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Shifting Realms Review

Quick Look:

Designers: Craig and Jeff Van Ness
Artists: Conceptopolis, John Ariosa, and Craig Van Ness
Publisher: Soaring Rhino
Year Published: 2018
No. of Players: 2-4
Ages: 10+
Playing Time: 60 minutes

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

For millennia, a secret brotherhood known as the Keepers maintained order throughout space and time. They guarded the eternal talisman known as the Pranankh, the cornerstone  of all dimensions that kept the universes safe and in order. Over the last several centuries, four factions have have emerged within the Keepers. Due to their struggle for dominance, the Keepers lost sight of their appointed task, allowing the Prnankh to shatter and causing massive destruction across all dimensions and worlds. Now, as one of the four factions, you are attempting to repair the damage. Can you restore order to the realms - and can you win control of the Keepers in the process?

Shifting Realms has players taking on the roles of the Keepers, attempting to help rebuild the dimensions while also staying ahead of the competition. Through building structures, supplying troops, and advancing the stories of the realms, players will also acquire Victory Points (VP) and supplies to help them in their efforts. Once the objectives of two of the three realms have been completed, players tally up their resources and VP to see who will become the ruler of the Keepers and of the dimensions!


Rules and Setup:

On a player's turn, they can perform up to three actions (including multiple uses of the same action, if desired) and collect resources. The actions available are as follows:

1. Recruit Units - by spending one gold, you can purchase two units of any type. Soldiers are able to fight other units; scouts cannot fight, but they can collect resources. Units must be placed on a town hall space or a space with a structure tile owned by you.

2. Move - as an action, you can move any number of units up to three spaces, so long as the movements are not diagonal. Also, if you choose to use multiple actions for movement, you cannot move the same unit twice.

3. Build Structures - after paying the required resources, you can place one structure tile on the matching realm and type, including putting a scout on the ownership space (if you have no extra scouts, you must use one already on the board). You must either have a unit on or adjacent to the spot you wish to build on, or you must have a structure adjacent to the space you want to build on. Once a structure has been placed, you can move all units from the tile to the town hall space, and you gain VP equal to what is shown on the tile.

4. Draw a Story Card - you can choose to draw a card as an action (this action can only be chosen a maximum of two times per turn) and place it into your hand. There is no limit to the number of cards you can have in your hand. Story cards can be single events (one time use) or permanent, and each card can only be played at certain times.

After performing their actions, players gather any resources from spaces on which they have scouts, as well as from structures they own that produce resources.

Fighting, while not considered an action, can happen at any point before or after an action. If a soldier attacks an unprotected scout (meaning there is no enemy soldier on the same space), the scout is destroyed and any other scouts on that space flee to the town hall of the realm. If there is an enemy soldier protecting scouts (up to two per soldier) or alone, the soldier must attack them, and both units are destroyed. This number is increased in a two-player game, where it takes two soldiers attacking to eliminate one enemy soldier.

The game immediately ends when either two of the three game-ending objectives are met, or when all structures have been built. The current player gets to gather their final resources, and then each player tallies up their VP and resources. Whoever has the most VP after Task and Story cards have been resolved is the winner, with a tie going to the person with the most structures built.

Setup begins by randomly selecting three of the five possible realm boards. These three boards are lined up in a vertical column, facing the same direction, and the scoring track is assembled and placed next to the realm boards. Each realm has specific Story and Task cards and structure tiles; the cards must be shuffled, with the Story cards being placed by the appropriate board and each player receiving a Task card, while the tiles are grouped and placed next to the Story cards with the cost side face up. Each of the four types of resource tokens (gold, wood, stone, and magic) are placed within reach of players. Each player takes five starting gold and their appropriate soldier and scout tokens.

The final task before starting the game is bidding for turn order cards. Each player selects an amount of their starting gold (anywhere from zero to five) to bid for first choice in cards; the highest bidder selects their desired card first, then the next-highest bidder chooses, and so on. In the event of a tie, the cards are shuffled, and whoever draws a lower card gets to choose first.

Theme and Mechanics:

At first glance, Shifting Realms doesn't venture far outside of relatively tame fantasy tropes; elves, dwarves, trolls, pirates, dragons - the gang's all here. However, the idea of the Keepers, these omnipotent beings trying to right the wrongs of the realms while also competing for victory, stuck out to me as odd. Why not simply have the players acting as citizens of the realms acting independently? Why shoehorn the idea of the "Keepers" into the game? And then, it hit me: the Keepers are literally players, able to look over all the realms and affect them as they see fit, competing for dominance against the others.

