GTM #276 - The Binding of Isaac
by Maestro Media


Binding of Isaac image by Maestro Media

Downloadable Content: Challenges for The Binding of Isaac: Four Souls

For indie gaming icon Edmund McMillen, the past 10+ years has been filled with dark, disturbing, and unnerving aberrations - but he wouldn't have it any other way. McMillen’s The Binding of Isaac franchise,  loosely inspired by the Biblical story of Isaac, as well as McMillen’s own upbringing surrounded by religious dominance, is centered around a traumatized child overcoming his fears, traversing dungeons beneath his home, and fighting off monsters and demons with the power of his own tears. A delightfully-twisted concept that has garnered a passionate following and spawned a massive franchise rarely seen with indie video game creators - one that transcends the digital realm.

Equal parts grotesque, challenging, and charming as the original, the latest iteration of the franchise sees Isaac make the leap from digital to tabletop with the critically-acclaimed The Binding of Isaac: Four Souls and its expansion The Binding of Isaac: Four Souls Requiem, a multiplayer tabletop card game about sacrifice, betrayal, and hoarding.

One of the many aspects that made the video game so endearing and replayable are the plethora of challenges that altered the game in one form or fashion, typically forcing you to start each run with one or more specific items or limitations that make normal play more difficult. While most of the challenges are designed to increase the game’s difficulty, they do not necessarily make the game harder to play - some instead just force you to play the game in a different way.

When creating the tabletop adaptation, McMillen wanted to incorporate the original’s replayability by  adding various gamemodes and challenges - a feat that proved to be a challenge unto itself. While the original video game had challenges that were centered around items, the same concept did not translate quite as well to the tabletop version. To resolve this issue and find the right path forward, McMillen leveraged his greatest assets - his fans. McMillen turned to longtime fan Charlie Gill, naming him “Challenge Lead Designer”, and discovered that rather than the focus being on individual items and power ups, the challenges should instead be focused on the iconic bosses the game is known for. By focusing on the bosses, the pair were able to flesh out fun and unique game modes that were themed around these memorable bosses. The idea was a hit amongst an dedicated and invaluable team of community playtesters.

Lord of Flies image by Maestro Media

Take the boss The Duke of Flies, for example: in the original video game version, The Duke of Flies is surrounded by an army of smaller flies that shield him from your attacks. In order to defeat this boss, you must first kill all the smaller flies surrounding him, and then, once he’s defenseless, you can attack and hit him. When translating this to tabletop, a dice mechanic was added to simulate the boss’s shield. Depending on what number the dice lands on when you roll it your attacks can hit either the boss, or instead one of the boss’s many guardian flies shielding him - in which case the damage is negated altogether. This dice mechanic became a major hit, and McMillen knew a challenge based on this would be a fun way to experience the game, so he created Lord of the Flies, a challenge with three different difficulty levels themed around the boss, flies, and dice.

Lord of Flies images by Maestro Media

With The Lord of the Flies, The Duke of Flies is upgraded to Swarming The Duke of Flies, drastically increasing the boss’s shield of flies and making it so he now uses them to protect other monsters as well. Defeating this extra powerful version of the boss becomes the win condition. However, not only does the titular monster have flies, but this game mode allows for the player to remove the Duke’s flies and add them to their own arsenal, enabling them to have their own swarm of flies to shield them from any oncoming attacks. If a player would take damage, they may remove any number of fly counters from their character and prevent damage equal to the number of fly counters removed in this way. Only by amassing a fly swarm of their own larger than the Duke’s can players then attempt to take down the boss and beat the challenge.

An insistent buzzing, a deafening whine – that can only mean the Duke of Flies is near! Can you overcome the Duke and the vast swarms of flies that surround him, each willing to give its life to defend its master? Kill them, tempt them away, do what you must: there can only be one true Lord of the Flies, and the Duke doesn’t take too kindly to competition…

Duke of Flies image by Maestro Media


  • Final Boss
    • Swarming The Duke of Flies starts with 18 fly counters.
    • While there are more fly counters on Swarming The Duke of Flies than the total number of fly counters on all players, attacks can’t be declared on Swarming The Duke of Flies and it can’t take damage.
    • Each time a monster would take damage, the active player rolls-
    • Prevent that damage and remove a fly counter from Swarming The Duke of Flies.
    • At the end of each turn, put 1 fly counter on Swarming The Duke of Flies.
  • Challenge Card
    • $: Discard a loot card: Roll-
    • If the result plus the number of souls controlled by all players is more than 6, remove a fly counter from the final boss and put a fly counter on your character.
    • If a player would take damage, they may remove any number of fly counters from their character and prevent damage equal to the number of fly counters removed in this way.

The Binding of Isaac: Four Souls is already an endlessly replayable game where no two play sessions will be the same, and that remains the case with the challenges: Each challenge comes with three different difficulty levels to test even the most experienced Four Souls players. Strategies you learn for dealing with a particular challenge in Normal mode will become absolutely crucial when you take on the punishing Ultra Hard mode! For Lord of the Flies, for example, the higher difficulties introduce fly swarm minions that the Duke coughs up. Players must deal with these minions to prevent the Duke’s fly army from growing ever stronger - and the prospect of beating the challenge running away from them. On Ultra Hard, the Duke can even start stealing flies from your own swarm to grow its own if you aren’t careful!

Incorporating these new game modes into The Binding of Isaac: Four Souls provides players extra value and experience. With each challenge there's a new quirk that changes the way the game plays, upending the standard premises by making the end goal you're working towards just different enough that it doesn't feel like a different game, while still making it a different game.

Card images by Maestro Media

As of this writing, the challenges include the above-mentioned Lord of the Flies, as well as Fatty’s Feast, Delirious, Greed’s Gamble, Trick or Treat, Masquerade, Motherly Love, and Resurrection Day. All challenges are FREE to use with The Binding of Isaac: Four Souls and can be downloaded by visiting maestromedia.com.