heel. Customize your hero, and your story, with the cards you choose to play. Will you be a defensive player, equipping legendary armor and using distance weaponry? Or does your hero tend to go on the offense, striking hard and fast with the strongest of spells and melee weaponry?

For each battle you fight, your hero gains skill points, allowing that hero to level up over the course of many playthroughs. Higher level players definitely have the advantage, but gain fewer skill points for defeating a lower-level player. Conversely, a low-level player who beats a higher-level player gains skill points at a much faster rate than normal.

Dark Legacy: The Rising takes the best parts of campaign-driven role playing games and mixes it with the best parts of battle-driven collectible card games to form something new and bold. What kind of hero will YOU be? Make your choices wisely because they will follow you from one game to the next.

My Cute Husband's playmat, midgame. Lucky freakin' duck.

Gameplay Mechanics

Hold tight, this is a long one.

The basic rules of the game have you start with 50 life and a shuffled deck of at least 50 cards, draw a hand of five, and play cards from your hand as you’re able. The game is mostly geared for one-on-one play, but you can easily add other players or even do team battles (2v2, 3v3).

My favorite thing about game set-up is that each player searches their deck for a weapon, armor, or relic with a casting cost of zero and a level at or above their hero’s Skill Level. For beginners at level 1, you seem to have just one or two options per deck, but that’s just for the first game. Once you start playing, you level fairly quickly and you have more variety and more powerful options become available to begin play with.

It’s very nice to know that you are guaranteed to begin the game with at least one piece of useful equipment, since at the lower levels, your hero will struggle a bit to use higher-level equipment. It can be done, but it takes time. If I’m level 2 and I want to use a level 4 item, then I add it to the Charging Slot for two turns (4-2=2), at which point I will be able to use it.

There are three basic phases of a player’s turn, which we’ll go over in detail: The Start Phase, the Action Phase, and the End of Turn Phase.

THE START PHASE consists of basic upkeep. Any Casting Points you may have had leftover from previous turns go to zero, unless stored in a Relic. Any cards that have effects that trigger at the beginning of a turn are resolved. All permanent cards you have (Creatures, Relics, Weapons, Armor, Enhancements) are Deactivated (turned straight vertically). All damage tokens are removed from Creatures. You’re allowed to add a card to the Charging Slot on the board at this time, and you also draw a card. There is no hand limit, unless, of course another card tells you differently. Card rules trump rulebook rules, and can’t beats can, if cards are in conflict.

THE ACTION PHASE is where things start to get intense. You can opt to either attack, or cast, but not both during the same turn. If you ATTACK, you must declare what you’re attacking with (Creatures or Weapons or both). Only Deactivated Creatures and Weapons may attack. Once they attack, they become Activated (tilted off to one side a bit) and can not be used for defense during your opponent’s turn. So choose wisely! Instants are then played, as well as abilities, and then your opponent declares what he or she is defending with (Creatures, Weapons, both, or nothing). There are some details regarding the use of distance weapons and flying creatures for both offense and defense.

Once everything has been declared, you may opt to discard cards from your hand into your Boneyard in order to modify the outcome of the d20 roll you’re about to make. Each card you discard adds 1 to the roll. You roll the d20, check the chart on the back of the rulebook, and damage is dealt between attacker and defender accordingly. Higher rolls result in better results for the attacker, so discarding cards for the modifier can make quite a bit of difference.

If you choose to CAST during your action phase, you declare that, and then roll the d20 to determine how many Casting Points you have that turn. You may also choose to discard cards from your hand in order to modify the roll BEFORE you actually roll the die.

Cast any cards that you have the Skill Level for, or that you have Charged in the Charging Slot to be able to cast properly. Cards that are cast must have a valid spot available on the playmat. There are two slots for Weapons: a Primary and a Secondary. You cannot cast a third Weapon. However, if you’re casting Creatures or Relics with the same name (like two Goblin Bombers from the Chaos deck) you can stack them in the same slots on the playmat out in the battlefield.

Casting Instants requires that the single space on the battlefield that can hold Instants be open, but you don’t actually put the card in that slot because its effect is immediate. With an Instant, you resolve its effect and then place it into your Boneyard, off to the side of your playmat. And for the record, Instants can be played at any time, during any player’s turn, as long as the Instant spot is open on your battlefield, so be VERY careful about blocking that space with a permanent!

THE END OF TURN phase is fairly simple. Once your actions have all been resolved, you pass play to your opponent. In a multi-player game, play passes to the player on your left.

The game ends, when one of three conditions is met: a player’s Hero has zero Life Points, a player has no cards to draw during their Start Phase, or when a player’s Hero has 20 Poison Tokens.

