Today we talk about Four Against Darkness, a solitary or cooperative dungeon crawling game. Created by Italian author Andrea Sfiligoi, it has come under our attention because SKS Giochi published a revised Italian version. The English version of Four Against Darkness is sold on Amazon at 12,99$, while in Italian it is available in a digital version from Ganesha Games and distribuited in stores in collaborations with MS Edizioni.
From Ganesha Games we have received a PDF copy of the basic manual for review, so let’s not waste time and head into the darkness!
How Four Against Darkness was born
We can tell what inspired this game directly from the words of its author:
Four Against Darkness was born from my need to play something similar to a roleplaying game (without having to depend on the presence of other players) and a book-game (without spending hours reading, but underlining the “game” part). The game had to be simple from a mathematical point of view, highly randomized and playable without the aid of planks, cards or other items. Everything had to be seasoned with a good splash of nostalgia, because I am aware that the average player today is a middle-aged man who remembers his youth with pleasureAndrea Sfiligoi, from his interview for the site “Giochetti e Sfizietti”
The classic never goes out of style
In Four Against Darkness, the player manages a group of four explorers (3 each in the cooperative version). The heroes are created from among 8 classes, three of which are race-classes (the elf, the halfling and the dwarf). All the classes are simple and classic, pieces of nostalgia from the games of yesterday.
The cards are elementary. On an A4, there is room for the whole group.
Character creation takes no more time than it takes to walk a few steps and open the first door of the dungeon.
In the spells, We find the same simplicity and classic approach. There are only 6 of them: Blessing, Escape, Magic Lightning, Fireball, Protection, and Sleep. What else would you ever need?
Even the equipment is basic. Weapons and armor are only listed by type.
In the game you have to explore a dungeon populated by monsters, strewn with traps, secret doors, clues and treasures. Reading the manual I really got a wave of nostalgia, visions of me as a teenager, with my friends, exploring dungeons every Saturday afternoon in the rumpus room without needing anything else from life.
Four Against Darkness has a rapid and explosive nature, made up of 6 dice that explode and 1 that means automatic failure in no uncertain terms. In short, a real Old School that offers few breaks. On the other hand, among the sources of inspiration, Andrea Sfiligoi includes first edition of D&D, Tunnel & Trolls, and the series of Fighting Fantasy book-games, right out of the elder days of role-playing.
Four Agains Darkness in detail
With 2d6 you do everything, at least for the basic game. With the growth of the characters through the published supplements, chances of success on the dice increase, showing the growth of the heroes. The action is always in the hands of the players, who roll both in attack and in defense against fixed values.
What about the dungeon? The dice describe it and you draw it as it is gradually revealed! There are 6 initial rooms and 36 possible further developments, decided by the roll of 2d6. You can rotate them or modify them slightly as needed to connect them up properly to the map already drawn, after which you get to look at what’s inside! The rooms can be populated by means of the same randomness. You can find secret doors or traps and make the place you’re exploring unique and come alive by adding objects, features or events.
Monsters can be encountered in static locations or found wandering around the dungeon. They are divided into minor and major categories, and then the final boss. The rules of combat are simple but, thanks to the dice, the behavior of who or what you meet might vary widely. So, it isn’t just about drawing a map and rolling dice until the characters or the monsters die, there is much more.
By dint of overcoming the obstacles encountered, the characters can get a shot at leveling-up. The basic edition of Four Against Darkness is designed to handle characters of up to 5th level. For those who want more, there are the diabolical monsters and their variants, or Four Against the Abyss (one of the supplements), which is designed to handle characters from 5th level up to 9th.
Four Against Darkness: wherever, whenever!
Four Against Darkness was essentially designed to be played solo, but it is also possible to play it in a competitive mode for two players or a cooperative mode to share your fun with company. The necessary material is really minimal: a pencil, two six-sided dice and a sheet of paper. Miniatures and other trimmings can help, sure, but they aren’t necessary.
The preparation time is almost zero, and a game lasts as long as you want. The large element of randomization also makes it very replayable,
This game can be played almost any place at any available moment. You can play in whatever time you have available or you can play to just to defeat the final monster. There are rules for resting, for saving petrified characters, for marching orders, for loot. Everything that affects gameplay in a simple and practical way has been taken into consideration and rendered in such a way as to be enjoyable, without the need for many rules or much preparation.
The extreme simplicity and the relatively small number of some choices might make you think it doesn’t offer enough variety for extended play, or that leads swiftly to repetition. The situations end up being always different as they unfold, especially in the cooperative mode of play. There are a large number of supplements, as mentioned, that we will discuss in detail in another article.
The digital product
At the moment we can only rate the digital edition of Four Against Darkness. The manual is made up of 106 double-column pages in black and white. The content is simple and smooth reading. All the images of the classes are very beautiful and in a modern style, while the rest of the product presents simpler images, excellent for evoking the nostalgia for the graphic style of the first role-playing games even more.
The tables are large and easy to consult; the classes and monsters described in a concise way. This is true of the maps of random rooms, also. At the end of the manual there are some summary pages that allow you to see the whole main skeleton of the game. Perhaps there are a few tables to consult here and there, the physical version may be more convenient.
Obviously a little color, a sharper cover and a bit more creativity in the layout would have made the manual more captivating, but probably would have inflated a price beyond its very accessible current value, also given the longevity of the product.
Last thoughts before adventuring
Four Against Darkness is a very sharply focused product. It offers a window on an always different old school dungeon, allowing you to live it both alone or with friends. The rules are simple to remember and apply, and the random tables really generate a lot of detail, giving depth to the solo experience and also providing places to expand the narrative in a group game.
The price is very interesting, especially if you think in how many situations you can decide to take four heroes and lead them on a dungeon delve – even alone – in almost any environment, even when you have but little time.
There are also many supplements on the market, which No Dice Unrolled will review for you later, with which you can broaden and diversify your experiences with the game.
There is little more to say other than complimenting Andrea Sfiligoi for having the inspiration to create a game that has its own precise location, in a niche little explored by other products in the hobby.