In this review, Fairway plays with fire when he travels to Ambyria in search of the mysterious ember stones. Find out whether Ambyria: Shroud of the Shadow Demon is too hot to touch or just cool enough to play a bunch of times.
The first expansion for Ambyria is hitting Kickstarter toward the end of this year.
Ambyria: Shroud of the Shadow Demon is a two- to four- player strategic card game that pits various factions against each other in an attempt to collect the most ember stones.
Initial Impressions ^
- The game is easy to learn and plays pretty quick.
- The game features some nice card art and a lot of unique illustrations.
- There is a good amount of variation in the playable cards.
Game play ^
In Ambyria: Shroud of the Shadow Demon, each player takes on the role of one of four different faction. Each faction has its own deck of card (helpfully color coded).
To start, players take their factions deck and shuffle the cards. From this deck, players deal five face down cards that form their “arcane cards.” Each player then draws five cards off the top of the deck to form the player’s starting hand. The remainder of the deck is set face down in a draw pile. Each card has an ember stone value, a mode, and a power, which are invoked depending on how the card is played.
The game is then played over a series of turns until one player reveals their fifth arcane card. During a turn, players go through a series of phases: collection, mode selection, draw, play, and clean up.
For simplicity, I’m going to skip the collection phase, which technically comes first, but makes more sense later.
After the collection phase, you select a mode (if they don’t already have one) or you can change your current mode. Each card in the your hand includes one of a four different “modes” which provides a player certain abilities so long as they remain in that mode. For example, defensive mode prevents other players from taking the player’s in-play cards (called the emberscape described in a bit). Whereas, greedy mode lets the player draw an extra card. Each of the modes has some benefit depending on the player’s objective. The player selects a card and then places it face up on the table in a “mode” pile. The card on top indicates the current play style.
After the mode phase, you draw a card from their deck and puts it in your hand. If you’re in Greedy Mode, you’ll draw two.
After the draw phase, players then play a card from their hand. There are a few ways cards can be played: to the discard pile, to the emberscape, to the “collection pile” and, sometimes, to other locations like the mode pile or an opponent’s emberscape. In general, though, cards are played to your emberscape. Once filled, cards in the emberscape are what the player will “collect” for the ember stones during the collection phase. An emberscape is “full” if it has five cards in it, unless you’re in Hasty mode in which case it’s full when it has three cards.
No matter where a card is “played,” you resolve the effect written on the card. This can be a one time effect, like “draw three cards” or something permanent.
After the card is played, your turn end their turn. If you have more than nine cards, they discard down and play passes to the left.
Coming back to the collection phase, at the start of the turn, you will collect the cards from your emberscape into a collection pile if it’s “full” and turn over one of their arcane cards. At the end of the game, cards in the collection pile score points based on the ember stone value of the card.
The player with the most collected ember stones wins.
On the green ^
The art. The game has nice art with a large number of unique items.
Balance. Most of the decks had perfect analogs so it was pretty well-balanced.
Easy to teach and play. There flow of the game is pretty easy to teach. Most players figured out relatively quickly how to play cards in a way that maximized their scores or damaged their opponents.
Relatively short.The game plays quickly. Setup is very streamlined and games go quick. Even at higher player counts, there’s not usually a lot of downtime.
Scoring. We really liked the scoring mechanism in the game. The scoring based on repeatedly collecting spent cards was a nice twist. It was not enough to play cards to score them, you had to figure out how to get them played and keep them there. It required some thinking on multiple dimensions: your mode, your opponents’ modes, available cards, etc.
Player interaction. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of opportunity to interact with other players. But the game affords opportunities to take cards from other players, play cards to their emberscape (including a punishing -20 card), mess with their mode, an so on. We enjoyed that aspect.
Where it comes up short ^
Higher player counts. Our experience was that for a vast majority of the game, this played really well as a player-versus-player duel. Adding additional players added a lot of additional chaos to the table thereby undermining the strategic appeal.
About the box. Ignoring the game for a second, the box is just a bit too small. Each of the four decks is a few cards too many for the box. That’s more of a nuisance than anything. It does shut, but it’s not secure on there.
In the hole ^
Ambyria: Shroud of the Shadow Demon is an interesting little card game with streamlined set of mechanics. It has a nice combination of strategic card playing and take that with a nice scoring mechanism. For someone looking for a quick fantasy-themed strategic card game, this is definitely worth a look.
Ambryia makes it into the hole for a par. ^