Divinity Original Sin: The Board Game Early Impressions
Setting friends and foes alike on fire, devising creative (if not overly complex) solutions, and tense strategic battles are just a few of the things that Larian Studios’ magnificent Divinity: Original Sin series is known for - and now, cardboard, dice, and plastic miniatures can be added to that list.
Divinity Original Sin: The Board Game (simply referred to as Divinity going forward) has begun arriving on backers’ doorsteps, and I had the privilege of getting an advanced copy to check out before the retail edition hits the Larian Shop. Having spent a few hours with the game, checking out the tutorial and early scenarios, I’m feeling optimistic that I may have found my new favorite campaign-style board game.
Divinity is a campaign-style epic board game that lets one to four players create characters (or use pre-generated ones) and journey through an evolving story over more than 40 stages -known as locations- leveling up and gaining new abilities. These locations are found in the large book known as The Divine Atlas, which serves as the game’s main playboard. Even in the early goings, Divinity will feel very comfortable to play for fans of tabletop RPGs such as Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder.
Opening the MASSIVE box for the first time, I was greeted by the large Divine Atlas, a thick rulebook, two large trays, a plethora of cardboard components to pop out and assemble, and different decks of cards to unwrap. On the box and components alone, it ranks pretty high as one of the most complex games in my collection.
After sorting the cards into their respective slots in the trays and assembling the health dials, I dove into the rulebook to prepare myself for the tutorial, which conveniently had all its necessary components stored separately, including some duplicate cards to make the setup easier.
This removes the need for you to sort through the other cards for the required tutorial content. I can’t think of another campaign game of this scale that has a better implementation of a tutorial; it was brilliant.
As I mentioned a moment ago, at first sight, I went in expecting to be overwhelmed and crushed under the weight of complex rules and systems to juggle, but the experience so far has been the opposite. Thanks to the tutorial and the well-structured rulebook, with a section specifically designed to help you through the tutorial and plenty of pictures with examples of scenarios to help players along, I’ve been surprised by how quickly I picked up the general flow of the game and most of its mechanics.
There are a few odd spots that are less clear or a bit confusing, but I’ve come to learn that in large-scale games like Divinity, it’s a safe bet that there will be some oddities mixed in that were missed. With the good general gist of the rules fresh in my mind, I cracked open the Divine Atlas, and dove right in.
Combat, arguably the most complex aspect of the game, is handled via a mix of cards that represent your basic gear and your special abilities (fireballs and the like) and various dice. Weapon cards and abilities cards will tell you what dice you roll for damage, the type of damage you do (physical damage, magical damage, elemental damage, etc), and any special effects that may trigger depending on what you roll. Each action you take, similar to the video game, will spend a number of Action Points from your pool, and you can use as many actions as your AP total allows.
It seems that Larian has found a solid balance between luck and strategy in combat. The inclusion of dice rolls makes it feel more like an authentic tabletop RPG endeavor. While I didn’t have access to many in the early game, browsing through the items and equipment you can get, it's clear that there are ways to let you reroll dies to help you.
Most special abilities also have a cooldown associated with them, meaning once used, you will need to wait a few turns before the card returns to your hand and can be used again. Players familiar with the video game versions of Divinity: Original Sin will recall the importance of taking advantage of various environmental hazards and traps. I am happy to report that these interactions have successfully been adapted in the board game, letting you set areas on fire that are covered in oil, and more - great for setting your friends on fire or poisoning them (I say while glaring at my Divinity group.)
A couple of hours later, slinging spells and stabbing fools (with perhaps one or two acts of “god” that magically changed some unfortunate dice rolls), I had successfully completed the tutorial. My would-be heroes had escaped from their prison in the bowels of the ship and found themselves washed ashore on a nearby beach, ready to start the adventure proper.
When I wasn’t dealing with the game’s combat, I was exploring and investigating the different areas of the region I was in. Flipping the associated cards and rolling dice to see what would happen. It captured that feeling I had while playing through Divinity: Original Sin 2 with friends, from discovering items that would make my character stronger to setting off a trap and hurting everyone. Good times, I assure you.
I ended up going back through and replaying the tutorial locations a few more times, each time with different characters (known as Origins) and even using custom-created Origins based on members of my co-op playthrough of Divinity: Original Sin 2. I’ve been impressed how even starting out, the characters felt unique thanks to their starting abilities and how much strategy mattered. However, I worry that it could be difficult or uninteresting to specialize in one specific school of combat due to a low number of skills in each school of skills (two Level 1 and 2 options and then a single Level 3,4 and 5 skill). With seven skills per school and 12 schools to choose from, I’m not worried, though, about a lack of character choice in general. I’m just a little concerned about being forced to multi-class.
Divinity is also releasing with a few stretch goal-funded expansions, including the Dungeon & Nightmare Mode box I spent some time playing around in. This particular expansion removes the story progression aspects of the game. Instead, it makes Divinity more of a roguelike, combat-focused experience - putting you and your group of up to four players against increasingly difficult combat scenarios. As you progress, you can level up your characters and purchase new items as you would during the main game.
As a big fan of the combat of the Divinity board game, I’ve sunk some good time into this mode, challenging myself to come up with and try new character builds. I wish that this expansion in particular, had been included in the core game’s box - as it's such a great (and fun) resource for testing out ideas before taking them through the campaign proper, along with being a pretty quick experience.
So far, Divinity seems to have successfully captured that essence of the source material while still keeping things pretty approachable. I can’t decide if the best move that Larian has made with Divinity is either the self-contained tutorial or having Divine Atlas serve as the gameboard, forgoing a tile-based map system. While I enjoy other campaign games like Resident Evil 2 and Cthulhu: Death May Die, the fact that I have to construct each level I play using the included tiles has made the prospect of playing them seem like a chore - regardless of how much I enjoy them. Larian’s decision to have Divinity’s levels be just a page turn away, with supplemental decks of cards fleshing out the locations, makes the game quicker to set up and much more enticing. Nothing kills my urge to play a game more than it being a chore to set up.
Divinity feels like a game that will easily continue to thrive with a continued release of more expansions. Just browsing through the list of locations in the Divine Atlas, it is clear that this board game doesn’t cover the entire story of Divinity: Original Sin 2 along with the fact that the level cap in this game is only six, which means there is a lot of room for more content. There are plenty of skills that could be brought over from the video game that I would love to see (where’s my Dome of Protection??).
Divinity Original Sin: The Board Game has the potential to be my favorite campaign board game in my collection. Even in the early game, it is clear that the team at Larian has really made sure to capture the spirit of the source material and what makes these games special. Hopefully, that care carries through the entire game, but knowing their pedigree, I have a pretty good feeling it will. Now, it's time to get back to the cardboard and get to rolling those dice; Rivellon isn’t going to set itself on fire after all!
Divinty Original Sin: The Board Game is currently available for preorder over on Larian Studios' Merch Store! Thanks to Larian, who provided an advance copy of the game for us to check out.