Dale Yu: First Impressions of Shadow Rivals

Shadow Rivals

  • Designer: Halifa
  • Publisher: Moaideas Game Design
  • Players: 2-5
  • Ages: 12+
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Times played, 2 with review copy provided by Moaideas Game Design

In Shadow Rivals, you will be leading a team of 8 skillful bandits each with a different specialty, robbing the riches from the extravagant parties that take place every night. But there are rival teams that also want to rob these patricians, so you will need all your wits to gain the upper hand, and make sure you get the biggest slice of the pie. The church bell has just rung for 6 pm, so put on your cloak and go meet your crew in the dark alley near a fancy mansion. It is now time to roll and show them who leads the most notorious team of bandits in town, laughing all the way to the bank.

Well, at least, that’s how the publisher describes the game…  In reality, each player gets an identical starting deck of 8 thieves; each one has its own special ability.  Yeah, it seems a little weird that we each have a team member called Lady Lupin who share a special ability, but in the crime world, anything can happen… Anyways, each player shuffles their deck and draws a starting hand of 3 cards.   There are also three special card varieties for each of the 8 cast members.  These eight stacks are shuffled separately, and a display of the 8 facedown stacks is placed on the table.  Each of the three special versions (Crafty, Alert and Mystic) have super special abilities that are in general more desirable than the one found on the base version of that team member.  Be sure to look at your player aid to get a description of what all the different icons mean on the cards.

the 8 basic cards for the purple player

The whole goal is to steal stuff, and there are 3 mansions in play (at least for a 4p game); 2 large and 1 small.  This doesn’t mean the size of the card, but rather the size of the VP rewards given to the player(s) able to steal from them.  The numbers written on the card tell you how many points go to the player with the most influence, 2nd most and 3rd most at the particular mansion.

Play goes clockwise around the table, and continues until 7 mansions have been looted.  At that time, the player with the most points is the winner.  First, the active player plays a card from their hand to one of the three mansions on the table.   You can choose to play the card face up or face down.  When face up, the hat icon on the card tells you how many points of influence are given by the card.  There is also a special ability printed on the card at the bottom which is then immediately resolved.   This action might let you put loot tiles on your character, maybe steal loot tiles, maybe allow you to move cards from one mansion to another, maybe let you flip over one or more cards, etc.  A few of the cards have effects which only trigger when the mansion is scored.   If it is an advanced member card, be sure to put your ownership marker on it so you know who gets credit for the influence on this card.  If you play the card face down, you will not get a special ability as there are none printed on the card backs.  Furthermore, the influence value might be different than the other side.  However, when you do place it face down, you get to take a loot tile from the supply and place it on that card.   As you place cards in the column, always place underneath so that they stay in order of when played.

the cards stemming out from the mansions

After the card has been placed and the action resolved, then check to see if a mansion is looted – that is whether the total number of influence points meets or exceeds the printed limit on the hat icon on the mansion card.  If so, resolve the mansion.  First, look at all the team members at the mansion and activate any “upon resolution” actions going from top to bottom.  Now, calculate each player’s influence at that mansion; the player with the most gets the highest value of VPs shows on the card.  If there is a tie, the player who has a card closest to the mansion (i.e. earliest played) gets the higher score. 

the three advanced versions of Lady Lupin

Next, if there are any advanced cards at the mansion, they are discarded; then starting with the active player, each player with a card left at the mansion can choose to upgrade a Basic member card for a random Advanced card of the same type from the top of the matching stack.  You only have 2 ownership tokens (wooden hats) in your color, so you can only have 2 advanced cards at any time.  Until used, the card remains face down in front of you with your ownership marker on it.  Each player can only upgrade ONE card per mansion.  Finally, the mansion is discarded, and all played cards still on the table are placed in the player’s personal discard pile. A new mansion of the same type is drawn to replace it.  If this was the 7th mansion scored, the game would end and move into final scoring.  Otherwise, the active player draws cards to refill his hand to 3 cards and the next player starts play.

loot tiles on the left, VP markers on the right

If the game has ended – there is a little bit of end game scoring.  Players have collected VPs along the way based on their finish in the 7 Mansions.  Remember the Loot tiles that I briefly mentioned above?  Well, now they come into play.  There are three different types of Loot tokens, and each scores slightly differently. Lucky for you, the scoring for each type is printed right on the tile.  Add these points to those collected from the Mansions, and the player with the most points wins.  There is no tie-breaker.

My thoughts on the game

Shadow Rivals is an interesting tactical game where you try to maximize the influence and actions of your team members in the different mansions.  The area control battle for each mansion can have a number of twists and turns as cards might be moved or flipped over.  A lot will come down to good old fashioned luck as you have to have the right card in your hand at the right time.  You can somewhat mitigate this by getting advanced cards from previous mansions.  You keep those face down on the table (i.e. they are not counted towards your three card hand limit) – so that should give you a little bit more flexibility in choosing what to play.  However, you don’t want to hold onto the cards for too long!  You can only have two at any time, and if you keep them out of play (i.e. not at a mansion), you might lose the opportunity to get another one or use one more frequently.

One thing that we all noted in our first few games is that there seems to be a first player advantage that does not seem to be addressed in the rules.  The OG noted a similar possible issue with Ragusa.  Here, I have a little issue with an uneven number of turns – which means players earlier in starting player order always have a temporal advantage, they always have the potential to have an extra turn over players later in order.  Furthermore, there can be a distinct imbalance in power due to starting order.  What could happen (and what happened in our first game) is that the first three players might all play to the same mansion, thus triggering the scoring even before the 4th player can play a card.  They all get to exchange their cards for upgraded cards, and this could give them the ability to modify or neuter the play of the poor 4th player who hadn’t even had a chance to play.   It could turn out that a player gets scoring in two or even three mansions before the fourth player scores.  Sure, it doesn’t have to work that way, but it could.  And it led to a pretty horrendous result for the player in our first game who went last in turn order.  When there are only 7 Mansions to be scored, and the game doesn’t have an equal number of turns, it’s hard to catch up after missing the first two scorings and also not having any special cards in that time… I’m not sure what would be an equitable fix for this, but it is something that I think permanently turned off at least one of my local gamers from this one.

The game does give you a few different ways to score, and I like that. Sure, there are lots of points to be gained from influencing the mansions, but I have seen Loot tiles win the day as well. You have to stay on your toes because your plan will likely revolve around which cards you happen to have available to you at the right time. And, due to the luck of the draw of the special cards, you have to wait and see what you get sometimes – though you can try to look through the table to see what is already on the table as you know you won’t be able to draw those…

The art and production quality is good, if not great.  The cards are sturdy, and the special action team member cards have a nice reflective almost foil-like coating to them.  The art is very anime-like, and if you like huge tracts of land, you’ll adore the art here.  My wife was….not as thrilled with the art style, but most everyone else liked it. You’ll know from the pictures here whether this is your sort of thing or not.

The iconography on the cards is excellent, and even without the reference card, they are fairly intuitive to know what they mean.  But, I would like to take a bit of time just to saw how wonderful it is to have a small reference that pretty much answers every question.  If further clarification is needed, each card is fully described in the latter half of the rulebook, but we found that in almost all cases, the reference card was enough.

If you’re looking for a tactical card game with special actions and a smidge of deck-building, this is one to consider checking out at SPIEL 2019.  Or as WEM likes to refer to it, “Essen”.

Until your next appointment,

The Gaming Doctor

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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