Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shadows of the Past Review

Charlie & Michael

What does this rating mean?

Posted by Charlie & Michael on Jan 26, 2017


MB: I think the takeaway phrase from this review is going to be "better than expected". Designer Kevin Wilson hasn't really had a hit since his salad days with FFG (where he managed the Arkham Horror and Cosmic Encounter reprints while building the core of the company's Doom/Descent system) and I can't say that I've been terribly impressed with IDW's output so far. And TMNT: Shadow of the Past was a Kickstarter so it felt like the deck was stacked against this licensed guys-on-a-grid game.

CT: Agree, totally surprised. I’m a fan of IDW’s Godfather: A New Don and I think they’ve really turned a corner and come a long way since Kill Shakespeare. The dice activation system is great and innovative. The overlord play is slick and engaging. The interactive terrain and map elements are something I’ve been craving in a dungeon crawl my entire life. This game just has it.

Go ninja, go ninja, go ninja, go!

MB: It's good stuff. It captures a strong sense of the Turtles working together, lending strength and supporting weaknesses. I love how the dice activation system lets you share results- so Leonardo can loan a double swords icon to Mikey, who doesn't have as strong a melee range on his three dice. This is cool stuff, and it encourages players to work together in a unique way beyond "I'll go over here and hit that guy, you go over there and hit that guy."

CT: I think the major design accomplishment from a philosophical perspective, is the way the game includes so much detail and flavor with such ease. The baked in asymmetry has no overhead. The way the foot player has varied activation cards made up of sets corresponding to different villain capabilities.

MB: A great example of how it creates detail with minimal rules or process is how Raphael works. The other turtles can share an action die from each of their brothers they are sitting next to- these are a huge tactical concern, because these are how you determine whether you can move and fight and thinking about placing a die to help another player is crucial. But Raphael doesn't work like that. He just rolls more dice and doesn't share because he's a surly loner.

CT: Even the terrain isn’t too painful despite codifying a ton of rules into those few cards.

MB: I also really like the way it is all presented, very much like comic book story arcs with the two different books in the box. And I especially like that the setup isn't anywhere near what you usually see in these kinds of games, like sore-thumb reference Imperial Assault. But this all goes back to the really streamlined Overlord concept here, like we've talked about previously in our reviews of Doom and Conan this game keeps the overlording simple but compelling.

CT: I think another strong point of this game is the commitment to support it appears to be getting. There’s already an available pre-order for the April O’neil expansion, with Bebop and Rocksteady coming alongside Splinter. The longevity appears to be here and I’m looking forward to seeing this game evolve over time.

Probably not the best tagline ever.

MB: Oh, I can't wait for Bebop and Rocksteady. But this is already something of a sticking point with me though. I didn't get the "Works" edition so I immediately felt cut out of things like Baxter Stockman, Casey Jones, Mousers and other elements that I- speaking as a TMNT fan that bought the original comics when they came out and railed against the notion of the turtles having different colored bandanas (let alone being in color in the first place)- felt like I really needed for this to be the definitive tabletop game based on the property. It's the usual Kickstarter rant here, but more than that I'm quickly fatiguing of these games where the expansion content is parceled out later on in $15-$25 SKUs, where you buy an add on and it's a figure or a couple of new elements. I'd much rather see this game expanded with big boxes that introduce whole new story arcs and focus on the new characters. I mean, come on...Turtles in Time box, when can I expect that?

CT: That’s fair, I do think there’s a bigger expansion coming with Bebop and Rocksteady, but most of the expansions are smaller single figure packs. I think the playability and content in the retail package is substantial though. I’ve poured over 10 hours into this game and still have nearly half of the comics to work my way through, not to mention replaying scenarios and going towards different branches in the story.

MB: Definitely not trying to short-change the value that is in the box in terms of content, but I'm also not entirely satisfied with the production. I think the figures are chintzy and although I like that IDW used actual comics art by actual comics artists (Upper Deck, please take notice of this in regard to Legendary), the visual design and level of quality feels lacking. With that said, the "off the rack" version of this game is somewhat cheaper than some of the other games in its class and that is certainly appreciated.

CT: The price is pretty damn good when compared to Imperial Assault or Descent. I think you’ll be hard pressed to find an equally fantastic experience for the cost. When it comes down to it, I've spent some 3500 words and over an hour of podcast time talking about this game. I'm definitely a fan.

MB: I think I am too, regardless of some grousing. This is a fun, fairly unique guys on a grid game with a beloved and previously underutilized license. I think this is definitely Kevin Wilson's strongest design work in years and it is a game I am looking forward to playing more as the expansions roll out.