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Video Game / Shadow Empire

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In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only logistics.

Shadow Empire is a complex science-fiction Turn-Based Strategy game that was developed by VR Designs and released in 2020.

The year is 8200 CE, centuries after the collapse of galactic civilization, and you are the leader of a small city-state on a hostile, forgotten planet. For you, a return to the stars is too lofty a dream. Your only goal is to dominate your ruined world by any means necessary, unifying its (remaining) people under a single regime.

Of course, your rival regimes - ranging from resurgent major regimes like your own to minor regimes of raiders, slavers, mutant barbarians, xenomorph-like arachnids, religious fanatics, and remnant killbots - aren't going to just hand the planet to you.

Besides the complexity and logistics you might expect from a hex-based planetary conquest game, Shadow Empire brings three main innovations to the table: a detailed planet generation system inspired by actual astrophysics (which can generate anything from airless moons to lava hellscapes to irradiated death worlds to biohazard jungle planets infested with ravenous alien megafauna); the stratagem card system which turns your administration into something of a deck-building game; and extensive RPG Elements that include not only every governor, council director, advisor, and military leader in your regime, but your regime itself, with your decisions and policies contributing to a "regime profile" of values - and the more extreme you can go in one direction, the more powerful perks you'll unlock for your regime.


In practice, this leads to all kinds of emergent chaos spicing up what was once your simple plan to conquer a planet. Every turn, you have to make decisions about events in your empire and about issues that your various councilors need resolved. You might end up committing to a decision that you don't like just to keep your most powerful leaders happy. You might inadvertently cause a famine or economic downturn in a zone when you nationalize the only farm or oil deposit to supply your army, leaving your civilian population nowhere to buy food or fuel for themselves. You might end up being dragged into a war when a neighboring regime asks for your help in rooting out dissidents who have fled to your zone, and you refuse because complying would increase your regime's Autocracy value, which would negatively impact its Meritocracy value, which you don't want because you're grinding Meritocracy perks.


In short, it's Panzer General meets King of Dragon Pass meets Aurora (4X). Nothing to do with the Star Wars book Shadows of the Empire or the Video Game based on it.

Shadow Empire provides examples of:

  • Acceptable Breaks from Reality: In a few places, most notably the rectangle map for planets (which is easier to display but less "accurate" than a globe map would be) and the notion that such small populations would be able to put together planet-wide logistic networks, power plants, vast armies, etc within the timeframe of a typical game. For the latter, the manual speculates that perhaps humans thousands of years in the future have more advanced construction and manufacturing techniques than we have on modern day Earth.
  • After the End: Your regime comes into the picture centuries after the Dissolution War ended the Galactic Republic and wrecked every inhabited planet in the galaxy. If you do full planet generation during game setup, you get to see exactly how badly the war hit your world, too.
  • A.I.-Generated Economy: Similar to Distant Worlds, every zone has a private sector economy that builds infrastructure and interacts with the populace on its own. You can tax the private sector and sometimes boost it with stratagems, but you cannot directly control it.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: While uncommon, a minor regime can be a surviving AI (with robot forces) left over from the Dissolution War. Surviving AIs generally ignore you until you reach a certain Tech Level, but once you've caught their attention, they enter Kill All Humans mode and do not respond to diplomacy.
  • Alliance Meter: Every other regime has a Relations value with your regime, rating how much they like you. The higher the value, the easier it is to execute diplomatic stratagems on them.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: Among the major regimes, theocratic regimes ruled by Crusader factions will never be interested in anything but war with you. Arachnids and many native life forms are also invariably hostile to you. Finally, unaligned military units (who are the most analogous to the roving Barbarians of Civilization) will never peacefully co-exist with you, either.
  • Apocalypse How: Galactic Societal Collapse, and boy did it hurt. Potential fallout of the Dissolution War includes localized Species Extinction or Physical Annihilation, as rogue warlords fighting during the prehistory unleash nukes or viral bombs on each other, or a damaged starship deorbits and slams into an unsuspecting city.
  • Appeal to Force: Some types of regimes will tread carefully around you if your military is greater than theirs. Some.
