Shadow Hunters

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Mar 052012
 

Time for another Japanese board game that’s been localized for the white devil audience.

If you’ve ever played Werewolf, that socializing game where a couple of players are secretly werewolves and go around “killing” other players while everyone is trying to find out who the werewolves are and stop them, you can think of Shadow Hunters as something of a deluxe version of that. At the start of the game, everyone’s given a “role” card that determines whether you’re a Hunter, a Shadow, or a Neutral player. Hunters want to kill all of the Shadows. Shadows want to kill all of the Hunters. Neutrals don’t care about that little petty war and have their own motivations unique to each character.

The catch is that no one knows who is who, and part of the game is trying to figure out people’s roles based on what they do in the game. In Werewolf, it all comes down to negotiating and manipulating– whoever’s the best at keeping their motivations secret and getting others to do what they want is gonna pull off the victory (or whoever has a reputation for being that sort of person will be taken down quickly). Shadow Hunters has that element to it, and there’s plenty of “we should attack soandso because of blahblahblah,” but there’s a little more strategy to the who’s who side of things.

With Shadow Hunters, you’re drawing cards as the game progresses, and the type of card you’re drawing depends on where you are on the game board. If you’re at the Cemetery, you can draw a black card. These tend to be direct attack cards, so if you use one of them on someone who might give people a hint as to what your role is. If you’re at the Church, you can draw White cards. These tend to be defensive cards, so if you get a healing card and heal someone else that might give people clues to your identity.

But the kicker are the green Hermit cards. Each Hermit card says something along the lines of “If you’re a Shadow player, take one damage.” The catch is that you give this card to another player but you do so secretly. You read the card to yourself, without revealing it to any other player, then you give it to another player. That player reads it, again without revealing it, and then does whatever the card says. So, if you give the player that “If you’re a Shadow player, take one damage” card and they do take damage, you know what they are. You can’t outright say “HEY! THIS GUY IS A SHADOW!” but you can use that knowledge to your advantage.

So the game flows like this:

(1) You roll to see which location you move to this turn.

(2) If you want, you can draw the type of card that location allows (or perform the action the location allows, such as heal or steal cards from a player).

(3) If you want, you can attack someone in the same location as you or someone in an adjacent location.

So yeah, once you have an idea of who you want to attack (or if your role doesn’t care who it attacks), you’ll want to start taking down people. Attacking is kinda unique in that you roll a 6-sided die and a 4-sided die and find the difference between the two dice to see how much damage you deal. So if you roll a 1 on the 6-sider and a 3 on the 4-sider, you just dealt 2 damage to the guy you’re attacking. It doesn’t matter which die is the higher of the two, you always subtract the lower from the higher to determine damage. And if you roll the same number on each one, your attack missed.

The last trick to the game is that each character has a power, but the only way you can use this power is to reveal who you are. So you might be this badass hunter who has a power that reads “once per game, reveal yourself, roll a 6-sided die, and deal that much damage to one player.” That’s an awesome power, since it can possibly take down someone in one well-placed hit, but it also exposes you to everyone that wants to take down a hunter.

When everything comes together, the game feels like one of those cheesy horror anime series, like Another or something like that. No one knows who the killer is, and even the “normal” people are bound to do something drastic like randomly attack someone out of fear of them being a Vampire or some shit. As the game/story progresses, you start to find out who’s who, and maybe you find out that the person you nearly killed two turns ago was your ally and you misread their actions. And it’s a hell of a lot quicker than one of these horror series. The two games I played this past weekend each lasted maybe 30 minutes, and I can’t see an individual game lasting more than an hour.

In the time it takes to watch two episodes of your usual horror anime, you can play out the same events in a board game AND you get a proper ending. No need to watch a 13 episode horror anime when you can live it for yourself in 30-60 minutes.