ShadowRift is a deckbuilder town defense game where you are trying to protect a town from all the nasty monsters that have broken through a rift in reality. The game is completely cooperative, players are working together with the help of the villagers to either Seal the ShadowRifts in the monster deck, or to build all 8 walls to protect the town from future attacks. However, if your town is only full of corpses and infiltrators, the heroes have failed and you lose the game.
If you would like to see a playthrough of the game, please check out my YouTube channel: One Stop Co-op Shop:
Each player will begin the game with 10 cards in their deck (7 Prowess, 2 Strike, and 1 Explore). During each round Monster Power will increase based upon the amount of players and if there are any monsters in the Monster Power Zone. After you increase the Monster Power for the round you check to see if there is sufficient power to spawn the tope enemy on the enemy deck. Once there is sufficient power, the Monster jumps out to the Monster Start area, and Heroes can begin to attack the monsters. For most monsters, once they have moved through the 3 monster zones, they move to the Monster Power Zone. However there are some enemies that will Rampage and continue to move between the 3 monster zones until destroyed. There are also a couple monsters who if they move from Zone 3 they immediately defeat the heroes!
The heroes will need to utilize their prowess, coin, and magic to purchase skills and actions that will stop these monsters in their tracks. At the same time, the Heroes can utilize the surviving villagers, and even use their prowess or coin to recruit traveling villagers to the town for help.
The components of the game are fine. Nothing mind boggling, but also nothing bad. I did not get the kickstarter version of the game, so I have the cardboard coins which serve their purpose. The biggest improvement between the 1st edition and the 2nd edition is the board. The board makes this game come alive for me. The board looks like a town and has spots for all your piles of cards, village layout and the monster zones. The only pet peeve I have on the board is why did they make the monster deck area vertical when ALL of the monsters are horizontal?! I just set the deck horizontal and it sticks off the board a bit. Maybe it has to do with space?
This is a mix bag for me. A TON of the art is stellar! I love the monster art (dragons are particularly sweet) and most of the hero cards look pretty awesome. But then there are the Prowess cards, and the Might cards, and I wonder to myself why they didn’t change this art in the 2nd edition? Maybe there is a reason and I just don’t know it. . . For me I would have appreciated the 7 cards in your starting deck to have some sweet art, because let’s be honest, you look at these the most in the game since you start out with them!
I really enjoy the theme of this game. It is fantasy of course, but the game pulls you into the town quite well. The art and names of the villager cards provides you with an inherent understanding of the time period the game is taking place. The villager’s themselves provide you with a feeling that you are truly protecting a town, not just an arbitrary number of hit points (ex. Aeon's End or XenoShyft: Dreadmire). Also, the fact that they use traveling villagers as well just makes the town feel even more real! What type of town did not have visitors from outside the city? Such a cool way to bring you into the game and feel invested in saving your city (I mean there are people here, not just point values!!)
What is one of your least favorite things of playing a game with 4+ players? For me it is the downtime. Being someone that plays many games solo, when I do get a game to the table with others, it can sometimes be somewhat discouraging when it is 8-10 minutes between turns. I tend to see this issue in deckbuilders especially if there are a lot of ways to draw more cards during a turn (think of Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game). If I played Marvel with more than 3 people, I found I just did not enjoy the game.
ShadowRift’s simultaneous play is a genius way of taking care of this issue. All of a sudden it matters when you play a certain card (ex. Thieving Strike). I find that the collaboration is much higher in ShadowRift because of this simple mechanic. Plus, the game speed is relatively the same for 2 players vs. 4 players because of this mechanic. I wish more deckbuilders would allow for simultaneous play.
Heroism is also a quite interesting mechanic in the game. Whenever you defeat a monster, Heroism is doled out to the team as evenly as possible with a maximum of 5 heroism per player. When you draw a Heroism card, you can use the Heroism for any of the 3 resources in the game (Magic, Coin, Prowess). This Heroism card is the perfect way of providing a benefit to the players for defeating monsters.
If you think of most competitive deckbuilders, one of the most coveted cards out there are the cards that allow you to thin your deck. This, unfortunately is something that is missing from ShadowRift. However the designers made up for this by creating the Heroism card. When you draw this card, you immediately get to draw another card. So now you not only get one of any resource, but you also get to draw another card. And here is the thing, this Heroism card is not a “one use” card either. It will stay in your deck and you will continually have the opportunity to draw the card throughout the game.
