Review: Shadows of Brimstone

Shadows of Brimstone Review

Dungeon Crawlers are not everyone’s cup of tea. I love them but they don’t generally see much table time at my place. They tend to be huge, clunky monstrosities. This one promised much of the same, but unlike most Dungeon Crawlers it’s fully co-op so I did not have to be the Dungeon Master. Also the setting grabbed me by my boot straps and pulled me in…

Initially released on Kickstarter in 2014 by Flying Frog Productions, Shadows of Brimstone only arrived in South Africa late in 2015. It’s got 2 different starter sets. They have different content but can be combined into 1 bigger game. They are also fantastically expensive. However there is a lot in the box.

For the TL;DR version click here.

Opening the box

Specs on the box

  • 1-4 players (goes up to 6 if you combine both starter sets)
  • +12 years (I’m running a campaign with my 10 and 11 year old kids and they are loving it)
  • Time, hmm… this one is going to make many hours of your life vanish is a glorious hail of bullets and dynamite. Expect anything from 1 – 5 hours.

In the box we have lots of models, about 36 in each box. 4 are our intrepid heroes and the rest are the baddies for them to kill. The big problem with this game is that the models require assembly. For some this really puts them off; for others it’s part of the hobby and an enjoyable experience in and of itself. However it’s really easy. You can assemble all of the models in a single afternoon if you have the right tools at hand.

FFP have even setup a YouTube channel showing you how to assemble the models. it’s easy.

I love that the monsters are not your usual fare; some thought went into making all new monstrosities to devour you. What I don’t like is that the level of detail on them is a bit lacking. I’m used to Warhammer/CMON models which are exquisitely detailed. I’m by no means better than an average painter but it’s what I’m used to. From what I gather the expansions sort out this problem.

Next up are the cards. There are a lot of cards. There are about 14 decks of cards in each of the base sets. As well as 4 Monster reference cards, 4 character cards and Town location reference cards; there are loads of cards. There’s also a fat stack of thick, detailed, double sided map tiles and more tokens than you can shake a stick at.

All in all there are 9 A3 sheets that you will need to punch out. It’s a big, heavy box, so at least in terms of components you are getting value for your money. There are also 2 books, a generic rule book and a box specific campaign book. The campaign book contains lot of story information, the gam missions and the information on the heroes which are unique to the box.

Shadows of Brimstone Review
So much punching… I still have another box.

There’s also a CD. The game has a soundtrack. It’s actually not bad, it’s got different tracks that are apt for the theme and also for the different locations. There’s background bar noises or spooky alien other world sounds. It’s a nice touch.

I’ve not included my usual pic of the box insert. To be honest, after you get everything ready, it’s all but useless. Keeping your models and the map tiles in the same box will have them crushed. You will need some kind of alternate storage box for the models. This is not as big of an issue if you get both of the starter sets or 1 of the big box expansions.

Sleeves

I used these sleeves to sleeve all of the cards that where in the game.

mdg-penny-card-sleeves_grande

Theme

It’s the Wild West. Think spaghetti westerns, Clint Eastwood in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. That’s how it started. Then a miner made a discovery of this black stone called Dark Stone. It had unknown properties and could do wondrous things in the right hands.

The Dark Stone rush started. People flocked from all over, towns and mines sprang up everywhere as people tried to make their fortunes. The largest of these was the town of Brimstone. The Dark Stone stock pile in the bank grew daily. What people didn’t know was how unstable Dark Stone was, especially in large quantities.

The power in the stones grew until it exploded with such fury that the town was destroyed. Deposits of Dark Stone in the surrounding mines activated and portals to other worlds ripped open. Monsters, spewed forth form some and men ventured into others. Chaos reigned.

Shadows of Brimstone Review
With a little effort your game can look as amazing as this *

This is where the heroes come in. Each has their reasons for coming to Brimstone, seeking fortune and glory or maybe trying to save the world. You are 1 of them, you have to battle monsters, rescue town’s folk, travel to other planets and of course find powerful and valuable loot.

Each starter box has the content for the mines (Earth) and 1 other world, either the Swamps of Death or the Ancient City on the frozen Targa Plateau. I believe that there are currently 6 other worlds in total. Each has different terrain, location specific rules, different enemies and loot. That’s a lot of content. You do need to buy the others as separate expansions.

Gameplay

This is an RPG. Each player will create a character of their choice and then watch that person grow from a level 1 weakling into a level 8 power house of walking death. This game does not just lend itself to telling a story, it gives itself over to a story. Each time you play you can make a whole new story or continue a previous one.

You start by picking 1 of the 4 character classes in the box (there are others available too). Then you get a random piece of starting equipment. It’s something personal that belongs to your character that they can never lose. I once had a Saloon girl that had shackles as her starting equipment. It gave her a bonus of +1 to her strength. Why would she have shackles? Why does it make her stronger and why won’t she ever let go of it?

She was a slave girl. She used to be tied up with the shackles and abused. Then one day she could not take it anymore and used those very same shackles to kill her captor and make her escape. She draws her strength from it, it is not a symbol of her captivity, and it’s the tool she used to gain her freedom.

Shadows of Brimstone Review
Things are looking dangerous for our heroes. The Goliath is nasty!

That’s only a part of character creation, then you have to select 1 of 3 starting abilities, naturally I went for something thematic. Then collect your starting gear, she has a small single shot hold out pistol in her garter and finally you get something to add to your saddle bag. A bottle of whisky!

Once everyone is ready then they enter a mine to perform their mission. Everyone starts on the ‘Entrance to the mine’ map tile.

The first action of every turn is the hold back the darkness that is trying to escape the mine. Roll 2 D6 and if you beat a target number then you shine your light into the mine and the darkness is held back. If you fail then the darkness rises, with it the danger level of the mission. If the darkness makes it out of the mine then you fail the mission and some ill impacts the world above, and this will affect the rest of your game.

