The Shared Dream by ODAM Publishing – Review

Theme and What is it?

The players awaken to find they have all experienced the same nightmare and realize that parts of it, including a Nemesis, are coming to life.  The players take on the role of Anima, unique people who have chosen to fight The Doubt, an omnipresent malevolent force that clouds the minds of most people, concealing the true nature of dreams and magic.  The Anima have learned how to channel their Animus, or dream self, to rise up against The Doubt. The Animus represents the hero the Anima has always dreamed of being. Racing to banish the evil Nemesis, the players must traverse the city, experiencing elements of the Shared Dream in the waking world while fighting off the nightmarish creatures bleeding through to reality as the Taint of The Doubt spreads.  Quickly work together to piece together clues to defeat the Nemesis and banish the evil forces of The Doubt in…The Shared Dream.

Gameplay Mechanics

The Shared Dream is a cooperative game for two to four players (though I think it could be enjoyed solo) who will travel throughout a city investigating their personal story and working to fight off the forces of The Doubt.  To setup the game, players will first select which Shared Dream Scenario they would like to play. The scenario will specify required locations, any additional setup rules, and where to place starting Taint. It will also indicate any special actions or game rules.  Players will then collect and shuffle location cards, with certain amounts of location cards determined by player count. The city is always 4 cards wide. Players will shuffle the Echo, Artifact, Reaver, and Dark Magic decks before choosing an Anima and matching Animus and placing both mats in front of them.  Each player will receive one Personal Reflection deck for the chosen scenario and will read the Start Card to see where to place their Anima standee. As the first Day Phase begins, players will have zero Conviction and zero Nightmare. I also want to point out how tests are resolved in The Shared Dream. Many actions, such as attacks and using locations, require a test.  A successful tests requires the gross outcome of a die roll to meet or exceed a given value. A blue “positive” die and a red “negative” die are rolled with the player adding in the value of the required stat to obtain the final result.

During the Day Phase players will first perform some upkeep.  If they were previously in Animus form, they return to their Anima form.  In every turn except the first turn, players will each draw an Echo card. They then raise both their Conviction and Nightmare by one.  Next players will determine the player order for this round. Each player will perform up to three actions from a range of options. A player may Move a number of spaces governed by their movement stat.  They may Rest, gaining either one Conviction or removing one Nightmare. If within range of an enemy (usually on the same location card) they may Attack using their combat stat. A player may choose to spend Conviction to Draw an Artifact, possibly an item of great power or benefit to the players.  Players may only ever have one artifact. If a player reaches the next location in their current Reflection card, they may Reflect once per turn and learn the next piece of their story. Some locations have specific actions that can yield a benefit following a successful test. Echoes, Artifacts, and Scenario-specific actions may also be possible.

There are also a couple of free actions, such as using specific abilities or discarding cards to trigger bonuses, but the most mechanically important one is Channeling the Animus.  When Channeling the Animus, a player may spend up to three Conviction with the amount spent determining at which Rank the Animus manifests. Each Rank gives access to an extra skill.  Any time a player spends Conviction, either at a Location or when Channeling, the spent Conviction token(s) are flipped and placed onto the Nightmare track. As a note, should a player ever Sacrifice Conviction, rather than spend it, it is not converted to Nightmare.  Also, Nightmare never rises above the maximum on the player mat. Once all players have completed their actions, the Night Phase begins.

In the Night Phase, first Enemies Act, moving and attacking as able.  When attacked players defend with a Combat test. However, should a player each successive attack the player defends against is done so at -1 penalty.  If an Animus is defeated, it transforms back into the Anima and will require an extra Conviction the next time the player chooses to Channel. If an Anima is defeated, the player receives a Doubt token.  If they ever receive two Doubt tokens, they are defeated and removed from the game. After enemies have acted, players will Raise Taint, adding one cube to each location listed on the scenario card. If a location would receive a sixth cube, players instead place a Shadow token there which reduces the Taint at the location to one.

Players will next make a Nightmare Test.  Each player rolls a D6 and must roll higher than their current Nightmare level.  If they fail the roll, and enemy spawns and its strength is increased by the number of Nightmare the player had at the time of failing the roll.  The Shadow tokens have strength dials on them, and as the strength is increased, if an R is revealed, the players have instead spawned a Reaver. They will draw a card from the Reaver deck that specifies the enemy type and lists any special skills or abilities.  In either case, all Nightmare tokens are removed from the player mat when failing a Nightmare Test. Finally, during the Night Phase players will take any Shared Dream actions specified by the scenario.

