Shadows of Brimstone Review
Stats at a glance
Saloon girls, foreboding caves, gaping maws, and tentacles all in a socially acceptable box.
The mining town of Brimstone uncovered a purple stone that is infused with otherworldly energy. This new darkstone was highly sought-after and more valuable than gold. The darkstone rush was on and everyone wanted a piece of the action. As more and more darkstone was mined and gathered together, the glow and energies intensified from the stone until it erupted in an explosion of eldritch energies. The ensuing earthquakes shattered the earth. Hidden tunnels were uncovered and hideous monsters began pouring into the mine from the deep.
The allure of darkstone and the promise of money outweighs the danger of horrific death and mutation for some. There’s a treasure trove of darkstone still hidden within those mines. All you need to do is go down and get it.
Read the full Shadows of Brimstone board game review below.
A Brief Overview of Shadows of Brimstone
Shadows of Brimstone is a Cthulhu-inspired, western-themed, dungeon crawler.
Players will be able to play one-shot missions while exploring the depths of the mines or they can play a campaign mode where characters generate experience, retain abilities, and injuries throughout the course of the campaign.
Players will need to enter the mines beneath the town of Brimstone and risk mutation and dismemberment for a chance at untold wealth and power. Hidden within the depth of the mines, players will need to quickly find their objective or risk being consumed by the monsters of the deep.
Horrific mutations and abominations await and within the very depths of the mines players will find portals opened to other words where even worse creatures lurk in the dark.
Versions and Expansions
City of the Ancients
One of the 3 core versions of the game, City of the Ancients has players delving into the mines of Brimstone and discovering portals into the iceworld of Targa, where automatons patrol the long-abandoned city.
Swamps of Death
In Swamps of Death, the portals beneath the city lead to a primordial swampland where players face dinosaurs out of time and feral tribes hell-bent on destroying any intruders in their land.
Shadows of Brimstone: Forbidden Fortress
If the cowboy thing isn’t really your scene, Flying Frog put out a new Core/Expansion called Forbidden Fortress that takes place in feudal Japan. It adds some Oni and magic into the fray along with swords. The sets are completely compatible so you can also mix-and-match and be the lone samurai wandering through Brimstone.
Mission Packs & Character Packs
If for whatever reason you manage to get bored with all of the missions and expansions, Shadows of Brimstone has a massive following and there are numerous fan-made versions of maps and scenarios online that players have created.
Unboxing Shadows of Brimstone
The first thing you’ll notice is that Flying Frog pulled out all the stops on this box. It’s absolutely massive.
Shadows of Brimstone is a lot of game included in one box. Even without any of the 2 major expansions, there’s a lot to go through.
The game comes with 2 booklets: the core rulebook and the adventure book. The adventure booklet you’ll be referring to for character developments and plot points that appear during your adventures into the deep of Brimstone. Both booklets are beautifully done and in full color and have excellent images throughout.
Instruction nerds and rule lords will have a fun time going through the core rulebook. It is written in a bit of a roundabout way that will have you scratching your head at certain points, but luckily there’s a lot of support groups online from BGG and Reddit that have rule clarifications for you. If you’re completely lost on a rule, chances are if you Google it, someone had the same question and it’s already been answered.
Next, come the decks of cards. There are around 15 different card decks that come with the cards. If you’re a sleever then you’re going to have to stock up on a lot of sleeves for this one.
The next packet you’re going to see is the models. I was really excited about the models. They aren’t like most board games. They come on plastic sprues and you’ll have to make several of them. Don’t be scared. They’re very simple to build and will only take a little bit of glue. You don’t need to paint them, but as all mini-gamers know, models that are painted perform better in-game. It’s science, and you can’t argue with science.
To go along with all those cool tentacle monster models and hero characters are the corresponding cards. The hero cards have ability and stats on them, while the monster cards, in a stroke of genius, are double-sided. The enemy cards have a regular side and a BRUTAL side. If the hordes of monsters aren’t challenging enough you can always flip the enemy card to the brutal side to really feel the burn.
At the very bottom of the box buried under the tray is a massive shrink-wrapped pack of tokens and map tiles. Seriously, it’s huge. If you are one of those people that enjoy popping out new components this alone will be worth the buy.
