December 7, 2023

A Non-RPG Review? Dark Force Incursion

A little insight into my personal life, if you’ll allow me: When non-initiated friends or family members ask me what Charmstone Games is, I tell them it’s a boardgame company. In the broadest possible sense, that’s sort of true. The problem is, if you don’t know what an RPG is, it takes too long to explain and it probably won’t come across anyway. So if you’re not already in the know, you probably come away thinking I write about Monopoly on my blog, and try to think of new ways to play Clue.

The other day, the fine folks over at Dark Realm Maps asked me to review their game Dark Force Incursion. I was torn at first, as I’ve been pretty much sticking exclusively to TTRPG content. However, it’s my dang site, and I can talk about whatever I want. I’ve played the game and now I’m gonna tell you about it. While playing, I also came up with a way to incorporate Dark Force Incursion to your next role-playing session. Everybody wins, let’s get to it.

So what is Dark Force Incursion? At its most basic level, DFI is a single-player, hex-based territory capture game. You download one of several pre-generated maps and begin in a designated hexagonal space. Each facet is labeled clockwise 1 to 6. You roll a d6 which moves your “army” into the next available hex. This process is repeated to build out your available areas. Without copy and pasting the rules, you attempt to maneuver your army in this manor to capture fortresses by moving into their space. However, you can be turned back by rolling the same number twice in a row, which causes the dark forces to appear to spoil your fun. If you spawn too many of the dark forces or fail to capture the majority of forts, you lose.

I’d encourage you to take a look at the rules and map yourself here.

For me, the rules didn’t really come together until I sat down and tried to play. I found myself wondering where the strategy started and the randomness ended. Eventually it became clear the skill portion came in deciding where you decide to try to move from. If you’re not careful, you can end up putting yourself in an unwinnable position by being too greedy. You also have to pick your spots and be aggressive when the time is right to score a fort.

After a few rounds, the game becomes pretty fun and intuitive. I’d compare it favorably to solitaire. Sometimes the draws are against you and there’s no way to win, but more often than not, you’ve got a fighting chance. If you like math puzzles or domino-like games, I’d definitely recommend you give this a try.

About halfway through my first game though, it dawned on me: this would make a fantastic puzzle for an RPG game. One of my favorite TTRPG puzzles experiences was when the DM whipped out the board to Perfection. If you’ve never heard of it, Perfection is a game where you have a limited amount of time to match a series of plastic shapes before the mechanical board pops and sends all of your progress flying. Our characters had to align arcane sigils before a trap was sprung to get past a magically trapped door. Each turn ran 5 seconds of the game timer. It was so tense and exciting- I really can’t recommend this kind of encounter enough.

In the simplest sense, you could use Dark Forces Incursion to have a character simulate a large scale battle. You could perhaps let them re-roll disadvantages d6s upon passing a charisma check to represent them inspiring their army to victory. But despite its name and flavor, Dark Force Incursion doesn’t have to exclusively be a military sim. I think this game system would do well to stand in for any abstract concept you were trying to convey. In a puzzle, the capture of the fortresses could instead represent linking nodes of magical energy to cast a particularly complex and powerful spell, or if you’re in a sci-fi/cyberpunk setting, I think this would be an awesome way to simulate breaching security measures to hack into a computer. The best way to implement this would be to include some kind of race against time element. One player can take a turn to roll a d6 and move on the Incursion board while a horde of baddies descend on the players. The other party members play defense slaying monsters desperately trying to buy the hacker/spellcaster more time. Honestly, I’m getting pretty excited to include this as a key piece of an encounter. I think the drama will be through the roof.

Another small but kinda fun aspect is that this game gives you an excuse to use the hex side of your vinyl battle mat rather than standard grid. If you’ve always wanted to walk on the wildside, here’s your chance.

Anyway, this game is well worth it to try on your own, but if you’re looking for a novel, innovative challenge to spring on your players, Dark Forces Incursion is doubly worth it. And if you liked hearing me talk about non-RPGs or have a game you’d like me to review, drop me a line at [email protected].

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