Shadows of Brimstone by Flying Frog Productions is an awesome, fully cooperative, campaign driven game with persistent characters who level up, gain new loot, mutate horribly and risk death over the course of a campaign. Two core sets, City of the Ancients and Swamps of Death, have been released so far and each accommodates 1-4 players. Both core sets are fully compatible and can be combined (I have done so for this review) to increase the total player limit to 6.
Shadows of Brimstone is an Old West themed dungeon-crawl game that will see players exploring the mines underneath Brimstone, fighting back the Darkness, finding loot and Darkstone, gaining experience and money and possibly stumbling upon a portal into one of the game's Otherworlds. Depending on the mission chosen, players will have to accomplish various goals and objectives that range from simply finding a Darkstone deposit or rescuing a lost civilian to fighting off waves of enemies or purposefully seeking entrance into and exploring an Otherworld. Darkstone is a valuable resource found throughout the game but its power comes at the cost of potentially corrupting the character that holds it.
[caption id="attachment_28561" align="aligncenter" width="446"] The monsters in Shadows of Brimstone are varied and many. Each monster also has a chart of "Elite" abilities that they gain as character levels increase and every monster card has a "Brutal" side that can be used to add even more challenge to the game.[/caption]
The game-play itself is fairly straightforward, with characters moving around and exploring map tiles and combat being played out with dice. Where the game really shines is in the narrative that emerges as the game is played. Characters in Shadows of Brimstone are dynamic and grow and change over time. In addition to having unique abilities, each character also has a skill tree that players will choose new skills from as they gain levels. New gear and loot cards can also be found and purchased and certain items can even be imbued with Darkstone to grant them additional power.
[caption id="attachment_28560" align="aligncenter" width="440"] Each character in Shadows of Brimstone has a set of statistics as well as one or more special abilities. All character sheets are double sided with the male version of the character on one side and the female version on the other.[/caption]
The changes that characters undergo are not always positive though. Characters will face the possibility of permanent injuries, madness or even disfiguring mutations. These changes are excellently thematic, often hilarious and many times, in the case of mutation, actually helpful. Having a prehensile tail that can wield a six shooter is quite nice when fighting swarms of monsters and having a third eye in the middle of your forehead can be advantageous when it lets you see into the near future to spot potential dangers. The lure of a helpful mutation can come at a price though. If a character ever mutates in the same way twice they are instantly killed.
[caption id="attachment_28562" align="aligncenter" width="440"] All of the map tiles included in the game are double sided with the mines on one side and an Otherworld on the other. The tiles are beautiful and evocative and do an excellent job of reflecting the theme of the game.[/caption]
Time spent exploring the mines and Otherworlds is only part of Shadows of Brimstone. Between missions, characters will visit towns in order to buy and sell items, rest, gamble, forge new weapons, attempt surgery in order to remove a pesky mutation or injury or even attempt a bank robbery. Additionally, random events will pop up at various points between missions, from the players running across a burning building on their way to town to the town doctor being a drunkard, making surgery far a more risky prospect. Players also risk trouble if they dally in town for too long as the threat of the Darkness is ever present.
[caption id="attachment_28563" align="aligncenter" width="547"] Each building in town has a sheet included in the game as well. Players will face a random event each time they visit a building, adding a layer of uncertainty and excitement to the relative "safety" of town.[/caption]
Every phase of the game is fun. The dungeon crawl aspect is straightforward and moving around the map actually feels like exploration. Combat is entertaining and challenging. Character progression is satisfying and often hilarious and all of the various random events that the players will come across tell an engaging and entertaining story.
A note on the different core sets: Shadows of Brimstone has two core sets available, City of the Ancients and Swamps of Death. Both core sets feature a different Otherworld, different monsters and different characters but the same great game-play. I would highly recommend buying and combining both but if you are going to choose just one know that you can't go wrong with either choice. Both provide a great experience.
A note on solo play: Shadows of Brimstone is an excellent solo game. Missions can be played by a single character or a solo player can play an entire posse of characters. Solo play can actually be a useful tool in the unfortunate event of a character death, as a single player can play "catch up" with a new hero in between sessions of full-party play.
A note on campaign play: Shadows of Brimstone is designed with campaign play in mind. Rather than a traditional campaign composed of a beginning, middle and end it is more focused on character growth and story telling. Players that appreciate a more structured approach do have the option to play a linear campaign by choosing to play the missions in a set order, once each.
A note on “chrome”: The art design, component quality and rulebooks for Shadows of Brimstone are all excellent. Each core set even comes with its own soundtrack CD to be played during game-play to set the tone and bring players into the theme. The miniatures are very good quality but, be fore-warned, all of the miniatures come in pieces on sprues and need to be assembled. While not overly complex, it is time consuming and total assembly time for the miniatures for both base sets took me (an experienced hobbyist) about 3 hours.
The bottom line:
Shadows of Brimstone is one of the best cooperative board games I have ever played. Every single aspect of the game fits together to form an evocative, entertaining whole. The narrative that emerges based on character choice, interactions, exploration and luck, both good and bad, create incredibly memorable experiences that leave players wanting more.
Get this game if:
You want one of the most fun cooperative games available.
You like persistent characters.
You enjoy campaign-style play.
You want a game that tells a unique, emergent story.
Avoid this game if:
You prefer competitive, strategy or Euro style board games.
Rules for Shadows of Brimstone can be downloaded here.
The copies of Shadows of Brimstone: City of the Ancients and Swamps of Death used for review were purchased by the author.