The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Posts Tagged ‘Shadowfist

Thoughts from an SABG Session

I’ve managed another game of Homesteaders, a particularly high-debt game (with correspondingly low scores).  The Dominant strategy is to defect from the groupthink, whatever that is (Bidding too much or too little). Of course, that assumes there is a “too much” or “too little.” It’s still too early to see second order effects. Given that the revised two player variant just came out, I’ll have to try it, as well.

Also played another game of Shadow Hunters (while still waiting for the expansion to arrive locally).  I truly enjoy hidden team games, and this one is fast enough (and covers 7 or 8 players, a rarity for non-party games). I think this will still be played next New Years, but who knows? I should play Kutschfahrt again (which, despite being a hidden team game, is much more cerebral).

Tsuro is enjoyable, a five minute abstract. (The five minutes makes it enjoyable, not the abstract). Like Metro, distilled down to a single train.

The Small World expansions, despite only adding a few races/abilities, greatly add to my enjoyment. Do they add enough to buy a copy of the game? No. There are 2-3 copies locally.  The days of having to own a copy are well behind me, which is not to say that I would trade a game I’m done with for them.

For the year, I think my downsized collection is greatly improved. There are still ~50 games I’d part with (and some I should, but can’t for sentimental reasons), but I have shelf space a plenty should other great games come around. I should put my RPG stuff up for trade (particularly now that BGG
supports it).

With the latest Shadowfist expansion out I’ve built decks and got in several sessions. This reminds me of Tom L’s comment that he thought that CCGs have a natural expansion limit. Magic gets past this by cycling cards out … ‘Fist has been (slowly) adding the number of factions, and just started introducing more “Legends” style multi-cards (with the twist that you can pay for the card with either color mixed as you see fit). I continue (for the most part) just building reasonably efficient decks and playing the game. In my opinion, evaluating the fluid nature of the Tableaux is still the most interesting part. I still do it reasonably well.

Resolutions? Hm. I’m going to keep playing bridge. I have a not-quite-newish partnership with a player slightly stronger than me (I don’t expect to make more mistakes on any given day, but probably make a few more over a full sectional). I should establish a partnership with a much stronger player. As strong as will have me.

At the turn of the millenium, I was sick as a dog. (Not from alcohol, but from flu). So already the next decade is off to a better start.


Written by taogaming

December 30, 2009 at 5:31 pm

I’m the only gamer who hasn’t played M.U.L.E.

So I’m somewhat mistified by the love. But, for you lovers out there, Planet MULE launches tomorrow, according to this countdown timer. (I am catching up on videogames by playing BioShock, which I bought on Black Friday …)

1v100 2nd seasons is odd. Last night the rounds all started off tough (usually the first 9 questions are gimmes). I’ve already seen a few repeated questions, though. I still wish that skipping a question only let you preserve your streak, and didn’t count as a correct answer for scoring.

I finished Protector III twice, so it’s off to Protector II.

And I just ordered the new Shadowfist expansion. I doubt I’ll get my money’s worth of game time from it, but I’ll spend a few solar cycles building decks…

Written by taogaming

December 5, 2009 at 11:05 am

Posted in Misc

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What’s new …

I’ve actually got a fair amount of gaming in over the last week or so (including plenty of Phoenicia, but that pushes any strategy thoughts I have further back … I keep losing).

I’ve got distractions “In Real Life,” not enough to keep me away from the table (I doubt nothing short of death will do that), but leaving me with little to write. Hence snippets.

I finally got my set of Critical Shift for Shadowfist. This is immensely satisfying, as I haven’t playtested the game for years so the new cards are fresh. (I also enjoy the freedom to snarl “Who playtested that?”) I built my first new deck in about six months, and the local scene is going fairly strong. On the other hand, I find it frustrating because the game isn’t (mainly) in stores and the new set did not include starter decks, which help grow the game. Shadowfist is under its third owner (Daedelus, Z-Man and now Shadowfist Games), which shows dedication and staying power…

I’m hoping to get my (freshly acquired) copy of Britannia on the table soon. The new version looks nice, the rules read quickly, and it’s a (near) classic.

I missed the announcement last week that Math Trades have been solved. (I have enough computer science to be able to dimly grasp the basics, but the finer points elude me). Perhaps a theorist in the audience can enlighten me … but isn’t the “math trade” problem isomorphic to a variant of the traveling salesman, which is a ‘serious’ problem in mathematics. [The solver has published several books on high-level CS]. Anyway, perhaps of interest.