  • Archaeological Arms Race: Scavenging ruins (or even just gaining control of hexes with interesting perks) will occasionally produce Galactic Republic era weapons and war machines, which can definitely give a regime an edge over its rivals.
  • Armor Is Useless: Averted, as a stiff penalty is applied if a weapon's caliber is too low to punch through a target's armor, to the point that ten heavily-armored mecha can shrug off the attacks of hundreds of early-game infantry without one casualty on their side, pounding the human meatbags with their own weapons until the latter are driven from the battlefield.
  • "Ass" in Ambassador: There are numerous stratagem cards to improve relations with neighboring regimes, but - like most strategems - they require the relevant leader to make a skill roll. If they critically fail the roll, the result for many of these cards is worse relations with the target regime.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: Because you have to design all your units beyond your starting infantry, it's not terribly difficult to end up here if you don't know what you're doing. Want to give your new tank the heaviest gun and the thickest armor? Wow, look at those combat values! Too bad it's as slow as molasses even with the most powerful engine available and too expensive to manufacture in great numbers.
  • A Winner Is You: Once you fulfill the victory condition (control enough territory/population to have a Victory Score of 50+ while being at least 25 points ahead of all other major regimes), you are treated to a simple pic of a military parade with the caption "Your strength is now so big the others do not stand a chance anymore. You have won the game!" But titles like this are more about the journey than the destination, we suppose.
  • Back from the Brink: Whatever population your planet held during the Colonization phase, the Dissolution War phase will invariably leave only a (tiny) fraction of them alive. Your goal is to transform your ruined world and its dwindling survivors back into a unified civilization.
  • Barbarian Tribe: Minor regimes who are Hunters, Nomads, or Mutants are basically this.
  • Bread and Circuses: Your population doesn't really care how repressive your regime profile is, as long as there is enough food and Quality of Life improvements in their cities. (Though keeping hostile units away from the gates doesn't hurt, either.)
  • Bug War: If that neighboring minor regime happens to be Arachnids, then this is what you'll have. They're semi-sentient and attack humans on sight, but the reason why they are so prevalent on human-colonized worlds has been lost to time. As Arachnids never engage in diplomacy, their origins remain a mystery.
  • Complexity Addiction: Having this isn't strictly necessary to enjoy this game, but it certainly doesn't hurt.
  • Crapsack World: The Shadow Empire galaxy isn't as grimdark as Warhammer 40,000 (at least there are no aliens or demons to blame for humanity's misery), but it remains that probably every still-inhabited planet in the galaxy is a ruined hellhole contested by dozens of warring, barbaric regimes.
  • Cult: There are several cults that can take root among your people. Thankfully, they tend to be more kooky than malevolent or apocalyptic. Supporting them can have benefits, such as priests to improve your armies or better relations with your leaders who happen to be members of the cult.
  • Death of a Thousand Cuts: Battles between large armies often play out this way, as defeated units tend to flee more often than get killed outright, requiring the victor to chase them to the next hex and attack again (if the victor's goal is total eradication, that is). Even if your side is clearly stronger, it can take several turns (representing months of fighting) to wipe out an enemy doomstack. The trick is to break through the enemy's line and encircle units entirely; if they have no tile to flee into, they'll surrender instead.
  • Death World: Not all the planets you generate in this game will be equally hellish, but they will all have some combination of poisonous air (if any air at all), radiation, toxic soil, extreme temperatures, and/or hostile native life. They will all have numerous unfriendly human (and sometimes subhuman or inhuman) regimes.
  • Design-It-Yourself Equipment: Every single military unit, to an extreme only exceeded by Aurora (4X). Most 4X games have you research a unit's model (or base type) and leave it at that. Here, the model is only the beginning - every single piece of a unit's equipment can be independently researched, too.
  • Disc-One Nuke: Even in early turns, ruin-looting and certain Fate stratagems can give you units like robotic walker Sentinels and Galactic Republic infantry, with firepower far outstripping any of your starter units. These ass-kickers can still go down from a lucky hit in battle and eventually you'll learn how to build better versions of them for yourself anyway... but they're nice when you can get a few of them early. A very literal example is the GR Hellraiser, a single-use mobile nuclear missile launcher.
