Rangers Of Shadow Deep

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Review: A genuinely wonderful game

November 19, 2018 by georgesealy

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I'll admit, the first thing about this game that caught my interest was the prospect of solo/co-op play. Add in a strong narrative bent. Add in the fantasy skirmish element, not closely tied to a particular range of miniatures and this game has a lot to offer.  Add in that it is based on the Frostgrave rule set (which I like and own, but sadly haven't yet played - I have quite a few rule sets). With all this, there was a lot of potential joy or sadness when I bought the PDF on impulse 🙂

First off, the rule book is beautifully crafted. The artwork sets a style and feel for the rules that I really like. The initial flavour text introduces you to the Shadow Deep, a starting point for many tales of adventure. Then on to the rules - in general I dislike reading rules, but I found these to be easy to read, logical and laid out in a way that had me reading all the core rules in one setting. So a definite A+ from me on that front.

The rules have you generating a ranger, which is not as prescriptive as the D&D class of the same name. Yes you can wear a green cloak, carry a bow and track your enemies, but your ranger could as easily be a wizard searching for arcane knowledge, a priest sent to fight evil or a tank in armour valiantly challenging the dark. The rules encourage, rather than hinder this by giving you a basic stat line that you can spend point to alter, followed by abilities / spells to purchase and skills to learn. It feels like building a D&D character, but takes about 2 minutes.

Next up, your ranger needs companions - war hounds, rogues, conjurers, they're all here and adding your own would be trivial.

As for rules, they are simple yet cover most situations well. Halfway through our first game we had them all down, apart from the odd check on special rules. It is d20 based, which can be pretty brutal - you get used to seeing a hero plow through giant spiders only to have one turn and bite you with its poisonous teeth, leaving you with only a single activation (instead of two) per turn. The turn sequence and activation sequence is again simple and elegant, encouraging careful management of your heroes - stay close to the ranger or risk scattering to find more clues before you'e overwhelmed?

How does the game play for solo / co-op play? Very well is the short version. A simple 3 step decision making process governs the actions of monsters. It may sound like there's not a lot of depth here, but it actually plays very well. There's enough random elements thrown in that it's hard to predict too far in advance what the bad guys will do. Add in random events (sometimes every turn), or the unexpected results of a hero poking their nose into dangerous places and you'll find yourself making bad decisions with the best of intentions and having to recover to the best of your ability!

We played through the first two scenarios, which together make a single mission, or episode. We had two rangers exploring an abandoned village, trying to uncover what had happened to another ranger and the villagers. This then lead us on the trail of a nest of giant spiders that had turned many of the populace into zombies. Could we rescue the villagers? Eradicate the nest?

As you can probably tell, if you're still reading this review, I love this game. The strong narrative elements, combined with the flexibility to define your own heroes is a big win for me. The scenarios can play through quite differently each time, and this game is easy to drop into as an easy change from your regular game system. The co-op option is great, and encourages you to get lost in the world and enjoy yourself. In my case, it also inspires me to paint figures and create scenery too, always a good sign!

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