Covil: the Dark Overlords

Does your “what colour is your lightsaber?” quiz always come out as Red? Are you low-key in love with Loki? Does watching Despicable Me give you Minion Envy? Do you have a detailed plan of exactly what you would do with an Infinity Gauntlet? If you answered Yes to any of these questions, you just might be a candidate to be a Dark Overlord. To find out for sure, play Covil: the Dark Overlords, by Vesuvius Media.

Covil: the Dark Overlords (henceforth to be known as C:DO) is a territory-control game for 1-4 players, ages twelve and up. The game was designed by Luis Brueh, who is also the artist who created all the amazing cartoony imagery seen throughout the game. It’s not easy being an Overlord. You have to hire minions using a very tight budget, and (probably due to that Dark Ritual you performed) you have a deadline of four days to Take Over the World, or at least the lands of your enemies. Plus those pesky villagers might decide to rebel and ruin everything.

The two most important things when playing this game is to pay attention and stay focused. You need to pay attention because the rules for this game are complex, and sometimes don’t follow the familiar style of how tabletop games are played. You need to stay focused, because there are limits to what you can do, and that requires not only strategy, but also tactics. The first time my friends and I played C:DO, we misread the instruction manual, and ended up playing the game completely wrong. At first I thought it was because it had been so long since the last time I had played a full scale tabletop game, but no, my friends were just as confused as I was. It wasn’t until the game was over, and we watched a video demonstration, that we realized what we had done wrong. (I would recommend the video review by Undead Viking on Board Game Geek, or How to Play Covil: the Dark Overlords, on the Cardboard Stacker YouTube channel.) Our second game session turned out much better than the first, and we had a lot of fun.

There is a lot of stuff packed into C:DO’s colourful box. You have 2 double-sided game boards, with a different terrain layout for one, two, three, or four player games. There are also 4 “championship hall” boards, one for each player, to keep track of your health, gold, and ever-evolving team of minions. This game is part of the Meeple generation, and there are 25 wooden meeples (5 in each player colour of red, blue, green and yellow, as well as 5 brown “rebel” meeples). Each player also gets one health token (with a heart), one gold token (which for some reason looks like a dead Smurf), a fortress token, 5 default henchmen cards, and a Quick Rules reference card. We round out the contents of the box with 6 Dark Overlord cards, 40 Mercenary cards, 24 Power Relic cards, 24 double sided Exhaustion tokens (with a sleeping goblin for Exhausted and an hourglass for Tired), and an Evil Scepter “first player” token.

To set up the game, choose the correct terrain board for the number of players, and each player chooses their colour (taking their 5 matching Troop meeples) and Dark Overlord (or Overlords can be given out randomly). The Overlord card goes on the throne slot of the Championship Hall board (with an exhaustion token on it), and the 5 default Minions go on the other 5 slots; the health and gold tokens are placed at the maximum level of 5 on their respective tracks. Each player also starts with 2 Power Relic cards. Finally, the youngest player gets the Evil Sceptre token. (Or you can choose who goes first another way if you prefer.) There should be one brown Rebel meeple in the Town. Finally, you count out 24 of the 40 mercenary cards,  and lay out 6 of them to be the first Mercenary Pool. If any mercenary costs 10 gold or more, replace it with another card until all 6 cards are worth less than 10.

Now, here’s where things go in a completely in a different direction from most games. As I mentioned before, the game takes place over 4 days (rounds). Each day is divided into Morning, Afternoon and Night, and there are specific actions that can only take place in one phase. Afternoon, the busiest time of day, will actually consist of several turns.You might assume that each player does their entire day, and then the next player does theirs, etc. This was the mistake we made in our first game. The correct sequence of play is each player does their Morning actions, then each player does their Afternoon actions, then we have our Night cleanup phase, and then the next day begins.

On the Morning of the first day, players place their Fortress on their chosen home zone (marked by a spiral on the board) and place 2 Troop meeples standing up in that terrain. On subsequent days, Morning consists of standing up one’s troops, and adding more reserve troops to match that day’s troop numbers. Day one has 2 troops, day two has 3 troops, day three has 4 troops and day four has 5 troops per player. New troops are always placed in the same zone as your Fortress.

In the Afternoon, players have three types of actions they can do, in any order. They can Hire a Minion, Perform a Troop Action, or perform Free Actions. To hire a minion, you must be able to pay their price in gold. (There are some passive abilities of your Overlord and/or minions that may effect the cost of a Mercenary.) You can do this by spending the gold in your treasury, and/or selling one or more of your Power Relics for its gold value, and/or “trading in” one or more of the Mercenaries you already have. (Keep in mind your default minions are worth zero gold.) Getting good help isn’t cheap! You can only have 5 minions at all times, so a new Mercenary may need to replace one of the cards on your Champions board. New Mercenaries will also arrive Tired (but not Exhausted). You can only hire one Mercenary per day. 

There are no limit to the number of Free actions you can perform in one day, Free actions consist of activating a Power Relic, buying a new Power Relic (for 3 gold) and Exhausting a minion to use its special Command ability.  When you activate a Power Relic, place it in front of you. The Relic’s instant ability (for example, move one troop) happens right away, and the card’s troop bonus (for example, plus one to ranged attacks) remains active until the end of the day. If one of your Minions has an icon of a pointing claw, you can use that ability by exhausting the Minion. Examples of Command abilities include exhaust to move one troop, exhaust to activate a Power Relic from the discard pile, or exhaust to rest all your minions (not including this one). 