The production value for Brimstone is absolutely amazing. The only thing I have a legitimate complaint with is the storage. There’s so much great stuff in this box, but it’s an absolute pain to keep neatly together. The map tiles I mention are going to be knocked around and floating around the box while in storage. I’ll have to find a better storage solution for them because although they are rather sturdy, I worry about warping if they’re just thrown in the box.
How to Play Shadows of Brimstone
Shadows of Brimstone can be played in two ways, either as a one-shot standalone game or as a progressive campaign. The basic rules will be the same, but in the campaign mode, players are able to spend their wealth in town to upgrade their characters and equipment, but they also retain their injuries and abilities throughout the campaign.
The base game comes with 4 characters, making that the maximum players allowable, but with any of the big box expansions, you’ll be able to increase the player limit to 6.
The base characters are:
- Saloon Girl
- US Marshall
The stats all vary slightly depending on the character’s background, but all are viable choices so I just pick the ones I think would make a fun story.
Each character has unique abilities and stats listed right on the character card. As you progress in a campaign, you can possibly get new useful upgrades in between missions by leveling up, or you could get some nasty permanent injuries or mutations from too much darkstone or botched medical practices.
You also may notice some of the stat numbers have plus (+) next to them (4+ for example). These are your saves and hit rolls. If your melee skill has a 4+ then you’ll need to roll at least a 4 to hit with a melee attack.
If your defense is a 4+ you’ll get a chance to dodge/defend and need to roll at least a 4. On these numbers, the lower number is more beneficial to your characters. If you have a 2+ roll that means the only way you can miss on the roll is by rolling a 1.
During a player’s turn, they can move and make 1 search. Movement is again handled through dice. 1d6 equals the movement value on one turn. Players can move onto any space they currently touch, including diagonal, but they can’t move through walls or any other characters (monster or hero).
There are 2 ways to search. Players search around the current room and attempt to loot it, or they can scout ahead and look into an adjacent room. Searching the room can only be done once per game.
Players roll 3 dice; any 6’s result in a success and players will shuffle all of the scavenge deck cards (there is no discard; you shuffle and draw all cards every time) together and draw one.
The rules say that there are ⅓ good, bad, and neutral cards in the scavenge deck, but I always end up getting the bad stuff. Many of the scenarios require you to search for certain points during the quest so you can’t simply run through a game without searching.
Searching by scouting ahead allows players to draw another map tile and place it on the board before running right into the room. This can give a bit of insight into the room and help plan out a course of action in case you get ambushed immediately after walking in.
Grit points are your special ability points. They are needed to use some special abilities, to reroll dice. They are generally limited but extremely useful.
As the players move further into the mines, they will mark it down on the depth tracker. Throughout the entire game, players will make rolls at the beginning of the game to hold back the darkness of the mine from escaping and wreaking havoc on the world above.
As players go deeper into the mine (and the longer they stay in the mine) the harder it becomes to hold back the darkness. If players have angered the RNG Dice Gods and roll double on the darkness roll then the Darkness gets a surge of power and Darkness events will occur. This will be painful for everyone.
In another clever mechanic move, players will collect “growing dread” cards over the course of a mission. As the depth tracker moves forward, there are certain spaces that prompt players to draw a growing dread card. Draw it and place it face down off to the side.
There’s also an exploration token that will prompt to add to the dread pile. As the growing dread pile grows, the dread of the actual players will grow because as soon as the objective is completed and the final boss appears, all of the growing dread tiles are flipped over and bad things start to happen. It could spawn more monsters for the final boss, or buff the monsters in the final fight. Whatever happens, it’s going to be bad.
Players can sometimes lower the amount of growing dread cards in the stack if they have enough grit points saved up for the final fight, but usually, it’s just going to be a bad day for everyone.
I really like the way they spawn monsters in Brimstone. Players will spawn monsters using a threat deck. There are 4 levels of threats and the higher threat decks can add even more threat cards to an encounter.
It can be extremely overwhelming at times, but I’ve never felt the urge to flip the board while playing.
Some threat cards have a variable number of monsters to spawn on the card. This is indicated by the P dice. So 2P means that players will need to roll the P(eril) dice 2 times and add all the results. That’s the number of monsters that are spawned.
