Saturday, September 20, 2014

Shadows of Brimstone - Solo Game Review

Sometimes you want to game on a regular old Tuesday, but your buddies aren't spontaneously available to come over and play another game of Shadows of Brimstone. Even Mary was busy and not interested in a pick-up game. So I took it upon myself to take my Level 2 Indian Scout, Mingo, into the mines for a bit of a Solo Adventure. I wanted to see how well the game scales to a single adventurer as well as use some of my newly-constructed minis from 'The City of the Ancients' Core Set.

Proud and (over)confident Level 2 Mingo, ready to take on the City of the Ancients!

I decided to go with one of the early, "easier" missions: "Seal the Void Gate." After a cursory read I saw that in this mission you search through the mines for two Clue Tokens. The first Clue Token represents your discovery of the 'lost posse' who had a magic book (let's call it the Necronomicon) they were going to use to seal a Void Gate in the mines. Then you are supposed to continue exploring until you reach a second Clue Token, at which point you find the Void Gate and have to close it. Easy peasy.

However, just a few steps in I found a random Void Gate in the mines. Checking the scenario it says to ignore all Void Gates to other dimensions, but where's the fun in that? I desperately wanted to see what the City of the Ancients tiles were like, so I decided to alter the mission goals just a tiny bit. I mean, what if the lost posse had gone through the Void Gate and died there, and the Necronomicon is just on the other side? Seems foolish not to check it out, just in case...
Magic portals in underground haunted mines? I'm sure a quick look won't hurt...

I pulled the world card for the Targa Plateau and found it to be a very harsh place, and I took quite a few wounds from rolling 1's as I stomped through the snow.

Blah blah blah...wait, double the chances of free Grit?! Count me in!
 First thing ol' Mingo came face-to-face with was some sort of Alien Cryochamber...
I'll just check out these levers and buttons over here...
And sure enough, he unleashed a "Snow Terror" (alien Yeti) and a Laser-armed Stone Pylon defense turret thing popped up from the ground.

The Snow Terror was not only an extra-tough SOB, but the Terror effect it has makes it blast your Sanity every round.  That constant sanity needling is almost worse than its obscene damage value or defense capability.

Even one Snow Terror is a pretty major opponent for a low-level solo character.
Eventually Mingo had had enough of trying to shoot at a Defense 4 monsters with his piddly carbine rifle, and threw his sole stick of dynamite into the creatures.
 That took care of the Snow Terror, but left the Pylon for him to have to hack apart with his Indian Hatchet (+1 Damage helps get through their obscene defense).
Hack hack hack.
The loot take from that battle seemed pretty lame at the time, but that sole piece of Dark Stone became a game-changer later on.
 A few map tiles later, Mingo found himself his first Clue Token!
Hooray! I found the book. This is going to be easy...
To save myself the trouble of actually reading too many words at once (who's got the time?), I never did read the rest of the mission beyond the goals before starting my solo game. Only at this point did I look up what actually happens when you get the first Clue.

Crap. You have to battle a combat at one threat level higher than you. (to represent what killed the previous team, I guess.) There are four separate Threat decks in the game (Low, Med, High, and Epic) that correlate to the number of players. Well, One Threat Level Higher (Med) resulted in a bunch of Void Spiders jumping down and going to town on poor Mingo.

 Mingo killed an average of two Spiders per turn for his part, but being surrounded and attacked by 5 spiders each round with more moving in to fill in any spots you clear out, meant Mingo didn't have much of a chance against so many poisonous bites. Two characters here would've had no trouble against the bugs, since they could form a shield wall (models can't move through other models), but one character can't help but get surrounded by the speedy buggers.

But wait...Revive Tokens!
 Then I remembered the Revive Tokens. A character playing Solo gets two of them!
Basically they're 1-ups.
 Revive tokens essentially are free lives that take effect as soon as a character goes down (no need to roll for Injury or Madness until there are no Revive tokens left). So Mingo jumped right back up the next turn and finished off the rest of the Void Spiders.
Surprise suckers!
 This time the loot card was an Artifact pull and it was a really good one. A Deflector Shield!

Actual armor. Sweet.
Armor is pretty rare. Its a last-ditch save against an attack, but with armor you have to roll for each point of damage you take, rather than against the whole attack (like you do with your Defense attribute).

