Most literary critics agree that Edgar Allen Poe’s gothic masterpiece The Raven succeeded in spite of its gross lack of backstabbing take-that-ery. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, Curt Covert has rectified this oversight with Nevermore – all the grim ambiance and subtle horror of its pseudo-namesake, now with a heavy dose of treachery and conflict!
Nevermore sets up quickly – no more than five minutes necessary.
There’s a clever resolution track to build – six tokens that change the order suits will be scored during the game – and a few pieces of starting materials to claim. Other than that, you’re simply shuffling and placing three decks and a few piles of cubes near the play order track.
Each player starts with five cards in their hand, but they’re for drafting – you’ll keep two and pass the other three to your left (at least to start the game – if the direction on the passing token changes to “Right” you’ll go counter-clockwise).
Once you’ve received three cards from your neighbor you’ll pass again – this time keeping three of your five cards and passing two. In the final round of drafting you’ll keep four of your five cards while passing one.
With hands finalized, players turn to the Resolution Track to determine the order cards will be played this round. There are 5 types of cards; the player with the most of a type in their hand receives the benefit that card provides:
- Attack: the player with the most Attack cards deals damage to a player of their choice equal to their Attack card count minus the Attack card count of the player with the second-most. If you played 3 Attack cards and no opponent played more than 1, you would deal 2 damage to one opponent. All players start with 5 Health (purple cubes) – in this example, two of the targeted opponent’s cubes would be forfeit.
- Healing: the player with the most Healing cards will re-gain purple Health cubes. As with Attack, the amount gained is equal to the leader’s count of Healing cards less the 2nd-highest count. It’s not possible to heal past 5 Health.
- Radiance: the player with the most Radiance cards will draw a number of Light Magick cards from that deck equal to the count of Radiance cards less the 2nd-highest count.
- Victory: the player with the most Victory cards gains Victory Points (gold cubes) equal to the count of Victory cards less the 2nd-highest count. One of Nevermore‘s three victory conditions is reaching 6 Victory Points first.
- Ravens: you’ve probably noticed a pattern to how the cards work by now, so let’s throw all that out. Raven cards act in two different manners. First, Ravens destroy other cards in your hand. If you have 1 Raven in your final hand you must choose one of your other cards to kill during the Resolution phase. But if you have Ravens remaining after you’ve killed the required cards (i.e., your final hand held at least 3 Ravens and at most 2 of the other cards) you may be able to draw from the Shadow Magick deck – and Shadow Magick is by far the most powerful commodity in Nevermore. The number of cards you’ll draw is, naturally, determined by the leader’s Raven card count less the 2nd-highest count of Ravens remaining.
So why are there Raven tokens on each side of the Resolution Track? Great question! The Raven play described above is called “Skulking Ravens”, and takes place after all other cards have been resolved. But prior to resolving any other cards you’ll need to check for a “Conspiracy of Ravens” – that is, if one player happens to have a hand of nothing but Raven cards.
In this event, the round immediately ends (yes, all those Victory cards you accumulated that were going to escort you to the win are pointless now) and the player holding the Ravens immediately gains 1 Victory Point and 1 Shadow Magick card, and deals 1 damage to each other player.
Rounds continue like this until one of three events causes an end: one player earns the requisite 6 Victory Points to win; only one player is left in Human form; or a player in Raven form takes out the last two Human players simultaneously. Ah yes, Human and Raven form…
When a player loses their last Health cube they aren’t eliminated… instead, they transform into a Raven (simply flip your Health tracker over – there’s a Raven on the back!) As a Raven you’re unable to win the game, but there is much you can do to mess with the other players. And it’s not too hard to turn back into a Human.
Players in Raven form draft and resolve cards just like Humans, but they don’t receive the benefits of having the most Attack, Healing or Victory cards like a Human player would. Instead, if they hold the most of any of those suits they deal 1 damage to the player with the 2nd-most… and block that player from gaining the benefit of the suit. Raven players can accumulate Light and Shadow Magick cards just like Human players, playing the Radiance and Raven suits the same regardless of current form.
A player in Raven form can turn back to Human form by drafting a hand with either a 5-of-a-kind of any suit or one card of each suit. They play out the round in the normal fashion as a Raven, but once the round is complete and they’ve met one of these conditions they return their marker to its Health side and gain 4 purple Health cubes. They can now win the game via the two common end conditions (gaining 6 Victory Points or being the only human left alive).
There is one possible, although improbable, way for a Raven player to win the game. By simultaneously turning all remaining Human players into Ravens there will be no “last remaining Human” available to win, thus the attacking Raven player claims the victory.
At the end of each round the Attack, Healing, Radiance and Victory Resolution tokens are turned upside-down, shuffled, and placed in a new order in the Resolution Track (still book-ended by the Conspiracy of Ravens and Skulking Ravens tokens). During Resolution the face-down tokens are flipped one-at-a-time and resolved, making it such that players are blind to resolution order during drafting.
Who would enjoy this game?
Curt Covert has been carefully building a library of take-that games for over a decade, but it’s been 4 years since his last original design (he’s published other designers’ games and his own expansions in the interim). What he’s returned with is an unbridled triumph of a party game that can be nastier than anything in the Smirk & Dagger catalog.
“Take that” games are pretty love ’em or hate ’em – most gamers agree that player interaction is a necessity for a great game, but some of us just don’t like the “I’m targeting you with this nastiness even though somebody else appears to be closer to winning” aspect that “take that” embraces (in fact, thrives on). With Nevermore you’ve got that by the boatload, but you’ve also got an outstanding drafting game that works flawlessly outside of the direct-conflict spectrum. The macabre theme and excitement of treachery ultimately serve to make this “gamer’s game” much more enticing to non-gamers.
The Shadow Magick deck is chock-full of devastating one-shots that can help a game devolve into a race to build the biggest hand of annihilation so that you’re the only one standing when the smoke clears. But the Light Magick deck is pretty innocuous – mostly filled with cards that help you without crippling opponents. Unlike many take-that classics, it’s very easy here to house rule something to remove the sting of the Shadow Magick deck if you’re looking to experience a beautiful and novel drafting game but find yourself turned off by the backstabbing. Just don’t tell Curt Covert that – he’d certainly want to preserve this gem in all of its evil glory!
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