What happens when you mix Codenames with Dixit and make it a real time race?
**This isn’t one of mine – I borrowed Alpal’s copy of Shadows: Amsterdam for this review
Shadows: Amsterdam is one of those games that I wasn’t overly excited about for all the wrong reasons. Firstly, I kept trying to call it Shadows over Amsterdam. Not the games fault – Shadows over Camelot left a considerable impression on me.
Next, it was Codenamesesque. Not a bad thing on its own, but I have a few versions of Codenames that wasn’t hitting the table.
Finally, it’s a four player game at a minimum. Yes, I know the box says 2-8, but the two and three player counts are a variant. This isn’t a bad thing by itself, but it only captures the game mechanics. More on this later.
There was considerable hype building on Shadows: Amsterdam, but I wasn’t going to go out of my way to buy it.
So sitting down at Alpal’s one afternoon, when we had four players and the chance to play, I jumped at the chance. And I am glad I did. One play in, and I was an instant convert.
So what is the game?
Two teams take the part of rival detective agencies, trying to solve a crime before the other side or the police. Yes, you have to avoid the police – they don’t like civilians doing their job better!
The city in Shadows: Amsterdam is a large place, made up of hexagonal tiles that change between games. It is large and colourful, and you will need to be on the ball to search for all the evidence required to solve the case.
There is one Intelligence Master per team. Their job is to help their operatives collect evidence and avoid the police. These players can see all the evidence locations and police the teams have to avoid.
From here, the aim is simple – be the first team to collect three pieces of evidence then head to the objective to win! But if you run into the police three times, you are out of the running and lose, so be careful!
Oh, I should also point out that there are no turns – Shadows: Amsterdam is a real-time game. This adds to the tension and flow beautifully, but again more on that later 🙂
Playing the Game
All other players work together to try and interpret the clues given to them. But the Intelligence Master must remain hidden, so they have to understand strange clues! Hints are provided in the form of picture cards intended to direct them to the next step in a path.
This was the first thing I had a little trouble getting my head around. You aren’t being handed the end location immediately, but the next step in a path. The Intelligence Master can only communicate with the cards, so you have to trust you are doing OK.
When you start the game, you receive one or two picture cards that hopefully direct you to the correct tile. If you are given one card, it represents a tile one move around you. Two cards and your location is two steps away. If you think of the ring around your piece, it lets you move one or two rings, so it’s not blind guessing amongst the noise.
This mechanic allows you to focus purely on what is before you, and you will need to. The real-time nature of Shadows: Amsterdam lends itself to an almost push your luck feeling. If you can make a decision quickly, you will travel more than your opponents. But if you rush decisions, you may walk straight into the police!
The feeling of urgency and tension also builds quickly as your opponents start collecting more evidence than you. Conversely, as your opponents find the police more often, this can help boost you as they have to start playing more cautiously. Shadows: Amsterdam is a game that manages to get inside your head.
So it sounds fun. What’s wrong with it?
Very little in my opinion – as long as you are playing with at least four people. At this player count, you have two Intelligence Masters and two team players. Everything I have described is how a game works at this count.
At two or three players, everyone plays one side only and has to race the clock. It’s a straight time limit. Yes, you will have a sense of dread as you watch the time run out, but it’s not the same. Watching a timer count down doesn’t affect you as much as watching a team on a hot streak.
At a lower player count, the mechanics are all there, but not the party game type atmosphere. Beating a clock is an accomplishment, but it is more fun to have a competitive rivalry with other people.
Shadows: Amsterdam is very much in a place to become a Codenames: Pictures replacement for me. It plays faster, has more ‘game’ to it, and has just as much replayability.
It is also a game that I can see myself playing with younger players more than Codenames. While there is more to keep track of, the lack of downtime keeps player interest high. The simple goals are also easy to focus on.
If I am playing two players, Codenames: Duets still wins for me. If someone wants to play Codenames: Pictures, I will be reaching for Shadows: Amsterdam as an improvement on a great formula.
Not sure what the score means? Check out my Review Scores explanation for more info!