Tabletop Review: Quests of Shadowgate

Quests of Shadowgate
Publisher: Zojoi Games
Cost: Special (See Review)
Release Date: 11/02/2013
Get it Here: Special (See Review)

Ah, Shadowgate. Whether you played it on an Apple IIe, an early PC via floppy discs or the venerable 8-Bit NES, everyone seems to love that game. 2012 was the 25th anniversary of its original release, and like many people (3,468 to be exact), I took part in the Shadowgate Kickstarter by Zojoi Games, which promised to bring a high definition completely redone from the ground up new version of Shadowgate that stayed true to the original story and gameplay. The game was supposed to come out in November of 2013, but like 99.99% of all Kickstarter projects, the video game portion has been delayed. However, some of the Kickstarter rewards have come out on time – including Quests of Shadowgate, a card game based on video game. The card game, which was created by the Middle Earth CCG designer Coleman Charlton, is currently unavailable to the general public. This means, to get the game, you had to have pledged at least $121 to the Shadowgate Kickstarter. Only 189 backers did this, so as you can imagine, the game is going to be quite the collectable.

Quests of Shadowgate comes in a clear plastic tin with a very tiny foldable rules page that has a few minor errors on it. Thankfully, the errors are mostly about the number of cards types in the set, but you still might want to go to the official website and downloadable a printable PDF copy of the rules. There are seventy-four cards in the set and twenty eight crystal markers that you will use to keep tabs of your score. The goal of the game is to get to either 25 Victory Points or complete the Staff of Ages. There are two different rules sets – the base game and the standard game. We’ll take a look at both rules sets below.

There are seven types of cards in the game. You have four double sided Summary Cards. These give you a quick reference to the rules, actions and turns. You have a Staff of Ages card to represent the ultimate MacGuffin. You have four double sided player cards for a total of eight playable characters. One side of each Player Card has a star on it. These are the characters recommended for the Base game and the others are recommended for the Standard. There are four double sided Abilities cards, which choose the special power of your character. Again, one side is starred and the other is not. You have nine event cards (accidentally labeled Adventure cards in the included rules) which are only used with the standard game. Event cards have universal effects on all players. There are ten double sided Quest cards. Completing quests nets you victory points and items. Finally, there are fourty-one adventure cards, which make up the bulk of the game. These cards are Relics, Magic spells, Weapons and Wild cards which can be used to help you complete quests. All this comes together to form a card game that between two and four players can take part in. I do like that there are two rules sets, but unfortunately, they aren’t very well written and can be very confusing at times. Like when the rules state “Shuffle the Adventure Cards and hand out five to each player,” I was like, “But there are only nine!” which is due to the aforementioned error of calling the Event cards Adventure cards in the text. It gets worse when you realize the two are shuffled together in the standard game. Another example of rules issues is that there are Ability cards for both the Base and Standard game, but the rules sheet states you only use Ability cards in the Standard version. Why are there Base variants then? Because the rules do take a bit to wrap your head around, let’s look at an example of play from both the base game and standard game.

Mark and Matt are playing a two player version of the base rules. From the four base characters, Mark chooses the Dwarf Smithy, whose starting stats are 2 Physical, 1 General and 1 Mental. His Base Types are Fire, Melee and Ranged. Matt chooses the Human Archer for his character, so his starting stats are 1 Physical, 2 General and 1 Mental. The Archer’s Base Types are Ranged, Armor and Wind. A character does not have to discard an item card that matches one of his three Base Types when they use it. If an item card does not match a Base Type, they have to discard when used. So the Archer can keep a Wind based item card in his hand, but not a Fire one, and the reverse is true for the Dwarf Smithy. We don’t do Ability cards since this is a base game (even though those cards exist…) The rules also say to shuffle and randomly assign a character card, but with only four choices, this seems a bit silly. I know, we’re only a paragraph into a fake session and we’re already having to house rule things. Ouch.

