Shadows of Brimstone

The wife and I played some Shadows of Brimstone over the weekend.  I have the Swamps of Death starter pack.  I’m looking forward to getting some of the expansion stuff mind you, though I realize it’s also in the last steps of delivering on the Kickstarter pledge.

Brimstone is a cooperative RPG miniature boardgam.  The co-operative aspect is really important.  My wife is not a boardgamer, whereas I was practically raised on Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit.  While I can certainly get behind competitive boardgames, that requires more than 2 people.  If it’s just my wife and I, then co-op it is, otherwise it’s just not really that much fun for either of us.

The game is set in a wild-west horror theme, very Cthulhu in nature.  Most missions have you gradually exploring tiles, ever expanding a map to your target.  There’s exploration and events on every tile, often times more than one.  The map itself is completely random, based on a set of card and die rolls.  The setup is actually pretty quick, though by the time we ended our last game, the entire kitchen table was full of stuff.

There’s a core mechanic of holding back the darkness that gets progressively harder to achieve the further you progress.  Failure here is pretty bad.  You could end up drawing more cards or unlock darkness itself, which usually boosts enemies.  One card we pulled added an extra attack die to an enemy type.  One that spawned in groups of 4+.  Still, it’s a fairly neat mechanic that pushes the whole risk vs reward mentality.  That extra draw may be the final one.

And then there’s combat.  There’s nothing terribly fancy here.  To Hit, Attack, Damage, Armor, limited skill usage…all staples.  The differences are in the number of enemies and the duration of combat.

I’ve played my fair share of combat games.  In games where there are a lot of enemies, they typically aren’t very strong.  Few enemies (say, parity or less), then the enemies are tougher.  D&D 3.5 had fewer enemies but more strategy, while 4th had tons of enemies and everything was AE everywhere.  So if a board game should be completed in 2 hours, combat feels good around 1 hour total.  Maybe that’s just 3 fights the entire time, or it could be 10 times.  You just need more than combat and at least some light at the end of that tunnel.

Brimstone is an odd one.  The weaker enemy types usually start off by doubling/tripling the amount of players on the map.  Players are forced to “funnel” the enemies in tight tunnels to avoid getting swamped.  AE attacks are fairly limited, and difficult to pull off, so when it’s 2 players vs. 8 undead, it can be a grind.  Thankfully combat is quick in those scenarios.

The final fight of the run is different; it uses a much higher difficult pool for enemies and is compounded by a separate set of cards (related to holding back the darkness).  We decided to use a limited resource to eliminate those cards, but we cheated any took a peek anyways.  Had we flipped the card, we would have been ambushed by 2d3+4 undead – so, you know, lots.  On top of the 4 weak flyers and 3 strong tanks that were already on the board.

The flyers took a few rounds to drop, due to bad rolls.    My wife and I swapped rolling duties throughout, where we each played for the enemy.  She continually rolled 5/6 when playing as a bad guy and 1/2/3 when she was her PC.  For at least 30 minutes.  (Side note, she rolled so well, she killed my guy outright for more damage than he had base hit points).  We looked at the clock on the wall and realized at this pace it was another 15 minutes of combat, with our current luck streak.  So we invented some house rules to assist with rolling.  It worked out and we finished up the dungeon run.

I like boardgames that rely more on strategy than die rolls.  Pandemic is a good example.  Risk, to some degree.  Monopoly for sure.  The random element in gaming has its place but I’ve played enough snakes and ladders for my life.  Brimstone straddles that line something fierce.  The very limited resources in combat require you to think strategically, but a set of bad rolls can ruin your fun.  Having more players at the table certainly offsets that, and you gain more synergy between the various players.  I like Brimstone and certainly want to get an expansion.  I’ll just see if I can’t get another body at the table to help us out for the next round.


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