Solo Contest: Curse of the Shadow Spire

Today Fairway looks at the second place finisher in The Game Crafter’s Solo Game Challenge: Curse of the Shadow Spire.

Curse of the Shadow Spire is perhaps the most ambitious of all the entries in the Solo Game Challenge. It is a solo, fantasy adventure complete with various unique, playable characters, exploration and dragon fighting.  Like the other contest entries, I applied a slightly different rubric:

Total Theme (5) Art / GD (10) Solo (15) Game Play (10) Creativity (5) Other (5)
82% 4 8 13 7 4 5

Initial Impressions ^

  1. It’s hard to escape the coolness of the 3D cardboard pieces: castles, dragon, trees, “keeps” and the shadow spire. This effectively maxed out the points on extra points.
  2. Four playable characters, of the standard RPG types, made for four different games of varying difficulty.
  3. The game implemented an interesting adventuring and exploration mechanism that made for a lot of variation game to game.
  4. Overall play time varied a lot, but the game was pretty easy to learn and had a nice rhythm.
  5. There was good, consistent art and graphic design throughout the game.

How to play ^

In Curse of the Shadow Spire, the player chooses to play as one of the four characters: crusader, wizard, ranger or priest. As that character, he or she must then travel around a map to gather three relics from shadow keeps in order to gain entrance to the shadow spire in order to remove all the shadows protecting it to win.

To start, the player takes the pawn and matching player board.  Each player board and starting materials are slightly different depending on what character you play. The player board for the wizard includes crystals for casting a set of spells, for example.

The game centers around the exploration of a map. The map consists of a series of hex tiles (with map pieces consisting of six hexes) that surround the shadow spire tile. A starting tile is then added toward the center of the map and the three shadow tower hexes are placed in the corner. The shadow towers are placed on the hexes and each hold tower holds one of three relics.  On all the open tiles, “mystery tokens” are placed on them. These tokens are numbered 1 to 4 will be revealed as a player adventures and they indicate the number of shadows you may have to fight at that location.

Three decks, the adventure, encounter and treasure decks, are separated and shuffled. They’re placed face down.  The adventure deck is used whenever a player crosses an encounter token on the map.  The adventure card has three sections each corresponding to one of the three terrain types. Depending on the type of terrain, the adventure card tells you the type of encounter that occurs.  The player then draws an encounter card. It too is divided into three sections that match the types of encounters on the adventure card.

To play, the player will take a series of turns. Each turn consists of two phases: movement and adventure. The player keeps taking turns until the shadow spire has no more shadows.

During the movement phase, the player can move up to three spaces. Upon landing on a space with one of the encounter tokens or one of the 3D pieces, the player must stop and resolve the encounter (i.e., the adventure phase).

If the player stops on a space with an encounter token, the player first draws two cards. The player reveals the first card and decides whether they want to resolve the encounters for the adventure. If not, the card is discarded and the second one is revealed and must b

Now the top card of the Encounter deck is revealed.  The player matches the type of encounter on the Adventure card to the encounter card.  There are three types of encounters: Shadows, Event and Location. Shadows result in a combat typically equal to the encounter token value plus another value 1-6.  There are six types of events including an attack by the Shadow Dragon, ambushes, traps, and reinforcements.  The cards explain how to resolve each event.  The third type, location, includes places that provide the player an opportunity to buy and heal their characters.

Throughout the game, the player will have to engage in combat against Shadows, when trying to enter a Shadow Keep, when attacked by the Shadow Dragon, or when trying to capture the Shadow Spire.  Combat is determined by a die roll: at least one red die plus up to two additional red dies (each added to combat by using power) plus any bonuses.  Your target’s strength is determined by two black dies as follows:

  • For shadows, it is a fixed value plus the random value from the an encounter token.
  • For the shadow keeps, it is a roll of a d6 plus five.
  • For the shadow dragon and shadow spire, it’s a roll of a d6 plus six.

In general, when your die rolls exceed the strength, the target takes that much damage.  When you don’t succeed, you take an amount of damage indicated by the cards (e.g., two per round for the shadow keep, three per round for the dragon).

Where it shines ^

Oh man, this game was definitely the most ambitious game in the finals. In some ways, it made it particularly difficult to review since no two games were alike. Each of the characters was so different.

3D Pieces. It’s hard to avoid commenting on how great the little, 3D pieces were: the assembled dragon alone was amazing. I got lots of looks while playing the game at a FLGS.

Variety of characters.  The four characters offered a lot of different game opportunities. There were unique powers and weaknesses for each. There were also different abilities and disabilities. As a result, like other games in the finals, the variety of characters seemed to offer a solid way scale the game’s difficulty.

Exploration & Adventuring.  The game did a good job of mixing up the game board and throwing  a lot of encounter randomization into the mix. This really meant no two games were the same. We like the “adventure” card plus “encounter” pairing mechanism.  This avoided the pitfalls of creating guessable elements of the game.

The art.  The flat vector art for the characters was nice.  The game got a little inconsistent with other parts — although we recognized that this entry relied heavily on Alisha Volkman’s free assets for things like rewards.

Play time and learning. Considering how short the rules were, there was a little bit of a short learning curve for players. However, once they got going, the game progressed well.  Play time itself was a bit all over the board, but generally came in under an hour.  It really varied depending on how long it took players to find the relics.  

Where it comes up short ^

We had very few actual complaints about the game.  Most of the concerns could be boiled down to a desire to make certain occurrences more predictable: finding relics and finding markets, for example.  Because the relics were gatekeepers to the shadow spire, it meant that seeking relics from random encounters with the dragon or events could be frustrating.

Similarly, the “economy” of the game seem to be broken or we didn’t quite understand how it was supposed to work since we never really acquired enough gold to make some of the more interesting purchases.

Conclusion ^

Dang. Curse of the Shadow Spire is a really great solo game. There is a strong adventure theme with good game play elements and tons of replay potential.

3 thoughts on “Solo Contest: Curse of the Shadow Spire”

  1. Thanks for the great write up of the game. The “economy” portion is indeed flawed and some of the spells aren’t tuned quite right. I have had a few months since the contest to get the game in front of additional testers and have several tweaks to the game that I am currently working on.

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