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Subject: Ameritrash.nl reviews: Mistfall [English review] rss

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Ruud
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This review was originally posted in Dutch on http://www.ameritrash.nl.

Mistfall is a cooperative card game in which you control a Hero, traversing the fantasy world of Mistfall. In Mistfall you try to survive all kinds of encounters, with monsters and other dangers. Sounds too good to be true, but is it?

Błażej Kubacki
2015
1-4 players
NSKN Games
120 minutes
English and German edition available.


Objectives
Mistfall is a cooperative card game with a tile-based board, in which you try to complete 1 of 4 scenarios together with your fellow Heroes. Dependent on the scenario specifics, you work your way through several encounters and fight against a specific “special encounter”. This “special encounter” basically functions like a video-game Boss. You win the scenario when the Boss hits the dust. You lose Mistfall when you run out of Time (a resource), when a hero dies before the Boss-fight or all Heroes die in the fight with the Boss. In the first introduction scenario of Mistfall, you fight “Ghardhak the Charred”. This first scenario is the one I’m going to use to explain the game.

Setup
From gallery of Ruud2009

The setup for the first scenario. At the top of the picture you see the “world” and the “special encounter”, Ghardhak. Directly underneath you see the Quest-charter with next to it the Encounter, Time and Reward decks. At the bottom of the picture you see the play area for a single hero.

The precise setup is different per scenario and is described in Mistfall’s scenario guide. The first scenario has a very straightforward setup. You take the standard starting location tile (“Heartfire Inn” and place 3 random tiles with the “Wildlands” and/or “Haven” keyword. The “special encounter”, is placed on the last tile of the game and triggers when your party of Heroes reaches that tile. You have a deck with “encounters”, 3 decks with enemies (green, red and blue) and a deck with “time”-cards. All these decks are shuffled and placed face-down. The Quest-charter is a card board piece with 2 wooden cubes. One cube starts at a certain value as determined by the scenario. The other cube starts at the reinforcement track’s “0” value. The quest-charter tracks statistics on how long the scenario will last and if special events are triggered by the advancing Time track. After all these steps, you also have to prepare the treasure deck. The treasure deck consists of 8 random “transient reward” cards, with one randomly selected Hero-specific reward card per Hero.

From gallery of Ruud2009

One of the hero charters for one of the heroes with associated starting gear. In this case, Hero Arani starts with a mace, a chainmail and a Holy Symbol. Located right from Arani’s hero charter is Arani’s hero deck. The charter also lists a suggested location for the Burial and Discard pile.

In Mistfall, each player takes control of a Hero. Each Hero has a hero charter, some sort of reference-board with a cube to track the “enemy focus” for the Hero (the “enemy focus” track can be found just beneath the name of the Hero). The “enemy focus” shows how much the enemies focus on the Hero because of his/her threatening actions. Each hero starts with a shuffled deck with “basic action” and “gear” cards. Each Hero starts with a number of specific “gear” cards underneath the hero charter and a hand of 5 cards. The hand, deck and discard pile symbolize the health of the Hero. When a Hero has no cards left in the Hero’s deck or hand, the Hero cannot act anymore. As soon as all cards are placed in the Burial pile of the hero charter, and you need to draw another card, the Hero dies. To delay this process, a Hero also gets a deck with “advanced actions”. The “advanced action” cards can be bought by completing encounters and defeating enemies. These “advanced action” cards go directly into your hand when bought by spending Resolve.

Round overview
Mistfall has a rigid round structure. During a round, all potential steps in the round are completed regardless if there is an active encounter or not. Because several of the steps only make sense within the context of encounters, I’m going to try to use the first scenario to give a detailed overview explaining what happens and why during them. In my description of the round, I’m therefore going to skip those parts. Specifically, I’ll skip the “reinforcement phase”, Hero and Defense turns. These steps only make sense in the context of active encounters and are –in my mind- distracting otherwise.

From gallery of Ruud2009

The world of Mistfall. The party (of heroes, see token) starts at the “Heartfire Inn”. Their goal, Ghardhak, is on tile 4.

In the beginning of a scenario the hero party finds themselves at the “Hearthfire Inn”. From this location, they are going to try to explore the world of Mistfall. In the introduction scenario this will be the first tile in a row of 3 face-down tiles. Their starting location, the “Heartfire Inn”, is a safe location which cannot become the location for “encounters” or enemies. The world of Mistfall is not a safe place, so when the Heroes first step outside of the Inn danger will find them quickly..

Step 1. Reinforcement phase (only relevant during encounters).

I’ll revisit this step during the more detailed encounter description.