Play continues alternating from Day to Night until the players have met the requirements necessary to face the Nemesis.  This will vary by scenario but usually features a “Big Bad” and will require that players have progressed a specific amount through either their Personal Reflections and/or The Shared Dream event deck of scenario-specific cards.  Generally, completing their Personal Reflection will grant each individual player a boon for this final confrontation. If the players defeat the Nemesis, then they are victorious. Otherwise, the city falls to the forces of The Doubt.

Initial Impressions

The Shared Dream is rooted in the established mythos of ODAM Publishing’s tabletop roleplaying game, Of Dreams and Magic.  This RPG first caught my at Origins a number of years ago and so to see that world brought into a traditional board game format was exciting to me.  I was also very interested to experience the emergent stories that came out of the different scenarios in the game.

Game Build Quality

The Shared Dream comes with 30 map tiles, 10 Anima mats and 10 paired Animus mats, 30 Animus ability cards, 10 Anima standees, 10 Animus miniatures, 4 Nemesis miniatures, 9 Reaver miniatures and accompanying card, 30 Dark Magic cards, 10 Shadow standees, 30 Echo cards, 16 Artifact cards, 5 Shared Dream scenario cards, 134 Large Scenario-specific cards, 97 Small Scenario-specific cards, 40 Conviction/Nightmare tokens, 9 Doubt tokens, 4 Rank/Animus locked tokens, 54 Wound tokens, 3 Trap tokens, 50 Taint cubes, and 50 Event/Temporary Health cubes.  The card stock, tokens, and cubes were all of good quality to be expected in a large box game. The map tiles are durable. The cards have good thickness. The standees punched cleanly. The many miniatures are a durable plastic. Some of the details on the miniatures are a little soft in places, but overall I still found them better than your average board game miniatures.

Artistic Direction

The Shared Dream has a wonderful character design for both its player characters and its Nemesis/monster characters.  There is a lot of lore to draw from with the preexisting tabletop roleplaying game and you can feel this large source of fluff lingering in the background of the art and it really helps to provide a consistent vision.  The character mats feature a small portrait that does not interfere with the necessary information, likewise with the Reaver and Animus ability cards. The map tiles may look a little plain to some, but I like the approach.  They feature cityscapes viewed from above as if from a satellite image. Location information is easy to read and tile information such as STOP signs and taint locations are clearly marked. It certainly proves beneficial once the city starts to fill up form Taint cubes, Player characters and Enemy characters.

Age Range & Weight

The box for The Shared Dream lists ages 15 and up.  This is more reflective of theme than complexity. Mechanically the game has similar rhythms and requires the kind of problem solving one expects from a quality cooperative game.  Making the best use of your actions every turn and managing your resources while carefully pushing your luck with rising Taint levels and enemies threatening the players. Thematically, the game deals with some mature themes and can get a little dark in places as the players investigate their own stories and are literally fighting back the stuff of nightmares.  Obviously personal discretion and situation play a factor, but I wouldn’t play with children much younger than 13 or so without taking care to evaluate their specific maturity.

Conclusions

I love cooperative games.  They are what I gravitated toward when I first reentered the hobby about a decade ago.  I have played many of them and so am familiar with their similar rhythms. I found The Shared Dream very enjoyable.  Some of those familiar beats are there, but managing your Conviction and Nightmare levels and waiting for the right time to channel your Animus proved interesting tweaks to my expectations.  I also enjoyed how much focus ODAM Publishing has put into variability and therefore replayability with their game. The random city layouts mean that sometimes navigating the city is a simple affair while other games may prove more difficult.  The multiple scenarios in the base game provide a range of difficulty and complexity. The personal reflections are a very interesting way to add narrative to the experience and with multiple decks for each scenario, even playing the same scenario multiple times can feel quite a bit different.  The whole game has a very crisp look to it.

If I had to complain, I would say that the city cards are a little uninspiring, however I think it’s a tradeoff to provide a better user experience regarding readability and that is a complicated balance on which many people will disagree.  I also think the rules could do with a slight polish. There are times when the same game concept is addressed in multiple places and thus some aspects of said concept can appear in multiple places instead of together. It made looking for a specific rule a touch cumbersome, but once you grasp the mechanics I doubt you will need to refer to the rulebook much so it is a small problem.  There are already numerous expansions available for The Shared Dream and we at MeepleGamers cannot wait to bring you a look at them in the coming weeks. As it happens, ODAM Publishing are currently running a Kickstarter project for a 2nd printing of The Shared Dream with some minor rules updates and cosmetic fixes so if the game sounds interesting to you you should certainly head over to Kickstarter to check it out.

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