Now you may think this card is too powerful, but you have to remember that this card can only be used by you. This means, if I have 2 Heroism in my hand, although that means I could have 2 coins in hand, I cannot simply give those coins to another player. I could buy a single coin with my Heroism using the cards as Prowess, but then I can only get 1 coin for everyone to use. I like this mechanic because it places a limit on the Heroism card.
Lastly, how Heroism is doled out is perfect. No longer does it matter who defeated the monster, since this is a fully cooperative game the Heroism is spread out as evenly as possible. This means that one player will not become much more powerful than everyone else, just because they are the ones landing the final blow on a monster.
How the monsters act in this game is perfect! It is very simple to understand, each time they move they activate their power based on the monster zone they moved into. And yet since each monster has their own card, the designers were able to have a unique ability for each monster. Effects can vary greatly from attacking the Heroes to attacking the villagers, to total annihilation! Such a simple mechanic, yet it works so well and it streamlines the gameplay.
In most deckbuilders, you have a resource that is used to purchase cards, and then a resource to either attack enemies or other players. In ShadowRift, there are 3 resources you have to keep track of, PLUS damage (which isn’t exactly a resource but works somewhat the same).
Coins: Coins can be used to purchase loot cards, villagers, and sometimes can even be used by a villager. They cost 2 prowess to purchased and are a shared resource among all players (unless the coin comes from heroism in your hand)
Prowess: Prowess is how you purchase skill cards, attack cards, action cards, as well as some villagers. You can also use this to maintain a skill from one round to the next, and you can use this to heal yourself if you are wounded.
Magic: Magic is a resource that is much more scarce. You have to purchase cards that have a Magic icon, and then you must discard a card with this icon for no effect to be able to use the card as a magic resource. In order to seal any of the ShadowRifts away, you will need to have a Seal card and a magic card you can discard to close the Shadowrift.
Attack: Attack can be Melee or Ranged. If melee, you take a wound while fighting, if Ranged you do not (some exceptions to this of course).
With 3 different resources and attack to manage this game provides a unique deck building experience. You must constantly weigh the positives and negatives of which type of resource you want and how to use that resource. I also like how most of the resources are your own, however having coins as a pooled resource means you can work together to buy an expensive villager or loot card.
So how often are you playing a tower or town defense game and you don’t even know who you are protecting? Many tower defense games are this way, but not ShadowRift! Instead I know who I am protecting, and they are supporting me! I can utilize the villagers during the game to help me become a better fighter, healer, whatever it is I am trying to be. But if I do a poor job of protecting them, my town will fill up with corpses and I will no longer have a town to protect, even if I somehow seal the ShadowRifts.
Also, no matter what type of town you are trying to protect, there will always be people who try and hinder you. This would be the infiltrators like the Heretic, the Robber, the Backstabber or the Vagrant. These infiltrators on their own are easy to manage, but when you are trying to fight monsters and protect the town from these bad villagers, the game becomes much more difficult. You can get rid of those pesky infiltrators, however they never completely go away. They can come back when you least expect it through the traveler deck. . . . I REALLY REALLY like the villagers mechanic. It makes me feel like I am fighting to protect these people.
Don’t forget, we are at a town and there are bound to be travelers. Some of these travelers can be quite useful (Gravedigger anyone??). however why would these traveling villagers want to stay at your town? Well, you have to pay them gold and prowess to get them to stay! All these ways to use your very limited resources. . . Love it.
I used to dislike the idea of the “Epic Actions” or in the first addition, just the “Action” Cards. I did not like the idea of having a deck builder where I am not able to play all the cards in my hand because I picked up too many “Epic action” cards. Now after playing 10+ games, I realize I really like this mechanic! You know what it does? It forces you to diversify your deck. I can’t just fill my deck up with these powerful Epic Action cards, and blow the monster’s to smithereens. Instead, I have to weigh the choices of buying too many Epic action cards vs. non-Epic Action cards which are not as powerful. Or instead of buying cards I can buy a traveling villager!
If Only. . . .
In theory I really like the Monster Power idea. It works pretty well, but I found it to not scale as well as I would hope. I found that at higher player counts the game seemed to get dramatically easier as each additional player means another Epic Action a round, more resources etc.. We could beat a scenario much easier at a 4 player count instead of at 2 player count. I wish there was something else that changed between player counts to make the game scale to the same difficulty. However as long as you know it will be easier at a higher player count, you should be fine.