If you’ve played any Cthulhu-themed game then the wound system will be familiar to you. Wounds are your physical health, and sanity is your mental health. Both are extremely important and you don’t want either to go over your max. Too many physical wounds and you’ll die. Too many hits to your sanity and you’ll go insane and become a gibbering mess.
The map deck is an interesting way of randomizing the map. Simply shuffle the cards and draw off the top. You’ll have to then search the map tiles for the matching tile on the card and place it in the room that just opened up. It’s pretty simple but a bit annoying at the beginning when there’s a huge stack of tiles to search through.
Each monster type will have a corresponding monster card that has all of its relevant stats and abilities. If you’re feeling froggy or a little masochistic then you can flip the card to the brutal side where the monster’s stats are buffed and much much stronger.
In the campaign game, players will embark on an epic quest with permanent characters. They will grow, gain experience and abilities, and suffer some scars along the way. In between missions, players will be able to spend the looted darkstone they’ve recovered from missions to upgrade equipment and their abilities.
Using darkstone is never safe however and the more darkstone that is acquired, the more likely that horrific mutations will occur to your character. The corrupting influence will eventually seep in and start to change everyone it comes in contact with.
Along with corruption players who are injured during missions can attempt to have the town doctor take a look. This is all dice-based and there’s a possibility of having a permanent injury instead of full recoveries.
Your First Game of Shadows of Brimstone
The rulebook does a pretty decent job of getting players right into the game with the first scenario. It’s a straightforward mission that introduces all of the basic rules and gets players used to the game. It does leave out some of the advanced rules that give the game a lot of thematic flair, but it’s a necessary diversion to ensure players know what the heck they are doing in the beginning.
In your first mission, your heroes will be tipped off to a hidden store of darkstone buried in the mines. All you’ll have to do is go and pick it up. It’s designed to get the basic mechanics down before you go spelunking through portals and have to face down the big boy tentacle monsters.
Step 1: Make your character.
There are only 4 to choose from in the base game. For your first game, I would suggest trying whatever character looks coolest to you. If you decide to start a campaign mode later, I would start a completely new character and consider your first game a prologue so you’re not worried about growing abilities or letting people die, and you can focus on learning the game.
Step 2: Set up the board.
For many players, this first setup is going to take the longest. You don’t need to create every model for the first game, but if you’re already clipping pieces of sprues and gluing, you might as well do all of them at once.
If you decide to start painting them, I’ve found that it works best if you assembly-line the process. Prime everything all at once. Base coat in batches for the same monsters and so on. That will speed it up, but painting isn’t necessary to enjoy the game or to play it.
Step 3: Play the game.
Players will need to search for the hidden cache of Darkstone. Heroes start by exploring the mine to find 2 exploration tokens with the red “!” (exclamation). The second red (!) exploration token they find is the hidden cache of darkstone and starts the endgame of the mission. Once found, players must resolve a High Threat Card (red).
This is where it can get real nasty in-game. Higher threat cards can spawn huge monsters or can prompt players to draw additional threat cards of lower difficulty. It’s not impossible to walk into a room and draw a single Epic Threat Card that snowballs into multiple other threat cards.
You could literally walk into a room and all of a sudden have 20 monsters to deal with. Not necessarily fun for the characters, but nobody said this was going to be easy.
The Pros and Cons of Shadows of Brimstone
- Probably the most interesting leveling system I’ve ever seen
- Artwork and theme mesh beautifully together.
- Excellent story-driven dungeon crawler gameplay
- Combat can seem absolutely overwhelming at times.
- Relies heavily on random mechanics.
- Making models can be intimidating for first-timers.
Some more rule-savvy players may notice some of the flaws built within the game. The mechanics are highly dependent on randomness that can quickly have players walking into a new room and finding it overflowing with monsters, especially when it comes to final boss confrontations.
The stacked effects of boss fights definitely adds to the atmosphere of growing horror and danger, and you can get extremely unlucky with some monster spawns by drawing card after card that forces you to add more monsters and continue drawing cards.
That being said, I really enjoy the monster spawns. It’s a lot, but at the same time, I’ve never been so overwhelmed that I’ve rage-quit the game.
There are definitely going to be times when missions become too hard due to the growing darkness or growing dread, but everything makes thematic sense and works so well, that it doesn’t bother me.
