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Dungeon Solitaire: Labyrinth of Souls: Tarot Card Game Paperback – June 22, 2016
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About the Author
Matthew Lowes is a writer of weird fiction and games. His stories have appeared in a variety of print and online magazines, including Dark Recesses and Anotherealm. He is the author of Elements of Chess, a beginner to intermediate guide to chess, and Giant, a paper and pencil giant robot wargame. He is currently working on a trilogy of fantasy novels, a collection of horror stories, and two roleplaying games. Lowes has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Wisconsin in Madison and an M.A. in Teaching from Pacific University. His academic interests have ranged from Literary Theory to Gothic Architecture, and from World Religions to Quantum Physics. He grew up with a deep love for fantasy and science fiction and has since made writing his life’s work. Born in Washington state, Lowes has lived in many places throughout the US and in Europe. He has traveled the world, from the deserts of Australia and West Africa, to the jungles and mountains of South America and Indonesia. Over the years he has been at times a pilot, a scuba diver, a rock climber, and a long time student of martial arts. He is a certified Systema instructor and has a black belt in Aikido. Lowes lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest where every day he pursues the dreams and ideas that are the inspiration for his work. You can visit his website at matthewlowes.com.
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But the game mechanics are great. You enter one level at a time, and have to defeat the monster or trap or locked door, and if you succeed you can gather up some treasure. The four aces are torches that burn out one after the other. If you haven't found the Scroll of Light before the last torch goes out, it's curtains for you. And you have to decide how deep to delve before turning back. If you turn back too soon, you miss out on that fabulous treasure, especially the tomb hoards of the four kings. But if you wait too long, you may use up all your hit-points or torches.
I had enough fun playing the basic game that I decided to order the book, which describes a game meant to be played with tarot cards. Or rather, half a dozen variations of the basic game. If you're worried about a 152-page rulebook, don't be. The rules for the Basic game (which is pretty much identical to the free game) are given in six pages, followed by a six-page example. The rules for the Expert game, using the entire tarot deck, adds an extra seven pages. There's also an Advanced game, using a specialized deck made for the book (available separately) which has ten extra specialized cards (though he explains a way to play it with a regular tarot deck using some other method to keep track of hit points.) And there are several variations on the Advanced game for those who want extra variety.
I have played the Expert game several times and enjoyed it more than the Basic game. He adds in interesting things like three Heavenly Gems (which remind me of Silmarils), companions for your journey, magical potions you can collect as treasure and then use, and a couple of pretty scary Corruption cards.
I read through the Advanced game and it was too dark for my taste, with undead hordes and their scary ruler, and losing your memories and your mind in the dark. The cards that were made to go with the book are also too dark for my taste. The Lovers, for example, shows a woman in the arms of a skeleton. The Chariot is also driven by a skeleton. So many skeletons. If you like that sort of thing, you might love it, but I don't. But I have a huge collection of tarot cards already, so I was able to play the game with a deck that did suit my taste.
If you use a regular tarot deck to play this game, I strongly recommend using a deck with pip cards that don't have scenes on them. Use something like Tarot Classic or Ancient Italian Tarot or Visconti-Sforza, where the coins look like coins (which makes the treasure seem more real). You could play with a Waite-Smith deck or one its clones, but I found that distracting. The scenes made it hard to focus on the game theme.
I should also say that the book itself is very nicely made, a pleasure for a bibliophile like me. And I found the instructions easy to follow, especially after playing through his example game. The game designer has several youtube play-through videos that are also helpful if the written rules don't click.
The gameplay is largely based on chance and because of that every play through is as unique as the game itself. At times, it can be a little frustrating to be killed by a random card after coming so close to victory, but this doesn't discourage play, it entices you to play again and again until you've beaten your best score and claimed all the treasures this dungeon has to offer. Another one of the amazing aspects of this game is that it really lends itself to narrative play and you can easily come up with new game scenarios to enjoy! If you're looking for a portable, addicting, and challenging experience, Labyrinth of Souls is all that and more.
If you're still aren't convinced that this game is right for you, then I highly recommend you go to Matthew Lowes website and check out its free to play predecessor Dungeon Solitaire: Tomb of the Four Kings or the 32 page sample for this game. A great deal of time and creativity has gone into this game, the result is endless fun you can enjoy anytime!
I will say that some of the card choices are a bit odd. For example, there "Holy Water" is Temperance instead of maybe the ace of cups or the star, which makes more sense to me. Also, almost half of the trumps are used in ways that should be pips only, while an entire suit of pips is used as a life counter... I intend to homebrew my own rules to fit my own sensibilities, but this is a great place to start, so it's an easy 5 stars.
Before you decide to buy, the author has a free version played with normal playing cards posted on his website. Try it, and imagine adding some more cool mechanics to the game with the extra cards. You'll be back here buying the game right quick, I think.