Year: 2020 | Players: 1-4 | Minutes: 60+ | Ages: 14+
This The Stygian Society review was made after playing the game six times. We were sent a copy of this game by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
What is The Stygian Society?
The Stygian Society is a cooperative dungeon crawl in which you play as a group of uniquely-skilled heroes who attempt to fight to the top of a six-level tower to take on a powerful wizard. Rather than rolling dice in this game, you (and the enemies) instead drop cubes into a cube tower.
The Stygian Society was designed by Kevin Wilson (TMNT Adventures) and is published by APE Games.
The Stygian Society Gameplay
Your goal in The Stygian Society is to make it to the top of the six-level tower and defeat the wizard. Each level of the tower has different enemies you’ll need to fight, including a mid-boss on the third level. Your heroes have unique skills that they can use to fight the enemies, but the enemies have their own unique abilities that they’ll use to try to stop you.
The focal point of the game is the cube tower. It tracks your party’s progress up the tower and it’s where you dump everyone’s skill cubes. Some cubes make it through the tower when you drop them in and some will get knocked through on a future turn. Any hero or enemy cubes that land inside of the fenced-in crypt count as two cubes. The cubes are only removed from the crypt and the field when heroes or enemies use them and when the heroes clear a level.
There are four tracks on the main board: Luck, Experience, Party Wounds, and Peril. Luck is gained in multiple ways and it can be spent to get cubes of any color. When your party gains enough experience by defeating enemies, everyone levels up and gets a new skill card (each hero has multiple Level 1, 2, and 3 skill cards). The Party Wounds track is where you track your team’s health. You’ll gain Peril whenever an enemy attacks you and you’ll trigger Peril Events when you reach the thresholds shown on the room cards.
During a turn, you’ll choose a target, choose an Attack skill to use (either your own or one of the three generic actions), gather the cubes shown plus the Peril cubes shown on the room/mid-boss/wizard card, and drop all of those cubes in the cube tower. The enemies and the room then activate if there are enough cubes on the board to trigger their abilities. Then you get to attack your target if you have the cubes you need. There are also Support, Passive, and Response skill cards that you can use during your turn and sometimes during other players’ turns.
After you clear a level, you get one or more chests to open, which usually trigger negative effects if you have too much Peril. After that, you get two treasure cards that are either given to individual heroes or they are cards that the whole party can use.
You’ll beat the game if you defeat the wizard at the top of the tower. You’ll lose if your team takes too many wounds or if another loss condition is triggered.
That should give you an idea of how the game plays, but I definitely didn’t go over everything. Check out The Stygian Society rulebook (PDF) for more info.
- The cube tower in The Stygian Society is fantastic. Dropping cubes into it has the same type of tension as rolling dice, but there’s a lot less randomness because you know exactly what’s going into the tower. Plus, it works as it should, blocking some of the cubes that you drop into it so you’re never sure what’s going to pop out each turn. And, since this is a co-op, it brings something new to the table because you often have to decide if you want to use cubes for your actions or keep them on the board for someone else to use.
- The crypt is also great. First of all, it’s just really cool that both you and the enemies can get the double-cube bonus for the cubes that drop into the crypt. The crypt is also the perfect distance from the tower, so a pretty low percentage of cubes fall into it.
- I’ve now played with all four of the heroes and they definitely do all feel different, especially once you get them leveled up. You’ll usually get a different mix of skills to work with and you can build some great combos with your own skills, the treasure cards, and your teammates’ skills. Plus, once you level up a couple of times, it’s a lot of fun strategizing with your teammates so you can potentially do a lot of damage.
- The different enemies make you approach each level in different ways. They line up on two different ranks, so you need to find a way to defeat the ones that are going to give you the most problems while also helping out your teammates when you can. Each tower level is a fun tactical puzzle.
- I’m a big fan of the Peril system because it affects the heroes in multiple ways, giving you more to think about each turn. Not only do you have to worry about Peril Events being triggered, you also want to keep your Peril low in case you get a bad Chest card when you complete a level.
- There’s very little downtime while playing The Stygian Society, even in four-player games. A lot of that has to do with everyone being interested in seeing what comes out of the cube tower every turn. There are also some skills that can be used on other players’ turns, so most players will stay engaged throughout.
- I think The Stygian Society has massive replay value. You’ll have different heroes and skills, you’ll face different rooms/enemies, the cube tower makes each turn unpredictable, and even the treasure chests can change up how the games play out. I’ve played it six times so far and the sixth game was just as exciting as the first couple.
- A well-written storybook is included that introduces you to the four heroes. That was a nice and surprising addition.
- There’s a male and female version of each hero. Awesome.
- You’re pretty much on autopilot during the early game since you only have a couple of skills to work with. It isn’t boring by any means since dropping the cubes in the cube tower is still exciting, but it’s usually obvious what you should do during those initial turns.
I’m not sure why they designed the room cards the way they did. There’s a “front” and “back” rank for the monsters, but they’re lined up in two vertical columns down the side of each room card, making them look like “left” and “right” groups. It would have made a lot more sense to line them up horizontally at the bottom of the room cards to avoid confusion.
- I think some player aids would have been a big help to new players. The game has a unique turn flow, especially during the enemy phase, so some player aids would have made those first two or three games go smoother.
- I’m surprised the rulebook doesn’t include ways to adjust the difficulty. I like that it’s very challenging, but I think some people will find it a bit too tough and frustrating during their initial plays since it’s very possible to lose before you even reach the mid-boss (happened to us multiple times). It would’ve been great if they included some way to make it a bit easier.
I think The Stygian Society is an excellent cooperative game. The cube tower is awesome and definitely more than just a gimmick, the heroes all have cool skills that make you feel powerful, and each game plays out differently. Every time we decided on an action and dropped cubes into that tower during those first six games, I was fully immersed and genuinely excited. It’s consistently fun and it’s a unique gaming experience, which is a combination of compliments that I can’t give most fantasy co-ops that come out these days.
If you like cube towers or you think you will, absolutely give The Stygian Society a try. If you enjoy challenging cooperative board games, chances are you’ll really like this one. It works as a two-player game (you can play with multiple heroes each or use the included two-player variant), but I’d mostly recommend it as a three or four-player game.
The Stygian Society is one of the best new co-op games that I’ve played so far this year. I believe it is the first cooperative game with a cube tower and it works so well here that I’m hoping more come out in the future.
Update: The Stygian Society was included on my Best Co-ops of 2020 list!
The Stygian Society Links
BGG | Amazon | Cardhaus
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