After the last Inner Kingdom kickstarter (which I backed) didn’t make it’s goal last year, one could surmise that something was going to happen as they just couldn’t fire it back up and expect it to do much better without a major change. Instead, Shadowfist died. Again.
We’ve been through this before Shadowfist fans! While the statement is that the game has been purchased by a guy in Europe, the game is now in the dead zone with no certain future and no concrete news about what will happen. This is the same as 1997 when Daedelus filed for Chapter 11, same as when Zman stopped making the game and it went to Shadowfist Games (an oligarchy of fans!) and similarly when Shadowfist Games went defunct and the game was taken up by Braz King (RIP) and Daniel Gregio to form Inner Kingdom games and shift the game to an LCG.
For some, the game has been dead since 2012 (once they cut the architects, many people quit playing -follow that link and look at how many architect decks there were in the 2002 tournament compared to the other factions) for others since 1996 (where do I find cards? They aren’t in my FLGS so the game must be dead!). Some when the Gatling Engine (online CCG engine) went down suddenly. For myself and my group, scattered as we are, we have given every new iteration the college try to a point and we typically welcome the new masters…
Yet, unlike last time the game died and was taken over by IKG from Shadowfist Games, we have the additional issue of a split player base– Modern players who play with the new sets of cards, and us, who play with the Zman/Shadowfist Games expansions plus the Combat in Kowloon stuff from Inner Kingdom.
While I limped along for awhile accepting the LCG and the ‘modern’ format, this is really the moment when I was just about done with the modern version of the game– when I pulled this card out of the starter deck:
You talk about a game’s art invoking a feeling and how important it is to a game, and you look at a 5 for 8 Fighting with Toughness 2 and it should be a big ass bruiser or one of the most badass martial artists you’ve ever seen: instead? …. it’s a nerd card and not a nerd card where the person won the Gencon world tournament which sometimes gets your face on a card , it’s one that a person paid for– and the developers of Shadowfist and the art director, instead of giving this guy a support character or background in an event card, gave this poor sad sack an 8 fighting hitter with toughness 2. Someone that DIDN’T PAY THE IRON PRICE for a card with their face on it. When I saw this I thought: oh boy, if they are doing this wrong what else are they doing wrong with the cards, with the system, with the direction of the game itself. After seeing this, I started questioning everything and talking to people I knew in the playtest groups about what was going on. Needless to say, from the moment this card was printed, the game had already slid down hill and now here we are. In the Zman game, I cannot recall a single nerd-card hitter (6+ fighting) even with the tournament winners.
Here are a few things I want to say about Shadowfist in it’s current state:
1) We don’t need new cards, don’t need more meta, don’t need any new sets for the game we have. As of Empire of Evil every single faction was fairly built out, with the old factions having tons of options for deck strategies. The Jammers and the Purists, while not the strongest factions, were strong enough to win tournaments (maybe not the jammers actually). The Syndicate got ALL of the most powerful cards in the final expansion from Shadowfist Games so yes, you can do stuff with them (they just aren’t that great even with that boost IMO). The game at the point of the release of Empire of Evil is complete. There’s a reason Zev quit working on Shadowfist and that’s because it was a complete game when he stopped, and 3 expansions after that had such a wide meta game as to be near infinite. If the game goes on, it needs to totally break from the old game.
2) Modern did not retain the old player base and did not grow a new one. We purchased the modern cards until the end of the Rebirth Cycle (2013) and then stopped buying cards or allowing the new modern cards into our games. A couple of our group are pretty mellow people, but a few of us are not and did not like the power curve change since we played with the classic cards plus the modern ones, the typos, the lack of playtesting with all the old cards (how could they do this? probably impossible given their limited testing group).
3) There was a group that was interested in picking up the game after Shadowfist Games was done with it that would have done a better job of it than Inner Kingdom did. There is a person that fucked that all up out of their own petty greed and ego and they know who they are. If there’s one person that we can point to that led Shadowfist to current death #4 it’s that guy. It’s not anyone involved in IKG.
While I didn’t agree with what IKG did in many cases (LCG, nerd cards everywhere, counter madness, typos, terrible cardstock for the Red Wedding reprint, burned powercurve led to near incompatibility with the Classic game), we still bought the cards and played the game and I did like Combat in Kowloon quite a bit. IKG definitely TRIED. and I give them credit for it. They just had some bad advice from their inner circle, the vote for the CCG vs LCG went the wrong way, and generally made a lot of avoidable mistakes, especially in the art direction area. Making any board game is difficult, maintaining a CCG is HARD.
