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Subject: Attika's Shadows of Malice Strategy Guide rss

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Paul Wagner
United States
Cleveland Hts.,
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SPOILER ALERT: as with any game guide, your enjoyment of said game may change after reading a strategy guide. If you are already enjoying playing Shadows of Malice, I'd recommend you skip this guide.

Having played about fifteen 2-Avatar/2-tile games of SoM, here's a beginner's strategy/tactical guide to the 2-player game -- most of this should carry over into 3+ players games.


There are two ways to win at SoM: defeat Xulthul (the final boss), or uncover all Wells of Light in the game. These Wells are defended by Guardians -- strong creatures that will attack all comers!

So no matter how you slice it, successful combat wins this game.

You become better at combat by acquiring treasures, potions, and soulshards -- which are given as rewards for winning combats!

So your primary strategy goal is to win combats, acquire treasure/get stronger, and then either fight and defeat Xulthul or fight Guardians and reveal all Wells of Light.


The choice to start multiple Avatars combined into a single band is an option listed in the Game Setup rules. USE IT!

Although starting everyone separately increases your ability to explore different board areas more quickly, single Avatars (bands of 1) have trouble winning combat -- about half of all foes you face are equal to or stronger than a solo Avatar. Playing in a band of several Avatars significantly increases your ability to win combat early in the game, when you have little/no treasure items. Additionally, the game is somewhat time-dependent, as Xulthul can appear at nearly any time (with warning), and he's STRONG. Your band needs to get as buff as it can as soon as it can in case they have to face Xulthul early on. Winning your first combats buffs you quickly, preparing you for an "early Xulthul."

You also cannot acquire multiple potions easily at game start (see #2 below) if you start Avatars solo.

The combat and potions benefits far, far outweigh the exploration benefits at game start. And winning combat early on and gaining treasures early on begins the process of getting your Avatar(s) more buff, leading to the band's ability to take on stronger and stronger opponents, gaining even more treasure items, revealing Light Wells, facing Xulthul, and winning the (long) game.

(Note: remember that you can also try to "Provoke an encounter" (Rule 8f) in regular (non-lair) terrain hexes. The creatures you fight this way are weaker than lair creatures, and you only receive soulshards (no treasures) for defeating them, but a band of Avatars is usually stronger than a these foes, and the soulshards you earn will help on future, harder combats.)

Begin as a band. Stay as a band. At least until after you . . .

When I first started playing SoM, I felt like the Mystics were an unnecessary afterthought that had been tossed in for a fuller thematic feel. They had iffy powers called special services (some of which were redundant, depending on what the cities had) and -- once you walked past them after the start of the game -- they were difficult/time-consuming to return to due to the terrain surrounding them.

However, I've come to the realization that the Mystics are some of the most powerful spots on the board (strongholds come in second; cities, third).

An Avatar band begins the game at any Gate of your choosing, and you are ALWAYS one turn away from visiting a Mystic from this starting point! And EVERY Mystic can brew EVERY Avatar a potion, once per turn, when you visit him and pay the (colored soulshard) asking price. (So a band of 3 avatars could get 3 potions brewed in one turn, one for each of them, if they paid 3 colored soulshards.)

So, on game turn number 1, ALWAYS have your band stop in at the nearest Mystic and brew potions!

Now every Avatar starts the game with 1 potion (in the Easy and Challenging difficulty settings). Potion colors come in Red, Blue, Green, Yellow, and Black varieties. Each Avatar also starts with three colored soulshards of the same color as its Mastery (along with some colorless soulshards, too). By the rules an Avatar can only carry TWO POTIONS MAX, AND the two potions it carries MUST BE OF DIFFERENT COLORS.

Mystics can only brew potions from colored soulshards, and the resulting potion is the same color as the soulshard it is brewed from. A solo Avatar, giving a Mystic a soulshard of the same color he already has a potion of, could have the Mystic brew a similarly colored potion, and then keep the stronger potion and discard the weaker. You'd still have just one potion.

Avatars in a band, however, are allowed to trade gear (treasure, potions, and soulshards) at any time outside of combat!! This means that your band can switch either potions or soulshards so that every Avatar can (most likely) have the Mystic brew him/her a potion in a color he/she doesn't already have! Woot! (Note: it is preferable to trade potions rather than shards, as each player starts out with three of the specific color soulshard that activates his/her Secondary Mastery ability. You don't want to be giving those colored soulshards away, as then you wouldn't be able to activate your secondary Mastery ability! Exception: when your brew is a Colored-Flare Grenade.)