Prowess Card Art
Can I just say I dislike the Prowess Art? I think of prowess as something really cool where you (the Hero) are using your street skills etc. to hire villagers, learn new skills or accatck actions etc. But the picture of prowess looks like a day calendar with a large number 1 on it. I mean this could have been some really cool art, of a person trying to sway people to follow them or something like that. Anyways, since your deck starts with 7 of these, you will see a lot of this card, and the lack of any art can be distracting. . . .
If you play this game solo, which I find quite enjoyable be ready to shuffle, A LOT! This is where I wish this game had some rule similar to Aeon’s End. If you didn’t have to shuffle the villager deck or something like that, it could save you at least 10 minutes during the game. Do know that the more people you play with, the less this is an issue as you have helpers. But solo play with this game, especially if you use 2 hands can be a bit burdensome.
I wish the designers could have built specific heroes that you could play. This could have allowed for player special abilities instead of everyone starting out exactly the same. Since there is a limited card pool to choose from, players can feel limited by what they can do. But if someone had a special ability that was their own, players could begin right away with feeling differentiated from their fellow teammates. The abilities could even be a one-time use, or you have to pay coins or prowess to use it.
The Eve of the Sickle Moon did not come with instructions, but really should have! Check BGG for how to set up the village deck and the walls after you get this expansion. I did not and it means I did a couple things incorrectly in my playthrough. Otherwise though, this expansion is awesome and I recommend picking it up for more variety! Just make sure to check BGG!
Setup: 8- 10 minutes
Takedown: 8 -10 minutes
Playtime: 45-75 minutes.
Play Again Factor: 9/10
This game literally has infinite replayability. I will NEVER feel like I have played this game enough to explore all the nooks and cranny’s of the game. And the 2 expansions out just increase this replayability. The game comes with 6 monster factions, and tons of different cards you can use for your set-up. I tried calculating all the possible combinations, but the number got too big! Just know replayability will not be an issue for this game. I really appreciate that each monster faction works so different and you need a different strategy with each one.
Weight and Player Type: Medium, Gamer
I would not recommend ShadowRift as a first deckbuilder. Instead I would suggest a game such as Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle. ShadowRift can be a bit brutal at first, and I think that has to do with all the choices presented to the player each game. You have 3 different resources to manage, one which is communal, a village you are trying to keep clear of corpses and infiltrators, and a traveler deck where you can recruit travelers to your village. All of this is happening at the same time as the monsters are acting and either hurting you or your town and you are trying to fight them as best you can and either build walls or Seal ShadowRifts. I LOVE IT, but it is not for the faint of heart.
Final Thoughts: 8.25/10
ShadowRift is a great game for people that want to have a little more complexity in their cooperative deckbuilder. I really enjoy how the monsters work and how each faction is very different from one another. I also appreciate that although there is no way to destroy cards in your deck, this is mitigated by the Heroism you earn during the game. I cannot describe to you how cool I think the villager cards are, as it adds a different facet to the game. I wish the art on the Prowess cards didn’t look like a daily calendar, and sometimes the shuffling can be a boar if playing solo. Currently this game is my second favorite deckbuilder and I plan to continue to play this many more times in the future! I just need to be patient for those expansions!
Excellent review. I also really enjoy Shadowrift (in fact we've played it the last two weeks in a row on my weekly game night).
You mention that Shadowrift is your second favorite deckbuilding game. Out of curiosity, what is your favorite?
Thanks for the review!
Thank you, Gene! Currently for me, my favorite deck builder is Aeon's End. Although I much prefer the village mechanic in this game, Aeon's End has the "no shuffling" and tiered nemesis deck, plus the breaches mechanic. I have a review here of Aeon's End. Both games are great, and I would not hesitate to play either one!
Glad to here you are enjoying it! Out of curiosity how many players do you normally play with?
Shadowrift is my favorite co-op deck builder, Ascension being my favorite PVP deck builder. For larger groups have you tried the Archfiends expansion?
Brian - So I actually had the Archfiend Expansion with the 1st edition and liked it very much. But I ended up trading away the first edition and the Archfiend expansion. So with the second edition I have yet to try the game with this expansion, but based on my experience with the first edition this ramps up the difficulty quite nicely.
I found that adding this expansion with more players made the games difficulty level at about the right level. I REALLY appreciated the boss fight at the end, as sometimes the game can feel a bit anti-climactic when you seal the final ShadowRift, or build the 8th wall. With 2 I found the Archfiend expansion to make the game much more difficult and for some of the monster factors, almost unbeatable (at least for us!). Hope that helps and glad to hear you enjoy this as your favorite co-op deck builder, it is a good choice