4) The LCG format was a mistake. I usually want to get 15 or so foundation characters and important feng shui sites (like Whirlpool of blood) so I can make multiple decks with them. That’s 15 sets of cards at 15$ a piece. That’s not too bad except now I have 15 copies of hitters and specialist cards that I could never use in decks. If the foundations were removed from the game (which a group in Chicago does) that would have made the game way more LCG friendly for large purchasers/ tournament players. This format killed the Whales’ interest in the game.
5) Changing costs for some of the cards that had been in the pool of cards since 1996/2000 was a bad idea. Zman /Shadowfist games handled it just fine with a lower cost mentor and 0 cost final brawl– why couldn’t Inner Kingdom? The PAP and (1), (2) on cards worked just fine and shouldn’t have been changed. If they were going to increase the cost of Shadowy Mentor by 1 power, they should have added an additional effect (like everyone character in that character’s location takes 2 damage or something).
6) The fact that VTES still has a player base and Shadowfist really doesn’t is sad because ‘Fist is the FAR superior game. I have played both at the tournament level and I can barely stand to play VTES anymore at all, even for shits and giggles. Somehow the decisions the VTES people made were better than what the Shadowfist people made.
Here is my advice for the future of the game.
- Remove Foundation Characters
- Think about a Re-theme of the game to something other than Shadowfist/Feng Shui
- Get rid of the Jammers, don’t bring back the Syndicate.
- Get rid of all counter-creating cards
- Re-institute damage redirection
- Come out with a big 300 card set in boosters plus preconstructs (like VTES did)
- All expansions should be booster + preconstructs (again like VTES)
- Allow play to change the win conditions based on how many winning attempts their are (like a for-the-win counter)
- NO PLAYER FACES ON CARDS EVER FOR ANY REASON.
Mouth lived in Austin and he experienced some things with Inner Kindom first hand. I wanted to interview him as an addon to this post. He has different opinions as to what should be done with the game, if anything ever actually happens and his assessment of the IKG era is different than mine a bit. He also makes superdick decks basically trolling the meta.
My History with Shadowfist:
I started playing Shadowfist back in 1998, when the game was dead, but there were tons of cards available in the Standard and Flashpoint expansions, Netherworld was a little tougher to come by but not impossible.
Of course I was originally a MTG player, but that game was best suited to dueling, and any multiplayer was often quite lopsided. Some of my fellow MTG players would start playing Shadowfist in the evenings after the shop closed, telling me it was just a much better multiplayer experience… and it was. So I bought a box of starters and some boosters of Flashpoint and Netherworld, traded MTG cards for some of the rare stuff I was missing, and played when the opportunity presented itself. That was it, until around 2000 when Z-Man brought it back from the ashes with Throne War… and the game experienced a rebirth.
When it transitioned to Shadowfist Games, three more expansion hit the table…. All solid, the game was still in good hands.
Then it went to Inner Kingdom Games (IKG), and it all took a turn for the worse, but more on that later.
Through the years I have grown my collection to thousands of cards, played countless games, entered tournaments… and even managed to even come close to winning a few. So I’ve been around, and I think I have a decent idea of how the game works.
To further put it in perspective, I even live in TX, close to where IKG does their regular playing and testing, but I wanted nothing to do with this group as they continued to grind this game into the ground. To be fair, not everyone in their circle was a complete misguided idiot or mindless sycophant, there was at least one person that I felt knew what was up, and didn’t necessarily agree with the direction, but when you are on a ship of fools, you had best play along, less they decide to throw you overboard.
The current State of the game:
Where to start, it’s in a right shit state, part of it is the way it is marketed, part of it is the lack of fan base (due to marketing), and a large part of it is the terrible IKG design decisions and leadership exacerbating the previous two issues. Z-Man and Shadowfist Games had left the game design in GREAT standing, when it was handed off to Inner Kingdom Games (IKG) all they had to do was push out the latest expansion. From what I understand, it was pretty much complete, but may have needed a bit more playtesting and art direction. Instead they went the route of trying to completely reshape the game, and it was a disaster!
To me IKG was like what a whiny brat would do if they got to create their own game. Like when your friend takes his toys away from you because you are not playing with them the way he wants you to, to me that was the sense of IKG Shadowfist… a petulant child that wanted to “fix” what “they” didn’t like about the game.