Then we shuffle the adventure cards (but we don’t include the Event ones since this is a Base game) and hand out five to each player. The remaining deck of adventure cards goes in the center of the table to act as a draw pile. Mark’s dwarf gets four relics and a wind magic card – none of which match his base types. Matt’s archer gets three relics and two weapons – one of which, the Iron Buckler, matches his Armour Base Type, meaning Matt can repeatedly go back to this card. On item cards, the left hand side has three yellow boxes and the right has three purple. The Yellow boxes are what you get for playing a card and the purple are the total stats needed to gain a card. Let’s keep looking at the Iron Buckler. Using it as a resource means you get 0 Physical, 0 General but a whopping 3 Mental points added to your total. As a renewable card for the Archer, this means he’ll regularly have a 4 Mental. Now if the card comes up in play as an option to obtain, the purple numbers are used. As we can see from the card, we need a 1 Physical, 2 General and 3 Mental to add the Iron Buckler to our hand, so you have to play cards that add up to those totals.

Next we shuffle the quest cards, which is a bit odd since they are double sided. We then lay out three quest cards in a column, then at the top of the column, we place the remaining quest cards. The top card on the pile is active, meaning there are four quests cards open at any one time. Let’s take a look at one. “Forbear the Dark One” can be completed by having a Physical of 2, a General of 3 and a Mental of 4. If you meet these goals, you get a single victory point. If you meet these goals and have used a key type card to raise your stats to the goal, you get 3 victory points. In this card’s case, the key card is a Thorn based relic. If you meet the goal with a key card and a second specified card type, you get 5 victory points, and if you meet the goal with the key card and two extra specified card types, you get a whopping 8 victory points. So you have a lot of options regarding quest completion. You can spend a bunch of cards to get a lot of victory points quickly, or you can burn through quests and rack up small amounts of victory points but in rapid fashion.

We’re now set up, so let’s show an example of a round of play. Turn order is youngest to oldest, but for this example, we’ll say Mark is youngest. Mark can take up to five actions, but for each action he DOESN’T take, he gets to draw a card. Options for actions include: playing an item card (which means overturning a card from the adventure deck. The rules are completely unclear on this.), playing ONE (and only one) quest card, playing a resource card to help acquire or an item/adventure card or complete a quest or cycle the quest cards (replace them with four all new ones). Really, there’s no point in the first option, as you’ll automatically get new items at the end of your turn. You’re just spending cards for no reason with this one, so you might as well just go for the quest. In Mark’s case, he decided to go for “Cross the Threshold,” as the Key card there is an Orb, and he has one of those in his hand. The requirements for “Cross the Threshold” are 4 Physical, 2 General and 3 Mental. He currently has 2/1/1 so he needs to raise things up a bit. Mark immediately plays his Silver Orb card, as it’s the key to this quest (and extra victory points). However, the Orb is being used as an item card instead of a stat booster, so he gains nothing from it. To boost his stats, Mark plays the “Signet Ring” card, giving him an extra 0 Physical, 2 Mental and 1 General, raising his total to 2/3/2. Mark still needs 2 points of Physical and 1 of Mental to complete the quest. So Mark plays his “Tempest of Talgarr” spell, which adds 2 Physical, 1 General and 1 Mental to his stats. Mark’s total stats are now 4/4/3, just enough to complete the Quest’s goal of 4/2/3. Mark gets 3 Victory Points for completing the quest and sacrificing the key orb. Mark’s three cards go in the Adventure discard pile and “Cross the Threshold” is discarded too, revealing a new Quest card. Mark puts his counter on the number 3 to show his victory point total, and since he only used four of his five actions (played three cards and one action to complete the quest), he gets an extra card at the draw phase now for a total of two. He draws a relic card and a fire magic card. Since fire his one of the dwarf’s base types, Mark now has a renewable resource, but he also only has four cards to work with this next round. (minimum hand size is 3, maximum is 6).

Matt’s first turn now! He doesn’t have a key type for any of the four Quest cards, except for an armor, so he pretty much has to do that adventure to stay competitive. The good news is that he gets his shield back since it’s a renewable item for him. This quest, “Doors of the Deep,” has requirements of 4/3/1. The Archer’s starting stats are 1/2/1, so he needs to raise his Physical and General stats. Matt plays the Broadsword card, which raises his stats up 3/1/1 for a total of 4/4/2. This lets him complete the quest with just one card. He also uses his shield, since it is the key card for the quest, to give him extra victory points. Looking at the card, sacrificing a relic will give him 5 victory points, and sacrificing a relic and a magic spell will give him 8. Matt decides to do just this, giving up “Robe of the Court” and “Flame of Gorrung.” This means Matt will have taken all five of his action cards, since he played four different cards and completed a quest, but he will get his Shield card back for his hand AND 8 victory points for completing the highest level quest goal. “Doors of the Deep” gets discarded, a new Quest card is revealed and Matt pulls ahead 8 points to 3. He only gets to draw a single card, but it ends up being one of the rare Wild Cards, a “Black Axe,” which allows him to use the card as any item type save orb, thorn, stave or one of this base types. So really only five types, but still handy! Mark’s going to have some work ahead as they pull into Round Two.