    • Bunkers can also contain ancient Republic artificial intelligences that, with a good skill roll, can gift you all kinds of exotic technologies and let you skip the prerequisite techs for that technology. Getting your hands on the ability to manufacture laser rifles or battledress can be a huge boon, if you can keep up with the energy/tooling demands.
  • Domed Hometown: As almost all planets are going to be atmospherically hostile to humans, this is a given, and at least one Disaster stratagem card implies this to be the case for all cities. Agri-Domes are your fallback farming option early on, and can be used regardless of atmospheric or ecological conditions.
  • Early Game Hell:
    • With default game settings, you begin with a few units of irregular infantry, vehicles, and artillery. If you end up on a planet with a lot of hostile life, you'll probably struggle to gain ground against them with these paltry forces.
    • Depending on how the RNG feels today, you can also start with a zone with no metal deposit and hostile/militant neighbors, leaving you to squeeze what metal you can from ruins while trying to forestall the inevitable invasions.
  • Easy Communication: You'll have hell to pay if your logistics network can't keep your military units supplied, but at least you can effortlessly order them to do anything, even if they're on the other side of the planet from your strategic HQ.
  • Energy Weapon: Laser and plasma weapons make up the topmost tiers of the personal and vehicle scale weaponry, and are a massive firepower boost over ballistic weapons.
  • Experience Points: Leaders can gain XP towards advancing their skills as they do their appointed jobs. Military units can also gain XP from battles, which will improve their combat readiness.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Recon is very important, as you want to know exactly who's in a hex (and how many of them there are) before you attack it with your own units. Getting hit by this trope sucks twice over, as you're underestimating the enemy's composition going in, and once the battle starts, your troops will have a lot of fun trying to hit any units who remain hidden. If you don't spot any hostile units in a hex before you enter it, the battle opens as an ambush, with the enemy getting a round of free shots at your side.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: The UCM drive, which allowed humanity to colonize the galaxy.
  • Fight Like a Card Player: Run Your Administration Like A Card Player, actually. One of the big selling points of this game is that while running your regime can be complex, the most impactful things you can do are governed by stratagem cards which you draw every turn. The stratagems you draw depend on your regime profile and the budget that you allocate to your departments. Boost the right department or jack up the right regime value, and you might get a stratagem that lets you insert a horde of spies into a rival major regime, or assimilate a minor regime outright, or attract an emperor's ransom worth of private investment into one of your zones, or bring all your leaders to a loyalty-boosting mega-convention, or open up a hidden cache of pre-apocalypse ultra-tech. Of course, your leaders will all have their opinions about which regime profile values you should be pursuing - and your leaders who are department heads really hate having their budget shifted to another department. Nothing happens in a vacuum in this game.
  • Fog of War: On the map screen, you see only what your units can see. And depending on the recon power of your units, you may or may not be seeing everything (or, more precisely, everyone) on a visible hex, either.
  • 4X: With the most emphasis on "Expand" and "Exterminate".
  • Gameplay Randomization: Your planet (and its local regimes) is randomized every game, as is much of the tech tree.
  • Geo Effects: As with many hex-based wargames, knowing how the terrain affects your units will help you win battles. It can also dramatically influence your approach; mountains, for example, are almost (if not completely) impassable to wheeled and tracked vehicles, meaning only infantry and walkers can operate effectively in such terrain. If enemy infantry have entrenched themselves in a mountain hex, you better hope you can surround them to wear them down with artillery/air attacks and starve them out, or else they're going to be a constant nuisance.
  • Giant Enemy Crab: Alien life can take many forms (molluscoids and squid are common), but one of them is, of course, crustaceans. These can be sentient too, and if they've formed a minor regime you may find yourself fighting giant enemy crabs.
  • Glass Cannon: You can make any kind of unit with the heaviest weapon you can build, but only minimal armor. Motorbike units especially, as they can be armed with fairly powerful weaponry but can never go higher than padded envirosuits, the second tier of personal armour.
