by Lee Valentine
Published by Alderac Entertainment Group
Designed by David Gregg
228 Minion and Action cards, 60 Wound cards, 24 randomizers, 34 card
dividers, full-color gloss rulebook
Nightfall is a new player-versus-player (PVP) deck-building game
from Alderac Entertainment Group. The Earth is shrouded in perpetual
darkness, and armies of monsters straight out of a Gothic horror film
have come out of hiding and now make up the top of the food chain on the
planet. Each player takes on the role of a mastermind in control of
both monsters and elite human warriors who are well equipped enough to
survive in this world of forever night.
At the beginning of the game, each player is given an identical
twelve-card deck to start with. As with other deck-building games,
there is a common marketplace containing stacks of cards from which
players purchase additional cards to add to their decks, like shopping
in a tiny store with shelves that contain multiple copies of only a
small handful of items. As you play cards and they leave play they are
discarded. When you run out of cards in your draw pile, you reshuffle
your discards (including all your recent purchases) to form a new draw
There, however, is where the similarities to games like Dominion,
Ascension, and Thunderstone come to an end. Whereas starting
cards in these other games are a necessary evil that you often wish you
could prune away, and have to work to do so, in Nightfall each of
your starting cards is removed from the game after it enters play once
and carries out its specified effects. The focus then is really placed
on the cards you are purchasing to add to your deck. While other
deck-building games saddle you with a large deck, here it's possible to
craft a super lean perpetual motion machine that keeps giving you
similar draws, hand after hand, if you want.
While other games just have a common marketplace to purchase cards from,
in Nightfall the competition starts out early with a mini-booster
style draft. In addition to the cards in the starting decks, there are
24 distinct types of purchasable cards, only some of which will be
available in each game. Four of these are handed to each player to
start the game. Each player will draft one of these, and pass the
remaining three around the table, in turn receiving a hand of three
cards from his neighbor. Another card type is drafted. These first two
card types represent cards that only you will be able to purchase for
the rest of the game; they form your private archives. As the cards
continue to cycle, you will choose one type of card that will be put
into the common marketplace and one type of card to banish from the
game. These early decisions can dominate the game. If you draft
something that your opponent does not have an immediate answer for then
the game can be short and one-sided. Additional stacks of cards are
randomly selected to bring the common marketplace up to eight types of
cards for the remainder of the game.
Players shuffle up their starting decks, draw a hand of cards, and play
commences. On your turn you will attack with all of your minions in
play. Then you will play cards from your hand. Next you will purchase
new cards for your deck. Finally, you will destroy all of your minions
that started the turn in play and replenish your hand.
Unlike Magic: The Gathering or Heroes of Graxia, the
mechanics of minions in Nightfall will not allow you to just
amass creatures and create a defensive wall to hide behind. Your
creatures must attack and die on each of your turns, so you have to
constantly recruit new minions to your cause to defend you during your
opponents' turns. They will, in turn, attack and die during your next
turn if your opponents haven't managed to kill them before then.
Playing cards to the table in most deck-building games is pretty
trivial; if it's in your hand, you can usually play it. This is not
always the case with Nightfall. Cards in Nightfall are
played out in chains. Playing any one card from your hand starts a
chain. Each card in Nightfall has a color (represented by a
large colored full moon in the upper left hand corner). It also has one
or two additional colored moons, smaller than the first moon
representing the card's color. These smaller moons are follow-up
colors. When you play your first card, your next card played in the
chain must have the color of one of these small follow-up moons. Your
second card determines the possible colors of your third card and so on.
If you draft and purchase cards erratically, then you will likely only
be able to play one or two cards on your turn. If your deck is well
tuned then you may be able to play out your entire hand. Once you are
done playing cards, the other players go around the table and are
offered the opportunity to add their own cards to the end of your chain.
Once all players have had a chance to play cards, the chain is
resolved, one card at a time, in "last in, first out" order.
The ability to play cards and muster up defensive minions or effects
during an opponent's turn is one of the primary skills of the game. Not
only does your deck have to be able to link your own cards in
succession, you often have to be able to chain off other players,
particularly the player to your immediate right in the turn order, who
will add to chains right before you do. This complex interaction of
chained cards can cause massive analysis paralysis for some players,
particularly when purchasing new cards or figuring out how to chain out
the cards they have in hand.
Of course, if you chain out cards during your opponents' turns, then you
will have fewer cards in your hands during your own turn. This is
particularly important because you can discard cards from your hand
during your turn to generate more resources to buy more and more
powerful new cards for your deck.
All this dance of drafting, shuffling, purchasing, and chaining is just
to generate effects that damage your opponent or defend yourself.
Unlike Magic: The Gathering or Dungeons & Dragons, you are
not assigned a fixed number of hit points that you can sustain.
Instead, each point of damage that you take forces you to shuffle a
"Wound" card into your deck. Once per turn you can discard all your
Wound cards to draw two cards for every one just discarded. Like all
other cards, you can still discard Wounds to generate resources for
making purchases, but they otherwise have no in-game effect, and serve
to make your deck less efficient. At the end of the game, the player
with the fewest total Wounds wins the game.
One note about the mechanics and play style is that attempting to play
just for defense, in the end, is a losing strategy, if not impossible.
All your creatures must attack and will eventually die, meaning that at
least occasionally your opponent's creatures will slip through and nick
you. There are often too few defenses against non-creature damage as
well. Sure, you can successfully deny your opponent's attempts to
damage you for several turns in a row, but eventually he'll leak a few
points through. Over time this will result in a game loss. You have to
attack to win.
