Shadowfist bites it again!

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.

Never published Battlechip Potempkin card art.

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.

Unpublished art for the queen of the ice pagoda.

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.

Hopefully the blood is from having killed Sifu Beumer

The Future

Here is my advice for the future of the game.

  1. Remove Foundation Characters
  2. Think about a Re-theme of the game to something other than Shadowfist/Feng Shui
  3. Get rid of the Jammers, don’t bring back the Syndicate.
  4. Get rid of all counter-creating cards
  5. Re-institute damage redirection
  6. Come out with a big 300 card set in boosters plus preconstructs (like VTES did)
  7. All expansions should be booster + preconstructs (again like VTES)
  8. Allow play to change the win conditions based on how many winning attempts their are (like a for-the-win counter)
  9. NO PLAYER FACES ON CARDS EVER FOR ANY REASON.
Never published Quai Li card art.

 

Mouth’s words

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!

It was a good run.

Blood Bowl – identification issues with the new minis

I got some Blood Bowl in last weekend, and it was my first game with the 2016 version of the game.   I know the game back and forth, but man it’s been awhile and I had to look up a few rules.   I forgot that dodging and picking up the ball are automagically +1 at all times and a couple little things here and there.

I used the humans and my homie had the orks.  We used the total stock 11 player teams that come in the box.  Suboptimal? oh yeah.  Still a fun match up? yep.

My complaints about the Human and Ork scupts proved to be true in game.  Even with the human team completely painted, it was nearly impossible to tell the Blitzers from the Lineman.  I like the lineman sculpts a lot for the humans and the thrower/catcher minis are totally fine but it’s critical that the blitzers are easily identified via their model on the pitch — and with the new human team they are not. Also, they are very BORING blitzers.

The Gary Morley humans from 1993 and the later human team by an unknown GM sculptor (~2004) have the blitzers in a different stance than the lineman and that helps a ton to sort out which is which during play.

The 2016 orks are a bit easier to tell apart except the Black Ork blockers and the Lineman look almost exactly the same. Multiple times during the game I had to ask: is that a Black Orc?  Again the 1993 version of the Ork team had very identifiable silhouettes for the Black Orc and Line orc miniatures– despite the fact that the lineman were not very good looking in that set.  The 1993 orc blitzers were awesome looking.  Unfortunately, the orcs in the new Blood Bowl are super-Sigmarized, that is, they look very much like their Age of Sigmar counterparts with their… ‘rock armor’ is definitely not Blood Bowl.

For the Humans, Forgeworld to the rescue with the two new blitzers in their ‘booster pack’ that actually look like blitzers!  With 4 of these, I think the human minis/team is quite good looking and functional, harkening back in terms of design to Ally Morrison’s human art in the original Blood Bowl rather than SIGMARIZING the miniatures like they did with the orcs.  These are great…

 

Aly Morrison – Harry the Hammer

All in all I think it’s a good set of blood bowl yet the newGW take on the miniatures is OK.  Importantly, there are tons of alternate BB miniatures for nearly all the teams out there– nearly a cottage industry.  These guys are where I got my Dark Elves from for the new version of the game.

Galeforce 9 gets the Dune license

Remember back when Fantasy Flight was an independent company and tried to go for the Dune license to make games and could not do it– instead making REX?   While the engine to REX is the old DUNE board game one, the space kittys and frogs and stuff are a far, far cry from the Sardakar and Fremen of DUNE.

Out of print for close to 40 years now, Avalon Hill’s Dune is one of the best asymmetrical board game experiences you can have and holds up fantastically even today.  We played it so many times that we ran through the entire set of player aid pads that came in the box and had to start recycling!

This week it was announced that Galeforce 9 got the license to Dune and will be making board games with it.  Great news as they have done some excellent work recently with Sons of Anarchy (still real cheap on Amazon!) and succeeded there DESPITE the game being a licensed property.

Yet the biggest question is there: will Galeforce 9 be able to or choose to resurrect one of the best board games ever created?  Will they be working with the original designers (the Cosmic Encounter guys)?  Or will they try to make a totally different (and likely inferior) game to the original AH Dune?