To start with, they pissed off a good portion of the already small fan base by killing off 4 factions. That was a terrible move. If you had to reduce the factions, you should have gone back to the basic ones from the initial release… Hand, Ascended, Dragons, Lotus, and Architects… and if you needed 6, then pick one of either the Jammer or Monarch, or don’t and sprinkle some of them in as a minor faction for one or two decks. Killing the Purists was kind of lame, but they were pretty new, so not the worst move [this couldn’t be helped unfortunately-ed.]. 7 Masters and Syndicate, were barely flushed out… and easy to just loose, so again no major foul. But the Architects of the Flesh, WTF, they were core, and along with the Lotus the real bad guys of the game. With those two factions you had a true evil duo to threaten the world. Instead you replace them with the Jammers, who know just have a death wish and the Monarchs who should only care about the netherworld and their rivalries. At this point the Lotus has to be feeling all alone, and should think about changing their business model so as to better compete in this brave new world without a bosom buddy to share in all the carnage.
In the end they should not have killed any of the factions, but instead just played favorites in their releases. If you want to show love to only 6 factions in one set, fine, but in later expansions spread it around. You may not want to focus as hard on a faction like the 7 Masters, but a card or two in an action pack down the road seems reasonable.
Play balance, so they want to reshape the game, nerf some old cards, add some new cards, and completely standardize terminology… OK, fine. Even adding all the counter bullshit is not a horrible idea… if done correctly. This all resulted one big failure in playtesting. They focused balance on the new “Modern” format, but most of the existing fan base were seasoned players, who were not all that interested in going only modern, so it was “Classic” for the vast majority… and thus the power balance started to shift.
And Mobility, lets spam mobility… WTF?!?! What a terrible way to make the game last forever. I’m not a fan, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have a place in the game… but the deficiency in Shadowfist was never a lack of Mobility. The issue was to make it beneficial enough for me to leverage it. The amount that this ability showed up in IKG releases is insane… it was obvious to me that someone really wanted every game to last 3x as long as necessary.
What do I want to see in the future:
Don’t reinvent the wheel, and try to return some balance to the game. If you try to reboot it again you are bound to loose what few fans remain. Here is what I suggest:
- Create a new core set from all of the pre IKG cards… sure there are some decent IKG era cards, but they need to be seriously reevaluated. Take all these cards and create a new core set, like 75% old cards (with updates) and some new cards, random boosters, and starters to encourage booster drafting tournaments. Old players will want to enhance their collections, and new players will have a great place to jump in. For the next several expansions you can just keep this formula to reinvigorate the fan base.
- Don’t change the backs, if you change the backs you are asking all of the existing fans to not support your game. You need to create a path for them to come with you, don’t burn a bridge like IKG did.
- Bring back all factions.
- Bring back the art from the classic artists, stop the nerd art, and please no more of the shit that looks like it was drawn by a 7 year old. If a nerd gets their face on a card, make it from a tournament win, and not because they have a few thousand to burn on a Kickstarter…. Or a least severely limit it.
Q&A opinion of IKG Thinking:
I don’t know, it all still sounds like what whiny brats would do if they got to create their own game.
Problem: I hate it when I go for the win and someone stops me with an event.
Solution: No problem, we will nerf all of the good events and give you tons of sites that will stop events.
Problem: I hate it when someone wins because every other character is turned and cannot stop it!
Solution: Have you heard of Mobility? Mobility, mobility everywhere! Now it will take twice as long to win and everyone will defer to the next person to block!
Problem: I like to make 6 faction decks with combos that rely on 7 specific cards that must be played all at once… but I have to shuffle my deck so my combo never comes out!
Solution: We will make cards that will let you pick whatever you need from your deck at any time. Better yet, we will let you have 5 of each! Fuck deck building, just smash all your favorite cards together and use these 10 sites!
Problem: I love counters, Magic the Gathering had Fallen Empires that made tons of counters! I miss that… I want Shadowfist to be more like Magic the Gathering!
Solution: No problem, we will make cards that produce so many counters you will forget what is power, and what is damage on the table! On top of that we will nerf all of the cards that help stop small characters, and take all the skill out of making a deck… just spam counters, counters everywhere!
Problem: I hate it when I have been turtle-ing for 6 turns to get out an uber character, people keep attacking me, and I get my sites burned for victory!
Solution: Have we got the card for you, we love to reward the shitty underdog players! Next time a bully takes your sites because of your anemic play style you can play ANY CARD you want from your hand!
Problem: I wish there were more cards that looked like me and my friends. Better yet, I wish they could represent an art style I could draw myself!
Solution: We will make cards with art that will make you want to gouge out your eyes!