Rules, Components, and Packaging
Much of the full-color rulebook is quite clear. It is easy to get
started. Some card combinations raise rules questions, though, which
are murky or undefined in the rulebook. In one instance two
conceptually different game effects are given one term, "blocking",
which can mean to interpose one of your defending minions so that he
directly combats an opponent's attacking minion. In another instance,
damage from any source can be absorbed or "blocked" by a handful of
creature types. This raises a problem where a specific minion who
"cannot be blocked" per the first usage of the term can still have the
resulting damage "blocked" per the second usage of the term. This is
clumsy and confusing. Having two distinct game terms such as
"interpose" and "absorb" would have clarified these card interactions.
The cards feel a little thinner than I would like, but they still
shuffled well. They are, however, substandard in one other way: if
there is a press coat on the cards, then it is insufficient. The black
ink that dominates the card backs is a finger print magnet. It also
chips off and scratches very readily. In spite of handling the cards
fairly gingerly, by the time I had finished my second game playing
without card sleeves I had started to noticeably mark some of the cards.
Typically I don't sleeve the cards from deck-building games, but here
it seems like a necessity.
The packaging of the review copy I received is different than the
packaging for the retail copy of the game. The retail version of the
game has card dividers, to organize and separate the various types of
cards. The review packaging does not. It is just a well-decorated card
box. Given that I did not have a copy of the retail packaging to
review, I did not consider packaging quality when determining an overall
score for Nightfall.
While the layout of the cards was clean, it was not eye-catching. I
also wished there had been a couple of icons to go with some of the
colored numbers. The actual card art is of good quality. I think it is
not as good as some art on other AEG products, but it is still appealing
and professional, and captures the post-apocalyptic Gothic setting well.
Comparison to Other Deck-Building Games
While I typically would not spend a lot of time comparing a reviewed
game to others produced by competing companies, I think that it is
necessary for this review. Nightfall's mechanics and play
structure are so different from other deck-building games on the market
that the reader may need points of comparison to decide how best to
spend his money.
While other deck-building games allow players easy entry, and you can
feel like you are being productive immediately, Nightfall is a
brutal game, and superior opponents can dominate you from early on.
Nightfall is not the laid-back, multi-player solitaire experience
common to other deck-building games. It is "in your face" and much
closer to playing fast, direct damage decks in Magic: The
Gathering than it is to the monetary and card draw engines found in
Dominion. In Dominion, those engines often are your deck.
Here, they simply form the means by which you more quickly gain access
to the cards that form your offense and defense.
Given the fact that PVP is a relatively secondary element to most
deck-building games, it is only natural to consider how Nightfall
stacks up against the other significant entry in the deck-building genre
that features PVP as a primary game element, Heroes of Graxia.
In Heroes of Graxia, players amass armies that do battle with
each other, and gain points by destroying their opponents' creatures.
Nightfall, in contrast, borrows an idea from Magic: The
Gathering, where the goal is to damage your opponents directly, and
creatures merely serve to block some of the incoming damage.
Heroes of Graxia encourages diversity in deck building, and
offers a wider array of tactical options. Nightfall offers a
narrower range of card types, and rewards a very thin, tightly tuned
deck that focuses on repeatedly generating a small number of effects
over and over again.
Purchasing cards in Heroes of Graxia is fast, with little down
time if you play with two or three players, but intrusive combat
mechanics cause the game to grind to a halt. Nightfall, in
contrast, is highly susceptible to analysis paralysis at many points in
the game, but experienced players can play more quickly. The PVP
elements in Nightfall require more thought about deck building,
but less thought about execution, particularly in two-player games. For
me, even though some of the mechanics are inelegant, Heroes of
Graxia wins out in terms of tactical options and integration of
theme into the mechanics.
On many levels, Nightfall should be a game that I really liked.
Its core mechanical engine is quite clever. However, the game could be
exceedingly random, particularly in two-player play (where diplomacy
isn't available to balance out chance). If one player has a card in his
private archives that there isn't an easy answer for, his opponent will
just get punished.
The game also failed to sufficiently integrate theme. For example,
wounds come in three different flavors: "Burn", "Bleed" and "Bite".
However, Vampires and Werewolves are just as likely to "Burn" you as to
"Bleed" or "Bite" you, and humans with guns are just as likely to "Bite"
you as not, since the Wounds are handed out largely randomly. Other
than as a fairly arbitrary tie-breaking mechanism, there is no
distinction between the various types of wound cards. This is just one
example of many as to how the theme was almost entirely "pasted on" with
a few minor exceptions here and there.
There weren't enough options both in the core mechanics (where all your
monsters must attack if they can) and in the variety of cards available
for me to want to regularly play this over Magic: The Gathering,
Gosu, or Heroes of Graxia. I do suspect that I am in the
minority, and that other than the press coat and some problems with
rules clarity, Nightfall will appeal to many players. While I
will still keep an eye out for future Nightfall expansions to see
if they add a greater variety of tactical options and more entrenched
thematic elements, for now I am more inclined to play AEG's other
deck-building game, Thunderstone. However, I suspect that
because Nightfall is so different from Dominion and
Thunderstone, this fact alone will peak the interest of many
gamers for whom Nightfall will be a better fit.
Given that I did not receive retail packaging for the product, I will
not be including an estimate of how well I think this game could sell at
retail. AEG has done a good job of promoting this product before it
enters the marketplace. They have given away many promotional copies of
the game, and have helped to stir up internet hype about their product.
I expect that Nightfall will get much more market penetration
than Heroes of Graxia did, meaning that it will be the first PVP
deck-building game that many players will experience. That will be a
strong allure and could help to sell a lot of copies of the product for
Appearance: B+ (A- for the art, but the layout was somewhat plain and
lacked certain iconography that would have raised the score to an A)
Gameplay: B (not for players with analysis paralysis)
Components: B (the press coat on the cards was substandard and led to
unsleeved cards being slightly marked almost immediately)
Retailer Salability: N/A