Step 2. Travel phase (optional).
A.Party Relocation. The tile next to the “Heartfire Inn” starts face-down. The party may choose to travel to this face-down location. Because some tiles are dangerous, the party can choose to spend 1 Resolve token (which you can get for killing monsters and getting loot) to scout the location before moving. Scouting flips an adjacent tile face-up (max 4 times per turn). When you flip over a tile, you always put a “wound” marker on the tile. Tiles with wound markers symbolize that the location is perilous, which means the tile will trigger encounters when you move onto the tile. During this Travel step you can also “retreat” from an active encounter if you pay a penalty (on the encounter) and if the location tile allows you. If you retreat, you can travel from an encounter to a safe (ie. no wound marker(s)) adjacent location. You discard the encounter and any associated enemy cards.

B.Entering a New Location. When you choose to travel, you move the party token towards the new location tile. If this is a face-down tile, you flip it face-up and put a wound-marker on it marking it as perilous.

From gallery of Ruud2009

A new location tile is revealed! Next to this location I placed the encounter that is triggered. Please note, I left out the “wound” marker..

C. Encounter Check. As soon as the party ventures onto a “perilous” location and there is no active encounter, a new encounter card is drawn from the encounter deck. Each tile has a keyword (Wildlands, Borderlands, Deadlands), which has to match the keyword on the drawn encounter card. If the location tile and the drawn encounter do not have matching keywords, the encounter is discarded and a new one is drawn instead. This process continues until there is a match.

D.Encounter setup. An “encounter” card lists all important information for the encounter. It lists the starting number, type and color of the enemies you need to face during the encounter right box just below the artwork. Just like the tiles, you have to draw enemy cards from the respective enemy color, discarding those enemies that do not match the “type” of enemy.

It also lists the “reinforcement value” for new enemies; if the heroes do not complete the encounter in one go new enemies pop up during the “reinforcement step” during an encounter. This value can be found left, directly below the artwork. In addition, the card details when the encounter ends and what happens if the Heroes retreat from the encounter (retreat) and how they complete the encounter. Successful completion of an encounter results in the party receiving 2 treasure cards and some healing, and is detailed on the quest charter. Successful completion also results in the status of the location tile improving, which is signified by the location losing a wound marker. If the location previously was “perilous” (1 wound present), the location now becomes safe. Safe locations are the only locations you can safely heal up, without having to fear encounter cards. A rare breather in the otherwise dangerous trip for the heroes. In sum, the setup for an encounter is not difficult as long as you precisely follow what’s listed on the encounter card.

Step 3. Pursuit-phase. In this step, enemies are divided between the heroes from the “quest area”. How the enemies are divided is dependent on the “enemy focus” of the Heroes. In the rare case that all heroes are at 0 “enemy focus”, all enemies stay in the “quest area”. In all other cases, enemies are assigned to the heroes that have at least 1 enemy focus. If an enemy card is assigned to a hero, which “halves” the “enemy focus” rounding down. So a Hero with 3 enemy focus, goes down to 1 after an enemy is assigned.

Step 4. Hero-phase (only relevant during encounters).
Step 5. Defense-phase (only relevant during encounters).
Step 6. Encounter-phase.

If there is no active encounter at the start of step, the heroes may heal. Only then, the check is made if there are active encounters had their end conditions triggered and thus are completed. If that is the case, the encounter ends just after the party could potentially have healed. Any enemies present are discarded (unless they have the relentless keyword), the location improves (ie. loses 1 wound token). The party draws two reward cards, that they can assign to a player or discard to the bottom of the treasure deck and in return get some resolve tokens. Then, the heroes do get to heal as a reward for finishing the encounter.

Step 7. Time-phase. The party draws a time card and move the time-marker on the quest-charter. If there is an event listed on the time-card, it’s also resolved which can lead result in more time advancements. Any symbols passed are executed in order after movement has completed. Sometimes enemies become enraged or the reinforcement track increases. If there currently is no encounter, you’re lucky.

From gallery of Ruud2009

The quest-charter, with the time-track at the starting location for 1 player (however, in this specific scenario you need to start the time-track 6 spaces to the right). Located below the time track is the reinforcement track (where I left the cube off). Here is shown how many new enemies are drawn during the “reinforcement” step of the round, during an active encounter. The track starts at 0, but can already start at a higher level because of the encounter (left symbol on the encounter card, directly below the artwork. In addition, if the Heroes ramp up their “enemy focus”, this can also result in additional forces appearing.


So.. how do encounters work?
I left out the explanation of what happens during an encounter previously, because I felt it was confusing. Here I’ll attempt to explain how encounters work.

From gallery of Ruud2009

The party travels to a new location (unsafe, although for picture purposes the wound marker was left out). This triggers a new encounter (Bloodthirsty Pack).

