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Subject: Nightfall with 2 players: Brilliant! rss

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Mark Steelman
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Context: I always like to start my reviews with a bit of context. I have little kids, three of them, so my gaming time is constrained to say the least. These days it is very difficult to justify hiring a baby sitter to watch them while my wife and I go spend time with grownups playing boardgames so I find myself playing a lot of 2 player games and favor those which play quickly.

I also tend to only review games that I really like and that I feel are underrated. Nightfall fits both categories. (At the time of this review it has a rank off 563 and I feel like that does not reflect how good this game is.)

Overview: Nightfall is a deck building game by David Gregg and published by AEG. It is very unique, much more unique than most other entries into this genre. Now, I realize that statement deserves some qualification; the definition of unique in the genre is measured against Dominion which was so unique it spawned a new genre of games. So, it is very unique for a game that is very much like Dominion.

Components: The art has a dark theme but it is very well done. It reminds me of the movie “Underworld”. The cards are of a good stock. The game comes with nice dividers to keep the stacks separate. Also, the card trays are extra big but filled with 2”x2”x3” foam blocks so it can hold future expansions. For a person who owns a lot of games and a lot of expansions, this is really a nice feature (I credit this to AEG because Thunderstone has a similar box).

Time to Play: This game plays pretty fast with 2 players. I would say it plays in about half an hour. Add about 5 minutes for set up and break down. You start with 10 wounds per player in the deck and when they are all handed out the game is over.

Rule book: The rule book is crystal clear and nicely done. We have not noticed anything that seems unclear. The story is a bit abstract, but the flavor fiction is good. There are several pages devoted to flavor text and individual card clarifications so the book is bigger than you might think it would be.

Gameplay: The theme is a war of traditional creatures of the night: vampires, werewolves, zombies, ghouls, etc. These creatures are running rampant and you are trying to somehow take over as the new underworld boss in this strange world gone mad. You recruit these creatures and attack the other players who are also trying to become the new boss. So, if you are looking at this game from the perspective of Dominion, imagine Dominion but with no way to gain victory points, you just give negative victory points to other players until all of the negative victory points are given out. Whoever has the least negative victory points wins. It’s brilliant, actually.

Unlike Dominion, gaining these negative victory points, called wounds, does not harm you in the short term. In fact, wounds contain the catch up mechanic of the game. In the base game, when you draw cards at the end of your turn, you can discard any wounds from your hand to draw 2 more cards for each wound. Again… brilliant.
At the beginning of the game, when the available cards are set out, each player is given the opportunity to draft 2 cards that will be in their “private archive”. This means that you will have 2 types of cards that only you can buy. (…unless another player gains a card that allows an exception to that rule.)

On your turn, the first thing that happens is that any of your minions that are still alive attack other players of your choice and attempt to give them wounds. The other players can use their minions to soak up these wounds so that they don’t go into their deck… which is why I mentioned that only those minions that are still alive get to attack. After they attack they are discarded.

Then you play an action card followed by any other action card that you can chain from that one. Each card has a colored moon icon in the upper left corner. There are 6 colors of moons. Next to the big moon are one or more smaller moons designating which colors that card can chain to. Part of the value of a card in a given tableau is how well it chains to the other cards. After you declare that you have finished your chain, the other players going clockwise get a chance to pick up the chain and chain in some cards of their own in like manner. Finally, the effect of each card is resolved from last card played to first, meaning that in some cases, a would-be devastating card may be taken out by the effect of another card before it has a chance to ‘go off’. Also, some cards are better to play on another player’s chain than on a chain you start. All that sounds complicated but in fact it is as simple as matching colors. The strategy in this phase of the game is very deep but the mechanic is super simple. Yes, I will say it again, brilliant.

Next, you get to buy cards. You may buy as many cards as you can afford. You start with 2 Influence (currency) and may gain additional influence by card effects or by discarding cards from your hand. One card is one buying power.

Finally, you draw back up to 5 cards.

Thoughts: I have only played this as a two player game, and in my opinion it is probably best to teach the game that way. If the player has to decide who to attack it adds a whole other layer to the game which I’m sure is fun, but is going to be tricky and could get emotionally charged. With only 2 players, it is simple… give wound cards to the other player.

