Shamans is a trick taking hidden role point scoring game that uses a mixture of success and failure in suit matching to either help the Shamans restore harmony to the world or allow the Shadows to win through.
My recent endeavour with Brian Boru piqued my interest in the trick taking side of things, and so I was cautiously optimistic about what Shamans was likely to be bringing to the table. I’ve never entirely got on with the hidden role type of game though, and only because it requires a certain type of person to play them with and get something out of it. You need more than just the mechanical aspect of a hidden role in order for it to really shine as it usually requires scheming over and above the regular mechanics.
Every round you’ll be playing cards that either match the lead suit or defy it and move the ominous Shadow pawn towards the end of the track and therefore win the round. Cards that are played that don’t match the lead suit are played into their world areas and once a desired number based on player count is reached then the ritual for that particular world is performed. The rituals on offered can move the Shadow pawn, or award you a victory point, or even allow you to eliminate another player from that particular round. The round ends when either the cards run out for the players, the last Shadow player is eliminated or if the Shadow pawn reaches the Moon and wins the round. There’s also the chance to earn and play artifacts which will bring in game effects as you play.
Shamans really looks the part here. The mixture of semi muted colours and abstract art really helps to set the scene that you are doing something BIG in the grand scheme of things. It really helps create an abstract table presence when the game is in full swing and I really appreciate the quality of the card art. This is mirrored across the entire game in everything from the game board to the individual artifact tokens. Make sure you are playing in a well lit room, but only because those with colour blindness might struggle with the differences between some of the colours, but thank goodness most of the cards have their own symbol as a differentiator.
I’m not entirely sold on the hidden role part of the game? I appreciate it changes the win condition for the round based on who you are, but unlike other hidden role games where the differences between who is good and bad can be quite subtle, it can be fairly obvious from within the first couple of card plays who is most likely to be the Shadow, especially if they are vying to be the person in control of the Ritual Dagger that allows you to eliminate other players. It becomes pretty clear when one of the players is playing off suit cards and advancing the Shadow pawn ominously towards the win. I kind of get it and I honestly kind of don’t and I wonder if the game would be more vicious and obviously competitive if the roles were known from the beginning. There is player elimination, but it doesn’t last longer than it takes for a round to be played as you end up back in the game, so I could see some sweet moments as a previous eliminated person has the chance to gain revenge by purposefully playing their hand of cards to push the Shadow token towards its horrible end.
Shamans doesn’t do anything particularly bad and both its production values and core mechanics are very sound and there has been some real effort put in to make this title stand out, not only on the table, but on the shelf as well. It’s another one of these games that needs the right kind of people to play with, those who are willing to be bad winners and scheming losers. I can see it really shining at the highest player count when their are two Shadows in play. I don’t live in a bubble, I’ve seen Shamans nominated recently for some awards and so it made me wonder what the fuss was about. As it turns out in this case it’s not really the game at fault here. It took something like Brian Boru to convince me trick taking is something I can enjoy after many failed attempts with other games. I think it is unfair for me to ask Cedrick Chaboussit to do all the heavy lifting to try to make me learn to love the hidden roles in Shamans. It’s going to hit the right kind of players with smiles and backstabbing and double crossing. I appreciate its efforts and intent, and it will definitely shine on someone else’s table. Just not mine.
You can find out more about Hachette Games by visiting https://www.hachetteboardgames.co.uk/
Game Design – Cedrick Chaboussit
Illustrated – Maud Chalmel
Publisher – Studio H
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This review is based on the final retail version of the game provided to us by Hachette Games. We were not paid for this review. We give a general overview of the gameplay and so not all of the mechanical aspects of the game may be mentioned.