Grogheads Sneak peak! Shadow Empire

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Shadow Empire is the upcoming sci-fi, post-apocalyptic “hardcore-strategy” title (that’s a lot of hyphens) developed by VR Designs and published by Slitherine. VR Designs should sound very familiar to our readers, as the developer, headed by Victor Reijkersz, is responsible for the outstanding Advanced Tactics and Decisive Campaigns series of wargames.  With Shadow Empire, VR Designs leaves the 20th Century behind for the year 8200 A.D., for what is described as an “original mix of genres.” 

Shadow Empire is shaping up to be an immersive, and somewhat complex turn-based game that blends  traditional hex-based wargaming with 4X and RPG elements, all in a procedural world representing the remnant of a once vast interstellar empire. Each game begins hundreds of years after the fall of humanity, with the survivors scattered in isolated pockets among the stars. In Star Empire, players will have the chance to lead small resurgent cities in an effort to reconquer a lost world while rediscovering forgotten technologies and the entire concept of civilization. 

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By: Grogheads Staff,

Although some of the game elements are immediately recognizable from VR Designs’ prior titles, Shadow Empire otherwise feels like a drastic departure.  The unfinished manual weighs in at 166 pages and scrolling through it reveals rather deep and complex concepts and mechanics.  First, though, the reader is treated to 20 pages of history, background and lore. It’s an original IP that Vic has clearly put a lot of thought into.  In summary,  the player is the newly crowned ruler of a small nation, essentially a city-state, with the goal of reconquering a planet devastated by a cataclysmic war.  The Warhammer 40,000 nut in me is reminded of the Age of Strife, a period of anarchy, destruction, and regression, lasting centuries, if not millennia. Mankind’s prior technological successes were lost, and many human worlds regressed to the level of barbarity. This, in essence, is the world of Shadow Empire.

In Shadow Empire, each planet is the product of procedural generation occurring at the beginning of the game. The process starts with the player selecting one of seven different classes of planet, eight if you choose “unclassified”.  The class of planet gives the player a general idea of the kind of climate, atmosphere, terrain, weather, water, flora and fauna that may be “rolled” or generated on the planet. Some of the factors that are incorporated into planet generation are pretty detailed.

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Planet classes

For instances, the player’s world will have gravity, a range of temperatures and climates, planetary age, atmospheric and xenobiological levels of hazard, as well as average rainfall, ratio of mountains, plains and oceans, and even varying levels of orbit and tilt around a particular classification of star. Wow! It remains to be seen how these complicated and layered world characteristics will reveal themselves during game play, but they certainly immerse the player in a credible world straight out of the gate.

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A generated planet

In addition to the planetary characteristics, the procedural engine will also generate a historical timeline of the planets colonization and subsequent development.  It will tell the player when the world was first colonized by humanity and how it was developed, used and populated before the great fall, or “Dissolution War” according to the game’s lore.

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Finally, the engine will also generate details about how the world was impacted by the Dissolution War. While giving the player an interesting historical record to review, this also provides critical details about the game world’s starting environment. Specifically, details such as the number of survivors on planet, their classification (i.e. scavengers, hunters, raiders, farmers, etc.), as well as possible ecological or environmental hazards that may exist…nuclear fallout, anyone?  By now, I hope you are seeing the kind of attention to detail that VR Designs has attempted to pour into this title.  So far, we are only talking about generating the map!

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The Apocalypse


According to Slitherine, Shadow Empire is, in essence, a game about military conquest, but players will still engage in diplomacy, managing budgets, and an economy, infrastructure, design and many more details.  Apparently, the planet is not the only thing that is procedural in Shadow Empire.  In fact, all of the equipment you will be fighting with is procedural, and there is some system that will lead to technological discoveries, formation types and model types that will ensure no two games will be the same.

