Theme and What is It?
Evil is growing and sickness is spreading across the land. Gather your party and set out to aid the villagers, explore the countryside, and face off against the supernatural Afflictions. Earn gold to improve your equipment and lore to improve your abilities through a wide array of options. Even in death, ghostly versions of your characters can continue you to do battle. The world is vast and the opportunities are many. How will your party fare in Folklore: The Affliction.
There is a lot going on in Folklore: The Affliction as it is trying to facilitate true open-world adventure gameplay most commonly associated with pen and paper roleplaying games. There are many systems that work together elegantly toward this end. First, players will lay out the table. There are a lot of components in Folklore and you will need a large table. Once you have the Overworld map and the all of the decks for the various items, companions, abilities, etc. and have the on- and off- road encounter decks shuffled you are ready to select a character.
There are six different characters to choose from. The character development options are impressive. As you gain lore and advance your character, there are always multiple options for you to choose from at each level. Furthermore, each character has two different focuses to choose from at character creation and at certain levels, your options will be influenced by this earlier choice. As an example, the Witch Hunter can choose to be either the Inquisitor or the Bounty Hunter. The Inquisitor allows the character to interrogate any human enemy for whom the Witch Hunter deals the killing blow which could lead to items, gold, or story benefits. This is opposed to the Bounty Hunter option which gets to roll on a table before each encounter to determine an enemy type and if that enemy type is faced in the encounter, then the Bounty Hunter will earn bonus gold. The difference is sometimes subtle and there is not necessarily a clear choice to be made, but it helps the player take more ownership of their character.
Characters will all take their starting equipment and any items, rituals, or prayers and place the party token at the Church of the Crossroads on the Overworld map. If this is your first session you will start with the first story, of which there are six, in the storybook. The storybook is what drives the narrative for the campaign. It will present the players with their mission and provide opportunities for narrative decisions to be made in a choose-your-own-adventure style format. Many times throughout the game, players will make skill checks to succeed at certain tasks or to avoid certain conditions. The player will be given a target number which they must roll higher than using a ten-sided die and adding relevant bonuses. Some of the choices may result in a player acquiring one of three colored story markers that can have an impact later in the story which gives these narrative moments some gravity that most games fail to actualize.
The Overworld map is made up of road segments that connect various towns and locations and large forest sections that are off-road areas. When players arrive in one of the town locations, there is a whole host of services available to them from recruiting party members, to healing services, to markets and more. When the party moves on the map, they resolve an encounter card based on whether they are on- or off- road. The party leader token, which moves around the group at the end of each movement during the Overworld phase and flips from day to night during this phase which impacts the on-road encounters which usually present a simple narrative choice. The off-road encounters are more likely to lead to a skirmish encounter, but often also with a narrative choice.
Skirmishes are simplified combats that do not involve the miniatures or the battle mats. One side of the enemy placards is dedicated to skirmishes. Players will face a number of enemies determined by the number of player characters. Players will make their attack rolls using the percentile dice (two ten-sided dice, one representing the tens place and the other for the ones) and any hit removes one enemy from the skirmish. No need to roll for damage. This makes cutting through enemies in a skirmish quite a bit easier, but to reflect this you will rarely earn lore from a skirmish.
The centerpiece battles of the main story narrative often play out on the battle mats. Here, players will engage in tactical combat typical of the dungeon crawl genre of board games. The storybook details where enemies are placed, as well as anything that the players may investigate or interact with during the battle. Attack rolls are again based on percentile dice, only now players will roll damage based on their stats and weapon bonuses. Enemies also roll a power die when they attack which dictates their attack should they hit. When enemies are defeated, players are rewarded with gold and lore and may search the bodies for a chance to find more gold or items. Players will follow this ebb and flow of various skirmishes, narrative battles, and encounters as they progress through the six stories presented in the storybook.
Folklore: The Affliction was high on my list of things to check out at Gen Con 50. I had followed the original Kickstarter closely. This was a game that looked to provide a deep roleplaying experience through its story-based campaign system. The combination of overworld map and encounter maps gave the hope for something deeper than your standard dungeon crawl. It’s no surprise that I am always looking for a roleplaying experience at the tabletop as my regular gaming group shies away from traditional RPGs and focuses more on board games so I could not wait to dive into Folklore.
