Sitting at the saloon, the sheriff of the small town known as “New Dawn” kept an eye on the whisky glass on the table while holding in his right hand the old Peacemaker. He had acquired the habit of releasing the drum, rolling it with his thumb and pulling it back inside with a twist of the hand and holstering the gun, all in a quick fluid movement. He’d do that over and over again while still keeping an eye on the cup of whisky.

 

He had managed to kick off the drinking habit years earlier, before New Dawn but after the episode that went down in history as the “Red Hook Massacre”, but he still enjoyed having a full glass on the table, like an old friend with whom you lose intimacy, but still quite can’t get away from. His thoughts, whatever they were, were interrupted by shouting coming from the street.

 

“Sheriff McClane! Sheriff McClane!” a boy came calling at the top of his lungs down main street, McClane could see him now through the dirt stained glass of the window. It was the Owen’s boy, a family who lived on a dry patch of land on the outskirts of town.

 

Coming through the saloon doors the boy landed his wide haggard eyes on the sheriff and pointed right back at the way he came running from: ” – The old Ferret mine, Sheriff… there are bats out of hell on the old mine” he managed to say before collapsing on the greased old wooden floor.

 

” – Watch over the kid, James…”  the sheriff told the bartender that impassively cleaned a dirty glass, with an equally dirty rag, as greasy as the saloon’s floor ” – Perhaps that old indian in my jail cell will have some use now” continued the sheriff as much for the bartender as for himself as he crossed the saloon door and put his old beaten hat on his head “- Damned mine” he said shaking his head from side to side just before he spat on the floor and walked towards the station.

 

+++

 

Olá Leitor!

 

Esta é a versão em Inglês de nossa resenha sobre o jogo Shadows of Brimstone. Você pode conferir a versão em Português aqui.

 

+++

 

Hello Reader!

 

The American “Old West”, “Wild West”, “The American Frontier” or simply “The Frontier”, these are the names referring to the period in American history during the 19th century when the borders of the United States were pushed west, towards the Pacific Ocean.

 

That was a period full of promises. If you sought adventure, riches, a new life on a still unexplored territory full of dangers you could probably find them in the west. Those very same promises which seduced the thousands of colonists that set off towards the west searching for a better life are still powerful to this day, so much it is often portrayed in books, comic books, movies, television shows and series, video games and even on a couple of board games and Role Playing Games.

 

Apparently experimenting a life free of the social constraints of the modern day, like daily baths, full of riches and adventures, that seemed so tempting at the time is still relevant at this day and age, especially when we get to experience it at the comfort of our own homes.

 

The Old West – People hadn’t still grasped the concept of smiling for a picture back then.

 

You say you don’t like the old west? Wow, do let me tell you I’m a passionate fan of it in a myriad of ways. I love it on the pages of Tex (a comic book I’ve learnt to like with my dad) I love it on the Spaguetti movies of Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood and the most recent Tarantino ones, and I’m definitely crazy about it on video games, where I spent numerous hours on Red Dead Redemption hunting wrong doers and trying to save my virtual family.

 

Knowing that, you can probably imagine my surprise and immediate interest when I came across the Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign for the “Shadows of Brimstone” board game from Flying Frog Productions. Reading the campaign’s description I quickly went from the “interested” condition to the “OH MY GOD I NEED THIS GAME IN MY LIFE NOW” one when I realized it mingled the old west with another of my great passions: The Cthulhu Mythos from H.P. Lovecraft!

 

H. P. Lovecraft.

 

“Cthulhu? What mumble jumble is that?” you may be asking yourself. Well if you’re asking that question you probably haven’t heard about the incredible universe created by Howard Philips Lovecraft which is popularly known as “Chulhu Mythos”, a universe in which we, mankind, are unaware about the existence of great elder gods, currently asleep awaiting for the stars to be right before they wake up and destroy us, the greatest of which is the mighty Cthulhu, who awaits dreaming in R’Lyeh under the sea. The stories told by Lovecraft are mostly about average people like you and me finding about the elder gods and dealing with the consequences of that discovery, enthralling us along its characters in the horrible discovery of a world we know nothing about. If I was able to pick your interest I urge you to find and start reading “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” and “The Call of Cthulhu” two of my favorite stories and in my opinion great starting points for anyone trying to get into this universe.

 

Cthulhu, as imagined by artist Jeff Himmelman (as Somniturne). Wow!

 

It is not by chance that this universe is often adapted into other medias (poorly into movies I must add – I had high hopes for Peter Jackson’s “At the Mountains of Madness”, but that movie is no more) , especially board games like Eldritch Horror, Mansions of Madness, Elder Sign, Arkhan Horror and more recently Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu (and that’s naming only a few).

