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Subject: Shadowscape Review - Tabletop Polish rss

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Bryan Gerding
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I don’t know what it is that keeps bringing me back to dungeon crawlers. I like so few of them but never seem to stop myself from trying more. But I’m thankful for whatever force is pulling on me because it lets me find some great titles. My last review was also for a dungeon crawler, one of my favorite games in the genre so far.

So, when my friends at NSKN handed me a tiny box and told me the synopsis of Shadowscape, I was a bit wary. The setting was the initial problem, as the difficulty of Mistfall’s rulebook had left a sour taste in my mouth even after having played and enjoyed the game. The tiny box was also a bit of a shock, as the KS made the game seem way more grandiose. And then, finally, there was the genre. But after it sat on the shelf for a couple of weeks, waiting its turn behind a slew of other shamefully unplayed titles, it finally hit the table.

And it works. It works really well. There are many unique aspects to this game that make it more like a tactical puzzle than a standard dungeon crawl.

BEGIN RULES SUMMARY

Since I don’t expect a lot of readers to read this section (since you can get a synopsis anywhere else), I’m going to put this next statement in all caps so that you readers don’t skip over it. SET UP THE GAME BEFORE READING THE RULEBOOK! That’s my public service announcement of the day.

Each player in Shadowscape will control a character that is trying to defeat the main boss of the dungeon and obtain the most Shadow Shards. Each character starts with their own unique set of action cards and each card is two sided. With all their cards displayed in front of them the player will choose one card and perform its action, then flip the card to the other side. Each card can only be used once per turn, but players can also take a generic move action and use any card.

Players will also have a hand of Fate cards. Fate cards can improve a player’s action when discarded with a matching symbol. Each card also has a cooperative or competitive power that may be used as a free action.

After the player’s turn the enemies get their action. One type of enemy on the board, chosen randomly by discarding a fate card from the fate deck, will move and attack based on a static list of actions written on their token using symbols. Attacks on heroes can add wounds to their action cards, making them unusable.

After each activated enemy has done their actions the next player will take their action. Play continues until enough quests have been completed, summoning the boss of the dungeon. Once the boss is dead the game is over and players add up all their shadow shards to determine the winner.

END RULES SUMMARY

There are two ways to play Shadowscape, either as a competitive game or as a cooperative experience. After playing both I feel like I preferred the cooperative game much more. A lot of this has to do with the tension of the game and the fate cards, which we will talk about soon. As stated before, this game is incredibly tactical, and the competitive version can sometimes feel like it is pointless to plan your actions between your turns. This isn’t to say that the competitive game is bad, but I highly suggest a player count of only two or three if you’re playing that version.

TACTICS

Playing a game of Shadowscape can often feel like a puzzle. Since your action cards are two sided and you must flip the card after using it, choosing the right action on your turn is critical. Once you use a card you won’t see that action again for a minimum of two more rounds, and that’s assuming you use the opposite action on the next round (or as a move action).

“But…” I hear you say, “the monsters can attack you and cause your actions to be unusable. So, what is the point of planning?” And I’ll agree with you, up to a point. I did not suggest playing this game with four players simply because it ups the amount of actions the monsters get between a single player’s turn.

“But…” you hear me say, “each monster has their movement written on their token. A careful and thoughtful tactician can very easily add enemy movement into their plans.” And it’s true, any player can use hope and luck to avoid enemies; any player could also sacrifice themselves to the gods of analysis paralysis and know exactly where to stand to avoid enemies. The game supports the cowboy and the general, it just comes down to the will of the player how much time they want to invest in their planning.

At this point you’d probably say something about me arguing with myself and that’s fine; Shadowscape also offers solo play. It’s a great way to play the cooperative variant without having all those other players in the game making the clearly wrong move that you know they shouldn’t do because you know better than anyone how to beat the game and if only the other players would follow your every command…

FATE CARDS

Fate cards can be used to increase the potency of your action or as a free action ability themselves. The former option adds more tactical decisions to the game. Many potential actions absolutely require having the right Fate cards to discard. This makes planning your actions even more crucial since the main way to get more Fate cards is by using an action from an action card.

The other option of a fate card is a key reason why I prefer the cooperative variant. Each fate card has an action you can do as a free action on your turn. I don’t really like a lot of these actions (there are only about five in total). They can help you, but more often than not they will be used to hurt other players. They’re similar to “Take That” actions and can disrupt the planning aspect of the game. To me, that isn’t fun, but I’m a euro gamer at heart and don’t enjoy random bits of player created chaos without mitigation.