At game end, players gain Skill Points according to whether they won or lost, and according to the levels of the players involved. The basic rule is that a win nets you 20 Skill Points and a loss nets you 10. If you’re a lower level than your opponent, a loss gives you 10 Skill Points, and a win gives you 20 + ((Opponent’s level – Your Level) x 10). If you’re a higher level than your opponent, there’s a handy-dandy chart you can refer to near the end of the rulebook for your Skill Point gain based on how many levels different you are from your opponent.

The rules are a little less clear concerning who gains which number of Skill Points when multiple players are involved, especially when there are different levels of players involved. So to clarify, I went to Bryan “Kaiser” Tillman on Twitter, and pinned down some definitive answers for you.

In a team-based game, the same number of Skill Points are granted to each of the winning team members, regardless of individual level. The same goes for all members of the losing team. When using the chart for level differences, use the losing team’s lowest level and the winning team’s highest level to calculate points earned.

In a multi-player free-for-all, there is only one winner who battles all others to the death. In general, you calculate skill point gains based on the highest level of player you’re against. Let’s say we have four players battling it out: a Level 2, Level 6, Level 10, and Level 15. Through skill and luck, Level 6 wins. She calculates her Skill Points earned using the Level 15 Hero she defeated. She earns just that one set of Skill Points. Levels 2 and 10 calculate using the Level 15 Hero, and the Level 15 Hero calculates his Skill Point gain based on the Level 6 that defeated him.

Increased Skill Points come with Bonuses for each level that you gain, and the bonuses are cumulative, so check the rulebook as you level up to see what new tricks you’ll have up your sleeve!

Contents of the Chaos vs. Tech starter pack.

Initial Impressions

I was hooked by the idea of a card-based role playing game. I never got the chance to get into Dungeons and Dragons, though it always held a certain appeal for me. I was a huge fan of Magic: The Gathering for the longest time and collected thousands of cards. The concept of this game really spoke to me. It wouldn’t require a serious investment of financial resources to own a competitive deck, and yet I could still engage in a card-based battle game that allowed me to create a role for myself and play it through many, many levels.

I was impressed by the thought that went into the formulation of the rules. Taking the best of two entirely different games and melding them into a unique, new experience. I expected the first game to have some bumps in the road as the Cute Husband and I got used to the rules and flow of the game, and there were definitely some of those. Even with my familiarity with collectible card games, there was still a bit of a learning curve. Luckily, the rulebook is easy to use when you need to track down an answer, and the game was able to progress at a reasonable pace.

The playmat.

Game Build Quality

The cards are made of good quality cardstock and will definitely stand up to repeated use. The d20s that are included are regular plastic dice, nothing fancy, but that keeps the price down and they still do the job. Of course, you’re always free to customize with your own personal d20s!

One thing I was not impressed with was game storage solutions. There wasn’t really any good way to store the game once all the cards had been opened and chits punched. There were no zippered storage bags at all, so I had to pull some out of another game I own that had some extras. There also weren’t individual boxes for each deck.

You can, in theory, put all the components back into the box they came in, but the chits would go everywhere and the decks would get mixed up. I ended up using hair ties to rubberband my decks together, and that made things thick enough that they wouldn’t fit back in the box properly, so I repurposed a food storage container from my kitchen cabinet. It’s not pretty, but it holds all six basic decks, all six playmats, all the chits, dice, and rulebooks from the three starter sets for the game.

Speaking of playmats, I really liked how they included playmats, but since they were folded paper, they wouldn’t quite lie flat, so my cards would slide around a little too easily. I can definitely see how people who play the game a lot would get frustrated by this. I’d highly recommend to the company that they produce a deluxe playmat available for purchase made of higher-quality materials. It would be a quality-of-life improvement for frequent fliers in this game!

My super advanced storage solution.

Artistic Direction

If you like consistency in the art throughout a game, then you’ll be very pleased by Dark Legacy: The Rising. I took apart the Tech deck just as an example, and there were 27 unique cards in the deck. 14 of those were illustrated by Bryan “Kaiser” Tillman. The remaining 13 were illustrated by a group of seven illustrators, who often collaborated. I love all the illustrations, don’t get me wrong, but I think it would have been nice to see a more diversified portfolio.

The iconography on the cards is fairly intuitive. A sword icon indicates attack power, a shield indicates armor, a heart indicates health. Each faction is represented by its own icon in the upper left corner, and faction-specific cards are all the same color. The playmats use the same iconography as the cards to indicate which spaces are for weapons, which for armor, which for relics, creatures, and so on. It helped keep my nose out of the rulebook and my eyes on the game.

Ohhhh, if only I had actually been able to play these cards.

