Tactical card games and RPG’s have a lot in common. Both involve careful planning, careful execution, and a lot of reflection on what went right and, all too often, what went wrong. Stats and numbers feature prominently in both as do themes and builds. Yet, we see so few examples of them overlapping. Shadowhand is an upcoming game from Grey Alien Games that is looking to add depth to the strategy card game by making it a full fledged RPG complete with stats, inventory, abilities, and equipment you can use to improve and enhance your success in tense duels against AI enemies. Building off of the success of their last game Regency Solitaire, indie team Grey Alien Games is looking to take their solitaire-style turn based combat formula a step further with deckbuilding and character building.
Developed by: Grey Alien Games
Published by: Positech Games
Release date: May 2017
- Duel powerful enemies with unique solitaire-style turn-based combat.
- We follow the story of Lady Cornelia Darkmoor, a beguiling young aristocrat who masquerades as the notorious highwaywoman, Shadowhand.
- Combining an historical visual novel narrative with a card-driven RPG, Shadowhand’s story spans 20 chapters of atmospheric locations including stormy coastlines, mysterious woods and gloomy manors.
Story and Setting
In Shadowhand we follow the story of Lady Cornelia Darkmoor, a well to do aristocrat by day and the outlaw highway-woman Shadowhand by night. The victim of a heist, she is forced to flee a crime scene and operate in the shadows in order to find her close female companion who vanishes during the heist. This isn’t a tale of a hero looking for romance or glory but instead is a tale of corruption, smuggling and blackmail and she is prepared to do whatever is needed, including dueling to the death to get to the truth.
A common theme of the game is the concept of disguises, playing off the popularity of masquerade balls during that time period. Using these conventions for her own convenience, she will be making use of a variety of costume upgrades that both hide her identity and upgrade her abilities in battle as she takes on the dark underworld of smugglers, thieves and other undesirables.
Although the game unfolds over a playmat style of cards you typically see in card games like Magic or Solitaire, the cutscenes and duel background settings all reinforce the historical narrative. There are a variety of locations to play across, includy moody coastlines and woods and the proverbial dark manors and the story unfolds across 20 chapters and 180 levels of action. The design of the cards reflects a similar sense of elegance and these period piece sensibilities.
The game combines the historic visual novel format with a card based RPG and puts you into some tense 1v1 duels via a novel turn-based combat flow. Successfully clearing encounters will gain you experience that you can spend to improve your character. Along the way you’ll also be gathering new weapons, outfits and loot that you can equip to improve your effectiveness during the heat of combat.
The fundamental backbone of the game is the solitaire-style mechanic. Although Solitaire sounds like the penultimate forever alone game, Shadowhand is anything but dull. The cards are numbered and choosing one higher or lower by 1 than the one from the draw pile is how you get going. Once you do, the game becomes about strategy and a number of dueling tactics emerge from the turn based mechanic.
Rather than roll a die or under the hood RNG to determine the outcomes as is common in RPGs, your goal is to get a good card draw, as you would in Magic. Every card you play increases the charge on your weapons which you can use when fully charged. If you get a long run of cards going, you can increase your attack bonus and have it result in a critical hit. As you progress through the game, you will be looting and buying a large variety of weapons and clothing items, which you can then equip strategically via the game’s full inventory system.
Deck building works within the inventory system and lets you choose from a variety of ability cards that compliment your preferred playstyle. They can allow you to do things like see into the future to see what cards are coming up, or other more chaotic functions. You’ll collect power up cards that slot into active and passive abilities as you play that will aid you as you play. They will do things like turning more cards up for you at the beginning of a turn or wiping out one of your enemy’s cards in the heat of combat.
In Shadowhand, weapons and outfits affect what happens in combat. So to get the game to operate as an RPG, there are 6 stats to your character which affect card play, which gives the game it’s RPG backbone while also making it stand apart from conventional RPG structure. Improving the stats of your character confers benefits like finding better loot with Luck, or using your improved Finesse to encourage a better card to come to the top of your deck. You can allocate up to ten points to each of the stats and some outfits let you go above that allocation. The game will give you 40 points to allocate, which allows for customization and specialization, as well as a reason to try different builds since you won’t be able to max each stat.
The weapons are all period specific and have different properties that can help you depending on the foe you’re taking on. They can perform a variety of things like pierce, stun, bleed, poison and more. Mixing and matching the different weapons and their special abilities are key to maximizing your charge when you’re going on a long card-play run.
Your outfits that you equip work on the converse and behave as armor would in a traditional RPG. They protect you from incoming damage but also work differently in the combat stances. Changing what you wear has a significant bearing on gameplay. Overall there are over 13 million unique permutations of clothing that you can slot in. Before a duel starts you are able to mouse over your load out and that of your foe and can change up what you’re wearing depending on what the enemy is bringing to battle. Jewelry and accessories round this out by conferring more gameplay and tactical benefits. There’s a lot you’ll be able to mix and match here, all in the name of fine tuning your card play.
The more I researched this game, the more I really became intrigued. There are a lot of interacting mechanics and adding and RPG stat spread and inventory/equipment option that not only affect the card play but have their own central focus is a great way to take an approachable concept like Solitaire and up the stakes and strategy to it. This feels like the kind of game you boot up to play for 15 minutes and find that 3 hours have gone by. It would be interesting to see it be expanded to a PvP setting at some point in the future, maybe as a DLC. Regardless this is one for the radar next month.