Ring Side Report-Board Game Review of Shadows of Malice

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Product– Shadows of Malice

Producer– Devious Weasel

Price– ~$50 here http://www.amazon.com/Devious-Weasel-Games-IMPDWE1000-Shadows/dp/B00NAG5YCK

Set-up/Play/Clean-up-2-6 hours (2 to 8 players)

TL; DR– Say yes to being a God in the American style game. 86%

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Basics-Fight the darkness!  In Shadows of Malice, an ancient evil is stirring, and the players take the rolls of avatars of light trying to stop it.  To do this, players must find the hidden strongholds of light among all the strongholds that have fallen to darkness before the vile Xulthûl.  Each player starts with an item, soulshards, and a special power.  Over a series of turns, the heroes move across the map revealing towns, mystics, monster lairs, and strongholds while shadow tries to find the strongholds of light.  Each turn, players roll two six sided dice, one for movement and one for fate.  If the player rolls doubles they draw a fate card.  Fate cards range from great effects like doing extra damage to horrible effects like permanently getting a negative on all dice rolls.  Fate cards last until they are spent or until a new fate card is drawn.  The players can then spend movement points to move across the map.  If player end on tokens or monster lairs on the map, they can encounter what’s there.  In towns, you can spend soulshards to get items like potions or treasure.  Mystics will heal or remove fate cards and make potions.  Monster lairs and stronghold have monsters.  When players encounter a monster, they roll to see the monsters type, the monsters power, and how many abilities the monster has.  The type affects some powers and treasures, but provides flavor for the encounter.  The power determines how much damage the creature does, how much the creature adds to its attack, and how much life the creature has.  The abilities add new flavor to each combat like preventing damage or adding to the monsters attack.  Combat is pretty simple.  Both sides roll a six sided dice and add bonuses based on treasure, monster’s power and other cards.  Before each roll, players can spend soulshards to activate abilities or to increase their dice rolls.  Whatever side has the higher combat check does one damage to the other side.  Some treasure, abilities, and powers allow monsters and character to possibly do extra damage depending on random dice rolls.  Combat continues over these rounds until one side runs away or until someone dies.  If the players win, they gain soulshards based on the powers available and have a 50/50 chance to gain clear soulshards on a one for one basis for each the monsters life points.  If players travel together (forming a band), each character beyond the first player add an extra six sided die to the player’s combat roll.  After the players turn, the shadows take a turn.  Shadows randomly remove one seal from their realm each turn.  Then, either spawn a new shadow or randomly move a shadow present on its own game board.  If a shadow moves onto the spawn point, it gains life.  However, if a shadow moves onto an open portal, the shadow moves to the player’s side.  From now on, this shadow will move one to two spaces toward the closest stronghold.  If the shadow gets to that stronghold, and the stronghold is a light stronghold, then the shadow becomes Xulthûl and fights the players.  Players can fight shadows in the normal world to prevent this, or kill Xulthûl.  Play repeats like above with players having a turn, then the shadows.  The player’s goal is to find the hidden light strongholds among the shadow ones.  For each light one found, the players gain power.  However, for each shadow one found or uncovered by the shadows in the main world, the darkness gains power and all monsters are harder to fight.  Once players find the one light stronghold per map tile, they win!

 

Mechanics-The mechanics are pretty simple with lots of randomness from the dice. When you know what you’re doing, you can generate monsters and end fights quickly, moving the game closer to two hours rather than the six..  The randomness can really bite you in some cases, but since you roll tons of dice, the swingyness of the dice is counteracted by probability.  This game feels a lot like Arkham Horror with moves, combat, and some events determined by dice.  That’s some good company to be in.  4.5/5

 

Theme- This game really excels at the theme.  The game starts with an interesting story, and adds random elements that are on point.  The game is a quest to discover things and defeat monsters.  You get the feel of combat and exploration with lots of variation.  Some changes are pretty cosmetic like the type of monster, but even those simple changes do allow you to build a story in your mind.  It’s not perfect as some elements like the monster abilities can randomly generate monsters that don’t make sense (vampire ooze with an exoskeleton!).  But, you get the chance to start on a story from the book and build on the story of being a god if you want too. 4.5/5

 

Instructions-I don’t like how the rules are laid out.  The rules use a numbers system with subsections numbers, kind of like a legal document.  I haven’t seen that done really well, and that kind of hurts this book.  Also, this book really needs a quick turn-order page.  The order of turn actions is all in the book, but the book is a bit unorganized and you will get lost for a while trying to determine how turns work.  However, if you read a rule a few times, you do get a decent sense of how to play.  And, this document does list all the pieces (AND give little pictures of the pieces!) and what they do instead of assuming each piece will make sense.  Those details really do help make the game that much easier to understand and play.  While I try to just read the rules when I play, Devious Weasel has several videos explaining the game.  They do a good job, but by themselves, the rules do a decent job of explaining how to play this game. 3.75/5

 

Execution-This game is as third party as they come.  It’s from a smaller company.  I have to admit, even as a well versed gamer, I’ve always been a bit hesitant to play games by smaller, local companies.  They sometimes don’t have the production quality or art skill of larger companies.  I’ve seen quite a few badly drawn maps with cheap quality cardboard pieces that just don’t stand up to any plays.  This game convinced me to give up the prejudice.  The pieces are nice, chunky cardboard.  The art is generic but well done.  You can tell this is a small company, but it’s not bad.  In fact, I’m pretty happy with what’s in the box.  Heck the box is even well done!  My problems are with the dice.  I would like a few more different colors instead of different size dice.  Also, turn guide or turn order cards and extra terrain/monster generation cards would have really knocked this one out of the park.    4.5/5

 

Summary– If you’re looking for a fantasy version of Arkham Horror, this is the game for you.  Honestly, I had a blast playing this one.  It’s got simple mechanics that generate a near infinite series of combinations of games as players get the chance to explore a new world every game. It’s not perfect as randomness can make some games simply not fun to play due to some crushing difficulty, random monsters that don’t make sense, or just monsters making all the right moves.  However, if you can get past the standard problems of American style games, you will get to be a god and save the day!  If someone asks you to play a god in Shadows of Malice, SAY YES! 86%

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