Anyway, open thread — what’s new on your table? Any good?

Written by taogaming

August 29, 2007 at 2:42 pm

Posted in Ramblings

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Christmas in July

And whose bringing presents? Me!

Since ya’ll have been naughty, I’m just shopping for one. But, being a nice guy, I authorize you to purchase whatever you want.

But what do I want? Well, the newest Shadowfist set is pre-ordering. That’s just a question of quantity. I’m thinking about The Scepter of Zavandor. I’ve heard it compared to Outpost … I sold my set for a profit but played it 50+ times, so that’s not a bad thing.

I own El Grande, but English cards would be nice.

Tempus tempts, but I’m a bit wary after the Byzantium fiasco. Gloria Mundi is getting hype… I’d like to try Augsburg 1520 again …

So, what are you looking forward to?

Written by taogaming

July 4, 2006 at 3:14 pm

Fundamentally Flawed vs Broken

My loose talk generated a question on the difference between ‘fundamentally flawed’ vs ‘broken’.

They are fairly similar, but not interchangeable. In my mind, “Broken” means that a game has a single, dominant strategy (usually a very obvious, very easy to implement one). It usually applies to Asymmetric games, or CCGs (where players have their own resource set), or any game that somehow differentiates the players (otherwise they could all follow the broken strategy). If it suddenly turned out that you could win a chess game (by move two or three) by 1. H3!, Chess would become broken. No fun to play (at least, no fun to play if 1. H3! was the opening).

I mainly fling “Broken” around in relation to CCGs. I don’t just play Shadowfist, I playtest it. Our job is to make sure that no published card dominates the game. Our other job is to try to make all published cards good enough to be playable, and to make them interesting.

“Flawed” means that the game has a problem. This is much more subjective (I think). Power Grid may be flawed, but I still play it. “Fundamentally flawed” just extends that. The core of the game is flawed, not just some peripheral system.

To a certain extant, flaws depend on what you are trying to do. If I try to write a tragic play, jokes are a flaw. If you view Taj Mahal as a poker variant, then it’s structure is clearly flawed. [Sklansky and Malmouth discuss how ante structures affect the game and how some are better than others, in case you are interested.] By Greg’s summary (which I prefer to my poker analogy), the same idea comes out. There is a clear way to win (not get involved in fights), which you have no control over. Since a game (by my hazy definition) must give you some control over it (otherwise it would be a simulation, or something), Taj Mahal is flawed. The fundamental system doesn’t work. But it’s not broken. There’s no dominant path to victory.

Broken, in my mind, is proveable. If I claim card X is broken in Shadowfist, I should be able to build a deck that can ‘run the table’ against any other deck that doesn’t have the same card (or possibly a card that specifically cancels mine). [In fact, I have been arguing that a card on the list for next set may be broken, and trying to build such a deck]. Similarly, if I claim that the “Road Strategy” in Settlers is broken, I should be able to win if I follow the strategy against opponents that don’t. If the “H3” opening is broken, I can defeat all comers (as white).

Flawed depends on what you set out to do. A game that sets out to be a quick, fluffy romp is flawed if the rules take two hours to explain. Paths of Glory’s rules take forever to read, but it’s not flawed (or, if it is, not for that reason). A game that sets out to model historical events that produces wildly impossible results would be flawed. Imagine a WWII game where the US could force a Japanese surrender in Feb ’42 after Pearl Harbor. [Perhaps ‘inaccurate’ would be better, but that’s just a specific flaw].

Of course, flaws have levels. Mild flaws are just that, mild. Lots of games have the flaw that a weak player can throw a game (as discussed before). The game may be interesting in general, even if a particular playing isn’t. As you expand the flaw (so that random events, or unknowable distributions decide the game), then it becomes a major flaw.

Sometimes I just don’t like a game. I don’t want to play 60 hour games that extensively covers the some minor war, or fluffy silly games. But if those games set out to do that, I can’t call them flawed. Taj Mahal sets out to be a “Reiner Knizia” game in the Alea box line. That gives me certain expectations about how much control players should have. The core system of the game (as I’ve tried to describe with my analogy) puts the players in an uncontrollable situation. Take Greg’s formulation:

You win the game by avoiding fights. You have virtually no control over whether you get into a fight or not.