Quality of Components and Insert
The box for Folklore: The Affliction is loaded with components. First, there are 352 cards ranging in size with a large size for the character and enemy placards, square cards for tracking health, mini cards for items, companions, and accessories, and standard cards for encounters. These are of decent thickness and felt sturdy enough to hold up well through multiple plays. Included are 12 standard polyhedral dice made up of two sets of d4, d6, d8, 2d10, and a percentile die. There are 10 double-sided battlemats, the rules and storybook booklets, and character booklets. The rulebook and storybook are well done and easy to read. Like a traditional RPG, there will be a lot of scouring the rulebook as you familiarize yourself with where specific rules are, but a detailed index proves very useful. The character booklets are very sturdy and thick. The battlemats are cardstock, rather than cardboard, allowing for more boards to be included in the core box. The copy I received for review was part of an advance shipment that mistakenly had a different component quality battlemat so I can only speculate, but assuming that they are on par with the rest of the components, I would trust that they would hold up well under standard circumstances. Finally, there are 35 miniatures for the characters and enemies, an Overworld map, and a whole mess of tokens for tracking various supplies and board conditions. The miniatures are on par with the best I have seen in boardgames. They have nice detail and should take nicely to painting should you so choose. They are also in a really nice form fitting insert with a printed sheet showing where each miniature goes. The Overworld map is a single fold game board, and the tokens are all of good thickness.
The art is very well done. Across the all of the character and enemy placards, the various item, companion, and ritual/prayer decks is consistent with the theme of a gritty fantasy world inspired by a late-medieval aesthetic. They smartly avoid the mistake of allowing the dark theme to lead toward a muddled palette and murky presentation. Instead, the art is clear with crisp lines and a strong use of colors. The battle mats are are easy to interpret and really help to set the mood when the story moments call for them. The user experience for managing the characters and enemies is assisted by smart graphic design that makes it relatively simple to reference all of the various stats that come into play during the various points of gameplay.
There is a lot of excitement around the table while playing Folklore: The Affliction. The stories are well written and provide plenty of roleplaying opportunities. Our table really enjoyed getting into character as we made these decisions. The battle mechanics are swingy enough that they provide both the cheers and jeers from exceptional rolls. The ability to play as a ghost for a time if your character dies in combat keeps everyone involved and ghosts are, somewhat surprisingly, still fun to play.
Difficulty and Age Range Suggestion
There is a lot going on in Folklore: The Affliction, but it is relatively simple. Players are primarily making skill checks on a d10, rolling to hit enemies with percentile dice (2d10), and tracking their character’s skills and items. Anyone with experience playing roleplaying games will feel right at home. Thematically it is a little dark and while the box indicates ages 14 and up, I think players as young as 10 should be able to enjoy this game mechanically. Parents should exercise some discretion or simply handle the storybook and do some ad lib editing as needed.
Folklore: The Affliction is the best “RPG-in-a-box” board game that I have played. There are many games that scratch that dungeon crawl itch to go up against enemies in a quest for better loot. Many have good campaigns and/or character progression, but all of them fall short of the Folklore: The Affliction. Between the depth of options available during character progression and the narrative options that drip from every blurb of text whether you are in the storybook, a random encounter, or even the cards themselves. This is not to say that Folklore is perfect.
You will find yourself regularly flipping through the rulebook because there is a lot going on in the game mechanically. There are edge cases where players will need to don their gamemaster hats and make a ruling on combat timing or how to interpret an enemy behavior. Our table found that combat could grind on a bit when on the tactical battlemats between dice going cold and the enemies needing quite a bit of work to whittle down their health. The game is difficult. You need to be comfortable spending a lot of your gold buying items and healing supplies. It is slow work leveling up your character, but it is very rewarding if you have the time to invest. Each story will take multiple hours and there are six in total for the campaign. Playing through Folklore: The Affliction requires a commitment of time, but I think it is wholly worth that investment. There are even mini-expansions available that add whole new mechanisms such as crafting into the game. If you want a fully cooperative roleplaying experience in a boardgame format, you simply can do no better than Folklore: The Affliction.
*There is currently a Kickstarter running for both a second printing of the game and an expansion. The second printing will be largely identical to the first. Errata have been corrected and the rulebook polished. The largest difference is that in an effort to make the base game more affordable, the miniatures have been removed in favor of standees in the box. The miniatures are still available as a component upgrade expansion. Folklore 2nd Printing Kickstarter