All-consuming darkness threatens. Shadows swirl, seeking to envelop everything in their wake. But the Shamans are not going down without a fight! Summoning the power of spiritual rituals and artefacts, they need to stabilise the spirit world to chase the Shadows away. Question is, what side are you on? And will you be the ultimate victor?
In Shamans, the answer to that question is not set in stone. Indeed, in this social deduction, trick taking game, you could change roles any number of times before the final showdown!
Designed by Cedrick Chaboussit and published by Studio H and Hachette Board Games UK, this is a really unique and quite brilliant, not to mention beautiful, hidden-role playing game.
At its heart, it is a competitive trick taking game; over a series of rounds, players assume their secret identity (a Shaman or a Shadow) and take it in turns to lay cards representing 6 different worlds. The Guide (starting player) will set the suit to follow.
Cards laid down go onto the relevant slots on the central board. And just like the cards, the board is beautifully illustrated with a gorgeous, phased-moon illustration.
Don’t be fooled, however, for there’s a twist to this trickery. Whilst you don’t have to follow suit when you lay a card from your own hand (and indeed you may not be able to if you don’t have any of the colour in question!), mismatched cards will go onto their relevant slots on the board. Not only that but the Shadow pawn will move a space closer to the total eclipse. And when the light from the sun goes out, so do the Shamans’ hopes of winning the round and potentially the game!
When players do form a complete run of any coloured suit in a given round, however, play pauses as the specific Ritual from that world is cast. And each Ritual is different and powerful. For example, being able to eliminate a player or [change roles with another player] can suddenly flip reverse fortunes in a give round. Points are awarded to those who survived the round, as well as through Rituals and artefacts. And as the ultimate victor is the player who gets 8 points first, the ramifications and strategic power of decisions made short term can be felt beyond the limits of that particular round.
Stabby Stabby Strategy
The player who played the lowest card in the run will get to take a random artefact from a stack of round discs. This could reward with any number of bonuses from letting the player move the Shadow pawn in either direction, to giving them a weapon to attack the Shadow, or even forcing a player to reveal their own role. In contrast, the player who played the highest card in the Guide’s run will perform the Ritual for that world and be the Guide who kicks off the next round.
But, with mis-matched cards also being added to the main board, there is a chance that other runs will be completed. And this will enable more Rituals to be cast in the same round by the player laying the highest card to each one. And if you began any other run by placing its lowest value card, you’ll get an artefact to use in your favour or against another player!
This game is fascinating from a social as well as mechanical perspective. Trying to keep your role hidden in a game is always challenging, but usually you only have to focus on avoiding exposing one type of behaviour to stay hidden.
But in Shamans, following suit can be as revealing or discombobulating as not following it. Watching your other players with pure suspicion, each move on their part could be a slip revealing their true identity, or a bluff to put you off their shadowy scent. Conversely, it could mean nothing at all and simply be the only action they can actually take given the cards in their hand. Not that anybody around the table will believe anybody though!
As the game progresses, it will dawn on you that short term self-sabotage can be smart. Following suit like a good Shaman when in fact you’re the sinister Shadow. Or moving the Shadow pawn back one space in the hope that your opponents see you as an ally rather than the enemy. But this strategy can just as easily backfire and get you killed off before you have even realised you’re out of the round!
I also like how Shamans feels almost semi-co-operative in a sense but is ultimately every player for themselves. There will always be more Shamans than Shadows, so the light side is invested in furthering their collective cause. The winning position doesn’t have room for more than one, however, so treachery will out. With easy to learn rules, it makes for really tense, enjoyable game play and some inevitably shady speak. It is one that we like to bring off the shelf whenever we have at least 3 players at our table!