April 20, 2024

First Impressions of Shadow Empire from Matrix Games

Undercovergeek, 7 May 2020

Shadow Empire is an immersive and complex turn-based game that combines 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. Shadow 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.

For those familar with VR Designs previous titles some key parts are instantly recognisable in Shadow Empire but in the main it feels like sweeping changes have been made for the new title. The game installs with a partially complete manual and reading it unveils some intriguing ideas and mechanics.  The eager starter should not ignore the first 20 pages of the manual however, where some immersive background and lore has been lovingly written by the designer. For those fans of the TLDR tag – Previous technologies have been lost in the dust and ashes of centuries of war – barbaric city states and small nations are all that survive now, do you fancy being elected the new ruler of one of these small nations with the dream of reuniting the shattered planet devastated by war?

In Shadow Empire, your planet is the product of a procedural generation system that others have said could be the template for all other 4x games and a benchmark for all games requiring a rich world creating for their story. Choose from eight different classes of planet, that class hints at a general idea of the kind of climate and terrain that may be generated on it. If you’re looking for details and a creation system that genuinely gives you a sense of ownership of the planet youve created, look no further – you will create the mass of the planet and its gravity, bring about a range of temperatures and climates and the seasonal changes that apply, its age, atmosphere, flora and fauna and all the creepy crawlies and indigenous hostiles. Would it be cool to create average rainfall, meddle with the ratio of mountains to plains to oceans, choose the tilt of the planet around google worthy star classes? It’s all in there, and if you dont like it, reroll if you wanted more mountains, polar ice caps or frozen seas – and when its done, it feels like your game world created just for you, unique to the last blade of grass, hidden ruin, weird alien life form.

click images to enlarge







Once this is done the game goes away and creates a chronological story of the planet, there will be dates and annotations about the worlds first colonisation by humanity and its development, how it was used and populated before the great war that is the subject of the games lore. After that the game generates details about how our planet fared during the war. This not only gives the player a historical context to the planet, it also frames information about the world’s starting environment – how many people survived, who they are – raiders, farmers, scavengers, or hunters, whilst also advising the player about any ecological and biological hazards, their numbers, and how scary they are. With me so far? We havent even started…..




Once built your planet is broken down into various zones described as coherent administrative areas consisting of a large number of hexes and a single city, these zones or territories are led by the player or AI factions. Each of these factions consists of governmental departments that are in charge of the apparatus of the empire such as economics, military research, covert operations and supreme command. The player receives and creates bureaucratic points that can be spent on the various organizations in order to perform tasks such as research, designing new hardware for the military, prioritising economic goals or the utilisation of the stratagem deck. These, currently 210, stratagems are a deck of cards that are randomly generated at the start of each new turn depending on what direction the player has taken the empire in ethically and politically – play with a certain autocratic flair and the deck will head down this ethos. Diplomacy, meritocracy and plain brutality all have their different cards and can be played in order to impact military units, leaders, zones or other factions, both minor and major.




The most valuable resource in the game is politcal points, used to improve cities and towns, create new units and vital HQs but you’ll also need old fashioned money to carry out your objectives. The amount of which will fluctuate based on inflation, deflation and scavenging. Money is used to pay leaders and the salaries of your workers, soldiers and colonists. It is also essential for trade – if your empire lacks machine tools to improve your factories but has an abundance of oil, head to the markets to buy and sell to cover the shortfall.

The most intriguing part of your new empire though is the Cabinet, consisting of the player’s departmental directors, HQ Commanders and all advisors and secretaries in your service. This mechanic adds a layer of role playing to the game as you study the CVs of your candidates, hire and fire (with consequences) your directors, and suffer the benfits and detriments of their actions – choosing to quell a rebellion in your capital will satisfy most of your team, and you earn their faith in your leadership but go against some of their advice and their friendliness declines, through animosity and straight into their own rebellion if you cointinue. Your decisions are also influenced by political entities and factions within your empire that the directors are members or leaders of – annoy the faction leader of Steel Dawn for example and all other members throughout your Cabinet will not be happy – not good if the commander of your forces is also in that party.