There's something about this concept that I simply love. In most games, you're either playing a character directly interacting with the world around you (such as with Betrayal at House on the Hill), or simply acting as a player trying to "win" the game (like in Catan). Somehow, Shifting Realms merges the two in a way that aligns the player's desires and actions with that of the Keepers they play. Am I reading way too into this? Perhaps. Is it still a cool design idea? I'd like to think so.

The major mechanics within Shifting Realms include resource collection, grid movement, and area control, all of which are masterfully used to create a deep level of strategy with just a hint of luck. Allowing three actions per turn means that there's always several avenues for a player to pursue, whether that be building an army or trying your luck with Story cards. Combat not counting as an action is an interesting change from the norm, as its use is crucial in establishing dominance and making room for your own scouts to collect resources. The game also does a good job of including other, more minor mechanics in interesting ways (such as the betting mechanic for deciding turn order), and the randomization of realm selection and placement means that each game will be just a little different.

Game Play:

If I'm being honest, the last game I played with a focus on area control was Risk (I know, I'm horribly behind on my gaming history), so Shifting Realms was definitely a shock to the system. However, it was a blast to play every time. Not only did I enjoy competing for resources, structures, and armies, but the unique opportunities and goals within each realm added an extra depth of gameplay. Plus, using a dragon to wipe out my opponents was just way too fun.

One of my favorite aspects was the Task cards, unique (and secret) challenges from each realm that grant extra VP at the end of the game, so long as the player fulfills the requirements. Not only do they give extra opportunities for late-game victory, but they also provide an extra layer of strategy as players attempt to suss out what their enemies might be going for and attempt to cut them off.

Artwork and Components:

The art style used in Shifting Realms is a nice balance between realistic and stylized. They also did a very good job at keeping things standard across the board (no pun intended), making it easy for players to easily identify locations and resources. Each structure tile has two sides, with the gray "cost" side showing pertinent building information (necessary resources, where the structure can be built) and the "built" side in full color without the extra info cluttering it up. There are also certain design elements that carry across the different tiles, cards, and realm boards, making it easy to separate out which components go with which realm.

Speaking of components, there are lots to go through here. 45 structure tiles, 70 cards, 105 resource tokens, 64 scout tokens, and 40 soldier meeples, not to mention the game boards, score track, and the dragon miniature and troll king tokens. The developers did a good job of differentiating things by shape (squares for resources, cylinders for scouts) and color to prevent confusion, and there's even minor differences between each color of soldier meeple to help those who may be colorblind. I'm still not sure how I feel about the sweet-looking dragon juxtaposed with the simplistic tokens, but if that's my biggest complaint with the game, there's not much to complain about.


Shifting Realms is one of those games where the hours upon hours of playtesting can be plainly seen. It features a blending of tried-and-true mechanics used in fun and unique ways, along with a modular board that changes every time you play so that no two games will ever be exactly the same. It allows for a variety of different play styles, and it's both welcoming to newcomers and a fun challenge for veterans.


The only downside I can think to mention is superficial - some people might not like the blending of defined miniatures with simple cubes, in which case this isn't the game for you. Otherwise, the rulebook is well written, the gameplay is fun, and setup is a breeze - it's hard to find things to complain about!

Final Thoughts:

The game box does have an insert, though it seems a bit like there's lots of extra, unused space - perhaps for expansions down the line?

Players Who Like:

Fans of Scythe, Twilight Imperium, and other area control games will find this to be a fun addition, though games will likely run shorter. Those who enjoy the modular board and movement of Gloomhaven will also have some familiar mechanics to get them into the game.

Check out Shifting Realms on:

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/201446/shifting-realms   https://www.soaringrhino.com/shifting-realms/   https://www.facebook.com/SoaringRhino   https://twitter.com/SoaringRhino   https://www.instagram.com/soaringrhino/   https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2N4-i_RLTYeeW2-fLL98iw   

About the Author:
David Jensen has tried his hand at everything from warehouse work and truck driving to washing dishes and delivering pizza. Now, he writes reviews, edits a literary magazine, and moonlights as a functioning member of society. When not busy procrastinating, he's playing tabletop games with friends and making spreadsheets... for fun.
Shifting Realms Review Shifting Realms Review Reviewed by David J. on August 30, 2018 Rating: 5

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