What I really like about the Fate deck is its use in the cooperative play. One way to lose in the cooperative game is if the Fate deck runs out. Since the fate cards are absolutely required to succeed on certain challenges, and a card is drawn at the end of every action to move the monsters, and you have a hand limit at the end of your turn, it acts as a really great time mechanic. There is tension in when to draw deeper, which cards to use and how, and a desperate need to plan your turns well.

COMPONENTS

Let’s start with the positives. The art and symbology of the game are very well done. The item and dungeon cards are evocative and the action cards are easy to understand. Overall, the symbology used makes the game much easier to teach and understand at multiple levels and everything just seems to blend together well. I’ve also fallen in love with the card backs.

Every complaint I have about the components of this game comes down to size. I realize that a small box game was the point, but it has led to some frustrations. Namely, the monsters and their tiny tokens. First off, moving them, whereby you need to locate them on the board by finding their tiny faction symbol, then move them around the map using their tiny movement symbols. Performing these steps isn’t difficult, but at least for me it required a closer lean into the table. And while that isn’t a problem when performing the action, it became really annoying when trying to plan out my turn.

Another issue caused by the monster size comes when you play the harder variant (as you should because it is better) which gives powers to your enemies. The token art is very detailed, but until you’ve memorized their powers you will need to constantly consult a group of cards off to the side of the board in order to figure out what each monster does. And again, while not difficult in execution, makes planning a lot more annoying.

The only other quibble I have is that I wish each action card had a hint about its opposite action. Often I would forget what the flip side of each card did and flipping them over to check could have been an annoyance easily diminished. Even something as simple as a box in the bottom corner with some symbology would have been fine.

Overall, trying to minimalize the box cut a few corners that led to some annoyances for me. But if you are planning out your turns with a lot less fervor (you barbarian), these issues should be minor.

CONCLUSION

Shadowscape is a splendid small box game that hits all the right buttons to make a good dungeon crawl but maintains an ability to be something uniquely its own. It brings some interesting ideas to the table and gives the player a game of tight tactical decisions. If you’re a fan of games where planning and positioning are the keys to success, then Shadowscape is a good choice for you.

----

See more of my reviews: HERE
Follow me on Twitter @HeirToPendragon
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John Aronis
New Zealand
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Re: H2P Gaming Reviews: Shadowscape - No relation to Planescape
Nice review.

For me, the mechanics I like. The components not so much.

The monsters are fiddly and hard to locate. Some slightly larger tokens with color coded borders would have went a long way. Even finding other heroes is quite fiddly.

And I wish they had some names, artwork or simple descriptions on the actions to make them feel a bit more thematic and unique to the heroes.



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B. G. Kubacki
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Re: H2P Gaming Reviews: Shadowscape - No relation to Planescape
Thank you for your awesome review! I am very happy you've found Shadowscape enjoyable, and I hope you'll continue to have fun with the game in the future
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Yves St-Denis
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Re: H2P Gaming Reviews: Shadowscape - No relation to Planescape

Thank you for the nice review.
I have played the game solo, and really enjoyed it, although the type of game was a bit of a surprise to me.

Personally, I would not call Shadowscape a dungeon crawler. There is absolutely no sense of mystery or discovery: everything is laid out in front of you since the beginning. You know what is in each room. You know which monster is where, how strong it is and where it will go. You know where the treasures are, and how hard it will be for you to find them before you even get into the room. You know exactly what equipment these treasure tokens will allow you to get. Etc...
To me, this game is a pick up and delivery (with obstacles) with a dungeon theme pasted to it. You have to get through the Whisper deck to allow the Dungeon Lord to spawn, and each Whisper card has an objective you must fulfill in order to take it (bring a Trinket to the Foresight Shrine, bring 1 undead trophy to the Hero Shrine, etc...).

Do not get me wrong: I thought the game was fun to play. It was just not what I thought it would be.

And I agree with you: the monster tokens are very small. I am so glad I bought the Heroes of Mistfall miniature pack! Because the hero tokens are even smaller, and the colors have been skillfully chosen so that they blend with the colors of the room cards...

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Bryan Gerding
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Re: H2P Gaming Reviews: Shadowscape - No relation to Planescape
YJASTD wrote:

Personally, I would not call Shadowscape a dungeon crawler. There is absolutely no sense of mystery or discovery: everything is laid out in front of you since the beginning. You know what is in each room. You know which monster is where, how strong it is and where it will go. You know where the treasures are, and how hard it will be for you to find them before you even get into the room. You know exactly what equipment these treasure tokens will allow you to get. Etc...
To me, this game is a pick up and delivery (with obstacles) with a dungeon theme pasted to it. You have to get through the Whisper deck to allow the Dungeon Lord to spawn, and each Whisper card has an objective you must fulfill in order to take it (bring a Trinket to the Foresight Shrine, bring 1 undead trophy to the Hero Shrine, etc...).



