The inside of the factory let in little light from the barred windows. What light was available came in straight beams, lighting the dust floating through the air like small sprites flying this way and that on some important errand.
But it wasn’t the light that drew my eye. It was the darkness.
By definition, darkness doesn’t actually exist. Darkness is merely lack of light. The darker something is actually represents how little light is reflecting off of it. But this darkness. This was darkness as a noun. Darkness as a being. These shadows formed whether there was light to reflect off of it or not. The light fell into its depths, never to return.
The shadows themselves fell off the pillars and discarded machinery, seemingly ordinary. Were I a squatter or a drug addict looking for a place to hide for the day, I would not have noticed anything amiss. It hid well. But when it “saw” (felt? smelled?) me, it did not hesitate to coalesce into a vaguely human form before me.
So here is my opponent for the day. The “Lesser Sentient Shadow.” Don’t let the “Lesser” in the title fool you. It took quite a few battles before I figured out how to beat him. As a goal, this creature drains you of Harmony and fills you with Discord, effectively causing the universe itself to reject you from itself.
Let’s take a look at the card.
Wow, those are blurry. I’m going to blame the animated shadow. Yeah, that’s the ticket. First, in the upper left, is the big ‘2’ which shows how many actions per turn the Shadow gets. 2 is fine, it’s how many I get. If you see the little itty bitty +1 under the 2, that’s the modifier for multiple players. So if I had a buddy with me, he’d have 3 actions/turn. If there were three of us, 4/turn etc. The big red number there is a 10, the Encounter’s Essence (Hit points). That’s two points less than what I start with, so that’s nice. It’s +2 per extra Magi, so it could escalate quickly. The lower left shows: A yellow symbol that shows “Soul,” which means all the Encounters effects are Soul effects. Which could effect cards I play. It also shows the Essence bonus the Encounter receives. Every turn we’ll be getting Essence (the points we use to cast spells), and he’ll be getting 1 more than I do every turn. The jerk. (+1 for each extra magi). Finally that REALLY blurry word is “Lowest” followed by the Harmony symbol. So he hammers away on whoever has the weakest grasp on reality and waits until that reality rejects them before he moves onto the next target. Not a big deal when it’s just me playing, but I can summon allies and who knows? I could make a friend.
Shut up, mom! I’m hip! I’m groovy!
So, blurry picture #1 shows how the Encounter will act. There is a Draw Bag mechanic. We’ll put 4 red chips and 2 yellow chips into the bag. The other bit in that shot says “Bag reset: 3 red and 1 yellow chip drawn” so now we know when to put everything back in the bag. Good, so there will be points where I’ll have a good idea of what the Encounter will do next, but never perfect information.
The next is the range of things it’ll do depending on which color comes out, and how much Essence it has. So if a yellow comes out, it has 3 Essence and a Soul or Mind Curse on it, it will “Roll on Ability chart A” which will make it attempt to stop the curses. If not, we’ll check to see if it has 2 Essence and if I’m Focused, if so it’ll roll on Chart B and try to Disrupt me (and make me lose focus on my spells). If none of those are possible, then it’ll just do Dark Lash, which attacks the whole area, is Subtle (goes through shields) and causes 1 Harmony damage. Nothing fatal, but still stinks. The red side is similar, though more offensive and no charts to roll on. Just pain (and kind of readable.
The last bit shows its defensive Response Ability. Any time I play an attack that does Dmg, it will spend 1 Essence and pull a chit from the bag. If it’s Red, it will Evade the attack. So I’ll have to time my attacks when there are fewer red chits in the bag, or just throw a LOT of things at it so it has very little Essence, otherwise I won’t be able to touch it.
Like I said, it’s not exactly easy.
So now I get my Codex ready.
Yup, it’s a book.
The book is wonderfully illustrated, but each page has a little plastic sleeve on the bottom where you can slide your cards. It’s a little bit of a pain to flip through sometimes, but once you get a system down, it’s a breeze. Unlike most CCGs, you don’t “Draw” your hand at the beginning of each turn. Instead, you prepare 3 spells by putting them in the first page of your book.
And then you get to choose from those 3 during the 2 actions you get in the turn. You can still cast Response spells, so I usually have those available on page 2 or 3 for quick grabbing.
I felt it in my brain, or more likely, I felt it NOT in my brain. An empty hole trying to communicate by emptying my thoughts of all but the words it wanted me to know. In this case: “Leave.” I began tasting the air around me, trying to pull in some Resonance to start the throwdown. It would seem that even magic tended to avoid this place as I found very little. It merely said: “No.”
You start every turn with a Resonance roll. It’s a simple scale on a d10: 1-3 you get 1 Resonance, 4-6 you get 2, 7-9 3 and 10 you will get 5, but suffer a loss of 1 Harmony from the shock of collecting so much at once. In this case, I only collect 1, but the Shadow collects 2. You know, because he’s a jerk.
