Theme and What is it?
You are a member of the Stygian Society, a trans-national covert government organization. Today, your mission is to scale a tower and defeat the mad wizard residing within. On your quest you will find items and develop your skills to aid you in your quest. Along the way, you will face an army of monstrous opponents and devious traps set by the wizard. Work together and victory may be yours.
* I played a preview copy of the game so some rules may change before final publication. Also, some of the pictures show an older iteration of the status board.
The Stygian Society is a cooperative game for one to four players. Each player will choose a hero and take the corresponding hero mat and skill decks and a set of the four status cards. Skills range from level 1 to level 3. Players will begin with a random first-level skill. Each hero mat also features a skill. Shuffle the chest cards, lower floor treasure, and upper floor treasure decks individually, placing the chest and lower floor treasure cards onto the status board. The status board also features tracks for experience, peril, party wounds, and luck. Players will place markers on to these tracks as indicated. The tower and crypt are placed as indicated onto the tower board.
To begin a floor of the tower, players will draw an enemy card which dictates the nature of that floor and enemies located therein. During play, players will drop cubes into the tower and as they fall through they will end up in either the crypt or the field, while some will get temporarily stuck inside the tower. At the beginning of a floor, any cubes in the crypt or field are cleared from the board, while any within the tower remain. Peril is set to “0” at the beginning of a floor unless otherwise instructed.
On a player’s turn they have a few options. If they have any support skills, they may activate one before taking their action. Many of these skills are exhausted after use and cannot be used again until after the party levels up from experience gain. Next, a player chooses an action, either one of their own, or from one of the three generic actions on the status board. For most actions, you must first select a target. You then gather the enemy cubes as indicated on the floor card (usually at minimum one yellow, one red, and one black cube) from the supply. Then take any hero cubes as indicated by the selected action. Grey cubes on an action are wild and a player may take a blue, green, or white cube according to their preference. All of the gathered cubes are then dropped into the tower from roughly one inch above the tower, being careful not to jostle the tower. All cubes are taken from the supply. If there are not enough hero cubes, then players simply lose out on those cubes. However, if there are not enough enemy cubes, the peril increases by one for every missing cube.
Cubes that fall out the bottom of the tower will either end up in the field, or in the crypt. When spending cubes for actions, cubes in the field are worth one point while those in the crypt are worth two. However, crypts from the cube are used in full, they do not leave a remainder or “give change.” Should two cubes of the same color enter the crypt in a single turn, the team gains a point of luck. Luck may be spent at any time as a replacement for one cube of any color.
After the cubes have been dropped into the tower, the team must first resolve enemy actions (some hero actions resolve before enemy actions, but this is an exception to the rule). Players will first resolve the actions for any red-bordered enemies in play and triggering an action if enough cubes are present between the field and crypt to activate it. Enemy actions only activate once per turn, even if there are enough cubes to perform an action multiple times. When powering enemy actions, the players should only take from the crypt when necessary and should spend the cubes as economically as possible. If there are no red-bordered enemies, then the players check the current floor’s sheet to see if there are any actions triggered by red cubes. This process is then repeated for yellow and black, first triggering appropriately colored enemies, and then floor actions if there was no enemy present. For any actions triggered, both enemy and floor actions, increase the peril by one. If peril reaches the threshold for a floor ability, it triggers immediately. Additionally, the heroes can lose if the peril rises too far. If the heroes suffer any wounds, mark them on the wound tracker, reducing damage by the active player’s armor if applicable.
Hero actions are executed in the same manner as enemy actions. Players will pull cubes from the field and/or crypt to complete their action. If the action is a healing action, reduce the number if party wounds as indicated by the action. When dealing wounds to enemies, place wound tokens on the correlating enemy. If you kill an enemy, adjust the experience (XP) track by that enemy’s experience value. If the current XP ever exceeds the blue marker, the party immediately gains a level at which point the XP marker is reset to zero and the blue marker in increased by one. All exhausted hero cards refresh, and the players gain a skill. When gaining a skill, players may select a skill from any rank they currently have, or acquire a skill randomly from the next higher rank. As enemies die, the ranks reform with enemies first sliding to the left and then “falling down” to the front rank if there is an opening. Enemies “fall” to the front in priority of red, then yellow, then black.
Sometimes, either from enemy actions or traps, a player may be afflicted with a status condition. When a status is triggered, players randomly place a green, white, or blue cube onto the appropriate status card. This is repeated for every occurance of the status. If a player is “stricken” three times, they will add three cubes to the status card. At the end of any future turn, a player may spend cubes from the field and/or crypt to remove any status tokens acquired in previous turns.
Once heroes have cleared a floor of all enemies, they may choose to open any or all treasure chests on that floor as indicated on the floor card. For each chest the players choose to open, draw a card and compare its value, located in the upper right, with the current peril. If the value is less than or equal to the current peril, read the effects of the card. Otherwise, the effect is ignored. In either case, the heroes draw two treasure cards from the appropriate deck before reshuffling the chest cards. Treasures may be either team treasures or hero treasures. Before beginning a new floor, players may trade treasures.
On the third floor, players will face a mid-boss. This enemy operates similarly to regularly enemies, but is generally bigger and nastier. Sometimes they are single enemies, other times they are supported by regular enemies. In this case, the regular enemies will flee when the mid-boss is defeated, but enemies who flee yield zero XP. Once the mid-boss is defeated, turn over the boss card to see what lasting effect comes into play for the rest of the tower. This will always include replacing the lower-floor treasures with the upper-floor treasures. On the sixth floor, players will face the wizard, drawn at random. Like the mid-boss, the wizard is faced like any other floor, but if the wizard is defeated, the players win the game immediately.
I have been a long time fan of Kevin Wilson’s cooperative designs and I have never played a game with a randomizer such as the tower. These two factors had me excited to get The Stygian Society to the table.
Game Build Quality
This was a preview copy with prototype components.
The status board in my copy was still undergoing revisions to improve the layout. The hero mats and skill cards appeared to be final art and looked pretty good. The iconography is easy to interpret and once the rulebook is finalized for consistency, the user experience will be very intuitive. I liked the artstyle of the heroes and enemies and am interested to see what the final product looks like.
Age Range & Weight
The box recommends ages 14 and up and I think this is a bit high. The game is fully cooperative so more experienced players can take lead if necessary. The base strategies are relatively simple and I think younger players could be guided toward making the best decision from the options available to them. The table can assist younger players with talking through the state of the game and the management of how many cubes are in the field vs how many remain in the supply. The biggest hurdle for younger players is probably the tower itself, as it is very important to the gameplay that it not be jostled accidently during the course of play.
I found The Stygian Society very interesting and enjoyable to play. I had never played a game with this type of randomizing element and I enjoyed the gameplay challenges that it presented. I also liked the different options available to the characters and that they all felt pretty different in play style. There is a lot of replayability based on the amount of floor cards, mid-bosses, and final wizard cards. Additionally, players will be able to experiment with different skills in successive playthroughs and there is always a random element to which skills players get if they choose to push for the highest level skills. The game did seem to play a bit longer than advertised, though that may be a case of our group really weighing our options when trying to solve the puzzle of each level, which is a common issue for cooperative games. We had some trouble with rules, but I think this was an issue of working with prototype rules, rather than being indicative of any problems with the actual game design. I am looking forward to seeing the final product for The Stygian Society and I think you should keep an eye out for when it arrives.