So it’s a weird little game. It’s not great by any means, but a definitely entertaining time waster. The Standard rules are pretty different though, so bear with me. First you add the ability cards, which gives your character one of any eight options. These range from getting to draw an extra card at the end of your turn, to being able to reduce any value of a completion goal by two points. Gotta love that one! Card distribution is also very different. The player going last gets 6 cards, the second player gets 5, the third 4 and the fourth 3. This is really odd, as it may be an attempt to balance out the starting position with less cards, but honestly, starting first doesn’t give you any real advantage as we saw in the above example, so the reasoning behind this rule in the Standard game eludes me. We pretty much house ruled this one out for being nonsensical.

Quest cards are done as normal, but you also have a new area known as the pool cards. Pool cards are two adventure cards that are face up at any time that you can try to acquire for your hand, the same way you try to complete quests. I’m surprised this isn’t in the Base game, as there are obviously very stunted and badly written rules for this option in it. They should have just made it universal. Conversely, Pool cards can be chosen instead of the random draw from the deck if a player wants. This means you can go with a sure thing or take a chance. The sure thing is your best bet if something matches one of your three base types.

The other big change is turn order. First, you play an Event Card if you have one in your hand (they’re mixed in with the adventure cards). Then you discard a card from your hand to act as your torch. In the lower right hand corner of each adventure card, you’ll see a torch with a number by it. When you discard a card to act as your torch, you then get X number of actions, with X being the number by the torch. So the amount of things you can do on your turn are drastically lowered. The good news is that seven cards have the words “No action is required for play” on them, meaning it’s a free use for you. The bad news is that there are supposed to be more cards with this writing, as the cards the rules mention having this text, like Galvin’s Staff and Silver Orb, don’t actually have the text on their cards. Sloppy.

After you take your actions, you are supposed to draw to your hand size, but there are no rules for what the hand size is supposed to be for a Standard game. If it’s your starting draw, than that means one player always has a massive advantage because they will have more cards than the others. In a four player game, that means Player 4 has TWICE as many cards as Player 1. More poorly laid our rules, and another reason to nix the strange varying hand size in the Standard format. You really do have to house rule the standard game big time to make it work properly.

So aside from the weird card dealing, the pool cards, the event cards and the torch option, Standard is basically a more complicated and far slower version of base, with a bunch of issues with the rules, like contradictory, missing or erroneous information. My advice is to stick to base until Zojoi erratas the hell out of the Standard rules.

Overall, as an added Shadowgate backer bonus, Quests of Shadowgate is a neat and rare collectible. The cards are gorgeous looking and they are extremely well made, with a glossy finish making the art nice and shiny. As a card game however, Quests of Shadowgate really needed some work on the rules, as they’re hard to follow and sometimes nonsensical. I can’t really recommend the card game for a standalone purchase if the option ever becomes available unless the rules get a retooled and the cards with printing errors get fixed. The base game is a fine little time waster, but I do have to admit that if the quality of the card game is indicative of what we’re in store for with the video game, I’m a bit worried, as Quests of Shadowgate is sloppy and poorly defined. Perhaps as I spend more time with the game and house rule the hell out of it, we can make the Standard game run smoother, faster and without all the issues it has. More than likely though, this will just sit on my shelf as a cute little collectable with my other board games for people to look at and say, “I didn’t know they made a Shadowgate card game.”



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One response to “Tabletop Review: Quests of Shadowgate”

  1. Zojoi Avatar

    The small insert definitely affected what info we could put into the rules. However, that said, we will definitely be updating the rule set and posting it on asap! This will include both fixes as well as making the rules clearer in all sections. Thanks all!

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