Before I know it, the shadows move, pulsating around the factory. I stand motionless, focusing on what I need to do to protect myself. Then the coldness sits in. Coldness like a graveyard at night in a lonesome October. Coldness like a pawnbrokers diamond ring. Coldness like a crumpled dollar bill at the bottom of a drug dealer’s car. It was in me. Oh God, what had I gotten myself into?
Initiative is based on Harmony. We both begin the game with zero (in fact, the Shadow does not have a Harmony stat, it will stay at zero for the remainder of the game). The next deciding factor is Resonance, which the Shadow has more of me (*coughjerkcough*) so it goes first. I pull a red disc and it uses its two Resonance to fuel “Spectral Claw” to do 3 Harmony damage to me. I now have 3 Discord (negative Harmony). Bad things(tm) start to happen when I hit 7 Discord. I can’t let that happen. Sadly its Claws are not spells, so I can’t even cast a Response in my defense. Time to get myself prepared.
But I didn’t spend years as a good soul just to have that soul torn from my body.
Bending my index finger and thumb towards my palm, I held my hand towards the Shadow and slowly drew my hand in a square. Lin’li-n! I shout, feeling the energies of creation filling the void the Shadow had left. The energy is intense, blinding me for a few seconds, but I need all of this to handle the danger before me.
Hand signals? Oh yes, those are part of the game. See that little circular doodad in the lower right? That’s a pronunciation guide. It corresponds to a page in your codex. If you start at the circle, bounce to each dot and finish at the line, it will spell L, i, n, ‘, l, i, n.
And if you check the language page, you see that you add “Lin” to words to make it show “More of,” so it’s understandable that “Higher” would be made up of the word “More.” Amazing. Anyway, if you play with another human, you can hold the card up and show the back of the card to the other player and say the word and use the hand signal. If you’re correct, you can “Voice,” a currency you can use to unlock your specializations as well as gaining a few other minor bonuses when you get a lot of it.
Originally, you were REQUIRED to speak all spells cast, but I can understand why they removed that requirement. I still try to figure out what the word/hand signal are for all spells, even when playing solo. It’s just neat, and yet another thing that makes this game unique.
So anyway, what did my spell get me?
First, it let me GAIN 6 Resonance (Blue numbers are good). Then I GAIN 2 Harmony (offsetting the 2 of the 3 I just lost from the Claw). And then the little symbol above them as well as the words beside Chi (which is just a keyword that interacts with other cards) show that it gets me 1 Will. Will is a resource you start the game with 3 of. You can cash them in for 3 Resonance, 2 Harmony or 1 Essence. You can also cash them in to make your spells more powerful. This is a nice and powerful boost. However, next to the ‘!’ you see it cost me both of my actions for this turn. No matter, I’m building up.
While the raw energy flowed through my being, I felt the Shadow moving all around me. It again flowed through me, trying to erase part of what made me, me, only this time it felt more distant, as if I had a phantom limb, and it was itchy.
I opened my eyes and breathed deep. I saw the Shadow in front of me, and felt energy rush into my lungs. There was more there now, drawn in by calling for it.
I rolled 3 Resonance for this turn, so I’ve got a pocket full of energy, but I still have negative Harmony, so it goes first.
The Shadow pulls back, using the energy itself, distorting it in a strange backwards way to my own. The darkness begins to spread and pool towards me, like staring into the darkest part of space and realizing your suit is no longer attached to anything.
Again my finger and thumb touched my palm and I held it towards the darkness. Inside my head I hear myself giggling, “I’m attacking the darkness,” but outside I shout “Thi Lan Nu!”
And just like that, the Darkness went away. If the Shadow had emotions, it would probably be surprised, or angry, or…well, instead it just kept drawing energy, knowing I won’t be able to block everything it threw at me.
Universum Negation is a Response spell that Dispels anything coming at you. You’ll probably see it a lot. Unfortunately it costs an action, so you collect what’s called an Interrupt Stone when you act out of turn like that. You can’t do much while holding an Interrupt Stone until you spend an Action to get rid of it, which is what I do. The Shadow then simply “Draws Darkness” which refills its Resonance by 2 since it blew 4 to cast Purge the Light at the top of the turn (which would have hit me for 5 Harmony damage, by the way).
The Shadow may have been trying to convince the Universe that I don’t belong there, but I can try to convince the universe that the scales needed to be evened out, and one way to do that would be to remove this Shadow from the world.
This is a Permanent Curse (it will last until it is actively dispelled by a player). All it does is collect tokens each time an Offensive spell is cast. Not a big deal, but a lot of my spells rely on discarding these tokens, or at least the target possessing a few tokens. Of course, not all of the Shadows actions are Spells, but I’m hoping that it does enough of them for the Debt to be effective.