Fun Factor

I played opposite Cute Husband, and I threatened to smash him to smithereens. I’m a very intimidating person, what can I say? Did that happen? NO. He obliterated me, 36 Life Points to my Big Fat Zero. Did I have fun? Absolutely! We both took this first game fairly easy on each other, discussing what would happen in attacks, as we made sure we understood the ramifications of declaring which defenders for which attackers, and what would happen if we rolled whatever number on the d20.

Cute Husband felt pretty bad about how soundly he was beating me, but it mostly boiled down to a very unlucky opening hand for me. I was a Level 1 Hero, it being my first game, so I could only use Level 1 equipment without having to charge things first. I had a hand of five with all five cards being level 3 equipment, meaning I would have to charge each piece individually for two turns in order to be able to use it. It made my game progression VERY slow, but that’s the chance you take when dealing with a deck. Sometimes, you get a bad hand.

We both really enjoyed ourselves, though. We laughed a lot, read and re-read the rules out loud to each other a half a dozen times, and just had a relaxing evening trying to slaughter one another. Some people like walks on the beach? We enjoy using our Spiked Gloves and Bombs on one another. Trust me, it’s a bonding experience.

My opening hand had 3 level 3 cards ... that I couldn't play.

Age Range & Weight

This is a game for ages 14 and up, I’d say. Which is coincidentally exactly what the box says. I could probably teach my nine-year-old to play if I were really, really patient, but I have my limitations. The players all need to sit down and read the rulebook before playing to make the game go as smoothly as possible. I can’t imagine my son reading the thing and actually retaining the information in a useful way. Neither can I imagine myself teaching him how to play without playing open-handed, and that would really take away from the surprise of battle strategy.

Players need to have a high level of literacy in order to play and the capacity to remember a rather complicated set of rules to facilitate play. I would not recommend this to the casual gamer, or for someone looking for a single evening’s entertainment. This game will require some effort to learn to play well, and due to the nature of the hero leveling up, will require an investment of time, as well. Is it worth it? Absolutely.

Secret's out! Expansion packs are on the horizon!

Conclusions

I would highly recommend that for your first game (and you should DEFINITELY play this one) make sure all parties involved understand that there will be some deliberating back and forth about how the rules apply before coming to an agreement. Until players get familiar with their cards, and the cards available to their opponents, cut each other a little slack and don’t be too serious. When you’ve gained a few levels, be as ruthless as you want, but treat the first game or two mostly as a learning experience.

While I understand that keeping track of life points and such via paper-and-pen is highly reminiscent of one of the games that Dark Legacy: The Rising seeks to emulate, I find it a little annoying. It seems to me that there could have been a tens die and a ones die to keep track of health, or possibly a wheel counter you could spin. My Cute Husband felt much the same way. I’m going to have to write myself a note that I’m a Level 1 Hero now, with 10 Skill Points to my name, and Cute Husband is now a Level 2 Hero. He’ll have the advantage on me next time we play, but not by a whole lot.

Since you have to have a minimum of 50 cards in your deck, we each took about 10 level 4 and 5 cards out of our 60 card prebuilt decks (Chaos vs. Tech) so that we’d be more likely to draw something we could use more quickly. In hindsight, since we have all three starter packs (all six factions) we should have made good use of the Level 1 Hero’s Skill Level Bonus, which is that you can play any card from any faction that you’re the right level for (or you’ve charged the card properly).

For our second game, I’m going to use my Hero’s bonus and pick apart all the factions’ decks and pull out a whole lot more level 1 cards and get rid of most (if not all) of the level 3 cards, so I have a better shot at getting cards I can actually use quickly. That should show Cute Husband who’s boss. I highly recommend you do the same if you have all the starter packs.

As you continue to level up your hero, you’ll encounter bigger and better bonuses. But what about your equipment? The starter packs only provide equipment up to level 5! When you’re level 15 and still carrying around a lousy Bomb, maybe it’s time to make an adjustment. Introducing … the expansion packs! There are three expansion packs that will be available for purchase in the coming months that allow you to customize your faction’s deck with equipment up to and including level 20. I won’t spoil the surprises in those boxes, but boy, is it worth it. You will NOT be disappointed!

So for those who made it all the way through this really long review article, thank you for sticking with me. This game is incredible, and I can’t wait to see how it plays out in the long run as the Cute Husband and I battle it out. 

“WHEN CAN I BUY THIS???”, you may be asking.

It’s not on shelves yet, but Dark Legacy: The Rising should be available by September 26th! The first expansion will be available at the same time, with the second expansion coming out October 21st and the third on November 21st. 

I may have died THIS time, but I'm coming back with a vengeance!

Originally posted 2018-08-21 10:00:13.