If that assessment is true, then ‘fundamentally flawed’ strikes me as perfect description. [Needless to say, I agree with the assessment, and many commentors disagree].

By the way: I’m done referring to Greg’s formulation, as I may start owing him royalties.

Update: I just played a few games of Roll or Don’t versus my computer. Here randomness isn’t a flaw, as I expect that in a ‘push your luck’ style of game.

Written by taogaming

September 22, 2005 at 10:36 pm

Posted in Ramblings

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Recent Gaming

Last night a local couple invited us (and two other couples) for gaming. A good time was had by all. Mainly social games — Time’s Up, Apples to Apples, Cranium — with a game of Lord of the Fries tossed in. It’s been a while since I played Time’s Up (aka Celebrities) and I had a good time was had by all. Jacqui’s ah, unusual, style in the game delivered the shock and awe I’ve come to expect.

I’d never played “real” Cranium before (we do have the Kid’s version). It wasn’t bad, but the questions seemed easy. In fact, only one question was missed by either team the entire game. Did Michael Adams make this game? The geek doesn’t say.

Tonight delivered the US RDA of Shadowfist, and a game of Pickomino / Heckmeck.

And my lovely order of new games arrived! Once I read the rules to several new games, I’ll post impressions … sadly I probably won’t get to play them any time soon.

Written by taogaming

June 28, 2005 at 11:51 pm

Posted in Session Reports

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Shadowfist Review

You know, I’ve never written a real review of Shadowfist, despite playing hundreds of times over the last five years (more than any other game).

Years ago I dashed off a quick review of Shadowfist after Z-Man games re-released it. Since then, I’ve played over 500 games (averaging an hour each) and spent many other hours building decks, discussing the game, and writing about it. But all of this writing was aimed at other players, and I never got around to reviewing it for the board gaming community.

I will now rectify that situation.

Shadowfist is the Collectable Card Game of Hong Kong action movies. Many people stop right at the CCG. If you are against the concept; I completely understand. For those of you who are worried about spending too much, take heart. Z-Man games produce completely fixed starters. No random cards in the starters. (Boosters are random). If you and a few friends each buy a starter you will have a very playable game. In fact, several years ago one player entered a league. The format was open (play whatever cards you like) against several players who had complete collections. His sum total investment was $20 (two starters). He won several events during the league, and was a constant threat.

The best cards are easy to obtain and are often commons (or fixed in the starter). This compares very favorable with other companies, which make the desirable cards all rare. This isn’t to say that there aren’t good rare cards, but often you only need one or two of the copies you want (usually just trading away the factions you don’t play for the factions you do).


In Shadowfist (as in the Feng Shui role-playing game), the Chinese art of Geomancy (or Feng Shui) is real. Key locations control the chi flow of the world – control the locations and you can remake the world according to your whims. Needless to say, various factions are fighting across the world … and across time. Time travel is possible via the netherworld, but not to arbitrary locations. There are only a few eras that are constantly open – Ancient China, China during the Boxer revolution, Modern Day (Hong Kong), and the future. Different factions control each era, but are looking to extend control into other eras. Some expansions have a new era briefly opening up, sending all of the factions scrambling to steal the mystic artifacts or lure powerful warriors to abandon their time and join the fight.


The object of Shadowfist is to control five feng shui sites (hereafter FSS) for victory. FSS provide power (which can be spent on other cards) and also define locations. Whenever you play a site, it forms a column. Another site can go behind it. Only two sites in a column, but you can always start a new column (to the right of any previous columns). Each column is a location – characters played are always at a specific location. Typically the back row site cannot be attacked, but if the front row site is destroyed then the back row site slides forward (and a new site can be played behind it). Feng Shui Sites are played face down (their cost is determined by how many FSS you already have in play), and are not revealed until you want to use their special ability (or if they take damage).

FSS sites form the core of the game, similar to land in magic. But there are a few critical differences between Fist and magic – simple changes that greatly affect game play.

  • Power can be stored up between turns,
  • Power (unlike mana) does not have a ‘color’,
  • Feng Shui sites, unlike land, are also the direct targets of attack

The implications are far-reaching and, in my mind, lead to a more exciting game.