Dungeon Degenerates new expansion

While I haven’t played enough games of it to write a review (I never review a game I haven’t played at least 10 times unless it’s like Terrible Swift Sword or Here I Stand which usually can only be played a few times in a lifetime due to length), I’ve enjoyed the sessions of Dungeon Degenerates quite a bit and they are out with their first expansion on Kickstarter.    35$ and look at the cover art…

And another couple kickstarters…

Brutal!  Too many….

First one I can’t vouch for as a game, but it LOOKS good.  (Remember Dungeon Degenerates? that was well worth the kickstarter price based on the art alone, and was a solid game to boot!).  DEUS LO VULT.  

this one is around 50$ shipped so it’s not a bankbreaker like the CMON ones…

The second one is a no brainer.  Steve Jackson got the license back for “The Fantasy Trip” after many years as an out of print microgame and started a kickstarter to bring it back into print.  30$.

Remember these in the hobby shops back in the day? This is it.

MAAAAT 2018

Today was maat’s birthday.  We played a bunch of games at 42 Alehouse last night (well, 3) including a massive 6 player game of RISING SUN which was chaos incarnate.

Then we busted out the STUDY IN EMERALD and it was pure gold. The first game was a grind with two restorationists and three loyalists, but the second game saw Cthulhu destroy London, destroying all of Shawn’s agents and ending the game (as he was a restorationist), and yet he still won on points!  Pure gold.

We love you matt even though you take too long to take your damn turns.

March 2018: I loathe most of the top 10 games on BoardGamegeek

Boardgamegeek has a ranking of games that’s been around for a long time.  During living memory, Twilight Struggle has been the top game with the usual suspects filling out the other slots (Brass, Agricola, Power Grid, Caylus, etc.).

I had a peek at the top 10 games today and of the games I’ve played or know enough about, all of them are absolutely terrible.  Not only that, Cosmic Encounter has dropped out of the top 100 games which indicates to me that something has gone very, very wrong with the BGG algorithm (all of the top 10 games are from 2012 or later except for one).

1: Gloomhaven

This solves a problem for many gamers without game masters to play a real RPG or to avoid continuing to play with a group’s really awful GM, but after two excruciating plays of this, I can say I hated every moment of this game, from the set up to the leveling up to the combat.  Like Mage Knight, everything about this one stinks.

FAR Better games:  Descent, The Others, Massive Darkness, Dead of Winter, Heroquest, Advanced Heroquest, Talisman

2: Pandemic Legacy: Season 1

Legacy games (where the game changes forever as you play) are great fun, Pandemic is not.  What Pandemic is, unfortunately, is a solo game where one player plays against the board like CHAINSAW WARRIOR, except it pretends to be coop instead of like CHAINSAW WARRIOR, it’s supposed to be solo.  All the other players are not only superfluous, but hamper attempts to win the game.   Needless to say, Pandemic is the ultimate quarterbacker game.  No thank you.

FAR better games:  The Others, Dead of Winter, Descent, A Study in Emerald

3: Through the Ages

Never played, can’t comment.

4: Twilight Struggle

This is a good game, but it’s 2 player and a bit programmed.  I’ve only played it once and while I would play it again, the subject matter isn’t all that interesting to me.  I was surprised this stayed on the top of the pack for so long, and I’m surprised it’s number 4 at this point.

Somewhat better games: MTG, Pokemon CCG, Seasons, Advanced Squad Leader

5:  Terraforming Mars

Never played, can’t comment

6: Star Wars: Rebellion

This is a lot like Twilight Struggle and is probably a good 2 player game.  I watched a multiplayer game being played though and it looked painful to me.  Very painful.  It was simply a quarterback on both sides and one of the players on each side were not needed at all, and they knew it.

Better games:  Pericles, Eclipse, Fief, All the Quartermaster General games.

7: Terra Mystica

Played this once and out of my mouth came ‘never again.’  This is like an accountants Fantasy Empire game, a game that is so dry in play that it’s akin to getting an I.V. of gin for a few hours, or a gin suppository.   This is by far the worst game in the top 10. So dry, so tedious, so boring.