  • Global Currency: Zig-zagged. You need credits to pay your soldiers and workers, as well as to buy resources from the inter-zone traders. However, you use abstract Bureaucratic Points to "fund" your administration's stratagem-generating departments, and you use Political Points to upgrade your cities, raise new armies, appoint leaders, change a director's focus, and execute stratagems. Both types of points depend on certain buildings and your empire's overall strength; your credits cannot help you with tasks in either category.
  • Great Offscreen War: The Dissolution War. It came and went centuries ago, and your people just get to live with the hardship and endless violence of its aftermath.
  • Hit So Hard, the Calendar Felt It: The in-game date isn't the CE year, but the number of years since the Dissolution War ended everything. Interestingly, the "current" year isn't always the same for every planet (and game), either.
  • Insult Backfire: If the Head of your Foreign Affairs Council rolls poorly on the Intimidate check for a Provocation card, they may flub it so hard that you gain relation with the target instead of losing it.
  • Jet Pack: Jetpack troopers are one of the models of infantry that you can research, and a rare GR infantry unit you can sometimes get access to.
  • Karma Meter:
    • As intricate as anything else in this game is, your regime profile has three different meters: Politics, Society, and Psychology. Each of these in turn has three metrics: Autocracy/Meritocracy/Democracy for Politics, Commerce/Government/Enforcement for Society, and Heart/Fist/Mind for Psychology. In each of these sets, each of the values suppresses another value and is itself suppressed by the third. For example, Autocracy suppresses Meritocracy but is suppressed by Democracy. In practice, going to an extreme in one value (and reaping the perks that come with that value) requires you to avoid raising the suppressing value at all costs. Of course, the decisions which give you a chance to influence these values don't happen in a vacuum, and you will sometimes be forced to choose between clinging to your favorite value and receiving a windfall for your regime, or making nice with a leader who hates that value, or avoiding pissing off a neighboring regime, or staving off unrest in your capital zone, or...
    • As a ruler, you also have a Word rating, which measures how often you have kept promises to (and fulfilled demands from) your regime's factions. A high Word rating is particularly beneficial when you're negotiating with other Regimes.
  • La Résistance: Upset leaders, governors, and other staff may turn against you; pushed far enough, they may even attempt to lead a full-blown militia uprising in a city. This can go about as well for them as you'd expect if you currently have a loyalist military brigade stationed in the city at the time...
  • Land of One City: Your regime can only ever have one city per zone. Extremely large zones cause administrative strain which has negative effects on productivity, but you can easily found new cities and thus make new zones, and reshape internal borders more-or-less as you see fit. Chances are you'll find yourself founding a few new cities during the course of a campaign, in order to exploit remote clusters of resource deposits or to secure strategic locations.
  • Lost Technology: Your planet was once at least an outpost (if not a center of economy or a full blown sector capital) for a vast galactic civilization, but the Dissolution War knocked you back down to 20th century equipment and fossil fuels. From the early game on, recycling centers and scavenging communities in ruins will be both a significant part of your economy AND a way to get your hands on galactic-level artifacts.
  • Magnetic Weapons: Gauss and Charged Gauss weapons. GR infantry and walkers start with Charged Gauss weapons, which gives them a significant firepower boost compared to regular slugthrowers.
  • Mega-Corp: Corporations can be a presence on your world. Like every other faction in this game, they can be a thorn in your side, an asset for you to cultivate, or - most probably - a little of both.
  • Military Coup: A civil war on your turf is one possible (and common) consequence of becoming unpopular with your military leaders.
  • Morale Mechanic: For non-robot units, maintaining morale is important to keep the unit from panicking in battle - or joining a rebellion against you.
  • More Dakka: Automatic weapons (kinetic or otherwise) are always a fine upgrade for infantry. Contrary to the usual trope, MG-equipped infantry are vastly better at defending a hex than attacking one. You can also build Quad Machine Guns and Mechanized QMGs, which have devastating amounts of anti-infantry firepower and thus are great for dealing with poorly-equipped rebels or hostile natives.
  • My Rules Are Not Your Rules: Due to the game's complexity, the AI regimes get a few minor rules breaks over the player. For example, major regimes can build Dirt Roads for free, and only player regimes must deal with decisions or story events. It also gets to ignore minimum level requirements for airfields, now that planes are in the game.
