Monday, September 17, 2012

ShadowRift: Cooperative Deck-Building Game

By Julian 

Despite the fact that I was staring at a town full of corpses, I smiled.  Everyone was dead, but at least I had fun.  My first game of ShadowRift had ended in complete, delightful failure.  ShadowRift is a cooperative deckbuilding game for 2-6 players in which everyone works together to try and save a town from a band of vicious monsters.  It is designed by Jeremy Anderson (who we met at Gen Con; he’s an exceptionally nice guy) and published by Game Night Productions.  Players win by building all the walls or closing all of the monster portals (called ShadowRifts).  Players lose (as I have seen several times now) when the town is filled with nothing but infiltrators and corpses.  

The Deck Building You’d Expect

Some of ShadowRift follows what you’d expect for a deckbuilding game.  If you’ve played Dominion or any of it offspring then you will be very familiar with the format.  You start with a deck of 10 cards.  You draw 5.  You take an action and buy cards from stacks out of the middle to build a better deck.  Like other deck-building games, there are variable set ups and the cards you can buy to add to your deck change from game to game.  The only main difference here is purpose.  Unlike Dominion, you aren’t trying to buy point cards; building up to big money isn’t really the point of the game.  Instead, you are trying to fight monsters and attempting to build a deck that will score hits or produce useful effects for holding back the horde.

The Fun Twists

ShadowRift has plenty of fun twists on what you may have seen from other deckbuilding games.  First and foremost, it’s a cooperative game.  All the players get to take their turns at the same time, discuss what they want to do, and work together as they see fit.  Also, the town you are trying to save is represented by a communal deck.  Each turn a “hand” of five villagers is dealt out and all of the players are free to pick one villager and use the villager’s special powers.  Just like the player’s decks, this town deck can be upgraded by buying better villagers to add to the town.  The village deck also deteriorates as the monsters kill your villagers. 

Monstrous Variety

One of the problems with cooperative games is repetitive play.  They start out challenging and once you “figure out” the game, the ending becomes pretty predictable.  ShadowRift has a great challenge level.  I’ve seen new players win on their first try, but I’ve seen many face utter defeat.  To keep the game fun and challenging, ShadowRift actually has six different monster decks. You can take on the Drow, the Demons, the Fire Dragons, Glacien, Necromancers, or the Storm Lords.  Each set of monsters has their own inherent strategies and special abilities.  Getting tired of the feel of facing off against one?  You’ve got five others to try and defeat.  Mix this in with the variable set ups and you can create many different fun and challenging scenarios.

Encourages Teamwork

Many of the cards promote teamwork.
ShadowRift does a great job of encouraging teamwork amongst the players.  The simultaneous turns allow players to easily work together.  One of the resources in the games (coins) can be shared between players.  Fighting is often a group effort.  Many of the spells and effects are specifically designed to be used when other players take certain actions.  Killing monsters yields a reward of special heroism cards that are evenly distributed amongst all the players over the course of the game.  You still get to decide what cards you put into your own deck and what kind of hero you want to be.  However, the players are most successful when they find ways to play off of each other and help each other out.

I’ve only had the chance to play ShadowRift a few times and so far, I've lost each time.  It was actually kind of refreshing to play a cooperative game that I've lost the first few goes, but am still excited to play again.  I like rising to the challenge of it.  Each game of ShadowRift I've played so far has been a blast.  There's a lot to enjoy for those that like a cooperative experience with lots of variety.  

EDIT: Had some complaints that there were no links to the games Board Game Geek info or publisher webpage.  For those interested, ShadowRift retails for $45 and is being published by Game Night Productions.  It is also distributed by Game Salute. You can read more about the game on Board Game Geek.  Also, for what its worth, we met the designer of the game, Jeremy Anderson, at Gen Con.  If you do buy ShadowRift, know that you are also supporting the work of a stand up, generous guy who is very cool to hang out with.


  1. No link to BGG or the publisher's website? Pricing info? Etc?

  2. You ask we provide. :) Included an edit that has links to the game's publisher and BGG, mentioned the $45 retail price, and a link to Game Salute who is also distributing the game.