Forest of Shadows is the new stand-alone expansion for One Deck Dungeon, a compact cooperative card game for 1 or 2 budding adventurers. What new challenges await you in the woods? And is the game any good? Let’s find out!
Forest of Shadows: What’s in the Box?
Forest of Shadows is nice and compact, but you get plenty crammed into your box. There are 5 heroes, half a dozen different dungeons with their bosses, a whole deck of cards to represent the encounters you find in the dungeon, an assortment of wooden tokens, and lots of dice.
The component quality is good throughout, the cards have a glossy finish, but are clear and sturdy. The dice are quite small, but again very clear and well-made.
Like the original One Deck Dungeon, all the player-characters in Forest of Shadows are female. They are also all appropriately dressed (the fairy is a possible exception, but she probably doesn’t confirm to human rules about warmth or armour). The 14+ rating is only for mechanical complexity, and I really like how wholesome the art is.
So how does it play?
1 Difficulty 1 Dungeon, 3 Difficulty 2, and 2 Difficulty 3
Each game of Forest of Shadows involves picking one of six Dungeons, and making your way through it. The “One deck” is made up of cards which have pictures of doors on one side, and encounters, Monsters or Peril, on the other. I really liked the simplicity and efficiency of the way the game utilises one component for multiple purposes. Cards can be:
- Placed face-down as the doors of the dungeon
- Face-up as encounters
- Discarded off the deck to mark the passage of time.
Each round begins with 2 cards discarded off the deck as time, then you have the option to “Explore” – refill the dungeon with doors, or to go through one of the doors already placed.
Kick down the Door – May contain moderate peril!
When you go through a door, you have the option to encounter the Monster or Peril behind it. Monsters represent a series of different challenges, and you’ll need to use all your skills against them. You assemble a pool of dice, based on your character’s stats. If you are playing the game 2-player, the other player assembles their dice too.
Peril encounters tend to represent less combat-focused dangers you find in the Forest of Shadows: bridges, cliffs, briar patches, etc. Rather than rolling all of your dice, you will choose one of two options, and then roll only dice of that colour. This is a nice touch as it adds a bit more flavour to the encounter – for example do you bash your way through the undergrowth (strength) or try to leap over it (agility)?
That’s How We Roll!
The version of the Hero (and therefore how many dice you roll) depends on whether you play solo or 2-player
Once you’ve assembled your pool of dice you roll them all, and then place them, looking to cover up boxes, both on the encounter and on the Dungeon itself.
To cover an encounter, you need to place dice with value(s) equal or greater than the number shown. Small boxes can only hold a single die, and large boxes which can be covered by any number of dice. Most boxes will be either Blue, Yellow, or Pink, and need covering with a dice of matching colour. The exceptions are grey boxes (mostly found on the Dungeon Environment itself), which can take any colour of dice, and Black dice, which act as “wild” colour-wise, and can be used for any box.
Getting Defensive: Shields
once you reach level 2 of this one, you’re not doing anything to a peril encounter until you get through those shields – at least they’re grey
Some boxes on encounters (or the Dungeon) in Forest of Shadows, will have shields, representing the encounter’s inherent defences. Boxes with shields must be covered before you can start placing dice elsewhere.
These can make life very difficult, especially in solo play, where you might find yourself on-course to do 4 or 5 different boxes, only to discover that you’ve been stopped at the first hurdle by an armour box you don’t have a colour match for.
The Heart of the Game: Making changes
If all there was to do in Forest of Shadows was roll dice and put them on an encounter, the game would be fairly dull and horrendously random. Fortunately, once the dice-rolling has happened, there are still loads of decisions to make.
Abilities will generally allow you to re-roll dice, or to spend dice of a certain colour or value to trigger an effect. Once you are a little way into the game, you will likely have multiple different abilities available to trigger, and working out how these can be linked together is where a lot of the head-scratching comes in. There’s something very satisfying about starting with a pool of rolled dice which look like they’re no use at all, and managing to gradually work your way to a point where you have most boxes on the encounter covered.
You can also acquire “wild” black dice, either by discarding 2 other dice (and taking the black die at the same value as the lowest value discarded), through levelling up, or through character-specific abilities – these are vital in covering weaknesses, and keeping the party in good health.
For the un-covered box on the Dungeon, discard 1 card for time, and take a poison token. Then discard a card for time due to the Pink 3, and take another Poison for the Blue 6
Once you have covered all the boxes you can, it’s time to resolve the encounter. It’s an interesting feature of Forest of Shadows that you always defeat the encounter (unless you decide to run away), but the dice you roll will determine how much you suffer in the process – covered boxes do nothing, but boxes that you don’t manage to cover can cost you time (more cards discarded off of the top of the deck), deal you damage, or – new for Forest of Shadows – poison you. You place a heart on your hero for each point of damage she takes, and a green poison token for each poison symbol. If your hero ever has as many damage on her as hearts printed on her card, she is KO-ed and the players lose the game. Poison is a bit more complex and will be explained below.
