A crime has been committed in Amsterdam. Not only have local law enforcement failed to solve it, but seem to want to prevent anyone else solving it. An anonymous tip to your detective agency sends you and your friends on a mission to evade the police and solve the crime. However, it seems you are not the only ones on the case…In Shadows: Amsterdam!
Scarves, hotels and traffic jams
The box art for Shadows: Amsterdam tells a tall tale. The anthropomorphised critters on the front stand up for truth and justice against a murky underworld. Surrounded, never knowing who to trust, who is playing who. Furtive phone calls deliver urgent information to a team of brave investigators willing to do what’s necessary to get the job done. They even ride their mopeds in cycle lanes dammit!
Reality is, at some point soon, someone is going to say: “what do you mean we were supposed to get ‘purple hotel’ from ‘traffic jam’ because there is a blue scarf in the picture?”.
Detectives and Intel
Despite the Mission Impossible inferences on the front of the box, Shadows: Amsterdam (designed by Mathieu Aubert) has much more in common with visual abstraction and hidden movement games than anything remotely deductive.
Players will split into two teams. On each there will be an Intelligence Officer who will provide information to the Detectives that make up the rest of the team. Using this information, the Detectives will try to determine where on the board three pieces of evidence are hidden and then get this evidence to their client all while avoiding the police.
The two-player roles in Shadows: Amsterdam are quite different.
The Intelligence Officers use a hidden map that indicates the location of the evidence, their clients and the police. Intel in the form of picture tiles is available from a shared pool and are chosen to communicate these locations to the Detectives.
No other forms of communication are allowed. The Intelligence Officer must remain completely silent throughout the game using only the Intel tiles as a trail of breadcrumbs for the Detectives to follow.
However, there is no direct relationships to the pictures on the Intel tiles and those on the board. Instead, the Intelligence Officer must choose pictures that will, they hope, lead their teammates to the next space they need to visit.
The Intel will indicate a tile one or two spaces away from the Detectives' current location. The Detectives must talk amongst themselves, working out between them what the Intel means.
The Intel had a brown door. Is the next location the one with the cake shop because the shop wall is brown? Does the balloon in the park mean anything? The boat is also brown, as is the bear in the suit? What significance does the skateboarding turtle hold?
Eventually, the detectives must reach as decision, moving their character to a new tile. Is it the evidence? Is it the police? If the Detectives are caught by the police three times, the other team wins. It’s the next piece of evidence, great. What’s the next Intel? Quick before the other team get their evidence.
Oh yes, this is all done simultaneously and in real-time.
Shadows Amsterdam - Game Components (Credit: Libellud)
Blue-ish Grey Sky
Shadows: Amsterdam is everything a party game should be. Simple, fun and holding the potential for plenty of player made laugh out loud moments. Hear the Intelligence Officers (silently) groan with frustration as their Detectives lurch across the board in the wrong direction. Again. Circling the correct location like satellites in orbit.
See the disbelief on the faces of the Detectives as they once again choose the wrong location. Surely the motorbike was pointing to the canal boat. They are both forms of transport. Be amazed by the post-game revelation: The motorbike was pointing to the building site because the sky was blue-ish grey in both pictures.
The pictures, so important for games with visual mechanics, are cartoony yet have a nice level of detail in them. There are plenty of tiles and combined with a double-sided modular board they provide a good amount of variety. The two character pieces are nicely made, the maps are easy to read and can be orientated multiple ways.
Minor quibbles relate to the screens behind which the intelligence officers hide the maps during play. Although functional, these are on the small side for the job required of them. You’ll already know whether real-time games are for you – a love or loathe mechanic if ever there was one.
The official player count for Shadows: Amsterdam is 2-8. However, this is a stretch and is perhaps the single big issue that Shadows: Amsterdam suffers from.
Essentially Shadows: Amsterdam is a race. For the 2-3 player game this is a race against a timer. Either using a stopwatch or the official downloadable app. With various difficulty levels this is a perfectly serviceable game.
However, such a huge proportion of the enjoyment comes from racing, not against the clock, but against friends. From knowing in advance that there is a mis-match in the thought processes of your team mates and from the joking and banter that their inevitable struggle provokes. At the two, three and, arguably, four-player counts, this just isn’t there in the same amounts.
Having said that, the six-player game shines and this may well override any concerns at the lower end of the player count. The short play time and good-humoured nature make it a great filler when there are not enough players for a bigger party game, or you want an alternative to social deduction style large group games.
Final Thoughts on Shadows: Amsterdam
Combining the visual abstraction of games like Dixit with the hidden movement and asymmetrical player roles of Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space; this is a simple game that provides a lot of fun.
If you are looking to fill that awkward niche of a party game that works well at six players, Shadows: Amsterdam has a lot to recommend it as an alternative to more well-known large group games.