Here's a quick example of how Combat (and Armor) works:

  • The Snow Terror has Combat 3, Melee 5+, and Damage 4.
    • When The Snow Terror attacks Mingo, it rolls 3 dice (Combat 3). For every 5 or higher it rolls (Melee 5+), Mingo takes a Hit .
  • Mingo's Defense is 4+.
    • Mingo then can roll his Defense save for each hit he takes. So if Mingo took two Hits, he rolls two dice. For every 4 or higher he rolls (Defense 4+), he negates one of the hits from the Snow Terror. For every Hit he doesn't negate he takes 4 wounds (Damage 4).
    • So if Mingo rolled bad and didn't negate either of those Hits, then he would take 8 Damage. Since he's only got 13 Health, that would be bad.
  • But Armor gives you one last-ditch save after all that!
    • So if Mingo took 8 damage but has his Deflection Armor (Armor 4+), then he can roll 8 dice. For every 4 or higher rolled he negates one point of damage.
After finding that sweet Armor, I decided to do a little scavenging around the map, and sure enough came upon another pimpin' Targa Artifact, the Plasma Arc Rifle!

Ohhhhh yeah...
 One benefit to the other dimensions is that the rules for Gear and Artifact cards are reversed. So if you're in another dimension, and a card says to draw a Gear card (usually guns, boots, regular stuff), you instead draw an Artifact card! (specific to that dimension) But if a card says to draw an Artifact card, then you draw a regular old Gear card. This is to represent how much more common Artifacts are on the other Planes, and how actual cowboy stuff is the rare thing. Since the monsters are automatically stronger on alternate dimensions, its kind of a cool trade-off.

But all that scavenging meant I was rolling (and failing) more and more "Hold Back the Darkness" rolls. You have to make a check at the beginning of every turn to keep the "Evilness marker" from moving down the "Darkness Tracker." If it reaches the end, you fail. Also as it moves it generates 'Growing Dread' and 'Darkness' cards that are always bad for you. Eventually I got a Darkness card that made rolling the "Hold Back the Darkness" even more difficult, and I realized I should head back to the Mines and use the Necronomicon to seal that Void Gate I came through and finish the mission (I decided since it was the only gate around, that's the one I'll seal).

See that +2 Move? That also became important later.
Get a move on, little doggie!

Welp, with the help of my new found speed-boost I made it back through the Void Gate and into the Mines in no time (and just considered that my "Clue #2" token -- it was a work night, after all), so at that point I looked up the entry for what you do when you reach the Void Gate that you want to seal with the Necronomicon.

The instructions say you have to deal with all the Growing Threat cards first, and then draw an Epic Threat card and defeat all the enemies.

...*blink blink*...

Epic? Even for a solo character?

Yup. There's no modifier on the paragraph. It says Epic Threat. Looking through the other missions, they just about all say the that you have to defeat an Epic Threat before you can win any of the missions. No ifs, and's, or buts about it. 100% of the time you've got to face an Epic Threat. Everything else in the game is scaled to how many players, except the final step of every mission. Seems like a design oversight, in my opinion. But who am I to argue? I reached down and drew an Epic Threat card.

So stepping out of the portal good old Mingo comes face to face with the Goliath, two Night Terrors (not quite as bad as the Snow Terror, but there's TWO of them!), and three Void Spiders (at least they are earth-style so aren't poisonous).

Seriously regretting that solo jaunt into the Mines now.

Look at the amount of Health they have! LOOK AT IT!
So as could be expected, Mingo immediately got swarmed by baddies. And again, everybody could attack at once because Mingo was all alone. Even the Goliath could reach over and hit me because he has a Reach of 3 squares!

Remember that Darkstone Shard that Mingo found in that first encounter? Well this is where he fed it into that Deflection Armor Artifact he found and charged up his personal shields.

In a hope of clearing out the Void Spiders quickly, Mingo let loose with his new fancy-schmancy Plasma Arc. It works pretty well at hitting hordes of enemies, except it doesn't allow for critical hits, which makes it nearly useless for high-defense baddies.
Brrzzzzzap! Die Spiders! Be tickled, everyone else!
Critical hits are the lifeblood of damaging high Defense monsters in this game, as they allow you to ignore all Defense when rolling a '6.' If a weapon doesn't allow for critical hits, you really don't want any part of it unless you absolutely have to hit a lot of weak guys at once.

