December 2011 brought with it Shadowghast Manor, the latest set of Dungeon Tiles from Wizards of the Coast. Like the previous sets in the DN series (as well as DT and DU), Shadowghast Manor includes six sheets of double-sided tiles printed on sturdy cardboard, and features the unsurpassed cartographic artistry of Jason Engle. I’m a Dungeon Tiles junkie and not afraid to admit it, but I must also confess that this set does not energize me the way most Dungeon Tiles sets usually do.
Part of my disappointment with Shadowghast Manor simply comes from my own poorly-informed expectations about the product. I keyed on the word “manor” in the name and created in my own mind the expectation of another urban product—that is, one with wooden floors that would blend easily with the urban interiors in Streets of Shadow, Harrowing Halls, and Master Set: The City. Alas, I misled myself. The interior floors in Shadowghast Manor are all made of stone, which I found to be sort of a letdown. The back cover invites you to create “haunted houses” with this set, but what’s a haunted house without creaky floorboards? Still, this disappointment is really my own fault, a result of turning my desires into expectations.
A couple of other things, however, must be laid at WotC’s doorstep. Shadowghast Manor keeps with a recent and, in my mind, unfortunate trend in recent Dungeon Tiles products: you need two sets of tiles to build the sample layout on the inside back cover, and even that gives you a relatively limited repertoire. You’re never going to build Castle Ravenloft with the tiles on just six sheets, of course; let’s be realistic about that. Even so, you’d think that Peter Lee, or Jason Engle, or whoever designs the sample layouts could design one that a new buyer could build with just one set, perhaps like the one below.
I’ve outlined the tiles in red so that you can see the sizes as well as the artwork, and to show off Shadowghast Manor‘s niftiest new feature, a set of four half-inch by two-inch tiles that let you link together the fence pieces included in the set (on one side of the tiles) or create new walls (on the other side of the tile). The layout shown above uses all four of those tiles. If you were to remove the skinny fence tiles from my sample, you’d find gaps in the fence. At first, I didn’t like those gaps, but when I turned to sheet 6 and saw the “patches,” I saw the advantages at once. On the other hand, Shadowghast Manor lacks at least one feature that I thought we ought to see: a staircase. If you want your manor to have a second floor, you’re going to need borrow a spiral staircase from Master Set: The Dungeon or some other source. Again, what’s a haunted house without a second floor?
As you can see on the map, there’s a staircase down, though—down into the crypt, where the tiles had me laughing out loud. I mean, how many coffins does one manor need? Everywhere you turn, there are coffins filling up every available nook and cranny. I expected coffins, but I didn’t expect to be inundated with them. I get that it’s a crypt, and that perhaps many generations of the family are buried here (although they should learn a thing or two about space management), but really, does every single underground tile need coffins or skulls? By the time I reached sheet 6B, I was very tired of coffins. At least Jason gave us some variety by using three or four different styles of coffins. The tile on the top of sheet 3B, on which one stone coffin’s lid has been pulled—or pushed—off and shattered on the floor is very evocative, one of relatively few in this set that suggests a story.
I probably have to give this one ★★★, the lowest rating I think I’ve ever given a WotC Dungeon Tiles product. I’m not sorry to have purchased two copies of Shadowhast Manor, but I think I’ll mostly be using the manor side, with very few forays into the crypt side. It’s just not as versatile as most of the other sets. I still recommend the set, as long as you realize what you’re getting. If you’re planning to get a Shadowghast Manor set or two, please consider purchasing from the Vorpal Network’s sponsor Noble Knight or from the Icosahedrophilia Store to support the podcast associated with this blog.