Updated: Dec 4, 2019
This is a game that was self-published by its designer, Robert Burke, and was funded through Kickstarter. The premise may well remind you of the Chris De Burgh song “Spanish Train”. In this game, one player represents the forces of Heaven and the other Hell as they battle to reap the souls of the dead.
The souls up for grabs represent typical human archetypes, and, in this deluxe KS version, they also include the United States’ first seven Presidents. On the cards for each soul are a mortal weakness and a heavenly virtue (the seven deadly sins and their virtuous counterparts). Players hold and build hands of cards representing the sins and virtues. They are using them, just like in the Chris de Burgh song, to make poker hands which can be used to add Holy Points or Unholy Points to a soul to move it closer to Heaven or Hell. A card can be played to reap souls, which immediately whisks any soul with 4–6 HP or UP to Heaven or Hell but removes the others to Purgatory. This means that a reap card can be played defensively to remove souls at the brink of salvation or damnation.
What is most striking about Battle for Souls is the artwork. It draws heavily on Renaissance painting, although some of the artwork is 19th Century. All the illustrations drawn from works of art are properly attributed on each of the cards. The deluxe version includes cloth player mats, metal tokens and a couple of expansion modules. You’ll notice there are dice but these are principally used as markers rather than randomisers: they show the number of HP or UP on each soul.
This is a game that is quick to learn but has depth to its play because players are confronted with quite wide choices about how best to play their cards and to spend their HP or UP. Holy Relics, for example, can be bought by ‘spending’ HP already allocated to a soul (taking it further from salvation)… It is easier to add sin to an already sinful soul than it is to remove virtue from a virtuous soul (and vice versa) and the mechanics mean that there is a strong ‘push your luck’ element.
The rules explain how to sort and thin the souls deck to set the length of a game: playing with just a quarter of the cards means a game is likely to be completed in around 20 minutes. A full game will run to a little over an hour.
Battle for Souls claims to be two or four player game. Take that with a pinch of salt: it’s a four-player team game in the same way that Chess is a four-player team game (ie: not really at all). On the other hand, the game includes solitaire rules, and they work. That means this is a game that is playable by a sole player. ☺