My brother loves everything related to the Binding of Isaac, and it’s one of the games he’s proud to have nearly perfectly completed. So when he heard of a board game kickstarter, of course he had to go and spend €50 on the game, which arrived just before Christmas. And it’s alright.
The Binding of Isaac: Four Souls is a board/card game where four people can play as one of the characters from the Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth, using various items from the Binding of Isaac series. Players take turns attacking monsters by rolling dice and buying and using various loot and treasure items. The winner is the first person to obtain four souls, hence the name of the game.
Okay, so gameplay is pretty simple once you’ve worked it out. Each player starts off with a couple of coins, three loot cards, a character card and that character’s eternal treasure item. Loot items are items like “get 2 coins” or “do 1 damage” or things like that, and you may play up to two per turn. Treasure items are cards you can play that have powerful effects. Some can only be used once per turn, some are passive. Trinkets are loot cards that work like treasure cards and give passive effects.
A player starts their turn by drawing one loot card. They have the option of playing a loot card, buying a treasure item from the shop if they have 10 coins, using one of their treasure items or attacking an enemy. Non-passive treasure items can be used once per turn and then need recharging, either by waiting until your next turn or using a loot item like a Battery to recharge them.
Attacking an enemy requires rolling a D6 and getting a higher roll than the number on an enemy card. So for example, if you want to attack a Dip (a very small, weak enemy), a dip has a health of 1, an attack of 1 and requires a dice roll of 3 or more to kill. A player can roll a dice and if they get a 3 or more, the Dip dies and the player claims the reward noted on the bottom of the card. If they roll a 2 or less, they take 1 damage. Players have 2 damage (which can be boosted by treasure and loot) and if a player dies, they lose a coin, a loot card and a treasure card.
That sounds fine on an enemy like a Dip, that only has one health. But most enemies have 2 or 3 health and many enemies require a roll of 4 or higher. Boss enemies, unless you are insanely lucky, will probably kill you the first time you attack them, but bosses do reward a soul if you manage to kill them. Most souls come from killing bosses, but you can also earn a soul from the loot pile, getting specific treasure items or by adding three extra souls to the game – one for the first person to get 25 coins, one for the first person to have 10 loot cards in their hand and one for the first person to get 2 Guppy items.
Of course, that’s where loot and treasure cards come into play. Loot items like Bomb allow you to do one damage, so you can increase your chances by doing damage before actually attacking. Trinkets like Cancer give you a +1 to your first dice roll, while Curved Horn gives you +1 damage on your first roll, allowing you to potentially 1-hit-kill some enemies. Charge items like Godhead allow you to change a roll to 6 once per turn, while other charge items like Flush allow you to discard enemies without killing them or earning loot. Some cards, like Sacred Heart, allow you to change any 1 into a 6 and vice versa whenever you want as a passive item.
It’s not all simple though. Other players can come in and use their loot cards occasionally (by tapping their player cards) and ruin all your progress. There are quite a few cards that allow you to hurt other players, kill other players, steal their items and even some that allow you to steal a player’s souls.
But dying sucks ass, especially early on when you don’t have many cards. In fact, early on, you can die twice and find yourself in an unrecoverable position with no loot cards to play and thus no way to earn coins or treasure.
Eternal treasure cards though are something else entirely. Some of them are very strong. Some of them… not so much. In fact, the eternal cards are probably more important than the player cards, as almost all of them except from the Lost have the same health and damage. Some of them are insanely strong, for example Isaac’s D6 allows you to reroll a dice roll. That sounds strong, but then again Dice Shards are common as normal loot items. Lilith’s Incubus allows you to swap a card from your hand with a card from someone else’s or look at the top card of the loot card deck and swap it with one of your own, but neither of those are usable if you don’t have many loot cards to begin with. Lazarus gets a free treasure item every time he dies, which is pretty strong early on but Samson has a +1 damage he can activate almost whenever he wants, basically guaranteeing that he can kill most weaker enemies.
The character balance, if I’m honest, isn’t that good. Actually, card balance in general is all over the place. The rules are a little bit… vague as well. There’s a lot of crap that no one wants, there are a lot of literal trap cards (e.g. curse cards disguised as treasure cards), a lot of cards that get rid of crap so you can get strong stuff, and then there’s stupidly powerful shit like Dead Cat, which literally gives you +9 health! That’s INSANELY strong considering that every player has 1-2 health and dies in 1-2 hits!
Frankly, a lot of the rules, you have to agree on yourself. Like how many times can players trade, whether getting a random chance card in the monster deck counts as an attack, whether you can use a charge item outside of your turn or not or if you want to use the three extra souls.
There are problems though. There’s a lot of cards that can come into play at any moment, and it’s hard to keep track of things, especially for cards that, for example, have effects when you roll a certain number. You NEED to read cards carefully because they are written in a specific way. Discard is NOT the same as Kill, so you don’t get loot if you discard an enemy. You have to wait until YOUR NEXT turn to recharge your items, they don’t recharge at the end of your turn. No, Godhead DOES NOT COUNT AS A LOOT ITEM. The passive on player cards says you may use an additional LOOT item at any time. GODHEAD DOES NOT COUNT.
If you want to try this game, try not to play with people who will do anything to help their boy/girlfriend. Because then they will do everything in their power to stop their boy/girlfriend from losing and everything they can to fuck you up. Because, even though you’re supposed to both work together and back-stab each other, you constantly get situations where two players can just give each other cards for one coin (so basically for free – or they can just give each other stupidly powerful cards for free) and constantly extend their turns, while always targeting curses and negatives at the other players. Four Souls works best as a 4 player game, but playing 1v1v2 is the worst.
That being said, while Four Souls is recommended with 4 players, I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t play with up to 8 players. The rounds would take longer, but it means you can make far more use out of the player vs player aspects of the game.
Would I recommend Four Souls? I guess, if you like really long card games and the potential to become stupidly overpowered. And frankly, despite how many cards there are, I kept on seeing the same ones over and over.