 

The formula of mixing fictional elements to a historic period isn’t something new, and is often used with great success in many different medias. Zombies for example, were used in a DLC for the Red Dead Redemption game and in an alternative game mode for the Call of Duty franchise being acclaimed by the video game community. They even found their way into the classic book “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen which was re-imagined as “Pride, Prejudice & Zombies” adding the undead to the Victorian classic.

 

There’s also the “weird world war” concept which adds horror and sci-fi elements to the world war scenarios, and was successfully adapted to video games (like in Wolfenstein), comic books (as the master Mike Mignola did with his Hellboy series mixing Nazis and the occult) and wargames (such as Paolo Parente’s DUST and more recently Warlord Games’ Konflikt 47).

 

So even if they weren’t reinventing the wheel, Flying Frog Productions hit the bullseye in pitching a board game combining the American wild west and its traditional archetypes with classics from the pulp horror such as those from the Cthulhu Mythos. I can only say it was love at first sight and without giving much thought to it I pledged to the campaign already picturing myself blasting monsters with guns in the frontier. I just didn’t know it would be a long wait before I got to it.

 

The original campaign was launched sometime in 2013 (October if memory serves me right) estimating the delivery of the game in August 2014 promising a dungeon crawl game mixing the old west and unspeakable horrors in what would soon become a HUGE success. Initially offering the two basic boxes of the game (“Shadows of Brimstone: City of the Ancients” and “Shadows of Brimstone: Swamps of Death”) the campaign soon exploded with a huge influx of backers and dollars unlocking stretch goal after stretch goal adding more monsters, more characters and expansions reaching the impressive mark of 50 stretch goals achieved during the campaign. In the end 4.727 backers contributed over one million three hundred and forty one dollars making it one of the most successful board game campaigns on Kickstarter.

 

The set of “City of the Ancients” as originally announced on the Kickstarter campaign.

 

The second set of the game, “Swamps of Death”, as announced during the Kickstarter campaign.

 

With all that money and the sheer amount of stretch goals met, the inevitable happened and the delivery of the project’s rewards was delayed (which is unfortunately becoming the norm in crowdfunding campaigns). I only gut the 1st wave releases (the two basic boxes of the game) in 2015 and I am still waiting for the remainder (and the bulk) of the rewards as I write this review.

 

When the game finally got here I was immediately impressed by how big and heavy the boxes were and how beautiful they looked. You could tell there was a lot of stuff inside just by picking it up and when I opened  them I wasn’t disappointed. Everything looks beautiful, from the tokens to the board sections, from the manuals to the models, everything looked great. And I still haven’t mentioned how good it is to play.

 

The box for “Swamps of Death” – For the purposes of this article I’ll use this set instead of the “City of Ancients” one (I only have this one with me right now).

 

The box has a plastic insert inside. Mine suffered a bit while trying to get to me in Brazil.

 

The board tiles. I’m under the impression I must find a better way of storing them as I’m under the impression they’re warping a little bit. Aparently there’s a bit too much of stuff inside.

 

The tokens – seen here are the tokens of both gaming sets. I tried to organize them as best as I could to make setting up easier whenever we play.

 

The rulebooks. Each box comes with of them, one presenting the general gaming rules and the other with adventures and characters specific to each of the boxes.

 

The monster miniatures after assembly.

 

And here are the models after being painted. You don’t need to paint yours, but I find they add a lot more to the game’s atmosphere after a coat of paint.

 

I was really happy to find out a game of Shadows of Brimstone plays a lot like a game of RPG, only without the role playing (which I’ll do whenever we play it anyway). Each player gets to choose one of the available “adventurers” and here we have at our disposal lots of the classic archetypes from the period: gunmen, outlaws, priests, nuns, farmers, sheriffs, miners, saloon girls, indians… the list is huge (and was further expanded by stretch goals) and they each have a basic playsheet with the initial stats of each “character class” that will be further customized by each player’s initial choice of skills and items and other choices made as the character progresses.

 

The character sheets. Seen here are the ones included in “Swamps of Death” – The sheriff, the rancher, the priest and the indian.

 

The monster sheets. Each monster included in the game has a sheet with its statistics. As the party gets more powerful by leveling, more dangerous versions of the same monsters are encountered (there’s a more powerful version of each on at the back of the sheets).

 

Having decided on their characters it is time for the players to get into the game itself. In each game players (from 2 to 4 with one of the basic boxes – that number can be increased to 6 with the addition of a second box or one of the extra characters expansion) have a mission to accomplish inside the mine, from simple exploration to rescuing missing citizens , the players will work together in order to achieve their goal, while the game itself (through an AI with the use of cards) runs the monsters and events that happen as the exploration goes on.

 

The basic game set-up. On the right all the cards which comprise the game’s AI and control everything that happens as the game unfolds.

 

The card AI system controls everything. The new rooms discovered as the players explore, what monters will be encountered, what treasures they’ll yield when killed, so a good shuffle before each new game ensures no two will ever be the same.