That is not to say I don’t look forward to trying it with more, but I just think it starts to get into that category of “not for everyone” when you have a choice of who to attack. But by the same token, I think it would add a lot more strategy to it because as anyone who has played a multiplayer direct attack game knows, if there are 3 players and one of the players suddenly does a lot of damage to another player, there will be a feud between those 2 players and the player not included in that feud is going to inevitably win. So, a big part of the strategy with more than 2 players would be to make sure you spread the damage around so it isn’t obvious that you are pulling ahead.

There are some big moments in this game; in every game that I have played, there have been pivotal turns in which one player deck finally comes together and something big happens. In one game I was having trouble with my deck and was about 5 wounds behind but won when my deck finally clicked together and I dealt 10 wounds at once. While my wife wasn’t especially excited about that, she didn’t feel that it was unfair and vowed to get me next time. I prefer the big swings to a game that plods along 1 vp at a time; it makes the game more exciting. However, I don’t recommend any of the following phrases when playing with your wife: “In your face!”, “Boo-Yow!”, or “How do you like me now!” Just let the cards speak for themselves.

Is it better than Dominion? I guess an obvious question is, “Do I like it more than Dominion?” Well, I would have to give that question a qualified ‘yes’. I like Dominion, I like it a lot. I have the base game and Intrigue and I’ve been eyeing Prosperity. However, there is more going on in Nightfall. Nightfall demands more from the player but it gives more back. That being said, if I was teaching a non-gamer a deck building game, I would start with Dominion and then graduate them to Nightfall if they were the kind of player who liked to buy the attack cards in Dominion.

Who would like it? People who like to buy the attack cards in Dominion. People who like Warhammer Invasion or any of those Magic like dueling card games and wish they had rules for up to 5 players. People who like Neuroshima Hex or similar games where players are attacking other players and there is a random element determining your ability to act each turn.
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David Gregg
United States
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North Carolina
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Let me know if you're ever in the NC area, I'll happily provide a 3rd player
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Mark Steelman
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Cool, my family lives down there, I now live in the Virginia, DC area. In what part of NC do you live?
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David Gregg
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Awesome! I live in Asheboro, but drive out to Burlington or Kernersville as my most "local" FLGS'.
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Robert Bracey
United Kingdom
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Nightfall » Forums » Reviews
Re: Nightfall with 2 players: Brilliant!
It gets weaker with more than 2 players. There is a really bad king-maker flaw in the game. It is trivial to count the number of wounds each player has received and in a lot of games the player who gets last turn will know they cannot win but also know that who they attack determines who wins. Even friends who aren't used to counting were doing so accurately within 5 or 6 games.
 
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Mark Steelman
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RobertBr wrote:
It gets weaker with more than 2 players. There is a really bad king-maker flaw in the game. It is trivial to count the number of wounds each player has received and in a lot of games the player who gets last turn will know they cannot win but also know that who they attack determines who wins. Even friends who aren't used to counting were doing so accurately within 5 or 6 games.


Well, like I said I can't speak from experience on that but I will take your word for it. However, it seems like the solution to the problem would be in the multiple wound types.

A really simple house rule would be a Juggernaut Commander variant: At the end of the game, only count sets of bite/bleed/burn as a wound. Effectively, you would just count the types of wounds seperately and then use the quantity of the smallest set.

If there is a tie, set aside the sets of cards you already counted and compare the quantity of pairs remaining.

But for simplicity's sake, I would leave the 2 player game as it is. All this variant is doing is limiting the other player's ability to predict how effectively they harm another player and making it harder to count.

I still maintain it is brilliant as a two player game and considering that the highest rated game on this site is currently a two player game I assume a lot of people here like two player games. I feel that more people who like two player games should give Nightfall a try.
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Tiger Wiccan
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I've only played the iPhone app version, and I just got it today, so my experience is even more limited than yours, but I really want to get the physical game now. I love the chain mechanic and actually attacking and defending with minions. And alot like you, my wife is my primary gaming partner. Plus she really likes horror in general and vampires in particular, so I think she would really like this game as well. Maybe I'll see if she'll play a few hotseat games on my iPhone to get her hooked.
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