Dark Therapy – Nightfall review

So, AEG, one of the kings of the ring when it comes to deck building with Thunderstone, have stepped up with a new addition to the genre, albeit one with a twist. Whereas something like Dominion sees players vying for victory points in a fashion that has been referred to as multiplayer solitaire, their newest release Nightfall replaces that genteel play style with a virtual boot to the stomach – agression is the key.

The world is not a happy place in Nightfall. A permanent darkness covers the sky and terrible things are abroad. Gangs of roving beasts and demons stride the streets, attempting to please their masters by taking down anything that gets in their way. As these mythical beasts cause havoc, the human race is reduced to cowering in their homes as the great and the good attempt to work out what’s causing the darkness. We’re not concerned with mere humans though. We’re all about knocking lumps out of anything and everything – those humans are just too breakable…

Two to five players step up and essentially become leaders of supernatural gangs trying to damage each other. The game begins with a round of card drafting where the available cards for that round are chosen. It’s here where the first interesting aspect of the game comes out – the notion of private stacks. If you’ve played Dominion or Thunderstone you’ll be familiar with the piles of cards (referred to in-game as Archives) that everyone can augment their decks with. A major difference in Nightfall is that in the card-drafting phase each player gets to select two Private Archives, two stacks that only they can purchase cards from – others are discarded or put into the common Archives for all to potentially buy. This leads to some interesting decisions before the game even properly begins – do you take a powerful card to prevent someone else getting their hands on it, even if it doesn’t fit into your plans?

A couple of the opening cards - note the red marks to show their life points.

Everyone begins with the same twelve (comparatively weak) cards, all of which will either be destroyed or discarded pretty quickly. A round begins with a player attacking opponents by using creatures (aka: Minions) put down on the table in previous Chains (which we’ll cover in a moment), declaring who they’re going for – one thing to note: splitting up your forces is fine, you don’t have to focus on a single opponent. These attacks can be absorbed by having creatures of your own in front of you and any damage the receive is shown by rotating the cards around – their remaining hit points are signified by the red slashes at the edge of the card. Any damage incurred that can’t be defended through judicious use of minions goes automatically to the player, shown in the form of Wound cards which are immediately added to their discard pile . Wounds aren’t just there to take up deck space though… more on that in a bit.

Once attacks are done and Wounds allocated, it’s time for Chaining. This is a brilliant feature of the game, something totally new and different to anything else I’ve seen. You’ll notice that all cards (bar the starting set of twelve) have three moons in the top left corner, all differently coloured. The first player can lay as many cards as the like as long as the large moon is the same colour as one of the previous card’s smaller moons – so far so good. But then the player to the left has the opportunity to add to the chain themselves in the same fashion. And then the next player, and the next and the next – in every turn, everyone has the opportunity to get involved. Once the final player has added to the chain, all the card actions are resolved in reverse order (so the last player to add perfoms their actions first then it all goes backwards to the person who originally led).

Some examples of Archive cards. Moons in the top left show what you can chain. Kicker text at the bottom: hard to trigger, but often worth doing.

This part of the game is crazy – anything can happen. Cards are going all over the place, wounds being dealt left right and centre, bits of the chain being cancelled – and EVERYONE is involved. I was blown away by the fact that there’s so little downtime in Nightfall. You always have the chance to do something in any turn (as long as you have the cards). Cards also have ‘Kicker’ text, special instructions that are only triggered when a certain colour moon is in the top corner of the previous card – these are sometimes difficult to pull off but can bestow some powerful benefits. Of course, you can choose to conserve what you hold in your hand by not adding anything to a chain (and if you’re the leading player, that round will have no chain at all)… it’s another level of strategy in this surprisingly deep game.

But why would you hold on to cards? This is a game where aggression is key, after all. Well, you’ll need them to claim new cards from both the Common and Private Archives that were selected before the game began. Starting this section with two Influence points, you may throw cards from your hand to your discard pile at a rate of one extra point per card. These points are then spent on picking up new creatures and abilities from the Archives, bolstering your firepower for future rounds. Once you’re done, you draw back up to five cards, shuffling your discard pile and taking from there if you need to. As mentioned earlier, if you draw any Wound cards you may resolve an action printed on one of them – in the case of the starter set, you may discard each of them in order to draw two more cards from your stack – then play passes to the person on the left.

So that’s it. Nice and easy to remember: Combat, Chaining, Claiming and Cleanup. Like in Dominion, the daddy of them all, it’s a simple ruleset that you’ll be blazing through in next to no time. Play ends when there are no more Wound cards in the deck. These are totalled up and whoever has the least is declared victorious, the world their particularly bloody oyster.

Wounds! Burn, Bite and Bleed. If it's a tie, you work out your highest type, whoever has the lowest number wins. Not actually complicated.

As you can probably work out, I’m a big fan of Nightfall. It’s an entertaining game that has some incredible ideas – however, I reckon there’s a couple of issues that the game needs to deal with. First up, the whole Wounds card thing. It’s an interesting concept, but in the starter set there’s only one type of Wound action – discard to pull more cards. I’m positive that this will be dealt with in the future – there’s the Martial Law expansion that’s already been announced and that will have at least one different action. I feel it’s needed to mix the game up a bit. I also really don’t like the game at all with two – it feels like a slugfest with bugger all strategy. With three or more, it’s amazing. You’re trying to take out your opponents while managing your own defences, trying to be aggressive while constantly watching your back. With two players though? It feels more like who can get their hands on the heavy hitters quickest, a race to knock the other guy out. Still fun to play, but with two it feels like a completely different game – more than that and it’s gaming gold, and it’s only going to get better.

Nightfall was designed by David Gregg and published by AEG in 2011. Between two and five can take part in a bloody, knock down battle of deck building – a copy will cost you around £25. This review was based on the limited promotional boxset that you can have! You’ll just have to pry it from my cold, dead hands. For more information on Nightfall, check out the official site at http://www.nightfallgame.com/

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