Characters are fighting the secret war, trying to grab FSS for themselves. Each character has a cost (in power) and a fighting. The fighting is how much damage a character dishes out and how much damage it takes to kill them. But damage, like power, accumulates. If a 6 fighting character hits a 4 fighting character, the larger character takes four damage and is now, effectively, two fighting.

Apart from all of their special abilities, characters can always do the following:

  • Turn to attack (your turn only)
  • Turn to heal, removing all damage (your turn only)
  • Turn to move one location sideways
  • Turn to intercept an attack at an opponent’s location

In a game based on action movies, attacking forms the core.


Characters can attack sites or other characters. The can attack in large or small groups. You can attack as often as you like, assuming all previous attacks that turn were successful. Of course, the other players usually try to stop you. Let’s take a two-player scenario (attacker and defender). The attacker goes after a site with one or more characters; the defender now has the option to intercept. Each character at that location, even turned characters, can block on attacker. [And characters at adjacent locations can turn to move, and then intercept]. Each interceptor can block one attacking character, but multiple interceptors can be declared against the attacker in a specified order. (This is called “Intercepting in a chain”). Each of the one-on-one combats is resolved (with time to play cards). The only rule to know is that if both characters survive a combat, then the attacking character goes home. (He couldn’t “overcome” the defender and was thwarted). If any attackers get past all of their defenders (or none were declared), then they damage the site (as if it were a character) and the attack succeeds.

Compare this with magic, and you can see how your options grow. You can have multiple attacks (and attack with characters you just bought), and attacking does not prevent the characters from defending (it just limits them to defending the location they are at). It’s possible to take multiple sites in a turn, but risky to split your attacks because you must succeed to declare another attack.

Shadowfist is often played multi-player. In that case, once an attack is declared, other players can join in. Additionally, each player has the option to intercept attackers. A player can actually be on both sides of the combat, attacking and intercepting other attackers to try and kill them off! A player’s characters never fight each other, of course. Players go around the table joining the attack, then go around intercepting. Each combat works the same way; there are just more of them.

If an attack does enough damage to a FSS, then the attacker has four options:

  • Smoke the site (put it in the discard pile … rarely done).
  • Seize the site and add it to his site structure (behind a site or starting a new column). The controller now gets all benefits of the site.
  • Burn it for a burst of power (ending your turn but getting a healthy influx of power for your next turn).
  • Burn it for victory. It now counts towards victory, but you get no benefits from it. However, it can never be taken away!

Other Cards

Apart from FSS and Characters, there are other card types. There are non-feng shui sites. These do not count towards victory, but often provide a nice benefit (power or ability). They occupy the site structure like any other site. You can only play one site a turn. States are played onto another card, and modify that card (I believe Magic refers to these as “local enchantments”). Typical states are weapons and vehicles, which provide a boost to a character. Events are like the instants and interrupts in Magic. They do something, and then are out of play. Events are also the only cards that you can play during another characters turn, so provide the bulk of defense. Edges affect the entire game world (“Global Enchantments”)


Power, as mentioned before, is “colorless”. There are no (ok, very few) FSS associated with a particular faction. That doesn’t mean that you can play cards wily-nily. Each card has resource requirements and providers. Playing a faction’s leader may require 4 or more resources. Some characters (“Foundation characters”) do not require resources, but provide them. These resources are not spent, but accumulated, even if the characters are later killed (“smoked”) and put into the discards (the “smoked pile’). Any cards that are discarded without ever going into play are put in a separate discard pile, called the “toasted” pile. Cards in the toasted pile do not provide resources, and cannot ever come back, while cards in the smoked pile sometimes return to play.

In addition to the faction resources, some characters provide talents (magic, chi or technology). Some cards require one or more talents to play.

These resource rules expand deck-building options. In magic, if you want to play a blue deck, you need islands (for blue mana). That effectively determines 1/3rd (or so) of your deck. In Shadowfist, your faction doesn’t determine your Feng Shui sites. If you are playing Dragons, you may use FSS that provide extra power, strong defense, strong offense, comeback potential, or whatever scheme you wish. The talents also make allow some cards to be played easily by a subset of the factions. Several factions have easy access to technology, while other factions don’t. This means that technology cards are (effectively) several factions (“colors” in magic) at the same time.


