REVIEW: Shadowscape and Shadowscape: Deeper Dungeon

Designer: Błażej Kubacki
Publisher: NSKN Games
1-4 players, 45-90mins
Price: £25 approx (Deeper Dungeon: £12 approx)

Shadowscape has the dubious distinction of being the first game I ever backed via Kickstarter, and if I’m being honest, I originally thought the extra Heroes of Mistfall miniatures were going to be included at my backing level — that kind of sealed the deal at just $35 or so!  As it happens I’d got it wrong and my Pledge Level only stretched as far as the base game and any unlocked stretch goals, but I was nonetheless not as disappointed as you may expect, and have remained a bit of a Kickstarter addict ever since!

There’s a pretty good game lurking under here, and it’s a shame Shadowscape hasn’t received more all-round media attention, really. Bottom-line, it’s basically a dungeon crawl that takes place across a space constructed with Room Cards, using Heroes based on those in the Mistfall universe (also created by NSKN Games)… and quite a good one, too.shadowscape picThe Room Cards making up the dungeon are laid out in a 5 x 5 grid, and the board is then seeded with three types of Monster (Beasts, Brigands, and Undead) and a selection of Treasure Tokens, placed according to symbols on each card in the dungeon. Separate piles are then formed for Equipment, General Actions, and Whispers (Quest cards, basically). Four of each of these are revealed and available for collection/purchase once the game begins, and replenished as and when. There is also a Fate Card deck, and it’s this that drives the game in many ways (in addition to the Whisper Cards which I’ll get to in a moment). Fate Cards are drawn for each player at the start of the game, and further cards may be drawn if players choose to do so using one of the actions of their heroes: these cards are used (either competitively or co-operatively) to ‘boost’ selected actions or share cards with your fellow heroes, and it’s Fate Cards that also determine which type of Monsters get activated for movement and potential conflict after each player’s turn.

In case it’s not clear, you can choose to play Shadowscape either competitively or co-operatively, and as you’d probably expect, the end Lord of the Dungeon (Boss) is usually stronger in the co-operative game, although ironically the Monsters aren’t unless you optionally choose to use their specific skill cards.
shadowscape_boxWith 5 different Lords of the Dungeon, and 9 different Enemies forming the different Monster types (each with their own extra ability if you want to make them tougher), there’s plenty of variety in this game, and this extends readily to the rest of the components, too: there are 13 Heroes for players to choose from (each with their own special ability and specific set of skill cards, with limited crossover between them), and a variety of Equipment and General Action cards (additional actions) to purchase.

Incidentally, Shadowscape: Deeper Dungeon extends these options by adding a further 5 Room Cards for a 6 x 5 layout, additional Equipment and Action cards for each Hero, and adds Allies and Event Cards into the mix, too — there really is enough here to keep players going for several months, quite easily.

The objective of the game is to work your way through the Whispers deck to eventually reveal the Lord of the Dungeon for the final showdown, and while I like the core gameplay, there is quite a disparity between playing the game competitively (with each Hero out only for themselves), and co-operatively (with the heroes working together to beat the dungeon), and this could be a deal-breaker for some…

Competitively, the game can go on a long time — our first outing lasted just over 3 hrs, but this was mainly because we spent the first hour or so wandering around and killing everything in sight and trying to bolster up our individual equipment, without making any real effort to work through the Whisper deck looking for the final boss fight!

On the other hand, in co-operative mode, the game is over as soon as the Fate Deck has been exhausted once, and this happens remarkably quickly even with two players. Given that Fate Cards are turned over to activate the different Monster types after every turn, and are also needed by players to ‘boost’ all their actions, this deck of cards really doesn’t last very long at all. In our first co-op game, we were unfortunate enough to get several ‘Search 4’ Whispers appearing at the start of the game, and cards that boost the Search action were extremely hard to come by (or kept turning up after each player’s turn to determine which Monsters get activated). This effectively killed the first part of the game for us, and leads me to think there are definitely some issues with balance that should really have been ironed out before release.

Despite its flaws, I like Shadowscape — I like the way it plays, and I admire what it tries to do: it has the feel of a real dungeon with Monsters roaming around, tasks to be achieved, etc. The execution may be a little unbalanced in places, but I’ll still return to it for a handy bit of dungeon-bashing.

This game can also be played Solo, which is good to know, but there is no reference to the Solo game in the rulebook. Instead, you have to visit NSKN Games‘ website and even then you’ll struggle to make sense of things: the website suggests Shadowscape is for 1-5 players, but the rules and box clearly states 1-4 players?  For your convenience, here’s the relevant link to the Solo/Online downloadable material: Shadowscape Solo/Online Scenarios.

I’ve played this a few times now, and have posted some suggestions for alternative rules which I believe make for a better experience all-round… DESIGN: Shadowscape Alternative Rules.

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