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Designing your Empire

Planets are broken down into Zones, which the manual describes as coherent administrative areas consisting of a large number of hexes and a single city.  Each Zone is ruled by a Regime, or a principal political and territorial entity ruled by the player and AI leaders. Each Regime is comprised of Organizations that represent the governmental apparatus of each empire.  The player receives Bureaucratic Points (“BP”) that he or she can spend or assign to the various organizations in order to perform tasks, such as research, or the creation of Stratagems. Stratagems are like cards that can be played in order to impact military units, leaders, Zones or other Regimes, both minor and major. Stratagems are based on the acquisition of Political Points (“PP”), that are also used to upgrade cities, raise new units and HQs.

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Some initial Stratagems

PPs are described as the most valuable resource in the game. Of course, you’ll also need money to carry out your objectives, which Shadow Empire defines as Credits, which are actually a measure of “Liquid Energy” kept inside of metal containers in the form of coins or bars. There are also derivatives of Credits in the form of paper money, the amount of which will fluctuate based on inflation, deflation and scavenging. Credits are used to pay leaders and salaries of workers, soldiers and colonists. It is also critical for trade and diplomacy.  Yes, complicated.

That is not all though. Regimes also have a Cabinet consisting of the player’s Council Directors, HQ Commanders and all advisors that may be in your service. The manual states that the Cabinet will “weigh in” on decisions. I presume this mechanic will add a layer of role playing to the game and present the player with some consequences for making decisions. In addition, it may also provide some level of macro management, so that the player is not required to make all decisions that are necessary to run the fledgling empire.

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Every great Ruler gave a great speech

Populations in Shadow Empire are pretty interesting too. They have Culture, which provides each Regime with specific traits, such as higher birth rates, or special/unique troops that are not available to other Regimes. Populations also pay taxes and construct private assets which are not controlled by the player, but which can generate further Credits through raising income and sales tax.

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Late game world map

Research and discovery is also treated in great detail. Various organizations throughout your Regime perform research-like tasks. Some of these tasks involve specific technology, others are geared toward the development of new formations for the Order of Battle, or new units that will make up the formations.

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A technology tree

However, before anything can be researched or designed, the idea must first be discovered. These ideas are revealed by focusing your Organizations on a specific area if discovery so that once an idea is revealed, it may be put to some practical use.  There is a significant random element to discovery so the player’s choices of what can be researched, operationalized or designed in any given game will vary.

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Adding Organizations

I’m out of breath on the administrative details of this game, and all of this is really just scratching the surface. As I stated earlier in this article, Shadow Empire claims to include some really complex, layered systems and mechanics, most of which I have never seen in a strategy game before. It remains to be seen whether all this complexity and detail adds to the overall gameplay, or whether it may detract from it. I love complexity in my games, but complexity just for the sake of it, can easily become detrimental to the overall gaming experience if not balanced and explained properly. Many of these systems seem to still be in the process of being fleshed out and/or are not explained in great detail in the manual.


The Advanced Tactics and Decisive Campaigns series brought some pretty interesting mechanics to wargaming. Shadow Empire appears to be continuing the trend, by using some of the familiar systems, while adding a lot of depth to an already fairly detailed combat system.

All units are part of a Formation that must be “operationalized” by your Regime’s Staff Council before being deployed into the field. Formations are ideally led by a Leader or Commander and made up of Models that are designed by the Design Council.


Yup. Leaders draw salary


Appointing Commanders is only one of many decisions you must make

Models are just light vehicles, tanks, artillery pieces, etc. Each model must be prototyped before being produced and ultimately deployed into the field.


Raising new Formations

The troops making up the Formations in Shadow Empire are either Militia, Regular or Replacement. Militia troops are mostly present at the start of the game and are autonomous, but for movement.

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Early Militia OOB

The player cannot design or operationalize their Formations and they draw their own supplies and weapons. Their strength and ability to supply and replace loses will be based on the “Militancy” level of their home Zone. Regular troops are directly recruited and operated by the player, who also determines their Formation and Model types. They will draw food, supplies, ammunition and replacements from the Regime stockpiles.  Finally, Replacement troops are sent from HQs to frontline units in order to restore actual strengths to the paper strengths of each Formation.


Early combat with Militia


NATO-ish Counters

Headquarters have several levels, including Operational and Strategic. Operational HQs coordinate the efforts of frontline units, while the higher level Strategic HQs are primarily responsible for logistics, acting as supply dumps for distribution to Zones or Formations in need of items. Zones and Operational HQs need to be assigned to a particular Strategic HQ.