Populations in Shadow Empire are just as intriguing. They have different cultures, which provide each Regime with certain traits such as specialist troops unavailable to other factions, higher birth rates, or better research. Populations also pay taxes and can construct  their own assets which are not controlled by the player, but which can generate further Credits through raising income and sales tax. Give the governor enough money and schools and hospitals will be built delivering bonuses to your empire

Research and discovery is brilliant. Different organizations throughout your empire perform research-like tasks, the priorities steered by the directives you give the council leaders. Some of these tasks involve specific technology, others are geared toward the development of new formations for your forces, or new units altogether. Before anything can be researched or designed however, the idea must be discovered first. For example discover first the concept of light tanks, then research light tanks, and then design light tanks, then discover, research and design higher velocity guns, protective side skirts, bigger engines – the list goes on. These ideas are revealed by focusing your council on a specific area of discovery so that once an idea is revealed, it may be put to some practical use – you utilise a slider bar for the research priorities, to share resources between design and actual research – have a 90/10 research/design outlook and new ideas will come flooding in but you will only be able to research a few of them.




When diplomacy and scouting break down its time to use the military. Shadow Empire utilises all the interesting mechanics that Advanced Tactics brought to wargaming whilst adding a lot more enjoyable complexity to the combat system. Your units are part of a formation that is run by your Staff Council, those formations are led by a leader of your choosing and made up of equipment and infantry that are designed by the design council. That materiel is light vehicles, tanks, artillery pieces, etc. Each of these must be prototyped before being produced and ultimately sent into battle.

The troops making up the formations in Shadow Empire are either Militia, Regular or Replacement. Militia troops are present at the start of the game to give you a start and are autonomous, but for their movement. You can’t design or amend their formations and the responsibility for supplies and weapons is their own. Their military strength and ability to supply and replace losses will be based on the militancy level of their home.

Your regular troops are recruited and operated by you and you also determine their order of battle and the contents of that OOB. They draw food, supplies, ammunition and replacements from the empires stockpiles that you control using a logistics system to make War in the Pacific, that much vaunted supply simulator, blush




Headquarters are Operational or Strategic. Operational HQs coordinate the efforts of frontline units and incur bonuses and develop as your council leaders do, while the higher level Strategic HQs are responsible for logistics,  and providing supplies for distribution to your troops. After your careful manouevres and scouting its time to attack, the Combat Selection window appears showing information on the modifiers, as well as an estimate of the combat odds based upon levels of recon which can be improved by time on scene or by sending spies using your strategem cards.




Throughout this youll be kept busy making Empire wide decisions on events occurring in your zones, with your leaders or with nefarious third parties such as crime syndicates and cults – all these decisions need careful balancing as positive and negative results sway your leaders opinion of you. Should you choose to support your Supreme leader who has made an embarrasing public announcement and increase unrest, or denounce him and incur his wrath and possibly that of the faction hes a member of?

The developer writes that this is the most ambitious game VR Designs has ever made. He promises to provide a very rich experience and a truly unique game that is unlike anything we have seen before. Having played a very engaging 100 turns, watched my empire rise and fall and rise again whilst never been overwhelmed – i think hes right


Main features –

  • 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)
  • 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 pacts and deals to ensure a peaceful coexistence
  • Realistic supply model where running out of 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


There’s plenty more to come from the Armchair Dragoons about Shadow Empire.  Stay tuned!

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Brant G

Editor-in-chief at Armchair Dragoons

View all posts by Brant G →

One thought on “First Impressions of Shadow Empire from Matrix Games

  1. Excellent review. Have you played Advanced Tactics Gold (ATG)? If so, is this game such a ‘clickfest’ as ATG? Is the UI as inflexible?

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