Pixel Glory: Light and Shadow was designed by Frank Alberts and Russel Ng and released by Zafty Games in 2018. It has a highly playable solo mode, is easy to set up, quick to play and a lot of fun. So how come people don’t seem to be talking about this game? Is it because of the misleading information on the back of the box? Or is a menacing conspiracy of wargamers doing a cover-up? Or is the problem that the game looks like something that caters to the kind of person who started watching Star Trek because of The Big Bang Theory, making the kind of person who hangs out on BoardGameGeek suspicious of it? We will never know. But with this review sales will go through the roof, I’m sure. Now I’ll give you a rundown of the game and share some thoughts.
Getting to Know the Game
Pixel Glory: Light and Shadow (PG: L&S) is a card game for one to four players but this review – like all my reviews – only takes solo play into consideration. In the game you take on the role of a “greedy wizard who is all about fame and personal gain”, but since the goal of the solo game is to save a village by defeating monsters you actually feel like a rather decent person. The game comes in a nice, sturdy box with great pixelated art that has a vintage computer game feel. On the back of the box it’s called a game of dungeon crawling, deck-building and auction-drafting. The multiplayer variants sure have an auction-drafting phase, but in my opinion this game is neither a deck-builder nor a dungeon crawler. This misleading product description is mitigated by how much fun the game is to play, though.
PG: L&S comes with 111 cards to build your deck, 26 monster cards to fight against, HP trackers for up to four wizards, some life tokens for the monsters, some additional cards for multiplayer and an accessible rule book that should have you playing the game in a matter of minutes. On top of this you get two mysterious, secret card packs. I’m not going to spoil the contents of those in this review.
The cards have the same kind of pixelated artwork as the box. Many of the cards, especially the monsters, have quirky names and funny illustrations to go with them. I often have a problem with humor in games, but PG: L&S manages to mildly amuse rather than annoy. The artwork is by Clara Ng and Konstantin Boyko. They’ve done a great job.
The whole package is well integrated. The lighthearted humor, the cute, pixelated retro artwork and the quirky fantasy theme all feel suitable for a lightweight, compact and affordable card game.
Playing the Game
First you have to set up your deck. The deck consists of two kinds of cards, Spells and Basic Attack Spells. All Spells have a number at the bottom – when a Spell is added to your deck that number of Basic Attack Spells are also added. Spells and Basic Attack Spells all have a color denoting what kind of magic they represent: red for fire, green for earth, blue for water, white for light and purple for shadow.
You start by adding three random Spells and the specified number of Basic Attack Spells to your deck. Then you draft an additional six spells by revealing two random Spells at a time, choosing one and discarding the other. When you have nine spells and the number of Basic Attack Spells specified on them your deck is ready. There’s a total of 36 Spell cards in the game, and since they are all unique and you only use nine of them per game your deck will be different every time.
When you have your deck ready, shuffle it, set your health to 14 on your HP Tracker for beginner difficulty level, set your Combo Points to 0, shuffle the deck of bad guys and put the Dungeon Lord on the bottom, reveal the top three monsters and start the fight!
Each turn you draw four cards and play your entire hand. The goal is to defeat the monsters. A defeated monster is immediately replaced by a new one from the deck. If you don’t manage to defeat a monster on a turn you take two damage and gain one Combo Point. If you defeat two or more on a turn you gain one HP. You can spend three Combo Points at any time to draw four additional cards or to kill a baddie. That’s it. Kill all of the monsters including the boss and you save the village, winning the game.
While the Spells are all unique and have varied effects, the Basic Attack Spells simply do one damage to a monster of your choice. They are sometimes in the way, clogging up your hand. The Spells, on the other hand, have powerful effects that let you draw cards, heal, manipulate your deck, discard pile and hand or do multiple damage, sometimes to all monsters at the same time. Some Spells have a weak effect and a variant effect that’s really powerful and is activated if you’ve played a certain number of cards of the same color before, on the same turn. To be able to play the powerful variant of a spell, you often need your Basic Spell cards as well, but if you have no spells with powerful variants in a certain color, any Basic Attack Spells of that color tend to be in the way.