Even swampy Kheogum's Ointment only kept Mingo going one extra round.
I used every bit of healing bandages and magic swamp salve Mingo had earned in his previous adventure, but it really made no difference. Between all those attacks, Mingo fell again.
Last Revive token. Next death and Mingo's finished!
If all characters go down to enemies and no one is alive to pull them out, then they die. Permanently. Remember this is a semi-RPG boardgame, so it matters if you lose your character as they gain experience and items each session. Spending my last Revive token I suddenly came to realize that if Mingo didn't get out of this, I'd be making up a new Level 1 character for my next game. I kind of had become attached to Mingo so a part of me wanted to just pretend this game never happened, but my gamer integrity would not allow me to stoop to such a heinous act. With a heavy heart, I decided I had to do the next best thing...
Mary comes to the rescue.
After using my last Revive token I took one look at the board, calculated the odds (not good), and headed upstairs to calmly pleaded my case. I pleaded to the only other person in the house who had a character that could possibly come to Mingo's rescue. I knew if I could just make a path between those monsters I could get Mingo around them with his Movement boost (+1 for Indian Scout trait and +2 with Darkness Card above) and make a bee line straight for the Mine exit, mission objective be damned. That's right, I was fine with failing the mission, I just didn't want Mingo to die permanently in the process!

A Level 2 Outlaw with Shotgun and Dynamite is just what the Mingo ordered.
So Mary agreed to come down and pull Mingo out of the proverbial fire. We put Clementine at the mine entrance and she rolled in and started blasting the Goliath with her sawed-off shotgun. She only damaged it a little, and even with both of us a fight with that and the two Night Terrors would still be trouble. Plus one turn in and Mingo was already down to half health again (even with the Deflector Shield running at full power, the hits just kept on coming).
Hey there pardner, I'll be your Huckleberry.
Fortunately with some well-placed dynamite and the Sawed-off' Shotgun's adjacent-damaging ability (for every hit on a creature it will hit each adjacent enemy for 1 damage -- ignoring defense!), we were able to kill the middle Night Terror. This opened a possible a path to freedom for Mingo.
Clementine Sureshot distracting the Goliath...with a shotgun.
But to move away from Monsters in melee combat you have to roll a D6, and the result must be higher than each adjacent Monster's Escape value.

Now all Mingo had to do was make his Escape roll...
Ding! A 6! Suck it monsters, Mingo's outta here!
With his +3 movement boost Mingo was able to easily run around the monsters on his turn and head toward the opening with his rescuer.

Mary throws one last dynamite at the Goliath as we sprint out of the mines.
Mingo was saved that day, and he and Clementine rode away from the mines with nary a regret  about actually not closing that Void Gate. I started to pull out the Town cards and quickly promised Mary I'd buy her more dynamite in Town to replace the one's she'd used, but then I checked the Failure conditions of the mission... That's when I learned that we can't visit a frontier town until we play another mission!

", I'll pay you back some other time?"
Clementine would not settle for an I.O.U., and Mary softly demanded I let her choose one of my Artifacts for the rescue. So with a glad but heavy heart, Mingo handed over the Plasma Arc rifle to Clementine in a gesture of good faith. Fortunately she let me keep the Deflector Shield, because she needed a good long-range weapon.
The heroic rescue of a damsel in distress.
Final thoughts: This game is still extremely fun, near-death experience aside. And the scaling of threat levels to number of characters is balanced, but only up to the Finale of each mission. Since the end of every mission requires you draw an Epic threat (regardless of # of characters), for a low-level solo character by themselves that is going to be almost impossible to beat. I think this game would benefit from alternative Mission finale objectives, such as skill tests or something other than combat once and a while. Ones that, if failed, then could result in big combats. As written the forced big combats at the end of every mission feel rather, well...forced, and are deathtraps for solos. Maybe instead of an Epic Threat card for a single character it could be a High Level threat card. That seems like an obvious house rule change. Maybe in a future FAQ that will be implemented.
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