Shards of Infinity – Shadows of Salvation
I may have mentioned that I love a deck-builder. The way that everyone starts at the same level but everyone can go their own way. That feeling of satisfaction when you trigger a devastating combo. I even love the feeling of being completely owned by a finisher that comes out of nowhere.
When Shards of Infinity came out in 2018, I was smitten from the moment I played it – yeah, it resembles Star Realms, but can be played by four people, and the mechanic of powering up your character by gaining Mastery, which would power up some of your cards, giving you better draw power, damage, healing etc., but could also lead to an almighty INFINITE DAMAGE attack, meant that even if you were down to your last hit point, you could still ‘Thanos’ your opponents.
Relics of the Past
In 2019 we saw the release of the mini-expansion Relics of the Future, which allowed you to add ‘relics’ to your deck at a certain Mastery point and were all pretty beefy (though some were definitely better than others). It also introduced cards that would have additional abilities if used by particular characters, which added to the PvP rush as players either tried to gain particular cards or stop players from getting particular cards. It added a certain something to the game, but did not reinvent the wheel, as it were.
So it is now 2020, and though Shadows of Salvation was released in a limited fashion last year, it is definitely a game of this year, and it’s a bit of a game changer, though the core game remains very much untouched. What was once very much PvP can now be co-operative… very 2020.
A Boy and His Doges
Before we get to the co-op element, Shadows also comes with a whole new character to play, an extra set of starter cards, two new relics, a new faction and a new play dynamic, which means that even without the really new stuff, Shards is now a five-player game! The new character is Rez, who looks a bit like the Red Lantern version of Superboy (look, we’re in lockdown: catch up on DCs War of Light) and brings the power of ‘Warp’, allowing you to ‘fast play’ and discard any ally (of a certain cost) in the centre row without is having the ‘mercenary’ ability (basically, pay to play it now and put on the bottom of the deck).
These powers appear mostly on his robot dog allies, which also bring crystal spending power, attack power or drawing power, proving that even in robot form, these are the goodest boys! There is also an ally that can fast play AND capture a card, but that one isn’t a dog, so who cares about them? (but seriously, it really is a useful card) His champions help to bring all the goodest boys back to the yard, making his faction highly desirable… the only downside is that his relics are a bit… well… disappointing?
Maybe that’s too strong a word, but the cards are very much of a ‘last stand’ nature – one of them, when Mastery’d up to 20 allows you to banish three cards from your discard pile and use their effects, the other allows you a second turn straight away… but only once a game. In fact, you’d probably only want to use them if you were up against a bigger, badder adversary. Oh look, I’ve found something else in the box…
Shardians – now why didn’t I think of that before? This expansion also contains a co-op mode and, though it may not be War and Peace, it is a story based around the arrival of Superboy… I mean, Rez. According to the story, corrupted shard-wielders in the future are going to bring about the end of all things, and it is up to us – the shard masters (I prefer Shardians) – to put an end to their nefarious machinations by putting our differences aside and kicking some major shard-abusing butt.
The story is also the campaign, a choose-your-own adventure booklet with three chapters and a choice of three out of six end-of-level bosses to face (I say end-of-level, but this is a bit like Cuphead, where the boss IS the level). The bosses get harder as you go, natch, but aren’t on their own – each comes with their own mix-and-match 18-card deck of champions and abilities, which will damage your team, banish your cards, power up the big-bad and generally ruin your day.
This is where you have to co-operate though – everyone plays at the same time and you’ll have to decide between you who pick up which card, where damage goes and who gets healed (you may not be able to share cards, but you can share healing) – boss champions will sit in front of players doing damage until they are despatched, but there’s another good reason for knocking them out – once they are KO’d, they give their antagonist two mastery.
Unless You Master Your Feelings Your Feelings Will Master You...
This means that players, despite getting battered around fairly regularly, get to power up pretty quickly… if they survive, that is. The problem is that the boss is powering up to, unlocking more abilities and more devastating attacks – yeah, the pressure is definitely on.
Despite there only being six bosses in all, the choose-your-own adventure element allows you to have eight possible stories, and each boss has their own unique brand of nastiness (one of the bosses flips in and out of ‘Havoc’ mode, which has the potential to completely wipe out your lovingly-crafted deck) so there’s plenty of potential for replaying campaigns.
Also, at the end of every stage (even if you are completely creamed by the boss – timey-wimey Rez-boy stuff), you get to ‘save’ cards from previous encounters (including the mighty shield-tank Cryptofist Monk aka Lucio!) – essentially, you can customise your starter deck which will come in handy (believe me) as you face off against the tougher bosses. The saved cards are familiar faces from the draw deck, but having them available as starters… well it certainly gives potential beyond what is actually provided in the box.
Salvation Army or Shadow of Its Former Self?
Arant and Gary have already stated that there will only be a limited number of expansions to Shards of Infinity (I believe there’s only one left) and though Relics was a bit spare, Shadows really builds to the anticipation of what the grand finale will be. The production values remain excellent throughout, especially in Rez’s character card and the boss’s life-and-mastery tracker, the new Warp mechanic adds enough without breaking the game in all its iterations, I really like the co-op element despite it feeling a bit short (and the artwork in the booklet is great – hats off to Aaron Nakahara) - it all adds to the mythology and world which Shards of Infinity is (deck) building.
The best thing about it, though, is the scope for customisation – the new starter cards and bad guy champion factions have potential for life beyond the game as prescribed by Stone Blade… yeah, this game has, like it’s final boss, become self-aware. Surely nothing could go wrong there?