  • Nature Is Not Nice: Except for some of the Siwa-class (ie Earthlike) worlds, any native life you encounter on any planet will generally do its best to kill your units. And that's not even mentioning worlds where the native ecosystem itself is sufficiently toxic to generate a Biohazard rating.
  • Neutrals, Critters, and Creeps:
    • Minor regimes can be Slavers, Raiders, Mutants, Arachnids, Surviving AI, or other jerkasses, but they exist only to obstruct (and be absorbed by) the major regimes, of which your own empire is one. Some planets also have hostile indigenous life that (while not part of any regime) is dangerous enough to threaten civilian assets and military units, forming roaming herds of thousands of crabs/molluscs/land-squid/et cetera.
    • Most zones also contain Free Folk settlements, who are not officially part of any regime. These people are content to be just part of the scenery, but can migrate into your own population if your cities are appealing enough. Then again, if your cities are wretched cesspools, your population can start deserting you to become Free Folk.
  • No Biochemical Barriers: Averted. If your planet has an alien ecosystem, it's more likely than not that your (human) population will be unable to derive full (or even any) nutrition from it, forcing you to rely on Agri-Domes.
  • Nuclear Option: ICBMs with various different sizes of nuclear warhead are one late game weapon. You can also arm your anti-tank infantry with micronuke missiles, load monitor tank howitzers with mininukes, and find 'Hellraiser' mobile nuclear missile launchers - relics of the Republic's armed forces - that can only be used once. Whether the use of nuclear weaponry is warranted or overkill is up to you. Either way, the target hex will be irradiated and require cleanup.
  • Permanent Elected Official: Even if your regime profile is ostensibly democratic, you're permanently in charge, and only an outright defeat of your regime can remove you from office.
  • Pet the Dog: The event system sometimes gives you chances to play this trope, such as returning a caught spy to their home regime without even demanding a ransom.
  • Player Personality Quiz: At the start of the game, after your planet is generated, you answer a short series of questions about how your regime came to be. These questions in turn determine your starting regime profile.
  • Polluted Wasteland: A potential outcome of the Dissolution War is use of chemical, biological, and/or nuclear weapons against various factions, which can leave areas as blighted wastelands. To a lesser degree, using nuclear weapons will cause long-term radiation on tiles, and units with portable nuclear engines or micronuke weaponry will irradiate tiles when they're destroyed too.
  • Possession Implies Mastery: Averted. In most games, you'll dig up a few robotic walkers and/or energy weapons to supplement your army long before you're anywhere near learning how to build such tech for yourself.
  • Powered Armor: Called Battledress, it makes up the top two tiers of personal armour for infantry. It's not completely invulnerable by any stretch of the imagination, but against low-tier infantry it might as well be unstoppable.
  • Ragnarök Proofing: Downplayed. All that remains of the Galactic Republic's cities are ruins. You can set up recycling facilities to loot the ruins, but they only reliably generate Fuel, Metal, and other basic resources that aren't particularly special. Only occasionally do they yield an Artifact or any weaponry from the Galactic Republic's era.
  • Random Event: These happen to your regime almost every turn, and how you deal with them influences your regime profile.
  • Reluctant Warrior: Minor regimes who are Farmers aren't quite as laughably weak as you might expect. They're in no hurry to start a fight (unlike Raiders or Mutants or Arachnids), but the challenge of defending their fields in a ruined world forces them to keep what's usually a sizeable militia.
  • The Remnant: Every regime, minor and major, is this by default - a vestigial remnant of the once-extant Galactic Republic. (Well, except for possibly the Arachnid and Indigenous Xeno regimes.)
  • Resources Management Gameplay: Easy Logistics trope is averted, as your army units who stray (or get cut off) from your supply network will lose morale and inevitably starve. Therefore, getting your troops to the front line is only half the battle. The other half is making sure that you build - and protect - enough roads, truck stations, supply bases, and rail lines to keep your troops supplied with Food, Ammo, Fuel, Energy, and reinforcements!