By trading amongst band members, all Avatars could end up with 2 different colored potions at the end of game turn 1 (assuming your Avatars all have different color Masteries, and started the game with colored soulshards)!

If you STILL feel one of your potions (either your starter or the one you just brewed) is too weak, you can spend your second game turn at the Mystic and use another soulstone to brew another potion, saving the two best and discarding the third. This "wastes" a game turn, but potions can prove pivotal in the endgame. Worth it! (And since you start with THREE colored soulshards, you can stay a THIRD turn and brew a THIRD potion if you still feel the need!)

IMO there are three exceedingly good potion types:

i. The best are potions that do flat-out damage to any Guardian, Shadow, or Xulthul.

ii. Next are potions that let you steal/neutralize a power from any creature.

iii. Then, potions that increase your ability to hit.

In the potion deck there is at least one potion in EVERY color that does 2d3 damage flat-out (the Yellow Phial of Void, the Red Flask of Acid, the Blue Shock Grenade, the Green Fever Grenade, and the Black Poison Grenade). There are also the Redflare Grenade and the Bluefire Grenade, which each do similar (or greater) damage.

In some 2-Avatar games we've KILLED the final boss by simply tossing potions at it! These potions are extremely powerful!

The second type of potions you want to get are those that neutralize a single (colored) ability on the baddie you are facing. Some of the random abilities the final boss can draw can be incredibly powerful (to the point that they make the final fight futile for the Avatars), so neutralizing an ability helps even the odds a bit. Seek out these potions! Red, Blue, and Yellow potions of this type all exist. For Green, there is a potion that allows your avatar to gain a single ability from the ability deck and use it in a combat, so this potion is almost as good as removing a power from a boss.

Neutralizing strong foe abilities is extremely important in endgame combat.

The third potion type you might want to get/keep are two special Blue potions, one that give a +2 to your to hit, and another that does a +2d* on your to hit. I'll go into greater detail as to why you want these special potions in #3 below.

If all Avatars have two of these potions when they face Xulthul or Guardians, then you have a tremendous advantage.

In the two ways to win SoM (either reveal all the "Light Wells" or "kill the final big bad boss"), you'll be facing VERY tough customers (Guardian or Xulthul, accordingly). IMO the single-most important factor in winning combat is your "to hit".

Combat works like this. First, the foe randomly picks ONE and only ONE Avatar in your band to attack. You figure out that Avatar's + modifiers for him to hit (and all the - modifiers that affect his/her foe's to hit), then roll a single six-sided die, and add this modifier sum and your die roll together -- this final sum is called your combat roll result.

Now do the exact same thing (figure modifiers, roll a die, add it to the modifiers) for Xulthul or the Guardian to obtain ITS combat roll result.

Compare the two results. Whichever is higher hits its opponent (with ties, both miss), and then damage and damage mitigation comes into play.

(What about the other members of the Avatar's band? Well, for every additional member of the band, they allow the Avatar under attack to roll an additional six-sided die on his combat roll, and then chose the highest result rolled as the one he/she will add his Avatar's modifiers to. This means the + and - modifications of the other Avatars have NO EFFECT on combat when the foe has chosen another Avatar to attack.)

The thing is, if your Avatar has low modifiers, and the foe has high ones, you'll rarely hit, and it will rarely miss. Then you're stuck in a long, slow combat ending in your Avatar's eventual demise. Afterwards, the foe will turn on the remaining Avatars and repeat the process.

Frustrating? You bet. Insurmountable? Hardly.

Although Avatars don't "level up" in the game, they can win treasures for defeating creatures (who inhabit lairs) in combat. An Avatar can carry five distinct treasure items (called "Treasure types") on him/her at any time: weapon, armor and shields, jewelry, books and scrolls, and clothing. Each of these treasure types may either have a + to hit for the Avatar, or a - to hit to one's opponent (which essentially creates the same effect). Most are only +1 (or -1) modifiers, but there are a few very rare +2/-2 modifiers also.

Whenever your band wins a combat versus a foe in a lair, you get a Treasure (and possibly soulshards) as a reward, and you can choose which Avatar in a band receives this reward! Remember that you started the game as a band and stayed as a band? -- then begin the process of buffing one of the players with + to hit treasures after every lair-creature combat!

