Harsh Shadows - Dastardly Review #142
Harsh Shadows is a solo game designed by Rachel Bruner from Wonderspell. After the first couple games, play time was easily around 15 minutes. After my 20th game, the play time was 10 minutes (yes...I became that addicted!)
You are a Secret Agent trying to track down 3 pieces of evidence to capture the deadly enemy Spy.
Of course, you have some Spy Gadgets to help you and bombs to avoid! Also there is a Red Herring clue and you lose if you have it in your hand at the end of the game!
The chase takes place on a 3x3 grid of Locations. Each Location has an ability you can activate to help you or hamper the evil spy's movements.
You win by having your Agent capture the Spy. But you need to have at least the three correct pieces of Evidence and NOT the Red Herring evidence.
You lose if you turn over a Bomb Discovery Card and can't successfully defuse it.
You also lose if time runs out...all Discovery Cards have been dropped at locations.
We received a pre-production copy of Harsh Shadows. The quality of the cards is good. The art is very spy-ish and enhances the theme. The cards are easy to read.
There are quite a few types of cards in the deck: Gadgets (bomb defuse, tracking bug), Locations, Discovery (Bombs, Clues and Items), Confiscated Items, Case Files, Spy Movement Cards, Spy and Agent and a Countdown card.
Don't be overwhelmed by the number of card types...setup is simple and game play is very smooth.
Setup is quick. Sort the cards by type. Shuffle each type. Layout a 3x3 grid of Locations. Randomly select 8 face down Discovery cards and add 1 Bomb Discovery card. Shuffle those 9 cards and place one next to each Location. Shuffle the remaining Discovery cards to form a draw deck. Add Confiscated Cards under the Red Herring, False Leads and Evidence Folder Cards. Place the Spy in the top left hand corner and your Agent in the bottom right hand corner. Go!
Game play is fast and and fits the theme perfectly.
You move your agent either orthogonally or diagonally. Sometimes you want to land on the Spy and other times you want to avoid the Spy until you have collected more discovery cards. If there are any Discovery Cards at your Location you take the top card and and place it in front of you.
You can take additional actions: active your current Location's ability, use Clue Cards, place or use a Spy Gadget (tracking bug).
Then the Spy moves.
And here is one of the awesome features of Harsh Shadows...the Spy's moves are controlled by these movement cards I know it is random but at times it feels like the Spy is a real thinking person trying to trap your Agent.
After the Spy moves a Discovery Card is added to their current location.
And this is another cool thing about Harsh Shadows - you, as the Secret Agent, need to pick up the Discovery Cards that Spy leaves behind so you need to stay close but not too close. And this is all on a 3x3 grid.
And the Discovery Card stack acts as a timer...when all Discovery Cards have been dropped at Locations by the Spy's movements Harsh Shadows enters a final end of game series of turns.
Once you have the 3 pieces of Evidence and NOT the Red Herring then you need to capture the Spy to win!
Harsh Shadows only has one winning condition but multiple ways you can lose: getting blown up by a bomb, failing to collect the evidence, falling for the Red Herring or running out of time and letting the Spy escape.
Harsh Shadows includes multiple ways to ratchet up the difficulty. At the most difficult level I win about half the time.
Harsh Shadows is a rare game. The art, theme and mechanics enhance each other. The random Spy movement cards are unique. The luck and randomness elements are offset by Location abilities and Spy Gadgets. The result is a fun, decision filled game that gets progressively more tense with each turn.
Harsh Shadows is not a deep game but it does get tense and edgy. I find myself falling into the role of the Agent. Harsh Shadows doesn't feel like a typical solo game - the roles of Spy and Secret Agent are immersive and drive the game to the next level.
There is a Cat and Mouse feel to Harsh Shadows. The compactness of the 3x3 grid helps keep the Spy and Agent near each other. Sometimes you want to catch the spy and other times you want to avoid the spy. Just good fun.
There are a lot of expansion possibilities to Harsh Shadows. They could easily add evil henchmen, traps and more Locations and Spy Gadgets. I would definitely grab an expansion if they created it.
Harsh Shadows was designed to be a solo game and does it quite well. It is a not a multiplayer game with an automa function slapped on.
Love the balance in Harsh Shadows and the marriage of theme and mechanics.
Luck does play a role. You can lose if the cards are stacked against you. But hey...that is the life of a spy.
Harsh Shadows is an awesome mashup of James Bond and Clue layered on cool mechanics and topped with tension.