  • RPG Elements: Your military commanders, council directors, governors, and other leaders in your regime have a variety of skills that affect their job performance. Your regime, too, gains feats (bonuses) depending on what regime profile your decisions create. On top of this, your leaders all have their own preferences for what regime values you should pursue, as well.
  • Rule of Three: Doubly-invoked, as your regime profile not only has three categories (Politics, Society, and Psychology), but each of the categories has three metrics, as mentioned under Karma Meter above.
  • Settling the Frontier: You begin with ruling one zone on your planet (among dozens of zones), and even that zone will have resources and ruins for you to discover and exploit. Then you expand into other zones...
  • Single-Biome Planet: Played with. While a lot of planets you generate in this game could be blithely described as "desert planet" or "jungle planet" or "airless moon" or whatever, it remains that every planet has varying terrain that you need to pay attention to. When it comes to moving your non-infantry units around, the farther you get from "flat plains", the more you're going to suffer - and the more you're going to pay for roads and rail lines, too.
  • Support Power: Play nice with a cult, and you can get stratagems that will attach a priest to one of your military unit, giving them a minor bonus of one sort or another. Other stratagems and random events can give other types of support to your units, such as champions, snipers, commandos, rare artifact tech, or drones.
  • Tank Goodness: The only tanks you can start with are irregular militia tanks that are replaced only when the militia gets around to it. They're better than nothing, to be fair, but there's a certain joy you'll feel when your regime completes the research to build proper tanks of your own. By the endgame you can develop "Monitor Tanks", which are huge beasts with massive firepower and heavy armour, but are extremely slow.
  • There's No Kill Like Overkill: Notably discouraged, as there is a penalty if your doomstack is bringing too much firepower to bear on too few targets. Not that this penalty will likely cause you to lose a battle, but you can end up squandering more precious Ammo to defeat the opposition than was necessary. It helps encourage players to deploy their military units more efficiently.
  • Timed Mission: Random events, demands from factions within your regime, and even campaign promises can impose these on you. Generally, you end up having X turns to raise a certain parameter to Y, keep a specific hex from being captured, or conquer a target hex.
  • Video Game Caring Potential: One of the most important and yet easily-overlooked factors in the game is a zone's Quality of Life - which has several subfactors such as Security, Healthcare, Education, and so on. Whilst Zones will try to take care of these needs by themselves with privately owned and operated assets, establishing government-operated hospitals and schools is one of the best ways to draw the Free Folk to your cities and have a stable, thriving population and economy. Many events also have upset civilians voicing their concerns (either with low pay, dangerous working conditions, incompetent governors) and make you decide who to support.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: The negative Fate Cards allow you to visit all kinds of calamities upon your regime (and its people) in exchange for Fate Points you can spend elsewhere. And that's not even touching turning a blind eye to unrest by simply using your military to keep your population centers in line.
  • Vigilante Militia: Any zone with high Militancy has a chance to spontaneously raise Militia units. These forces are essentially poorly-trained and poorly-equipped rabble, but they can be useful for maintaining order at home whilst your professional army handles the messy business of war and conquest.
  • War for Fun and Profit: One of the best ways to get your hands on that sweet Galactic Republic Lost Technology is to conquer a neighboring zone wholesale (as the game checks interesting hexes for loot when your regime first acquires them).
  • You Have Researched Breathing: With the default game setup options, your starting tech level has some astonishing gaps for a remnant of a former galactic civilization. It's one thing to have to rediscover lasers and robotic mecha, but even things like barracks require research to unlock.
  • You Lose at Zero Trust: You don't immediately lose if your military leaders despise you. You just have to win back their faith before they decide to overthrow you with the army that is now theirs rather than yours.
  • You Require More Vespene Gas: Constructing (and maintaining) buildings and military units requires having enough Food, Water, Fuel, Metal, Rare Metal, Energy, Machinery, Hi-Tech Parts, and/or Radioactives. All of these things must be grown, generated, or mined from surface deposits by your regime. Constructing anything also requires Industrial Points, military units require Ammo/Energy to fight depending on their weapons, and Logistics points are used to move EVERYTHING mentioned here to where it is needed.