Finally you can perform Troop Actions. In order to perform a Troop Action, you must lay down one standing troop. You cannot perform all of your Troop Actions together to overwhelm an opponent. Each player lays down one troop meeple, then there is another set of turns for the next standing troop, continuing until everyone has all their troops laying down. This is where you have to think ahead. You only have as many actions as you have troops. So you need to prioritize what you need the most this “day”. Troops can only do one of 5 actions. You can lay down a troop to move THAT TROOP one space. You cannot lay a troop down to move a different, still standing, troop. You can lay down a troop to add one gold to your treasury; or repair your Fortress by one point. You can lay down a troop to rest one minion, changing it from Exhausted to Tired, or from Tired to normal. The most important thing a Trooper can do is Attack. This is a little bit more complicated than the other actions.

Attacking and Defending is possibly the most complex thing that happens in this game. Beginner players are going to want to have the instruction manual nearby for reference. When you choose to attack, you need to lay down a Troop meeple, in the same terrain zone for a melee attack, or one zone away from you target for a ranged attack. When you do, you must declare which individual troop meeple you are targetting in that zone. Next, you need to exhaust one of your minions. For the purpose of attacking, an Overlord is also a minion. Next, you calculate your attack strength. You start with 1, the base attack of the trooper itself, add the attack strength of whichever minion you exhausted (the number in the top right corner, with a sword or bow icon) , add the applicable reinforcement values of all your other minions, regardless of whether they are ready, tired or exhausted. Reinforcement values are the numbers next to the icon of a grey meeple, and are described a bonus per terrain type. For example, a card can say plus two to ranged attacks when you are in a forest; or plus one to melee attacks when you are in the desert or mountains. If you are in a zone that has both types, your bonus doubles. Finally, you add any applicable bonuses from the active relics in front of you. You can also play new relics at this time to get their bonuses. 

After that, the defender calculates their defence strength. Every troop meeple automatically has a defence of one. Next you add applicable reinforcement values (the numbers with an armour icon, and the correct terrain type). You can choose to exhaust one minion that has an armour icon in the top right corner of the card to add that value to your defence. Finally the defender adds the bonuses of any applicable active relics. Once both sides have declared their strength, the Attacker may add to their attack by playing a new relic, which in turn gives the Defender an opportunity to improve their defence by playing a relic or exhausting another ready minion. This can continue until both sides agree they are ready to resolve the attack.

There are three possible outcomes for any attack. If the defender wins, nothing changes (a tie goes to the defender). If the attacker wins, and the targeted troop was standing, that troop lays down, and is moved to an adjacent zone. The attacking player gets 2 gold. If the attacker wins, and the targeted troop was already laying down, then the attacking player gets 2 gold, and the defeated troop leaves the board entirely. If the battle takes place in the same zone as the defender’s fortress, then you need to determine damage. The damage taken by the fortress is the difference between the attack value and the defense value. For example, if the attack is 6, and the defense is 4, the fortress takes 2 damage. When an attacker damages an enemy fortress, they get one more gold. If the attack destroyed the fortress then the attacker also gets to draw one relic card. If a fortress has even one hit point, it can be repaired. A destroyed fortress cannot be repaired at all, and the token is flipped over to show its exploded side. A player who has lost their fortress can continue playing, but will not get the 5 point fortress bonus at the end of the game.

We now move on to the Night phase, aka cleanup. First, discard all activated relics, and replace the Mercenary Pool with 6 new cards. Next, we determine dominance and collect “protection fees”. For each terrain type: forest, mountain, desert and water, determine who controls the most zones of that type. You control a zone by having the most troops. Rebels cannot control a zone, and having a fortress does not automatically give you control of that zone. In a tie, no one controls the zone. for each terrain type you dominate, you gain 2 gold. If this would give you more than 5 gold in total, you can spend gold to get relics. You can also raid the town in the night. For each troop you have in Town, you gain one relic card. But, for each relic you draw, another brown Rebel meeple appears in town. If there are 5 rebels in town, they retaliate! Every troop that is in Town gets attacked once at an attack strength of 3. After these attacks are resolved, any intact fortresses are also attacked with a strength of 3. Players may only defend against these fortress attacks if they have at least one troop in that zone. Once all retaliation attacks are resolved, all rebel meeples are removed from Town. Finally every player’s minions are rested once, going from Exhausted to Tired, or from Tired to normal. Once the night phase is finished, The Evil Sceptre passes clockwise, and the next day begins. The game ends at the end of the 4th Night, and points are scored to determine a winner.

The score is determined by Victory Points. To begin, a player gets 5 points if they have an intact Fortress. It doesn’t matter if you have 5 health, or only 1, you still get the full 5 points. Next, all the gold remaining in a player’s treasury is translated into points. You get the hiring price of each of your minions as victory points. And finally, you get the gold value of each of the unused relics in your hand as victory points. All these numbers added together make your score. In the case of a tie, there are several layers of tie-breakers: the player with the most troops on the board wins, the player with the most HP wins, the player with the most gold in their treasury wins, or as a last resort, the player with the most expensive minion wins.

There are good things and bad things about this game. First of all, we all loved the artwork, which is cute, colourful, and full of satire. You could spend all day finding the pop-culture references in all the cards. The rules are a bit of a challenge, but once we all understood, it wasn’t too bad. Gameplay itself is fun, but the limitations on the number of actions makes it hard to get results in a short four rounds. In fact, the biggest issue is that in such a short game, there is no real win condition, no goal to strive for. Winning on points doesn’t really have the same satisfaction as conquering the whole board, or defeating all your enemies. I guess when I heard the words Dark Overlords, I expected more drama, more action, just… More. But we still had a great time.

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