Grogheads Interviews – Shadow Empire!

frontier wars 728x90 KS

Grogheads is obsessed with Shadow Empire, the latest grand strategy title developed by VR Designs and published by Slitherine Ltd.  This deep, complex wargame set in a post-apocalyptic sci-fi universe has reinvigorated the genre and is a fantastic addition to the already impressive line-up of games delivered by Victor Reijkersz, the talented one-man act behind VR Designs and the popular Decisive Campaigns series.

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Victor and pick his brain. So, if you’re interested in getting some behind-the-scenes details about Shadow Empire and learning about what treats may be in store for this intriguing title,  read on below!


By: Grogheads Staff,

Grogheads:  First, happy New Year and thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions.

VR:  Thank you and the same to you and your readers! May 2021 be an even better year than 2020!

Grogheads:  Please tell us a little about your background. How did you get into game development?

VR:  So long ago I don’t really remember. Was already coding on the Spectrum 48 when I was like 10. Must have made my first real game on the Amiga 500 back in the early 90s. People’s Tactics was my first big project. You can still get it as freeware from my website over at

Grogheads:  You have developed several popular wargames, including Advanced Tactics: Gold and the Decisive Campaigns series.  How did you choose the subject matter for these titles? Can you describe your goals for each game and how your goals evolved or differed for each design?

VR:  Advanced Tactics was the natural successor of People’s Tactics, doing almost everything better. Both had in common that they were mixing gameplay from procedural games like Empire with that of more detailed wargames. The Decisive Campaigns series was born to make more historical games. I am a historian and avid reader of military history and it scratched an itch. With Shadow Empire I tried to mix aspects of both Advanced Tactics and Decisive Campaigns. Make the procedural creation feel more like a place that could have been real. In many ways I am always building upon previous games, keeping what I think made them interesting, mixing some concepts from previous titles and experimenting with some new ideas.

Grogheads:  What made you decide to depart from the 20th Century and move into the future with Shadow Empire? Are there any sci-fi games or intellectual properties that inspired you to develop Shadow Empire?

VR:  The initial Tech levels in Shadow Empire are not so different from the 20th century. I just felt the far-far-away future – but one that collapsed – thematic was a great canvas to have more immersive procedural games than we had with Advanced Tactics, where there was no back story what-so-ever.


20th Century tech

Grogheads:  Unlike Advanced Tactics – Shadow Empire has no modding tools.  You discussed why you left modding tools out in the manual.  Do you think after a couple of years you may make these tools available?

VR:  It is not a question of making modding tools available. It is a question of there NOT being any modding tools as we speak. However, I want to try to make a relatively accessible Story and Stratagem Editor that will allow modders to add Stories, Decisions and Stratagems to the game. We’ll see how that will be received and used and then consider adding other editors or not.

Grogheads:  Players must invest considerable time to win a Shadow Empire single player game.  Will victory conditions be adjustable in the future to allow shorter games?

It depends, personally I prefer smaller Planets or even Planetoids when I play the game. I am actually quite shocked to see so many players tackling huge Planets. I have no plans at this moment to allow for other victory conditions, if you want a shorter game, play a smaller Planet is my rather crude advice 🙂


…smells like victory.

Grogheads:  Shadow Empire has an unusual start for a 4x game.  The Galactic Empire is described, built on the planet, and then destroyed.  We cannot recall such a building/destruction process before the first game turn is played in any other 4x game.  What was your goal for this design feature and do you think it worked?

VR:  In many ways I approached the Shadow Empire universe as I approached making a game around historical battles. My goal was simply to simulate relatively well the back story of any Planet, respecting the lore. So it was not really with the gameplay in mind I did this, but with simulating well the fictional history of the Shadow Empire universe in mind. And yes I think it worked well. It has added a lot of immersion.


Planetary generation.

Grogheads:  Many Shadow Empire players at Grogheads, and on the various discussion boards, have found Shadow Empire to be a complex and unforgiving game.  YouTube videos on how to play the game have been valuable for many players in understanding of the game mechanics – even with the extensive manual.  Do you think Shadow Empire has hit your desired “sweet spot” in terms of game difficulty or not?

VR:  I am not saying Shadow Empire is a perfect game. And its richness of experiences and detail comes partially from not polishing everything as much as I could have. I still hope to improve a lot of things in the years to come, however it will always stay a game that will be complex and unforgiving. I think that is the nature of the beast.