Way better games: everything else in the top 300 games on BGG is better than this and probably a few hundred games sub 300 as well.

8: Scythe

Another game I’ve had to sit through a few times in mental pain and anguish.  This looks like a Euro/Ameritrash mash up, but it’s not AT ALL.  It is a garbage euro with nice pieces and cool art.  I know a lot of people that talk about how they love this game, but then does it hit the table?  Very rarely because it’s just not very good.  This company’s previous game (Euphoria) is pretty solid, so I don’t know why they went so wrong with this one.  There’s just so little interaction for what this game looks like, it’s sad.

Better Games:  Eclipse, Nexus Ops, Blood Rage, Rising Sun, Fief, Struggle of Empires and even Twilight Imperium 2nd edition, Caylus, many others.

9: Great Western Trail

Haven’t played, can’t comment.  I want to play this one though!

10: 7 Wonders Duel

Another 2 player game in the top 10.  This is a good game, fun, fast to play but with a really messy and confusing set up.  Is this the 10th best board game every made?  Nope.   I can see why this one ranks high though.

Slightly better games:  Netrunner, MTG, Seasons

I bet we see only games released in the last 5 years in the top 10 going forward because I think that’s what the algorithm is built off of.

A Study in Emerald Sequel: AuZtralia!

A Study in Emerald has quickly become one of my favorite games.  It’s combination of solid deck building and treachery just warms my cockles!

After the events in A Study In Emerald, Northern Europe is in ashes and the peoples need to rebuild civilization in Australia with trains and stuff and of course, the remaining Old Ones waking up.   Auztralia also by Martin Wallace, looks great and will be good for a twofer Saturday of aSiE.  It’s not out yet but should be in 2018!

DIRGIBLES

Sons of Anarchy board game

I was looking at Blood Rage’s successor: Godfather by CMON. Area control, destruction of business and gangsters, etc. Seems great but shit man it doesn’t fit the theme well. The 5 families in the movies had issues from time to time, but to constantly be in conflict would have sunk them all very quickly, especially since the gangs of New York had shrunk to a minuscule amount compared to the era of the Dead Rabbits and Native Americans who numbered in the thousands.  I was thinking it would need to be FAR closer to something like Republic of Rome or Dead of Winter, where you work together, have your own goals, but also have serous external threats that could sink everyone in the game. If the Sicilians wiped themselves out like portrayed in the Godfather game, we’d be watching ‘mafia’ shows centered around the Irish gangsters, Polish, Jews or Greeks or any of the post WW1 immigrant groups instead.

That said, if you’ve looked at Godfather and are interested in that type of game MUCH cheaper: have a look at Sons of Anarchy.  14$ on Amazon, it’s a steal currently (which probably won’t last) and after a single play so far, I can say it’s well worth that measly amount.  The components are solid, nothing felt cheap either in the plastic and none of the sturdy cardboard was de-laminated at all.

More importantly, the gameplay is smooth and gives interesting choices for the players.  You start with a gang of prospects and full gang members and have a goal of having the most cash at the end of six turns (cash is analogous to glory in Blood Rage except you can spend it).  The game has locations, randomized at the beginning of the game, that the gangs can exploit for guns or cash or contraband, but you have to be the only gang present to do so.  If other gangs are present you can bribe them to move out or duke it out on the streets.   Fighting can be as tame as just a barfight style beatdown, or the guns can come out which can, at the right moment, nearly wipe out an opposing (or even both gangs).  You have to balance your muscle and economy at all times, and attempt to get an economic engine going of areas that you persistently control.

Like Cosmic Encounter, each of the five gangs in the game break the rules in some way, such as not having to pay to move gang members to other locations during a throw down, or bonuses when you are the first player in a round.

Despite the almost immediate dismissal of a board game based on a show or movie, Sons of Anarchy is a solid area control game and the theme works well, as the biker gangs aren’t as concerned with ‘business’ as the Sicilians of the Godfather game would be, so the catastrophic violence seems quite a bit more appropriate.  The price (right now) is certainly right.