To the Victor the Spoils!
As an Item, this gives +1 Blue dice. As a skill, you can spend a Yellow die (any value) to roll another Yellow Die, then increase the value of any 1 of your dice by 1. Alternatively, you can just discard for 2 XP
When you claim an encounter in Forest of Shadows, you have 3 choices of what to do with it:
Equip it as an Item – slide it under your character, sticking out slightly to the left, where it shows what additional dice you get to roll
Take is as a Skill – it sticks out of the bottom of your character card, providing a new ability that you can trigger.
Discard it for XP – place it underneath the Level card.
The party starts at level 1, meaning that each hero can only have 1 skill, and 1 item. You spend XP from defeated encounters to help the party level up – each new level increases the number of skills you can have and the number of items you can equip, along with providing other benefits. By the time you face the boss enemy, you really need to be at level 3 or 4 to stand a decent chance of triumphing.
Forest of Shadows adds an extra dimension to some Trap encounters by linking rewards to challenges: the type of test you chose to roll will influence what you can do with the card afterwards. Whichever option you take, you will still be able to discard the card for XP, so there’s no risk of getting stuck with a useless card.
Down in the Depths
When you start playing One Deck Dungeon, discarding cards off the deck to mark the passage of time may not seem like a big deal. You’re not in any rush are you?
Well it turns out that yes, you are. Each time you run through the One Deck, you’ll find a flight of stairs, and once the stairs appear you’ll have to go down fairly soon (you can stall for a bit, but it will damage your heroes to do so).
Each Dungeon presents its own challenges, additional to the encounters themselves: One set for Monster encounters, and one for Peril. These are additional boxes that need to be filled in the same way as those on the encounters themselves. Each time you descend to a new level in the dungeon though, you reveal a new level, and an additional set of boxes to fill. This means that you need to be powering up your hero at least as fast as you descend, or things will quickly spiral out of control.
There are several different Dungeons to choose from in Forest of Shadows, each with their own requirements, and their own final boss to fight at the end. Again, I really liked the way that something as simple as a 1-card dungeon could alter the shape of encountering the same creatures from the deck.
Poison is a new feature for One Deck Dungeon, introduced for the first time in Forest of Shadows. Certain encounters can poison your heroes and, unchecked, an accumulation of poison can seriously damage your health. Every time your hero takes a turn to explore (refill the 4 doors), she must Resist Poison. Roll a dice, looking to roll higher than the number of poison tokens you have (encounters in play can modify this roll slightly). After rolling, you can remove a poison token. However, if you didn’t roll high enough, you also suffer 2 damage!
In many respects, poison is a fairly irritating feature of the Forest of Shadows, but mechanically it adds an interesting extra element to game-strategy. In an ideal world, you’ll only explore 1 turn in 5, wanting to waste as little time as possible between turns where you don’t get to face an encounter. However, if you go too long without exploring, your poison levels will build up to the point where it becomes difficult, or even impossible, to roll higher – if you slow down and explore more often, you’ll get multiple chances to resist poison, ideally against lower totals.
Putting it Together: Campaign Time
Forest of Shadows also includes a campaign sheet which allows you to link together multiple games of One Deck Dungeon, giving your hero extra power of the course of several sessions.
Campaign play probably isn’t worth bothering with in your first few games: you’ll have plenty to do figuring out how to beat the easier dungeons, and moving on to the harder ones. Still, this is just another example of how Forest of Shadows has loads of value crammed in one little box.
Forest of Shadows: Final Thoughts
Each time you go down the stairs, you reveal another level of the Dungeon, and another task with it
One Deck Dungeon Forest of Shadows is a fun little game – it’s very compact, well-made, and packs a lot into a small space.
As a dice-based game, there’s obviously a fair amount of luck involved, but the number of different ways you can combine dice and trigger abilities mean that you generally have a lot of options, almost regardless of what you roll. The fact that encounters can cost you time, but will generally go away (unless they kill you) generally means that it’s hard to get “stuck” with an impossible situation you can’t overcome, which keeps the game enjoyable.
The art and the theme are well done for a game which is really quite abstract when you get down to detail. If you’re an existing One Deck Dungeon fan, the poison mechanics and campaign pad in Forest of Shadows do offer an interesting new twist, and if you’re new to the series, then it’s a great place to start.
Overall I’d give this a solid 8/10.
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I'm an avid board and card-gamer, still trying to figure out where Board Gaming fits into life as the dad of a very grabby toddler.
I enjoy thematic games (Fantasy, Cthulhu, etc) and play a lot of cooperative games, along with a bit of competitive gaming (currently Legend of the Five Rings) when I can make it out of the house.
When not playing games, I can be found doing a mundane office job, or working on my own Blog, Fistful of Meeples.