Ever since 2008 when the first deck-building game (DBG) hit the tables of gamers everywhere, some have longed for more: more theme, more conflict, more interaction, more control in their deck-building experience. Nightfall has delivered and lasted through three (and soon four) expansions including a popular iOS version. Let’s delve into the world of Vampires and Lycans to find out what makes this DBG different and addicting.
Before you avert your eyes and scream: “Back foul Deck-builder!” You will be surprised by some new innovative mechanics that Nightfall introduces to this increasingly crowded genre.
You win by being the “least wounded player” at the table, and if that sounds a bit nasty, well, it is. This whole game is a bloody affair and wounds are difficult to avoid. I mean, there are Vampires and Lycans running around… at night.
Players start with that familiar hand of low-power cards. These 12 cards are all “Minions” (i.e. baddies) and include each of the 4 basic types of Minion used in the game: Lycanthropes, Vampires, Ghouls, and Hunters. This is where the game raises an undead hand up from the crypt of ordinary, and rises into new territory of innovation – beginning with a very cool game setup.
There are 24 different card stacks included in the base game: 12 Minions and 12 Actions. It is how these cards are chosen each game that is unique. First, players are each dealt 4 cards from the 24-card “Draft Deck” (these are 24 duplicates of the actual cards used in the game and are only used in the game setup). Each player chooses one of the four cards and places it face down in front of them, passing the remaining cards to their left. Players again choose a second card from those passed, and place it in front of them and pass the cards again. (Hey, it’s a draft right?) These two cards chosen by each player are their own personal “Archive” and only the player that drafted them can purchase them during the game. Of the two remaining cards, each player chooses one and places it in the middle of the table. These cards are called “The Commons” and will be available for purchase by all players like most DBGs. Players ditch the remaining cards from the 4 original draft cards. Finally, cards are dealt from the remaining draft deck to fill in the commons area so that the total is 8.
So to recap, there are 8 cards available to purchase for all players in the The Commons area, and 2 cards in each players personal Archive that are only available to them. The game is setup! Hold on to your holy water! On to the gory game play.
Four phases comprise the game turn: Combat, Chain, Claim, and Cleanup.
In the Combat Phase all of your minions rush out and must attack the other players. That’s right…all minions must attack every turn. Once they do, they may be blocked by your opponent’s minions (damaging or killing them) or even better, cause wounds to your opponents. Then all your minions are discarded after attacking. And, remember the weak 12 starting-hand minion cards? Once these attack, they are removed from the game, automatically culling them from your deck. If as a result of being attacked, a player is wounded they take a “Wound” card from the top of the Wound Deck and add it to their discard pile. Ouch!
The Chain Phase is a unique innovation in the game, based on several CCG mechanics from days of old. The acting player may now play a Minion or an Action card. (These are the two card types). Every card has a large colored moon in the upper left corner and one or two smaller colored moons just below it. If the player has a card in hand with a large moon that matches the color of either of the smaller moons on the card they just played, they may “chain” that card to the first. This can continue as long as that player has cards that may chain to the previously played cards.
Now the mayhem begins! Each other player in turn can chain cards onto the acting players chain as long as they have cards that match the required color of the moons. Based on the cards your opponents have, you must be very judicious how and when you start a chain. After all players have played their cards to the chain, chain effects listed on the cards are resolved “last-in-first-out.” In addition, special “Kicker “ effects may take place. Once the Chain effect or Kicker is resolved, if the card is a Minion, it comes into play on the person’s side that played the card. Action cards have their effect, then are discarded.
In the Claim Phase the player uses “Influence” to purchase cards from the Common area or from their private Archive. The resource “influence” is not tangible. There are no cards representing it in the game. Each turn players receive 2 points of Influence and can discard cards from their hand to get 1 point per card discarded. Then, players use that Influence to claim (buy) as many cards (including duplicates) that your Influence allows and place them in their discard pile. Your army of minions of the night grows!
Finally, in the Cleanup Phase, the player may keep any cards in hand and must draw back up to 5 cards. If any Wound cards are in a player’s hand they may discard them to draw 2 cards for each. Any new Wound cards cannot be discarded.
The game ends when the last Wound card is drawn from the Wound deck. (The Wound Deck has 10 Wound cards for each player in the game) and the player with the least amount of wounds is declared the winner.
The key to Nightfall is confrontation and interaction. It has a deep strategy in the use of the Chain mechanic and the way in which card effects key off of one another. So, in the Claim phase, each card you purchase has a true strategic value in relation to the other cards you have acquired but also other players’ cards. You must build your deck well with a global view to win.
Nightfall is exciting to play and has an added level of tension as you witness the other players’ decks grow in intensity and their minions come streaming across the table to attack you! Other DBGs can feel a little like multiplayer solitaire when compared to Nightfall.
As with many of AEG’s games, the components are of top quality. The box is sturdy and has enough space to carry all expansions. The cards themselves shuffle well. The artwork is very high quality. Some of the images are a bit scary, but not too gory or bloody. Overall, the quality is excellent and beckons you to play!
The Nightfall DBG is easy to learn and play. The in-game strategies are deep and take repeated play and lots of brain cells to master.
Who would enjoy this game?
Nightfall breaks new ground (and not in a Vampire sort of way). Simply put, these are the factors that make it a stand out in the DBG genre:
- Having the card pool drafted and having each player have their own unique pair of Archive cards to purchase expands the early game strategy, personalizes the game experience, and adds to the long-term replay value.
- Unlike other DBGs, during each turn all players may interact with each other. There is no down time. You are either being attacked, attacking or playing cards to a chain. No sitting and waiting.
- The resource for the game, Influence, is not on cards but cards can generate it. It’s intangible so it doesn’t take up valuable deck space.
- At the end of your turn, you keep the cards in your hand (if you didn’t discard them for Influence) allowing a multi-turn strategy that other DBGs (that require you to discard your entire hand) don’t permit.
- Wounds are added to your deck, and clog up the deck strategy but you can gain an end-of-turn benefit from them.
- The ability to “chain” cards adds another levels of strategic planning from the drafting of cards during setup to the choice in cards that a player purchases during the game. If your cards can chain well together, you have a viable base strategy, and other players will be attempting to undo that plan.
One final…final thought. Two early complaints about the game were that the early interaction of the cards was a bit stagnant and that the game needed more card variations. Regarding the first point, yes, in the first few turns, you do feel a bit of sameness as you utilize your starter deck of cards. Simple duplicate minions don’t make much sense in a thematic sense. But very quickly, as decks are built, the starting cards disappear; the game takes a huge turn and becomes very intense. Regarding the latter point: Nightfall comes alive with its expansions: Martial Law, Blood Country, Coldest War and coming soon Dark Rages. The additional cards and slight rule tweaks in these releases make an already excellent game even more amazing. We highly recommend experiencing this game with the expansions.
Nightfall is as compelling and addicting as a Vampiric stare, dangerous as a Lycan’s bite, and lingers in your mind like the touch of a Ghoul.
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