You might know The Binding of Isaac as the largely popular action roguelike video game that came out all the way back in 2011. But did you know that now there’s a multiplayer board game adaptation of said game that’s actually designed by the same creator, Edmond McMillen?! This competitive and cooperative card game for up to 4 players sees you playing as iconic characters such as Isaac and Judas to collect souls via defeating monsters and bosses. However, the game also employs unique mechanics of sabotaging and betraying your opponents whilst also being able to team up together.
The Binding of Isaac: Four Souls consists of three decks of cards: the monster deck, treasure deck, and loot deck. The monster deck, you guessed it, contains various enemies and bosses that come from the video game, that you must fight and defeat if you draw them. Each monster consists of its own set of health points, attack points, and reward for defeating it. Stronger monsters denoted as bosses come with a Soul symbol next to them, meaning defeating them grants you 1 out of the 4 souls needed to win the game. But this deck can also contain events, which can potentially curse or benefit the player who flipped the card. The treasure deck features powerful upgrades and abilities that can be purchased with coins and the loot deck consists of items and effects that can sabotage or help other players.
Players can choose between 1 of 11 characters to play as, each featuring their own unique starting item. Everyone also starts with 3 coins. Saddest player starts first! On a player’s turn, they can:
- play a loot card, such as drawing more cards, healing themselves, or stealing an opponent’s treasure
- buy a treasure card from the shop, which costs 10 coins and grants a permanent buff
- attack a monster from the 3 available monster slots
Players must end their turn by discarding down to 10 cards in their hand and drawing 1 loot card.
Combat is executed by rolling a six-sided dice, and if it is equal or higher to the monster, then the monster takes 1 damage. On the contrary, if your dice roll is too low, you take damage equal to the monster’s attack stat. Some enemies have special effects that trigger when they are attacked, so be sure to read the card in detail before attacking. You can only attack one monster, to the death, per turn, unless you have a special ability that allows you to do otherwise. During combat, you can also activate an item or ability that might turn the tides of battle, such as rerolling a dice or preventing damage.
The basic mechanics of the game are quite simple and easy to learn after the initial playthrough, with some similarities to Munchkin as well. Many abilities and cards change up the flow of the game, depending on if players tend to stick to building their own engine without sabotaging others. But there are a number of rules that add more depth and strategy to gameplay as well, such as when a player dies, they lose all their coins and loot cards, and destroy one of their permanent abilities. They also lose their current turn and wait for the next round before attempting to battle again.
The game actually encourages players to participate in “cooperation, barter, and betrayal.” Most items can be used to either help or hinder another player, so it might be in your best interest to lend a hand when you might need a hand down the line. For example, a card that you own might add +2 to a dice roll, and another player needs just that in order to not die. Will you help them? I can see this aspect of the game being quite vanilla and boring in a 2 player setting, but 4 player setups can get quite juicy and hectic.
Four Souls is a game that successfully captures the essence and spirit of the video game it is based on, while also offering a quick and fun card game experience. There are tons of cards in each of the decks, so the game is extremely replayable given the different combinations of cards, characters, and monsters that appear in every playthrough. Fans of the video game will also be delighted to see the many references and callbacks to the original. That being said, there isn’t too much depth here, given much of it comes down to pushing your luck on dice rolls, and I can see this being a bit too shallow for someone looking for a more sophisticated tabletop game.
All of the components are sturdily constructed and the game comes in a unique rectangular shaped treasure chest. The cards and coins fit snugly in the box and the setup/teardown is extremely fast. The artwork on each card is equally phenomenal, with each character or monster being depicted in detailed and disturbing ways. The included instruction manual is impressively written and colored to show exactly what the rules are and what each symbol on a card stands for. Play sessions generally last around 30 minutes, depending on how many people are playing, but it’s overall pretty quick. The game even includes handy reference cards for key terms too!
But wait, I’m not done yet. Those who enjoy the base game can also enjoy the first sizable expansion to the base game titled The Binding of Isaac: Four Souls Requiem. This DLC pack adds a ton of new content and features to the base game, featuring over 300 new cards, including new loot cards, treasure cards, and monster cards, along with several new playable characters. Most importantly, this expansion adds a brand new Solitaire mode or Co-Op Mode. A new type of deck called the Room deck is also introduced in Requiem, which acts as global modifiers to the game, whether it be a helpful or detrimental effect. I wouldn’t say this is a must-have expansion though, and should only be for those who love the base game and want some more variety and depth.
Binding of Isaac: Four Souls
The Binding of Isaac: Four Souls along with its Requiem expansion is a fantastic card game experience that perfectly captures the essence of the video game it’s based on. There are tons of variety and no two playthroughs are alike, remaining true to the roguelike nature of the original. The mechanics are also simple enough for beginners to learn but hard to master, although the mature and disturbing themes might be off putting to a younger crowd. The game is a must-have for any fan of The Binding of Isaac, and a highly recommended game for anyone who likes card games with a backstabbing twist.