Thursday, August 28, 2014

The best there is

Shadowfist was designed to be the best multiplayer collectible card game ever, and I think it delivers on that promise. It's a relatively simple game with a smooth combat system and a wonderful genre mash-up of factions including everything from street gangs to pulp adventurers to kung fu masters to battle-crazed cybernetic apes.

Maybe because of this focus on accommodating a table full of players rather than the more competitive two-player dueling format of CCGs, Shadowfist only really works if you have a community of dedicated and enthusiastic players.

Where games like Magic: the Gathering have always emphasized a formal tournament structure for most of their in-store gaming, the publishers of Shadowfist always seemed to be more interested in fostering their game's group dynamic. They encouraged regular league play rather than tournaments, with a host of interesting and unusual formats designed to keep players thinking creatively about the game. One great format was called "Rituals of the Unnameable," which required each player to chose three letters of the alphabet and construct a deck using only cards whose titles began with one of those three letters.

One of my favorite game formats (which I don't remember the name of) required each player to build a deck using the normal deck construction rules. At the start of the event, all the players' decks would be collected and randomly re-distributed, so you had to play with someone else's deck. Each player scored points when they won a game with the deck they'd been given, but also when the deck they brought to the event won a game for whoever it had been given to. That way, you had an incentive to build a deck that could win and was fairly easy to play, even though you wouldn't be playing it and might even end up playing against it.

For gaming conventions, the most pure source of community any gamer is ever likely to find, they had a format called "Who Wants Some?" At the start of the convention, each player was issued a badge indicating that they are participating. At any time during the convention, if a player spotted one or more people with a "who wants some" badge, they could challenge them to a game. The winner would be given a promo card or other token of victory, and at the end of the convention an overall winner would be determined based on who won the most games. It was a wonderfully free-form idea, with games spread out throughout the weekend rather than in one grueling block, and the format rewarded players who played the most games.

Unfortunately, we don't currently have a community of Shadowfist players in our area, so we hadn't played in eight years or so when we got our cards out to play a game for this review. Unlike the Lord of the Rings Trading Card Game, which kind of fell flat for us without the group we used to play with, we had a great time playing Shadowfist. Yes, it works best when you have a community of players, but the underlying game is solid and wildly entertaining.

Rating 5 (out of 5) Shadowfist is simply the best game of its kind.

Date played: July 5, 2014

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