One of the most important things to consider during the game is what cards to remove from your deck entirely. There are Spells that require you to remove a card to have any effect, and there are also monsters that have you remove each card that damages them. This may initially seem like steep prices to pay to play a card or to damage a monster, but getting rid of cards is the only way of improving your deck during gameplay. This is where the light strategy element of this game comes in. Other than that it’s mostly about light tactics. This is also why this game is not a deck-building game, since that tends to mean a game where you add cards to your deck as you play. In this game you make your deck, then play it, and optimization is done by removing cards only. A deck-deconstruction game!
The game is over in about half an hour. It plays smoothly, with quick motions and fast decisions. Most of the decisions are rather simple. I soon had to play at the hardcore difficulty level to get any challenge.
Like I mentioned above, this game is called a dungeon crawling game on the back of the box. In my opinion, too many of the typical dungeon crawling elements are missing to call this a dungeon crawler. There’s no leveling up, you find no loot or treasures, you don’t open any doors, you don’t do any exploring and so on. Rather, this game is about focusing your magical skills, making your deck more efficient as you play, and setting your deck up to play the mightiest combos possible with the cards you drafted at the start.
+ Good rule book and simple, streamlined solo rules. The game is easy to learn.
+ The game has great illustrations (but that’s very much a matter of personal opinion, I guess).
+ Nice flow to the gameplay.
+ The unique spells and the almost endless combinations that can be made with nine out of 36 unique cards offers variability, something that can often be lacking in a small game with simple rules.
+ Multiple modes of play means good value for your money. PG: L&S can be played competitively, cooperatively, team vs team or solo. I have only looked at the solo variant, however.
+ Nice HP Trackers.
– Misleading characterization of the game on the back of the box.
– Might be too simple for some players.
– There is a certain element of luck in this game. That could bother some people. In my experience the luck of the draw can be mitigated to a great extent by thinking twice about your choices during the drafting, and by making the right decisions during gameplay.
What I Think of this Game
It’s puzzling how little attention this game has gotten. It’s a very enjoyable, light solo fantasy game that looks great, and the way the game plays actually feels rather unique. It might seem like I’m nitpicking or nagging when I point out that this is no deck-builder, but to be honest I actually found it quite refreshing that this game turned out to be something else. I also have to point out that it feels nothing like Magic: The Gathering, despite the wizardry theme, five colors of magic and deck-construction.
To me there are three primary motivators when it comes to solo gaming. There’s theme or narrative, the component of a game that makes it feel like you had an experience and didn’t just exercise your brain. Then there’s the challenge, and by this I mean both the kind of challenge the game offers and how tough the challenge is. Then there’s another quality that can make me enjoy a game a lot even when neither theme nor challenge is particularly strong; the game can take me to the zone. Call it flow. Call it zoning out. It’s all about being very focused on one little thing, really, and it feels great, meditative. Rather few games have me zone out. Tetris is the first game that comes to mind. The first board game that really did it was The Cards of Cthulhu. In Pixel Glory: Light & Shadow I’ve discovered another game for zoning out. The challenge is fun but simple. The theme is cute and fun but not particularly immersive. Yet this game is quite addictive. It’s quite a pleasure. I really recommend it, and I have to say once again that I find it really odd that there’s not been more buzz surrounding this game.
If you’re looking for a light, easy to carry, affordable, simple, enjoyable, relaxing solitaire game, you should try Pixel Glory: Light & Shadow.
Other People’s Opinions
Glenn Flaherty of Bordgames and Bourbon also enjoys Pixel Glory: Light & Shadow, but I can’t possibly see it replacing any dungeon crawlers for me like he says it did for him. His video review also offers a walkthrough of the game.
If you’d like to know about the multiplayer variants of this game and how different they are from the solo variant that I have reviewed, Jason from The Board Game Mechanics offers some insight into that in this video review.
Thanks a lot for reading! I hope you got something out of it. The cats say meow!