A couple of months ago at the UK Games Expo I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Mark Wootton from AEG. Afterwards he gave us all some games, my co-conspirator Mark Rivera from Board Games in Blighty quickly snaffooed War of Honor, leaving me with Nightfall.
Although I’m not going to say no to free games Nightfall did not appeal to me. I am not a huge fan of the theme, despite being a big fan of Buffy, Angel and Supernatural. In addition, what I knew of the mechanics of the game led me to think that my primary play group would struggle to grasp the game.
So, I took it home and put in on a shelf, every now and then I’d throw it in my backpack and take it to my game night only to never take it out. Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I gave in and my friend and I sat down to learn the game, what did we think of it? You’ll have to wait and see…
Night has fallen and the world has descended into chaos. Vampires and werewolves roam the streets, locked in mortal combat with one another, backed up by hordes of undead. Hunters have joined forces to hold back the night but it is too little too late…
In the box for Nightfall you will find:
- 228 Order Cards
- 60 starting minions
- 84 additional minions
- 84 actions
- 60 Wound Cards
- 24 Draft Cards
- 31 Card Dividers (to help organize the cards)
- 3 Extra Card Dividers (for promotional cards)
- 1 Rulebook
Once again the quality of the game is what I’ve come to hope for from AEG. AEG continue to learn from past mistakes and improve their games with each new release. Nightfall comes packaged in a box similar to the thunderstone expansions and includes dividers for all the cards plus the promos. The rule book is nicely set out, well written and easy to understand.
There is some great art in the game, initially I wasn’t a fan of it but the more I look at it the more I grow to appreciate it.
Overall Nightfall is well packaged and well presented and a good deal for the price.
Playing the Game
Each player starts the game with 12 identical cards, 2 copies of each of the 6 basic cards which are one of the 6 different colours in the game (Red, White, Blue, Yellow, Purple and Green)
The each player is dealt 4 Draft Cards. They choose one of these cards and place it face down in front of themselves and pass the rest to the next player. They then choose another card from the cards passed to them and place that face down and pass the rest on. This time the players will choose a card from the cards they were passed to be placed face up in the public area. The last Draft card is then thrown away.
Finally enough draft cards are dealt to bring the number in the public area upto 8. Then each draft card is replaced with the stack that matches it. The ones that were chosen by the players become their own “private archives” and only they may purchase cards from these stacks.
Players then act in player order completing all the stages of their turn before play passes to the next player. A Player’s turn is as follows:
Here the player attacks with all the minions he has in front of him.He attacks with each minion one at a time and can direct minions to attack different players or all at the same player. Defending players can choose to block minion attacks, multiple minions can block the same attack but each minion may only block once per turn. If a minion blocks it is rotated to show the number of health it has lost. If the attack caused more damage than the minion had health then the player draws wound cards for each excess wound caused.
Once a minion has attacked it is discarded. Note that when a starting minion would be discarded it is exiled instead, removing it from play.
Next the player has the option of starting a chain. To start a chain the player can play any card face up on the table. They can then connect any cards from their hand to that card as long as the large moon on their card matches with at least one of the small moons on the card played. They can continue to play cards until they no longer want to or can no longer chain.
Once they are done all the other players in player order have the opportunity to chain from the last card the active player played. After each player either plays or passes the chain is resolved with the last card played resolving first.
Although this sounds complicated it isn’t really. In essence it is a more formalised version of a the way cards are played in a Collectable Card Game.
The chain is the only way to get cards into play.
One very important thing to note is that you must resolve all possible card text, even if it is not to your advantage.
On the bottom of each card is a Kicker, this is a bonus ability which is triggered by playing the card on top of a card that has a large moon the same colour as the kicker. This can be difficult to do but is generally worth the effort.
Next you can spend influence to buy new cards. Each turn you start with 2 influence to spend. Effects in the chain may also add to your influence and cards from your hand may be discarded to give you 1 influence for each discarded card. Influence may be spent to acquire any number of cards, including duplicates of the same card. The cost to purchase is shown in yellow on the card. You may also buy cards from your own private archives, but never from an opponent’s unless a card effect allows it.
Finally you refill your hand to 5 cards. If you have a wound card you may perform the text on that card. You may only trigger one wound card per turn. In the base set there is only one type of wound effect which reads “Discard all wounds from your hand and Draw 2 Cards for each wound discarded” In this way Wounds make you more powerful
Ending the Game
The game is timed by a stack of wound cards which is equal to 10 times the number of players. When the wound stack runs out the current attack or chain is completed, with additional wounds from the unused stack being used if necessary. Then all the players add up all the wounds in their decks and the player with the least number of wounds is the winner.
I like it… And I was very surprised by that. What I initially thought would be a barrier is the theme, but the theme takes a back seat to the mechanics. When you play Big Ghost you’re not thinking about him being a werewolf, you’re just looking at the 5 damage he is going to meat out on your turn.
I like that unlike a lot of deckbuilding games your starting cards are not useless. Unlike Militia in Thunderstone which are generally best used as sacrificial lambs most of the starting cards in Nightfall have great special abilities. +2 Influence on Yuri for example is just as good as Mesmeric Presence.
The fact that these starting cards are one use only makes them feel special too. You’re not just going to throw them down without thinking about it because once they’re gone you can’t get them back.
I also like the fact that wounds make you more powerful, meaning that players who are behind can still stay in the game and cause havoc. Being able to draw more cards because you’re wounded gives you greater options on your turn. In addition, because you can discard cards to gain influence it also gives you a greater buying power.
Because in Nightfall you must carry out all actions and kickers in a chain if possible you have to think carefully about what you play and when. For example, playing Flank Attack which nullifies an order lower down in the chain, on your own turn is a bad plan. This is a skill that takes a long time to master, but it is where the skill of the game lies. It’s not just enough to match the colours on your cards, you have to think about how those cards will affect the state of play. If your card tells you to destroy a minion and you’re the only player with minions in play, well it’s goodnight minion.
On my first few plays through I wasn’t sure if the game wasn’t just pure luck as new players were just as likely to win as people who already had a few games under their belt, but once you begin to understand the complexities of the chain and how to manipulate it, the game really does become a game of skill.
Nightfall plays quickly, or at least it does with low player counts and I like that. It feels meater than a filler game but it plays just as quickly. In fact, the direct conflict element of the game makes it feel more like a CCG, but one where you can build your deck as you go. It is certainly very different to any other deck builders I’ve played and that’s definitely a good thing.
Does it have any problems? Maybe. I’m not sold on the whole draft setup mechanic, it takes a long time for what it is, but perhaps that will change as players become more familiar with the game. Because of the random nature of the setup it is sometimes possible that some cards become useless due to the lack of colours in the game. Although this can be frustrating it immediately becomes part of the strategy of the game too.
One of the biggest problems however is that a player can choose not to start a chain. It can be very advantageous to play minions on another players turn as they are more likely to be in play at the start of your turn. The fact that if the other player chooses to not start a chain you can’t play any cards either means they can deny you this opportunity. In theory everyone could continue to pass and play no cards forever. In this way strong players in a good position can pass their own turn and use the other players turns to devastate their opponents. This problem is probably only an issue in the two player game.
I really like it. I’ve only played the game two and three player so far but it works really well at this level.
I like how fast it plays, I like the CCG style feel of the game. I would like more climatic ending to the game but overall Nightfall is a really enjoyable game. If the theme has been bothering you I wouldn’t let it, it honestly melts away when you start playing. That said, if you’re not a fan of direct conflict then this game probably isn’t for you.
Nightfall is a new favourite of mine and I look forward to picking up some expansions and to trying out the game with a higher player count.