There are additional ways to buff your Avatar's to hit. Every Avatar in the band may toss in a soulshard at the start of every combat round (called a phase) to add to the targeted Avatar's to hit -- a clear soulshard adds +1 to hit, a colored soulshard that shares the same color as the ability your foe has adds a +2 to hit. For every Light Well in the game that has been revealed, every Avatar may add an additional soulshard per combat phase!

PLUS there are potions (specifically, two Blue potions) that you can have a Mystic brew for you that add +to hit for an entire combat.
PLUS there are four Fate cards that add + to hit while affecting the Avatar (one only works for one melee turn, the others for an entire combat.)
PLUS there are certain Avatar starting Masteries that are + to hit modifiers (Combat Defender, Battle Strategist, and Combat Tactician).
PLUS there are certain Radiance tokens that can add to your combat to hit.

What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, too. If your Avatar's combat modifiers consistently outclass those of the foe AND his weapon can damage said foe, then IT is trapped in a long, slow combat eventually resulting in its demise. HA!

(NOTE: be SURE that the Avatar you are choosing to so buff has a weapon that can damage the foe it is attacking, doing at least 2 damage! You aren't allowed to trade treasure items between band members during combat!)

(ALSO NOTE: if your Avatar's +/- to hit becomes so great that a Guardian or Shadow cannot hit/damage you, then they will re-manifest themselves as a new creature with new abilities, and continue to do so until they draw an ability that allows them to damage you. Not so the Xulthul, though!)

So, the idea is to "buff" one Avatar with +to hit items until that Avatar becomes practically impossible for the foe to touch/hit. At that point -- if the Avatar has a weapon that can damage the foe -- then it's just a matter of time before you defeat it. (This also assumes that you can somehow guarantee that the creature will always attack said Avatar: see #4 below!)

A caveat: both Xulthul and Guardians get to draw (at least) two monster abilities that stack with their regular abilities. Sometimes these abilities are magical, and do damage in a way unrelated to combat roll results. That is why you need to brew those potions at game start (see Tactic #2 above) that strip the monster of certain abilities! Also, some potions make Avatars invulnerable to certain magical attacks.

If you have a +to hit "buffed" Avatar in your band (let's call him/her the Superhitter), then it is IMPERATIVE that the foe chose to strike that Avatar every turn (if the foe targets a different Avatar, then none of the Superhitter's modifiers come into play, he/she only adds a single six-sided die to the combat, instead.) How can you ensure this?

During combat, an Avatar may toss a clear soulshard every combat phase that, instead of giving a +1 to hit modifier, attracts the foe's aggression, forcing it to target the Avatar who threw it. Also, you get to wait and see if Xulthul (or other foe) is targeting another Avatar before you have to use it to attract aggression. If Xulthul/the foe attacks you (the Superhitter), toss in a soulshard to give a +1 to hit modification instead. (Remember, the number of soulshards you can toss per Avatar per combat phase goes up by one per revealed Light Well.)

The Xulthul will either have 8 lives or 10 lives, depending on the number of Avatars in the game. If you have a weapon on the Superhitter that does only 1 damage per turn to Xulthul (which you shouldn't, the weapon should do TWO damage!), the combat should last either 8 or 10 turns, accordingly. (Guardians have 8 lives.)

If Xulthul has no special abilities that block damage or regenerate hit points, I'd suggest:

For an 8 lives Xulthul(or Guardian): To the Superhitter, 4 colorless and 2 colored of each color soulshard, if possible. To the Sidekick(s), evenly distribute the rest. This is a minimum for near guaranteed success.
For a 10 lives Xulthul: To the Superhitter, 8 colorless and 3 colored of each color soulshard, if possible. To the Sidekicks, evenly distribute the rest.

If the Superhitter has a +2 damage weapon and Xulthul no armor, then I'd stick with the same basic Shard distribution, realizing that you can proportionally lower the number of Shards given each Avatar if you are short on Soulshards. (The combat should go much faster, and use fewer Soulshards.)
If Xulthul/the foe has abilities -- especially armor --that look like they'll make the combat last for more than either the 8 or 10 turns in the scenario above, I'd still go with the base Shard distribution to the Superhitter, but give the Sidekicks fewer clear soulshards (down to zero, depending on how much armor and regeneration Xulthul has). Give those clear Soulshards to the Superhitter.