 

The atmosphere of tension is constant during the game as, beyond facing monsters, the players will also find themselves fighting an even more sinister and ethereal enemy, The Darkness, an invisible force made palpable in the game by what is effectively a turn counter which advances with any new room explored diminishing the time available to complete the players’ mission and creating further obstacles for them adding to the sensation of imminent doom. This game mechanism puts pressure on the players obligating them to act objectively in achieving their mission because if the Darkness marker ever reaches the last position on the darkness counter it escapes the mine and the players suffer an automatic defeat. On the other hand, if the players are able to fulfill their objective before they run out of turns at the darkness counter they win the game.

 

Helped by an old indian, the town’s priest and one of the Owen’s family ranchers, Sheriff McClane delves into the mine.

 

Whenever a character gets to an opening on the board it’s time to see what lies ahead.

 

The exploring player, here our trusted sheriff, draws a card from the map deck…

 

… and an exploration token (here I have mixed the tokens of both boxes).

 

The card from the map deck will tell us which room tile we’ve uncovered…

 

… while the exploration token lets us know there are to exits on this room (if it had said one exit instead – the small door symbols at the top of the token – we’d close one of the exits randomly) and that we should draw two mine encounter cards,

 

Following the instructions we draw the encounter cards…

 

… to find out this room has both a waterfall (which prevent us from escaping adjacent enemies) and an ominous hole … from which our heroes can either retrieve an artifact or get attacked depending on a dice roll.

 

Of course our heroes got ambushed.

 

Mind you that failure is an option in this game, as the players have the option of retreating if they ever come across insurmountable odds in their exploration, but the effects of retreating are not always pleasant, as it means The Darkness will escape the mine unimpeded and wreak havoc in the region.

 

As our heroes continue their quest to destroy the nest of Hellbats in the mine they come across another section of the mine, a Switch Curve this time.

 

As we reveal the encounter token we find out this room has a single exit, a portal to another world, however, the token also reveals we’re under attack.

 

To find out which monsters are atacking us we’ll use the Threat Cards. Depending on the party level you’ll draw one or more cards from the LOW, MED, HIGH or EPIC threat decks.

 

As we were playing with 4 level one players, the game directed us to draw a single medium threat card…

 

... that revealed we were being attacked by a single Slasher and 4 Hellbats.

… that revealed we were being attacked by a single Slasher and 4 Hellbats.

 

Our heroes are suddenly looking pretty yummy!

 

The monsters advance and are met by a hail of bullets.

 

After dealing with the monsters our heroes advance throug the portal to continue exploring in order to find the Hellbats nest.

 

If Shadows of Brimstone shines and enraptures players in single games, it shows all its potential when played in a campaign with permanent effects and gear being carried from one game to another. When played in a campaign the player characters accrue experience points and are evolved gaining new abilities e equipment pieces as the campaign progresses, becoming more powerful with every new mine explored, but it isn’t all good news. As the player characters are exposed to extraplanar horrors and to the energies of “dark stone” (a valuable ore encountered in places where The Darkness seeps into our world) they start suffering from madness and mutations that over time generate penalties to the characters (albeit having an extra arm might come in handy – pun intended).

 

To help our characters deal with the consequences of their adventures, good or not, there’s nothing like a visit to the nearest frontier town, where they can buy new equipment, get missions and rewards and also visit a surgeon to get rid of that tentacle sprouting from their backs or pray a little to try to get some sense back into the world, and some sanity back into their minds. With a game mechanic that seems very reminiscent of the post game phase of the Mordheim game by Games Workshop, visiting a frontier town at the end of each game is always a fun moment to evolve the characters and where all sorts of things can happen, good and bad, which has always generated a lot of laughter when we play it.

 

The sheets with all the merchants and places which can be visited in town. For better or worse.

 

There’s even a soundtrack to the game at the bottom of each box. Too bad they’re the same on both boxes.

 

With a robust and entertaining set of rules, excellent graphic quality and very good miniatures, Shadows of Brimstone is THE dungeon crawler game for any enthusiasts of this gaming genre. The game’s AI with cards works pretty well to manage everything that can happen during the game, and with new expansions adding more variety to the initial decks the game has a lot of variety and replay value, the reason why it was often on the table as soon as it got here and also the reason I’m looking forward to starting a new campaign soon.

 

In my opinion, Shadows of Brimstone is an excellent dungeon crawler game that enriches the collection of any board gamer who is into a good gaming experience, getting an indubitable 10 from me, but, if like myself, you also happen to be into the old west and Cthulhu this game becomes an absolute must.

 

And I guess that’s it from me today guys. Hope you have enjoyed the review and I’d be glad to hear your thoughts about it, so please, don’t be shy and leave a comment.

 

More to come soon. Over and out.

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