Shadows of Brimstone Review (TL;DR)
- Fully-cooperative dungeon-crawler set in the Old West, with a dose of Lovecraftian horror
- Create characters based on the Western Hero archetype: Law Man, Gunslinger, or Saloon Girl
- The goal is to venture down into the mines to collect valuable darkstone and survive, without being maimed, killed, or driven insane by the horrors that await in the depths.
- Lots of tactical gameplay, lots of dice, and a card-driven exploration system
- Gain experience and build your character from one game to the next in Campaign Mode
- Combine City of Ancients with Swamps of Death to allow for up to 6 players
Shadows of Brimstone at first glance is a pile of contradictions and themes that shouldn’t make sense, but everything works so incredibly well. The Cowboys vs. Cthulhu mashup makes for such an interesting world that you’ll constantly want to keep returning to the game.
I love the leveling mechanics and thematic elements thrown into the game. The persistent injuries, mutations, and equipment make characters that are memorable full of thematic moments. Usually, in a game, players start out as bright and shiny new novice heroes and become wrecking balls that smash through the late game. Players in Shadows of Brimstone don’t end up quite like that. They’ll have stronger equipment and abilities, but they’re also battle-hardened, grizzled, and twitchy.
By the time you hit the higher levels, your characters have seen some shi*t. Although the dark stone is highly valuable for upgrading your characters, too much can see your players mutating into horrors or destroying their minds and weathering away at their personality.
On top of that, for every significant injury your characters receive, they could end up with crippling injuries. A series of bad dice rolls while fighting can turn an optimistic US Marshall into a bitter, crazy old man with a shotgun real quick.
You are going to be rolling an insane amount of dice. Most mechanics in the game require players to roll dice.
If you attack, roll some dice.
Get attacked, roll some dice.
See something spooky, roll some dice.
Move around town, roll some dice.
There are a lot of dice, and because of that, there’s a lot of randomness that comes with the game. This is mitigated a bit by the use of abilities and grit, but the fact remains that the majority of actions are dependent on 6 numbers.
If you absolutely hate dice, that may be a hard pill to swallow. I’m somewhat neutral on the topic myself.
My favorite thing in board games is the shared experience of players. What story can we all create when we come to the table? Shadows of Brimstone’s response: a damn good one.
There is so much story and so many crazy moments that happen over the course of the game. Each story is going to be completely different. As you progress through a campaign, your characters will come to life with personalities that you never even considered popping up. It’s so much fun watching everyone’s character grow while trying to protect them from madness and injury.
Any flaws that this game might have I think are vastly overshadowed by its ability to tell a compelling story and provide amazing gameplay. You’ll find yourself drawn to the world of Brimstone time and time again.
What did you think of Shadows of Brimstone? Have you played any of the other versions? Drop a comment below and let us know what you think of our review. Happy gaming!
There’s a few important things not mentioned that will become apparent if you play through a campaign.
Firstly, you can buy things in town for which there are no corresponding cards. That means you are going to end up with a mixture of pretty cards and notes on a character sheet. This is awkward if you have a blacksmith upgrade attached to one of your card weapon/clothing items. The workaround is to either write down everything on the character sheet and abandon the cards, or to make your own cards (I did the latter).
Secondly, by mid-campaign you will have a wide range of abilities, and it can be difficult to remember what triggers when, what you can spend grit on, etc. I was playing a solo campaign with two characters and I gave up at 5th level because I was constantly forgetting to trigger abilities: and I was struggling to fit the swathe of cards on the table.
Thirdly, there’s no included way of tracking XP and money other than to write it down on a notepad. Almost every action scores XP, so there’s a lot of scribbling down. I recently started using poker chips for XP and monopoly money.
Given those Cons, I will add these Pros:
* Works really well as a solo game. Even with one character: you’ll be failing missions a lot, but you are more likely to get an interesting injury and a story to tell than you are to die.
* Really good theme. I like to put some Ligeti on shuffle when I reach an otherworld, it’s really atmospheric.
Thanks for the awesome comment and good call with the Ligeti and the poker chips. I’ll have to try that out next time I play. After a while it does remind me of a D&D character sheet. I really appreciate your in-depth analysis. I definitely need to try it again as a solo run.
Thanks a bunch,