I have only had access to the present build of the game for a couple of days, so I have not been able to explore combat first hand as of yet. However, the combat system appears to be very similar to Advanced Tactics and Decisive Campaigns.

After an attack is ordered, the Combat Selection window appears, giving you a information on the modifiers, as well as an estimate of the combat odds based upon levels of recon. These odds are only an estimate, and not a prediction.


Combat Selection Window

Just as in prior games by VR Designs, it is always good to mass as many troops from as many directions as possible. By attacking from three sides in the above example the Militia has secured a +40% bonus.

After combat, detailed results are displayed.


Post-battle AAR

For more details on Combat, check out Vic’s second developer log, which is the source of the above two screenshots:


So, yes…Shadow Empire is a deep game viewed from any perspective. It incorporates a lot of features I’ve been waiting for in a single 4x sci-fi strategy game. If there is one thing I wish it had, its the opportunity to reach out into the stars and re-establish the glory of the old  empire. Combining all of these features on an intergalactic scale would have been a dream come true. Sadly, Shadow Empire appears to involve the conquest of a single planet. Maybe in a DLC?

In any event, below is a summary of Shadow Empire’s key features:

Most turns you’ll have to make Decisions on events occurring in your Zones, with your Leaders or with third parties (for example: cults, crime syndicates)

Procedurally generated Planets according to the rules of Astrobiology that include Climates, Rainfall, Deserts, Snow, Glaciers, Lava streams, Deep Forests, Alien Evolution, Mountain chains, Resources, Rivers, Biohazard Level and Respiratory Hazard Level, etc

Detailed Combat Resolution taking into account factors as Readiness, Morale, Supplies, Experience, Entrenchment, Landscapes, Recon, Rivers, Weapon and Armor Technologies, Concentric Attacks, Leader Skills and Posture Stratagems

Over a 100 different Formation Types, each in 3 different sizes (like Infantry Armor, Heavy Assault Brigade, etc)

Discover and Design 30+ different Model Types (like Light Tank, Walkers, Missile Launchers, etc…)

The game starts at a Low Tech Level, but at the end of the Tech Tree you’ll find knowledge that allows you to build (for example): Laser Guns, Atomic Missile Launchers, Walkers, Shield-Generators and even ICBMs

100 different Tech Fields (like Assault Rifle, Algae Vats)

Units can pick up supplies from a road hex inside the Logistical Network in a certain operational supply range

You can extend your Logistics Network capabilities by building Roads or Rails as well as constructing Truck Stations, Maglev Station and Supply Base Assets

Leaders can be recruited and appointed to become Zone Governors, Council Directors, Army Commanders or Advisors

Leaders can have over 40 different Skills and can receive Leader Feats to augment their Stats

You can play Stratagems (cards) on other Regimes, Leaders or Zones. Over 150+ available

Unsatisfied Leaders could leave you, rebel or turn corrupt

Leaders tend to band together in Factions

Factions will put forward Demands on you, like asking you to conquer a neighbour or raise your Tech Level

You either have a Parliament, Senate or Politburo in your nation, you will be able to change system during a game

On the Diplomacy front: Minor Regimes can be coerced to become a vassal or even join you. Major Regimes can be tied into a number of pact and deals to ensure a peaceful coexistence

Realistic supply model where running out stuff always has consequences. Lack of Oil will immobilize your troops, lack of Ammo will for sure stop any offensive operations and a lack of Food might just starve and kill your Troops and Populace

Different kinds of Mining operations possible: Water, Metal, Rare Metals, Oil and Radioactives

Prospecting is often necessary for discovering Resources that could be mined

Scavenge Ruins and discover rare Artifacts

Supports multi-player

Vic states that this is the most ambitious game VR Designs has ever made. He promises that it is a very rich experience and a truly unique game that is not like something we have seen before. Based on what I have seen so far, I’m inclined to believe him.

Shadow Empire is coming soon. Stay tuned to Grogheads for more impressions and content.

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