I.) All game, but ESPECIALLY early game, you want to "Provoke Encounters" (Rule 8f) whenever you finish your movement on non-lair hexes (assuming you are in good health). As mentioned before, the creatures you discover this way and fight are weaker than lair creatures, and you only receive soulshards (no treasures) for defeating them, but a band of Avatars is usually stronger than a these foes, and the soulshards you earn will help on future, harder combats.

ii.) Early and mid-game, you'll have to track down and kill Shadows that enter Aethos. If a Shadow makes it to a stronghold and unseals a Well of Light, it renders the Well dark and the Shadow morphs into Xulthul. Early and mid-game, this final boss will usually shred you band. Avoid its entrance by killing all Shadows in Aethos before they reach strongholds. Although you can't always "catch" Shadows due to terrain hindrances, Shadows travel in straight lines to strongholds -- if your band ends movement in a hex the Shadow will pass over to reach the stronghold during its turn, you may choose to initiate combat with it. Do so!

iii.) When rolling up a creature to fight, recognize when you are outmatched, and withdraw/run away freely. Sometimes you get in a fight that is way beyond your ability. You'll spend many more game turns dying and being reborn and meeting up with the band again than simply fleeing/withdrawing from combat and meeting up again the next turn. Dying also means you roll to see which items you drop, and which are destroyed (returned to the appropriate deck). Withdrawing is vastly superior to dying; all it does is waste time. KNOWING HOW TO RECOGNIZE THESE ENCOUNTERS IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT.

iv.) If you have withdrawn from a combat at a lair or a stronghold, try to re-form your band and re-enter the lair/stronghold on the following turn. You'll create a totally new -- and hopefully easier -- foe! If not, withdraw and try again (if health permits). Remember, though, Guardians will totally regenerate all health lost to wounds and drains if you've fled the combat; lair creatures are simply entirely new (and thus unwounded).


This is in no way an "official" or "approved" guide, although Jim Felli has read it and offered suggestions. The above strategy guide is simply my take on how to succeed at playing SoM.

Using this Strategy/Tactics guide will hopefully significantly improve your chances at winning Shadows of Malice. You need not do ANY of these things!

Realize too that you may not be able to do all these things. If all the Avatars you choose have the same colored Masteries, then you'll have a much more difficulty time getting everyone different colored potions! If none of your treasure draws have +/- to hit boosts on them, then you won't be able to "buff" a Superhitter! If you use up all your soulshards in prior combats, you won't be able to have the Superhitter "draw agro" from Xulthul/the foe! If you never find a +2 damage weapon, then you'll be fighting with a standard +1 damage weapon!

If any of THESE things happen -- and they darn well may! -- you're on your own!

In that case you'll have develop your own strategy/tactic tips for playing this little gem of a game! When you do, please consider posting them -- it would be cool to hear them!
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Jim Felli
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This is really thoughtful work, Paul! Thank you for making the effort to play SoM so much, taking the time to so eloquently organize and write down you thoughts, and for freely offering them for consideration and discussion on this forum. It is people like you -- and so many of our active members -- that help this game system grow with its community and offer excellent advice to help new players onboard more easily! Thank you!
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Harry Bosch
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In honour of the brave crew of Hr.Ms. Java 27-02-1942 † Battle of the Java Sea
Thanks for the guide! It will make getting back into the game so much easier. Now I can stop worrying about dying every few turns and get into the story.
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Attika wrote:

Combat works like this.

Close, but you missed something important.

Attika wrote:
First, the foe randomly picks ONE and only ONE Avatar in your band to attack.

So far so good.
Attika wrote:

The thing is, if your Avatar has low modifiers, and the foe has high ones, you'll rarely hit, and it will rarely miss. Then you're stuck in a long, slow combat ending in your Avatar's eventual demise. Afterwards, the foe will turn on the remaining Avatars and repeat the process.

Completely incorrect. Monsters change targets randomly at the beginning of each new combat phase. A new combat phase begins each time wounds are resolved from a die roll.

Using your strategy, you will have to spend soulshards to force the creature to target the avatar you want.

A better strategy is to make sure everyone is geared to do at least 1-2 wounds on a hit.

Otherwise a fine strategy guide.

Just that one there won't work the way you think it does.
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