This is actually a really neat idea to consider. I think I agree with you that it is more of a pick up and deliver than a dungeon crawl.
 
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Andrew Swan
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Re: H2P Gaming Reviews: Shadowscape - No relation to Planescape
YJASTD wrote:
Personally, I would not call Shadowscape a dungeon crawler. There is absolutely no sense of mystery or discovery: everything is laid out in front of you since the beginning. You know what is in each room. You know which monster is where, how strong it is and where it will go. You know where the treasures are, and how hard it will be for you to find them before you even get into the room. You know exactly what equipment these treasure tokens will allow you to get. Etc...
To me, this game is a pick up and delivery (with obstacles) with a dungeon theme pasted to it. You have to get through the Whisper deck to allow the Dungeon Lord to spawn, and each Whisper card has an objective you must fulfill in order to take it (bring a Trinket to the Foresight Shrine, bring 1 undead trophy to the Hero Shrine, etc...).

Yes, to me this game seems more like "Mage Knight Lite" (which is no bad thing, as I also own and enjoy MK).
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Harry Jacobs
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Re: H2P Gaming Reviews: Shadowscape - No relation to Planescape
YJASTD wrote:


Do not get me wrong: I thought the game was fun to play. It was just not what I thought it would be.



I thought it was fun to play until I realized that it was near impossible to kill the boss with the equipment I could get and the characters I chosen. Felt the game needs to be tweaked a bit. The premise of the game is well thought out, the execution lacks, I think some minor tweaking would make this game a winner.
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Yves St-Denis
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Re: H2P Gaming Reviews: Shadowscape - No relation to Planescape
yenkin2001 wrote:
I thought it was fun to play until I realized that it was near impossible to kill the boss with the equipment I could get and the characters I chosen. Felt the game needs to be tweaked a bit. The premise of the game is well thought out, the execution lacks, I think some minor tweaking would make this game a winner.

I had exactly the same experience. The first game I played, I had randomly chosen the Dungeon Lord, and got Karnas the Betrayer (Attack 5, Defense 14). I immediately realized I would never be able to kill him. How on earth can you gather a 14 attack strength in one shot??

 
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Anders Pedersen
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Re: H2P Gaming Reviews: Shadowscape - No relation to Planescape
YJASTD wrote:
yenkin2001 wrote:
I thought it was fun to play until I realized that it was near impossible to kill the boss with the equipment I could get and the characters I chosen. Felt the game needs to be tweaked a bit. The premise of the game is well thought out, the execution lacks, I think some minor tweaking would make this game a winner.

I had exactly the same experience. The first game I played, I had randomly chosen the Dungeon Lord, and got Karnas the Betrayer (Attack 5, Defense 14). I immediately realized I would never be able to kill him. How on earth can you gather a 14 attack strength in one shot??



You can lower his defence by 2 for each shield you have on your cards, as per his special ability.
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Bryan Gerding
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Re: H2P Gaming Reviews: Shadowscape - No relation to Planescape
dbc- wrote:
YJASTD wrote:
yenkin2001 wrote:
I thought it was fun to play until I realized that it was near impossible to kill the boss with the equipment I could get and the characters I chosen. Felt the game needs to be tweaked a bit. The premise of the game is well thought out, the execution lacks, I think some minor tweaking would make this game a winner.

I had exactly the same experience. The first game I played, I had randomly chosen the Dungeon Lord, and got Karnas the Betrayer (Attack 5, Defense 14). I immediately realized I would never be able to kill him. How on earth can you gather a 14 attack strength in one shot??



You can lower his defence by 2 for each shield you have on your cards, as per his special ability.


Also, unless the ability tells you to discard down to your hand size, you can always have more cards in your hand.

At least, that's how I understood the rule.
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Anders Pedersen
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Re: H2P Gaming Reviews: Shadowscape - No relation to Planescape
HeirToPendragon wrote:

Also, unless the ability tells you to discard down to your hand size, you can always have more cards in your hand.

At least, that's how I understood the rule.


True. Several of the cards allow you to give cards to other players. You are allowed to go over your hand size unless you get cards through the replenish action. In that case only, do you have to discard down to your hand size.
Also the Foresight Shrine allows you to draw and keep an extra card above the normal limit.
So plenty of opportunities to get some boosts. Especially in co-op.
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