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Shadowscape

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Authors:
Blazej Kubacki

Publisher:
NSKN Games
2016/2017

No. of Players:
1 - 4

EVALUATION

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Gamebox author Ralf Togler writes about the game:

With last year's release Mistfall NSKN GAMES has created a new world of high fantasy, in which players take the role of heroes and fight against hordes of undead, beasts and brigands that a vain goddess has sent to get rid of mankind. Mistfall is a complex game with a lot of options and things to keep in mind, and it is difficult to master, although it is cooperative.

The game has been quite successful, so NSKN GAMES now has decided to enlarge the world of Mistfall by two new games. The first one is Heart of the Mists, a game that further expands the base game of Mistfall, but which can be played as a standalone version, too. This game also was quite successful at Kickstarter and was delivered just a month ago, so I will come back to that game in another review in the weeks to come. But for now it is time to have a closer look at the other new game in the Mistfall-universe. This one is called Shadowscape, a dungeon-crawl game that uses some elements of Mistfall, but which differs a lot in the degree of complexity and the way the players act.

Shadowscape comes in a much smaller box than the two other games. The reason is that Shadowscape is a pure card game - although you still need a big table to set up the game as you can see in the photos. First of all we have to build up the dungeon by randomly placing room cards in a 5x5 grid. So, unlike the regions in the two bigger games we really go into the different rooms of a dungeon and we do so individually as we are starting from different corners of the dungeon. Every player chooses one of the well-known heroes from the Mistfall universe, takes his individual hero cards and places his hero token in one of the four starting rooms. This is a big difference to the other Mistfall-games, because Shadowscape basically is not fully cooperative. Every hero crawls the dungeon on his own, fights against the enemies, searches treasure chests and solves quests (called whispers in this game), to get as many Shadow Shards as possible.

Two actions per turn help us reaching our objectives. At set-up, all four cards belonging to our heroes are placed next to the main hero card. All of these cards are double-sided with different powers on each side. Whenever a card was chosen for an action, it is flipped and the used power is no longer available, until the card has been used again (which results in another flipping). Those cards differ from hero to hero, but most cards deal with attacking, searching, preparing and healing. Next to the general movement action, these cards depict the actions available for the players. For moving, a player just chooses one of his cards, ignores the text and flips it to the other side. The hero then is able to move up to his movement points as listed on the main hero card. For all other actions, the text of the card tells us what to do. So, a melee attack +2 let us attack an enemy in the same room with an attack value of 2 and a search +1 let us look for treasures with a search value of 1. Well, that of course is not much, considering that most treasures are secured with values between 3 and 5. So how can we reach the higher values?

Well, most cards give us a symbol for boosting. For that we use fate cards which we may have on our hands, but they must show the same symbol in order to be used. So fate cards are very important for us. We can replenish these cards by using the prepare actions (again the text of the card tells us how exactly it is used). Healing is another important action, once you are wounded, because your hero can only take very few wounds (1-3). If you suffer more wounds, you have to put them on your hero cards (a lot of cards have an option for that), but as a result this card cannot be used any more, until the wound is discarded again. So, taking wounds cannot kill a hero in Shadowscape, but you are handicapped and a lot of wounds will result in losing more and more options for actions.

Next to your general actions you can perform up to 2 special actions per turn. So you can claim general action cards in exchange for trophies (defeated enemies or cracked treasure chests) that can be used in addition to your hero cards (those cards are double-sided, too). On the other hand you can claim equipment that boosts other actions or enables you to do special things. Finally you can claim whisper cards if you fulfilled their claim conditions. All of these cards may also show Shadow Shards next to their real function, and it is these Shadow Shards we are after, because the player with the most Shadow Shards at the end of the game will win.

But before that, we still have to deal with the enemies. The dungeon is filled with three different types of enemies right from the start. At the end of a player's turn, a fate card from the deck is drawn. Ignoring the symbols for boosting and the text on the card, another symbol on the bottom of the card tells us which enemy type is activated. Then all of these enemies move according to the movement rules on the enemy tokens (telling us how many steps and in which direction an enemy moves). Once in range of a hero, they attack with their individual attacking value. The heroes defend with their basic defence value, and once again that can be boosted by fate cards with the defending symbol.

With progressing time our heroes become stronger (by adding equipment and stronger general cards to their hero area) and more and more whispers are fulfilled. So, we not only collect victory points, but we also progress in the game, because in one of the three bottommost whisper cards, we find the Dungeon Lord whisper. Revealing this card automatically activates the Dungeon Lord who is then placed in the middle of the dungeon and from now on activates each round, attacking heroes in the surrounding area. Of course it is the last task for the heroes to kill the Dungeon Boss...

Shadowscape is described as a fast-paced dungeon-crawl. And yes, that's it, but only if you are familiar with the game. I thought I was able to play it right out of the box and indeed that worked. But I made so many "mistakes" in my first game that I would recommend to introduce game elements one by one. As an alternative, one player can start with a solo play, learning all details of the game.

Although Shadowscape is much less complex than Mistfall there are still a lot of things to be considered. So, for example, many rooms have shrines that affect the heroes' actions in the room. It is also important to get familiar with both sides of your hero cards, because you always have to consider the other side when you perform an action - otherwise you quickly could end facing an enemy with no attacking action available. So, you have to plan ahead, which is fairly possible as many game situations can be calculated. The only factor of luck in the game is the drawing of cards from the fate deck. On the one hand this influences the hand cards of the players, on the other hand it determines which enemies are activated in a turn.

As said, Shadowscape basically is not fully cooperative. It is true that you do not directly attack your fellow players, but it is still more than just collecting more Shadow Shards than your opponents. You can use the fate cards for that again: Once in a turn you can play one of these cards and use its text, for example to send a mighty enemy towards a hero of another player. So you can interfere with your fellow players, making their lives harder. But as the bigger games are fully cooperative, NSKN GAMES has also foreseen the player's wishes and has equipped each fate card with an alternative text for a cooperative game. In this variant the game is won after the Lord of the Dungeon is killed and lost if the fate decks runs out of cards. This works well, but as heroes cannot die in the game, I liked the competitive variant much more.

Shadowscape further expands the Mistfall universe. So it is definitely a game for experienced players of Mistfall or Heart of the Mists, especially if they are looking for a lighter variant of the game. Although the game feels different, there are a lot of elements you already know from the bigger games. The degree of complexity is reduced as well as the number of options you have to choose from. But most important, Shadowscape uses the same heroes who further explore the world of Mistfall. So, this game can also be used to introduce new players to the fantasy world of Mistfall, but it is no game for the typical casual family player. You definitely should have a partiality for fantasy and/or role playing games. I personally needed two games to see all the different options I have in a given game situation, and so I it is essential not to get frustrated if things don't go well during your first game. However, By now I would say that I am able to lead a group of heroes through the dungeon, thrilling my fellow players with a fast-paced entertaining game. Up to now the game was only available as an add-on in the Heart of Mist campaign, but it now will be further developed by a new Kickstarter campaign, so let us see where this leads us. For the moment, let us find the Dungeon Lord, kill him and rescue another part of Mistfall from the hordes of the Fallen Goddess....

One last note: In the pictures you can see the minis of the miniature pack Heroes of Mistfall. Shadowscape uses hero tokens instead, but these work pretty well, too.


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Copyright © 2016 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany