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Shifting Realms: Darkness Revealed Expansion - Kickstarter Preview

Quick Look:

Designers: Craig and Jeff Van Ness
Artists: Conceptopolis, John Ariosa, and Craig Van Ness
Publisher: Soaring Rhino
Year Published: 2020
No. of Players: 2-4
Ages: 10+
Playing Time: 60 minutes

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

WARNING: This is a preview of Darkness Revealed, an expansion for Shifting Realms. All components and rules are prototype and subject to change.

"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?"   
- David Jensen, Shifting Realms review, 2018.

Well... touché, Soaring Rhino. Touché.

The original Shifting Realms introduced five worlds, each with their own laws and rules, each sought after by the powers that be. Darkness Revealed, the game's first expansion, brings with it two new realms full of mystery and danger. Who will rule over these lands? Who dares to try?


Rules and Setup:
As I have already discussed the game's basic rules in my original review, I will direct you there for an overview. Darkness Revealed includes two additional realms for added gameplay options and variety: Knossos, the undiscovered land of the minotaurs; and Gehenna, the dark land of the demons. As with all other realms, these each include unique structures, tasks, and game-end conditions. In Knossos, players seek to discover the minotaur's treasure that has been lost, and rebuild the great labyrinth. Those seeking to restore Gehenna have a much darker task: bring in new followers to worship at their demon towers...forever.

Examples of all of the new Structure tiles. Prototypes, of course, so the edges are still rough, but love the art details!
As with the base game, should one or both of the new realm boards be selected for play, pull their Structure tiles and set them cost-side up next to their corresponding board. Shuffle the Story and Task cards, place the Story decks on the table, and give each player one of each realm's Task cards. Knossos has the most unique setup: before placing the Story deck, each player receives an equal number of Knossos Story cards, selects one card to keep, and passes the rest. This continues until each person only has one card left to pick from; these remaining cards are made into the draw deck, meaning that each player starts with a small hand of Story cards. (If you are playing with the Knossos board, you'll also need to shuffle and randomly place nine of the search tokens on the board, and make sure to have the labyrinth tiles nearby!)

The new realms' Task cards, each showcasing their respective town halls.
Theme and Mechanics:
Darkness Revealed has brought with it two great additions to the fantastical universe of Shifting Realms. While the core game included the usual races of elves, dwarfs, and orcs, and also had a few factions in the way of pirates and priests, minotaurs and demons are welcome additions to this game that just loves to get its chocolate in your peanut butter.

I think I may have overlooked it during my first review, but I love how the names for these realms aren't arbitrary. Historically, Knossos is the town where King Minos was said to dwell, and the location of the Minotaur's labyrinth; Gehenna, a small valley in Jerusalem, is synonymous with hell in both the Hebrew and Christian Bibles. Even the realms in the base game had connections to their characters' Norse mythology and real-world locations (though I couldn't find anything tying the orcs to the Norwegian municipality of Dovre--sorry, guys). As someone who greatly appreciates world-building, these connections to help tie the game's story to its real-world inspirations just warms me up inside.

Examples of the story cards. Notice how even their symbols (demonic flames, Greek lettering) match their origins--love it!
This expansion takes the basic mechanics (resource selection, grid movement, area control) and doubles down on them, HARD. Expert use of the labyrinth walls, which (unless I'm misunderstanding the rules--let me know!) can be placed in ANY realm, can completely thwart your enemies' plans, while the focus on searching Knossos for materials in the early game can be a big draw, so long as you've got some magic at your disposal.

The unique ability of Gehenna Story cards to allow you to steal opponents' units brings a whole new level of strategy to the game. Players can remove a scout from a resource tile, giving them a chance to collect resources while denying others. You could, however, pull a soldier from its ranks and force it into the halls of the demon towers, leaving his scouts undefended from your battle-hardened men. Regardless of what you choose, this realm certainly makes each player's actions seem much more personal; I'd recommend saving this board for your more cutthroat friends.

Are you foolish enough to believe you can escape the labyrinth?
Game Play:
If you couldn't tell from the subtext, I had a ton of fun with this expansion. Mixing these boards in with the base game brought about so many fun combinations. Building labyrinth walls in the realm of the dwarfs? The mighty dragon has no fear of such barriers! The priests seek new followers for their work? Try taking a page out of the demons' handbook--people listen better when they don't have a choice!

Goofy storytelling aside, there was never a combination of realms that "didn't work." Each land's rules, goals, and tactics meshed with any combination we thought to throw at it. Some setups put more of an emphasis on controlling key areas, while others were a resource fest, and others still ranged from lighthearted challenges to I-will-cut-you levels of competitive. There was never a time where it felt like things were dragging; it was always constant opportunities, tactics, and fun.

The demons begin to amass their army...
Artwork and Components:
In a similar vein of the base game, the art finds a nice common ground between realistic and stylistic, drawing you in with beautiful visuals and clean, easy-to-read symbols. The iconography helps to differentiate each realm easily, while the overall look still makes them feel like part of a shared universe.

With this being a prototype, the components aren't quite where they will be for the finished product (and the art, as well, may change). However, I'd assume they'll closely mimic the base game's materials. Time will tell, I suppose.

The Knossos search tiles and labyrinth walls. Simple and straightforward.
Darkness Revealed is everything you could hope for with an expansion. Not only does it provide new and unique ways to play, but it also does well to not lessen the base game's original parts. It enhances, not replaces. Throw in a few fun cultural references and some snazzy art, and you've got the perfect storm of goodies!

The only real weakness, if you can call it that, is that the demon realm's end-game condition--stealing opponents' units--can cause more frustration than the other realms, as it can sometimes be hard for players to not take such actions personally. However, the more ruthless of you may see this as a strength, so... more power to you!

Final Thoughts:
Okay, the box is getting pretty full now... but MAYBE they could fit a few more bits in there?

Players Who Like:
Those who enjoyed the core version of Shifting Realms or its inspirations (Scythe, Gloomhaven, or Twilight Imperium, to name a few) should definitely consider picking this guy up.

Check out Shifting Realms: Darkness Revealed on:

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/201446/shifting-realms   https://www.soaringrhino.com/shifting-realms-darkness-revealed   https://www.facebook.com/SoaringRhino   https://twitter.com/SoaringRhino     https://www.instagram.com/soaringrhino/

On KICKSTARTER now. Campaign ends February 11, 2020.

David Jensen - Editor and Reviewer

David has tried his hand at everything from warehouse work and washing dishes to delivering pizza. Now, he's trying his hand at writing creatively and working as an editor for a start-up literary magazine. When he's not busy procrastinating, he's running tabletop game sessions for friends and family.

See David's reviews HERE.
Shifting Realms: Darkness Revealed Expansion - Kickstarter Preview Shifting Realms: Darkness Revealed Expansion - Kickstarter Preview Reviewed by David J. on November 22, 2019 Rating: 5

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