Some games are so enjoyable that you won’t mind playing them on a weekly basis. Shadow Hunters is one of those games.
It helps that it caters towards a group of 6-8 people, which is what we normally have during weekly meetups. More importantly, though, it’s a quick, lighthearted, and enjoyable game featuring cooperative action and hidden identities.
As its name would indicate, Shadow Hunters involves Hunters and Shadows. Or good and evil if you’re a fan of more traditional monikers. Before the game begins, players are dealt their roles, which are kept secret through most of the game. If you are a Shadow, your goal is to kill all the Hunters. If you’re a Hunter, your mission is to eliminate all the Shadows. Pretty straight forward, right? There’s a curveball coming, though: there is also a Neutral faction with their own win conditions. These range from being the first to die, gaining five items (good luck), or being alive when the game is over. To further through a wrench into plans, if seven or more people are playing, the Shadows need to kill a combination of three Hunters or Neutrals.
All of this goes on while you have no idea who everyone else is. Thankfully, the game will help you out there… sometimes. Players will explore a board filled with several spaces. On your turn, you’ll roll a six-sided and four-sided dice and move to the space that corresponds with your number. The actions you take will also correspond with the space your own. These range from picking up equipment to gaining knowledge on your other players. Gaining knowledge isn’t exactly straight forward, though. The cards will ask questions such as “I bet your a Shadow or a Neutral, if so take 1 damage.” You’ll pass this card to someone and they’ll take an appropriate action. If they take damage, they’re either a Shadow or a Neutral. If not, they’re a Hunter. There are cards, sadly, that are a bit useless. For example, one says “I bet you have 12 or more HP!” This doesn’t narrow down a player’s faction at all and our playgroup is always oh so sad to see it be drawn. Luck of the draw, I suppose; Shadow Hunters does a good job to avoid the perils of randomness, but they still creep up from time to time.
Let’s go back to the scenario where if they take damage: you didn’t learn any concrete information. This is the best thing Shadow Hunters offers. By not always giving away definite allegiances, bluffing becomes a part of a game. Whenever you add deception to a hidden identity game, things become more interesting. Who is really on your team? What team are your enemies on? Hunters can pretty much ignore Neutrals for the most part, provided their win conditions won’t make the Hunters lose. It’s not just about figuring out who’s on your team and who isn’t. It’s about figuring out what everyone needs to do to win. Sure, that person is constantly attacking people, but do they want to die first?
Now players will have the ability to reveal at any time they’d like. This is useful for ending arguments where you go “I told you I was your friend so you really shouldn’t attack me!” Revealing your identity also leads to another perk: using your special power. One character can attack those who attacked him. Another can heal herself to full instantaneously. There are indeed advantages to revealing who you are, but keep this in mind: your secret is out. If there are still several people with identities you’re not sure of, you may be in trouble.
Shadow Hunters is an accessible game with plenty of moving parts. Most of those parts, however, are in your head. There are so many different things to think about and consider: why is that person happy they got an item that makes them attack every turn? Why is that person shying away from everyone else at the table. Is that person honest when they’re calling others out? Unlike other deception games we’ve talked about, this one takes place on an actual board. It’s not just about figuring out who is who, it’s about moving around to where you need to go (so long as the dice allow you, anyway) in order to obtain victory.