Grogheads:  Shadow Empire has a limited number of resources, building types, and logistical structures.  Yet they all work together in an integrated and complex fashion.  If your raw material production, your manufacturing, or your logistics net break down – the other parts tend to also break down.  Incorporating somewhat realistic logistics in a 4x game is uncommon.  Are you happy how these design building blocks are working?

VR:  The game already allows you the option to play with multiple SHQs to avoid empire-wide disaster, but it is not a mechanic that is used often.  I definitely still see room for future improvements here. Notably I’d like Zones to be able to send out some surplus resources themselves if Units on their territory or Neighbors did not receive enough from SHQ. Or, in other words, it would be nice if there would be some local improvisation if central control (the player) fails.

Grogheads:  After loading Shadow Empire for the first time, the owner is asked if they wish to share game data with the designer.  First, thanks for asking permission!  What was the biggest surprise you have encountered from getting the game data?

VR:  The biggest surprise was the amount of people saying yes, and the number of turns they were playing. I quickly found myself scaling it down to not overload my server. At the moment I have disabled it, since I have had enough feedback, but I might switch it on again in a future patch. It is especially useful for fine-tuning, for example, Decisions as you can see which choices are never taken or which Decisions occur too often.

Grogheads:  Shadow Empire has added aircraft to the core game.  What other plans do you have for the future of Shadow Empire? Will there be any DLC or expansions? For instance, Shadow Empire has no naval model including amphibious operations.  Is this a potential addition to the game? What about orbital or spaceborne operations?

VR:  I am hesitant about DLCs as I always feel it is a bit of a shame part of the players will be missing out on the extra effort that has been made. That being said I want to try them, or something similar, one day as there is a real problem with working on new titles being more interesting from a revenue point of view than supporting older titles.

The next features planned to be added on the short term are the already mentioned Story & Stratagem Editor and Scrap Stratagems. The Scrap Stratagems will be buyable with Scrap Points that can be earned by selling excess Stratagems. It will add more Stratagem diversity and at the same time provide a way to clean up a Stratagem collection that has become to large. They will be interesting as they will be generated procedurally. Expect a lot of variety when it will leave open beta. Scrap Stratagems are like a box of chocolates… you’ll never know what you’ll get 🙂

On the mid term I’ll very likely be adding naval forces and allow Planets with real oceans to be generated. Looking much forward to this. Planet and gameplay diversity will be increased immensely if I pull this off.


Aircraft have been added…what else might Vic add in the future?

Grogheads:  Would you ever consider developing a sci-fi space 4x game that involves space exploration and ship combat across many systems with hex-based development, expansion and combat across multiple worlds?

VR:  Yes. And it is very probably not going to happen with the current Shadow Empire installment as the level of detail per Planet is so high, it’s hard to imagine having dozens of such Planet to manage. But I like the idea and there are several note books in my library already filled with sketches for such a game.


Planetary diversity.

Grogheads:  Any feedback (good or bad) from players that you would like to share regarding Shadow Empire’s sci-fi setting, complexity, challenge or mechanics?

VR:  I am making lots of notes and have huge lists of things I’d like to improve or add. However, I am also working on Decisive Campaigns: Ardennes Offensive and I need a breather after a truly workaholic 2020, so I am going at moderate speed. Hope to have the discussed short term features in somewhere in February (and earlier in open beta of course).

Grogheads:  Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers about Shadow Empire? Perhaps some insight into your own strategies when playing a game, or some challenges you faced during the development cycle?

I want to express my happiness with seeing so many players that found something special in this game. Also I would like to thank the many players who took the effort to play the open beta versions (available on matrix and steam) and/or provide feedback and report bugs. I wouldn’t be able to be as effective as I am without the Shadow Empire players. I do not say this to suck up, but because for a one-man team with limited time it makes the difference between night and day.

Grogheads:  Thanks again for your time and thoughts! We can’t wait to see what the future will bring for Shadow Empire and other titles!

 VR:  My pleasure! And thanks for taking an interest.

Shadow Empire is currently available on Steam or directly from Slitherine, Ltd. for $39.99.

Grogheads staff members Avery Abernethy and Craig Handler contributed to this interview.

Chat about it below, or in our forums, or hit our FaceBook page >>