Quick Look: Dawnshade: The Watchers Prophecy
Designer: Jett Ryker, Ty Vance
Publisher: Highborne Games
Year Published: 2022
No. of Players: 1-4
Playing Time: 60-159 minutes.
From the Publisher:
Dawnshade is a 1-4 player co-op action adventure RPG that plays in about 30min per player.
As a Petarukin, you are used to living secluded in the forests of the Galeswood. Your role in the land of Dawnshade is small and often unnoticed, though not insignificant. But there is unrest brewing in the land… Two factions, The Unity and The Might, are at war for the hearts, minds, and souls of the creatures of Dawnshade. The balance and freedom of your world is threatened by these powerful forces, and only you and your fragile band of misbegotten adventurers can stop them.
Gather supplies, build skills, and power your abilities while you can…battles wage, challenges disrupt your path, and a final threat could strike at any moment.
Journey through this rich, cooperative “choose your own adventure-style” board game where strategy, luck, and skill unite to bring you thrilling victories, agonizing defeats, and a different journey every time you play.
With 34,220 quest combinations available, you’ll never experience the same journey twice when you play Dawnshade. Draw map tiles from a randomized quest deck to reveal a unique adventure with branching paths every time you play. Dynamic battles use a unique dice combat system set in the style of old JRPG’s (think Final Fantasy). Experience (XP) gained from the battles and events allow you to level up your characters. Players continue exploring to uncover the mysteries in Dawnshade’s campaign.
May the Watchers guide you.
It takes a lot to get me to consider even looking at certain types of board games. Sitting right on the top of my list of genres to avoid are dexterity games, and I usually can’t stand these with a passion. So when Dawnshade was announced on Kickstarter, I was hoping I might have found something that could lift the curse and enable me to enjoy this type of game more.
And besides, that hex-shaped box looked (and still looks) like a treasure.
A big draw for me was that the dexterity component to the gameplay was marketed as a secondary, peripheral draw to the main game, which promised to be derived from RPG battle types of Final Fantasy Tactics with deep character customization, a rich world with story, Decisions to make, and beautiful art and components that seemed to be evocative of Too Many Bones.
Now that I finally have played the game several times, I must weigh in and say that I ended up being disappointed. And rather ironically, for all the wrong reasons, because the dexterity portions of the game ended up being rather enjoyable.
The game itself uses a mish-mash of various elements that actually could have come together splendidly. Let me first of all state that all of the components and art are really top quality, and it is only the promised gameplay that fails to live up the my expectations. And firstly, let me state that it is not that the gameplay itself is bad, but it definitely feels like it was not even close to being as described in the Kickstarter campaign. Rather than being secondary “palette cleansers”, the bulk of the game feels like it is nothing but the aforementioned dexterity challenges that are met in various town taverns, markets, events, etc. Yes there are tiles to explore (in limited fashion) and a sort of build up to a fight, but in practice, the epic co-op battles I had looked forward to are sadly missing. There is not as much strategy as envisioned, as there is no movement of players/enemies, but rather a rather static exchange of blows done via dice.
There are some interesting choices to be made, such as how much to focus in accquiring attack, defense, devotion dice etc between level ups. The magic / Vaki system feels a bit convoluted and unintuitive, which also brings me to the point that I found the written manual to be confusing and poorly organized. He did encourage users to check out the new playthrough videos, but these were also marred by being antiquated play through of prototype material which clearly had changed between then and now (such as the Overdrive abilities which no longer exist).
The story and lore for the world of Dawnshade is gradually revealed via new events you experience from drawing new tiles in each subsequent play through, using a thick spiral bound journal. You will eventually get “all” of the story, but never in the first few play throughs. The game is designed primarily to be played as a series of one-offs that reset each time you play a three chapter series, giving you more details based on the different choices you presumably make each time.
The character mats with their sporty cogs all look and spectacularly function. I ended up purchsing all of the fancy upgraded poker chips for the game, and they also make tracking hit points, stats a breeze. As such, it is a pity that the action portion of the game does not feel like it can match the splendor of the quality of the game materials, because I do feel this game had (and perhaps still has) a ton of untapped potential.
Character customization is also a bit lacking, and not what seemed to be promised in the marketing (being a stealth dirigible pilot for example?)
There are a ton of items one can acquire throughout various play throughs. You can save your equipment across the 3 chapters as needed, and will acquire new abilities as you gain levels as well as choices of where to allocate skill points, which is in itself cool. But without being able to use these abilities very often due to lack of skirmishes, it can be a bit of a downer…
My advice to Highborne Games would perhaps be to consider a return to the roots of their original marketing and focus on making the combat a more dominant part of the game. While I did find that I enjoyed all the dexterity challenges of spinning various chips across the board, sliding them into appropriate “zones” on the battle mat for rewards, etc., this should have indeed been a “secondary” element to the game as advertised .
So for my final score , the game itself is enjoyable for what it is, but not for what it set out to be and what I expected. As such I’d probably give it no higher than a 7, which is again sad given the potential I can see lying within. Given a rebalancing of the system would help it immensely in my eye.
Find out more at BGG.
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Jazz Paladin- Reviewer