Deckbuildng is part of the enjoyment of CCGs, and ‘Fist allows for a wide variety of decks. There is no minimum or maximum deck size (but if your deck runs out, you are eliminated at the end of your next turn). You can have up to five of any card in the deck, but some cards are unique (only one copy in play at a time) or limited (you may not play a copy if you already control one). One particularly enjoyable tournament format is called “Comrades-in-Arms”, which says that you must have a certain number of cards that share a designator (word in the title or subtitle). So you have “Cop” decks, “Demon” decks, and even “Righteous” decks. Single and multiple-faction decks both work well.

Minor Rules

There are more rules, of course. Each card may have a special ability (like all CCGs) and there are specific traits like Ambush (a character does damage first when attacking, instead of simultaneously) or Stealth (the ability to bypass one interceptor). One very important rule – you can’t just play your last FSS to win … you have to take it in combat. Also, each turn you discard and draw up to your hand size (normally six). You can discard as many cards as you like, but if you discard more than one, you don’t generate power that turn.

Why ‘Fist

Shadowfist forces decisions. In fact, it’s almost a ‘perfect storm’ of rules that give you a large number of options. I’ve already compared the difference of attacking in Magic (once/turn, no choice of targets) vs. in Shadowfist (multiple times per turn, lots of targets). The fact that you fill back up to your hand means more card flow and board positions are less static.

This applies to the game as a whole. A player with no cards on the table halfway through the game can still win. Partially this is the card mix (some cards provide bonus power if you have recently suffered setbacks), the resource rules help (smoked characters still provide their resources0, and finally the accumulated helps (a player may have nothing on the table, but still have enough power to play a full hand of cards). I have been down five sites to none (in a two player game you play to six sites, not five) and won.

The rules conspire to shove the game along. Many of the abilities (like Ambush and Stealth, mentioned above) only work while attacking. Additionally, the attacker can play many more cards during the attack, providing a distinct advantage. There is often the element of bluff. The target is often a face down Feng Shui Site, which may yield a nasty surprise when revealed (Many FSS have abilities that trigger when they are attacked or damaged). And, of course, a player may have a world full of hurt in hand.

Z-Man Games has been a good custodian of the game. Unlike Magic, cards do not have planned obsolescence for tournaments (where only the last X sets are allowed). All cards ever printed in the game are still playable, although some errata exist. As collectable card games go, I find it easy to collect. As I stated, most of the best cards are common. Despite being a completist (wanting every card), I typically only need two or three boxes of a set to have all I need. Players who just want to play a single faction will typically only need to buy a few boosters (~10) from each set and trade to get the cards the want.

Shadowfist is interactive and multi-player, which provides for effective ‘at the table’ balance. While you can often run over a single player, rarely can one player dominate two (or three) opponents. You have to pick your attacks (and interceptions) to weaken the table enough to go for the killing blow without giving another player an opening. In fact, the best skill to have in Shadowfist is the ability to “read the table” and evaluate the position.

Finally, and personally, I like the theme and humor in the game. [I’ll discuss the factions in a separate post].

Why not ‘Fist

The first reason to avoid Shadowfist is that you need opponents. While you can play two players, it’s not as interesting. The evaluations are much simpler, and you can just try to bulldoze your way through. Degenerate decks (those focused on card or resource denial, instead of fighting) work much better in two player. No Collectable Card Game is good without other people, but Shadowfist works best with a three player minimum. On the flip side, games with five or more players can take a long time, three hours or more. If that doesn’t appeal, stick with three or four players.

The finer details of the rules cause confusion. In particular, the timing rules often catch new players off guard. [Shadowfist uses a “Last In, First Out” system]. To be fair, Magic has similar problems. [My personal favorite CCG for clean timing rules is Legend of the Five Rings]. The complete rulebook for the most recent starter set (“10,000 Bullets”) is online , but I do not believe the superior “Year of the Dragon” rulebook is. The Year of the Dragon rulebook is larger and contained numerous examples to demonstrate the rules. Hopefully the next set (“Critical Shift”) will improve on the rules. Any CCG will have areas of rules ambiguity. I personally do not find the rules that difficult, but for a new player just joining the game, some of the details will be missed and some of the fine distinctions on timing, location shifting and the like may catch you by surprise.

[I’ve cross-posted this on Boardgamegeek. If you have a general comment about Shadowfist, you may want to leave it there.]

Written by taogaming

June 27, 2005 at 5:29 pm

Posted in Reviews

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