This Against the Shadow review was made after playing the game eight times. We were sent a prototype copy of this game by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
This is a Kickstarter preview so rules, components, and art could change before the game comes out. This will become a full review once we’ve had a chance to play the retail version of the game.
What is Against the Shadow?
Against the Shadow is a cooperative horror-fantasy board game in which you play as powerful patrons who are attempting to keep the Demon Lord from destroying the world. The game is set in the same world found in the Shadow of the Demon Lord roleplaying game.
Against the Shadow was designed by Adam Doochin and Dan Heinrich and is published by Schwalb Entertainment.
Against the Shadow Gameplay
Against the Shadow is basically a race game in which you’re trying to reach 50 Light before the Demon Lord reaches 50 Shadow. The Demon Lord will raise the Shadow every round by varying amounts, so you have to take on Encounters and use your cards to hopefully make it to 50 first.
There are five different types of cards in Against the Shadow:
- Exploration – This deck includes Encounters, Breaches, and Events. Encounters are what you’ll be fighting to raise the Light in the world, each showing a number of successes you’ll need to defeat them. Breaches are the worst things to find because they’ll take up valuable Encounter spaces on the board and they also have negative effects. The Events provide instant benefits when drawn.
- Curse – Every player draws a Curse card before they take their turn. The deck includes Shadow and Breach cards. The Shadow cards are instant negative effects, usually raising the Shadow level.
- Hero – All of the Hero cards show 1-3 dice symbols on them. When you fight Encounters, you’ll add up the number of Light dice shown on your heroes (and possibly more from other cards) and roll them along with the number of Shadow dice listed on the Encounter card. You can have up to five heroes fighting for you at a time.
- Command – Everyone gets four Command cards at the beginning of each round, but you’ll lose any unused Command cards at the end of the round. These cards can give you a bunch of different benefits, such as removing breaches, replacing Shadow dice with Light dice, gaining treasure, and rerolling dice. You can use your Command cards on anyone’s turn.
- Treasure – You can use these cards on your turn to gain one-time or once-per-round benefits.
The three types of dice in the game are the Light dice, the Shadow dice, and the Insanity dice. The Light dice include three Success sides and one Light side. The Shadow dice have all negative sides, including sides that raise the Shadow level and sides that kill your heroes. The Insanity dice have a mix of positive and negative sides.
You and everyone else on your team will have a patron board showing your traits and abilities. Each Command card has a trait on it, and if you play a card that matches one of your patron’s traits, you get to use the ability shown on your board.
The Demon Lord gets to take his turn at the start of each round. You’ll roll one Insanity die and check the chart to see what effects take place, which is always bad unless you roll the blank side. He often raises the Shadow level and/or makes encounters more difficult by adding demons and cultists to them. After the Demon Lord takes his turn, all of the players get to take their turns.
Players can take their turns in any order. At the start of your turn you’ll draw one Curse card, which is always some type of bad event. After that you can take actions in any order, including recruiting one hero, exploring, playing Command cards, using treasures, and fighting. Other players can also use their Command cards to help you out. Most of the time you’re using your other actions to become as powerful as you can for your Fight action.
To fight, you’ll gather up all of the Light, Shadow, and Insanity dice in your pool and roll them together. You’ll then check to see how many of your heroes died, how much insanity was cast on your remaining heroes, how much Shadow and Light was gained, and whether or not you defeated the encounter.
You’ll win the game if you’re able to get to 50 Light. You’ll lose if the Shadow ever reaches 50 or if the four Encounter spaces are ever filled with Breach cards.
Thoughts So Far
- You often have to roll 15+ dice at a time during fights. Some people will love that, some will not. I actually find it very satisfying both to roll all of those dice and to separate them into groups to see how each fight went. If you don’t have a dice tray, though… yikes.
- There’s a lot of variety in that Command deck, creating plenty of interesting choices and combos.
- I really like that players can use their Command cards on anyone’s turn. This forces everyone to talk about how they can help out and it definitely does make each player feel like an important part of the team.
- I do feel bad for whoever goes last most rounds because they usually can’t get much help from other players. Everyone’s trying to defeat the encounters and raise the Light, so the first few players will get help from everyone else, often leaving very few Command cards to use later on in the round. Choosing turn order is a fun part of the strategy, but it doesn’t feel great when you don’t have much you can do on your turn.
- The game seems to be a lot tougher if you don’t have patrons with abilities that can increase the Light or reduce the Shadow. You’re relying a lot more on luck in those games.
- The board could be about a quarter of the size (I’m not sure if they’re using a full-sized board in the final game yet). It really only needs a Light/Shadow tracker and spots for the Encounter cards.
- I believe there’s only going to be one difficulty level. On the one hand that’s strange since most games these days come with ways to increase or decrease the difficulty, but on the other hand you can always just try to go for high scores with different groups of patrons.
- I have a feeling that fans of the Shadow of the Demon Lord RPG will get more out of Against the Shadow than anyone else because they’ll recognize the characters and will have an easier time getting into the theme.
- I’m looking forward to seeing the final art that they’re going to use on the cards. I actually really liked the prototype art.