Another month passes and another Kickstarter pledge I’d completely forgotten about gets delivered. If I didn’t have a history of Alzheimer’s in my family, I’d probably be appreciating my surprise gifts to myself to their full extent. As it stands, I’m a little apprehensive…
What were we talking about?
Shardhunters got delivered one rainy Saturday a week back, and I was pretty excited to dig into it. One of its secondary but still major draws for me was the fact that it came with a digital version of a 150 page comic called Fallen Ones: Unseen Domains, written by Balint Bank Varga and illustrated by Mate Vardas. Yeah, you know me, comic whore to my last breath.
The price point was decent, the art looked to fit the theme, the gameplay was straightforward and filled a hole I hadn’t really plugged in my collection up to that point, the shipping was decent as it was an EU-based project - in short, it was a no-brainer!
There’s also an entire universe being built around this product by Lycan Studio, including (alongside the aforementioned comic) a digital card game that’s still in development at the time of writing. I hope to dig more into it as time goes on, especially since it’s a dark fantasy medieval Europe setting, which we need more of these days, and a very in-depth one at that...
Before I get into the game proper, I’ve got a bit of a gripe about the packaging and shipping: the product is just a flimsy cardboard box filled with cards, a map-style folded rulebook, and a couple punchboards. It was wrapped up in a couple envelopes, one of which was lined in the kind of bubble wrap that really isn’t all that satisfying to pop because there’s barely anything TO pop there in the first place.
This caused the box itself to warp and get unglued, which means I’m looking at an unintentionally unboxed game and wondering whether I should use the resulting material to light my next barbecue or keep this damn desk from wiggling every time I hit spacebar. The glue itself wasn’t top notch, which probably contributed to the whole thing coming apart, but at least it was still dry, somewhat intact, and in shrink when I got it.
Now, I was meaning to put this all in a regular ol’ deck box, anyway, but food for thought: sturdy envelopes go a long way, especially if you’re going for traditional post when shipping… Well, anything, really. Traditional post sucks no matter where you’re from.
Further, the component quality isn’t the best on the market, which for the price point, style of game, and the fact that it’s an indie company starting out is to be expected. The Bloodshards didn’t punch out properly and there’s a fair bit of variation in the cards’ size, as well as a decent bit of wear after only a handful of plays.
Linen finish cards these are not.
With the rapid and constant shuffling that goes on during the game this isn’t a deal-breaker as I was meaning to sleeve it, anyway. Other than that, the coloring on the cards is vivid, the details are crisp, the rulebook is clear and even accounts for some special ability FAQs, and everything fits together nicely as a package.
The game itself is fairly simple and revolves around winning rounds of combat during a “Hunt”, which translates into Bloodshards which you then turn in for heroes. The first player to send a team of five or more heroes (only two of which are active at a time) on a Hunt is the winner.
Hunts are basically the meat of the game (with the potatoes being hero recruitment), where players attempt to win tricks by playing cards with varying values of either of the four suits (pirates, rats, werewolves, and ghouls) and trying to win by playing the highest total value cards. Or, in case the rats show up and there aren’t any werewolves played, playing the lowest values.
All well and good, straightforward and clean.
And then the heroes show up.
A bevy of them (most of the game’s cards are heroes, actually), and with wildly varying abilities, these are supposed to put a spanner in the works and influence the way Hunts work and accelerate the amassing of Blooshards.
You see, Hunts are played over four combat rounds, and each round has a different number of cards being played apiece (1, 2, 3, then 1 again). You’re aiming for the most cards won at the end of the four rounds in order to claim the Bloodshard for that particular Hunt.
Add to this various hero effects that either come to play at the start of a Hunt (card guessing), during any of the combat rounds themselves (various win/lose clauses), or after a Hunt is over (total looted cards of x colour, for instance), and you can see where things can get tricky pretty fast.
And herein lies another rub: the way the rules work is that you choose your team of two heroes BEFORE you get dealt your cards for the next Hunt. So, you might have some cool cat that aids you if you get a lot of yellows at the end of it, but you don’t know what you’ll end up with until you actually start the Hunt, so you can seriously get shafted.
Conversely, there are some heroes with really annoying passive abilities (like the seductress who forces you to pick her if you draw her when recruiting heroes, and whom I’ve now come across during every. damn. game.) that kind of put a damper on recruitment at times.
The wild variance of heroes and the wild variance of card hands can mean that you’re basically going Hail Mary into every Hunt, hoping that you’ve made the right call based on pretty much nothing but the way the heroes’ abilities look and the way they MIGHT cover some possible scenarios that may or may not arise during the next Hunt.
I know, there’s a lot of if-but-maybe going on. I guess clairvoyance helps in these cases, but I basically ended up flipping coins for chosen heroes and just went with whatever artwork I liked best at one point.
As an additional point, I do get that there’s an aspect of uncertainty that they’ve tried to capture here, but with the way active heroes works, my mind feels like it could’ve been done differently. But, I digress.
Bears mentioning that there are a lot of randomised results when it comes to the kind of hero combination a player ends up with, and it can end up in a steamroll pretty fast.
Just the last game we played before I sat down and wrote this, I’d pulled ahead with a team of four heroes, then my wife managed to get a yellow-focused duo and ended up winning no less than eight total Bloodshards over the next three rounds, coming up with a glorious win.
I’m not outlining this as a negative, on the contrary - without any artificial catch-up mechanisms to speak of, a few well-played combats alongside just a dash of luck can help you pull off an unexpected win, which is pretty fun to see unfold. Someone can be one or two heroes up and still get shot down via clever card play and symbiotic abilities that come into play at just the right time.
In spite of me always erring on the side of more heavy gameplay experiences, Shardhunters is still a win in my book.
It’s not a juggernaut of innovation or complexity but what it does, it does good: it’s a 10-15 minute filler that works really well for two players (I’ve yet to try it out in more or indeed test out the more in-depth hero drafting mechanisms) and can bridge the gap between plays of some more involved games, or even just burn some time one autumn night when the power goes out.
Be sure to light up some candles and hear them werewolves howl!
All in all, I have no regrets with this purchase, even with the shipping blunder and less than stellar components (though I do hope they get better at it as time goes on), and I’ll make sure I read through the comic and give that a proper review as well - it looks kinda fun and there’s a lot of world building in it which always makes me happy.
Thanks for reading, and have as nice a day as you deserve!
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