Shadows of Brimstone Review
The yellow marker represents the darkness. It starts on the right, if it ever reaches the mine entrance then the mission is failed. The green is your party and the number below is what you need to beat to hold the darkness back.

Next the players get to act in initiative order. Each player can roll a D6 to see how far they move and can then perform an action, either an attack or if there are no enemies, a scavenging action. Scavenging is not always a good thing. You shuffle the scavenge deck and draw a card. 1/3 of the deck is good stuff, 1/3 is nothing and then remaining 3rd is bad. Anything from mild discomfort to possibly game ending.

Once a player reaches the end of a tile, if they don’t want to scavenge they can peek into the next room. Draw a card from the map deck so see what’s ahead, a room or a passage. If it’s a room then there is a chance of having an encounter. Place a face down on encounter token on the room. At the end of the round reveal the encounter.

Encounters can be anything from finding other humans in the mines and interacting with them to traps and monsters. Some of them will require the players to perform actions by testing their skills and abilities; others will just try to kill them.

Shadows of Brimstone Review
A random event meant the loan Marshall was ambushed!!

You might find an old prospector and if you are cunning enough you can get him to bandage some of your wounds healing you. If you’re lucky he’ll give you something to aid you on your journey, if not he might mutate into some form of monster that tries to eat you!

Combat involves lots of dice rolling. You roll to hit things and then you roll to damage them. They roll to hit you, you roll to block and if you don’t block you take damage. If you have armour then you roll to see if the armour stops the damage.

There’s lots of rolling, but I find that it’s not hard to manage once you have a game or 2 under your belt.

The heroes can take damage in different forms. You can take physical damage from attacks or you can take mental damage from seeing/experiencing the horrors before you. If either your health or sanity drops to 0 you are knocked out. If a player survives the encounter then the KO’d characters are revived but they may be injured. Either physically or mentality. You roll 2D6 against a chart to see what happens. I’ve had a different Saloon girl struggling along with a mangled hand at one point my son had a Gunslinger with broken leg, each impacted our gameplay differently.

If you find the encounter that leads you to your goal you win the mission. If the darkness escapes or if all of the heroes are KO’d at the same time then the mission ends.

Shadows of Brimstone Review
The heroes were ambushed by zombies while fighting the monsters in front. *

It’s not game over though. Win or lose you will make your way out of the mine and try to get to the nearest town. Along the way you can stumble across a random event, something helpful or harmful.

Damn Sarlacc type monster ate my horse.

Then you get to town and the impacts of your mission are seen. If the darkness escaped some stores might be closed or the town might be destroyed! In town you can find more missions, events, gear. You can sell your loot to buy powerful weapons and armour and blessings. Go gamble in the saloon or turn in monster scalps for bounties. You can visit the doctor to try to surgically fix your injuries or get a priest to pray for your mental ailments. Be warned results may vary, maybe it was the Mayors birthday and the doc has been hitting the good stuff…

Then, it’s on to the next mission.

Conclusion

I’m sure you have gathered by now that I love this game. It’s an action RPG. Just like the video game Diablo. However it encourages your to tell your own story, not to just view one unfolding in front of you.

Even my kids love it. It’s their first RPG experience (bar 1 game of Dread). They have actually spent about 4 hours making custom character sheets with character sketches for themselves. They also each have their own journals where they chronicle their adventures. It’s fun to see them try to end each town visit with a cliff hanger to hook in the next mission.

Shadows of Brimstone Review
The kids were busy making their custom character sheets.

There’s a lot of dice rolling and table referencing and card drawing. It might seem overwhelming, except it’s not. Not for me anyway. I’ve figured out a system to lay everything out so it’s easily accessible. It’s like old school RPG’s think ADnD 2nd ed, only not as heavy.

It is a hell of a lot of fun. The games almost always come down the wire, nail biting finishes either way. Each box has a lot of value, however you measure it. I’ve got over 20 hours of play time from my City of the Ancients box so far. If you’re like me then you can add in your model assembly time too because it’s actually strangely cathartic and engrossing watching them “come to life”. I think I’ll get about 40 hours of actual play time out of a single box before it even starts to feel repetitive.

I’ve got both starter stets though so I’m expecting my play time to hit well over 100 hours. If you measure your value based on content for your money or playtime these boxes will give you value. I measure mine by fun so the games have already paid for themselves.

Shadows of Brimstone Review
Meet Taco my daughter’s Bandido. pity I did not take a picture of Marty the Gunslinger.

I’m actually waiting for the expansions to arrive in SA. I don’t care which ones are on order, I’m going to grab as many as I can. The other worlds sound fantastic! I’m getting giddy just thinking about my marshal with his shotgun walking into the WW-I type battlefields of Trederra or exploring a crashed space ship or the Caverns of Cynder to confront the daemon Belial…

Community support for the game is also fantastic. There are character sheets and replacement cards and tokens that you can download and print. A few people have created custom card and token holders to speed up setup and tear down time, as well has reduce the huge footprint that the game has. There’s even a custom made campaign system that I still need to try.

Shadows of Brimstone Review
I’m almost done with my 2nd box set, then it’s painting time.

Can I play this at a braai?

That would be excellent! I’m waiting to fire up my potjie again and have a family game while it’s cooking. It’s a pity that my wife is studying or she would be with us in the party. I also need to invite a few friends over and introduce them to the game.

*Thanks to Bum Kim from BGG for the use of his pics. His table looks fantastic! You can see more of his work here and he give lots of painting tips and even made an instructional video. These are great no matter what game you are trying to paint up, Shadows or even Blood Rage.

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