Please meet our hero party which conveniently exists out of one heroine, Arani the Dawnbreaker Cleric. During the travel phase, this hero traveled to a new tile. Arani takes the top card of the encounter deck and reveals the “Bloodthirsty Pack” encounter. This encounter determines that you have to place 2 enemies per Hero and 1 additional enemy. In Arani’s case, we have 1 Hero therefore we draw 3 (2*1 +1) enemies. The encounter card also shows that the enemies have to be drawn from the green enemy deck and that all enemies must have the “Beast” keyword. The encounter further shows that the encounter ends when all enemies are defeated or 2 progress tokens are put on the card. Also, the encounter card shows that each defeated enemy will result in a progress token. Arani therefore will need to kill two enemies to complete this encounter.

From gallery of Ruud2009

Help! On the left, a detailed picture of the encounter card.

In addition, the three green “beast” enemies that were drawn from the deck. Each beast card shows any special abilities on the card and the other characteristics of the enemies.

From gallery of Ruud2009

A “Wild Icehound” enemy card with which I’ll explain the card’s important characteristics. First off, our hound does a Melee attack with 1 damage (first red symbol directly above the textbox with special abilities. Next, the hound has 1 armor for both Melee attacks (blue shield with the sword) and Magic (blue shield with explosion?). Directly underneath the card lists the important keywords of the “Wild Icehound”. It shows that the Icehound has the Beast, Hound, Frost and Rending keyword. In addition, the hound has a special ability to deal +1 damage if there are more hounds assigned to the Hero.When the Icehound becomes “enraged”, it attacks before the Hero and subsequently calms, allowing the Hero to attack. The Icehound is vulnerable for “fire” attacks. Lastly, the Icehound has 3 hitpoints (left bottom corner) and gives the party 1 Resolve if defeated (left top corner).

In this example, we have only a one-hero party. Arani starts with a 3 on her “enemy focus” track. This means that during the Pursuit phase, two enemies will be assigned to Arani, starting with the first and second enemy. This is because the first enemy “halves” Arani’s focus from 3 to 1 (3/2 = 1.5 rounded down = 1), then the second will halve her “enemy focus” from 1 to 0. The last enemy will therefore remain in the “quest area”, as Hero’s with 0 “enemy focus” do not get additional enemies assigned to them.

From gallery of Ruud2009

Arani starts with 3 “enemy focus (The black marking on the track, below the red bar with her name). Arani therefore gets 2 of the 3 enemies. The third enemy remains in the quest area, just below the “quest charter”. It’s now up to Arani to solve this problem!

After the Pursuit phase, the Hero phase starts. In this phase, Arani is going to try to use her cards as efficiently as possible in order to kill as many enemies as she possibly can. As the “encounter” will end when all 3 enemies are dead, or when there are 2 progression tokens on the card (Arani would be able to finish this encounter in one turn if she can kill both enemies in one go, a worthy goal).

In a Hero phase, you may perform 1 Regular Action in addition to as many Fast or Reflex actions as you want. Only Reflexes can be used outside of the Hero turn, and are often related to Defensive abilities.

From gallery of Ruud2009

This turns out the best that Arani can do. Arani uses the Regular Action from her Mace to deal 3 damage. She could toss additional cards with the “Combat” keyword, but unfortunately she doesn’t have any of those. Due to this attack, Arani’s “enemy focus” goes from 0 to 3. The “Wild Icehound” receives 3 – 1 (armor for physical damage) = 2 damage. To kill the Icehound, Arani also plays her Fire of Dawn reflex action, dealing an additional 2 damage (2 – 1 (armor for magic damage)) meaning one additional damage comes through. Barely enough to kill the Icehound (which had 3 HP), but still. Her “attack” procedure has left Arani with a total of 5 “enemy focus” and both cards she used go to the discard pile. She earns one resolve for killing the Icehound.

Arani has killed one of her two enemies, earning 1 “resolve” token and placing 1 progression token on the active encounter.
Now it’s time for the enemies to strike back, phase 5 of the round. The defense phase. First Arani has to fill her hand back up to her hand limit of 5 cards, if possible. Then, the remaining enemies that are assigned to the Hero attack. In our example, Arani is attacked by her one remaining enemy. This enemy deals 2 damage to her. Arani uses her Amulet and Chainmail “reflex actions” to stop the incoming damage. Therefore, Arani is spared damage, and therefore does not have to move cards from her hand or discard pile towards her Burial pile. However, as an additional “cost”, both cards are put on top of Arani’s deck. Her enemy focus does increase to 6 because of this maneuver.

From gallery of Ruud2009

Arani defends with her chainmail and Holy Symbol. The Discard pile shows the Mace and Fist of Dawn card.
Now follows phase 6, the encounter phase and phase 7, the time phase. During the encounter phase the current encounter is not ended, because there are enemies and just 1 progress marker. During phase 7, Arani draws a time card. Sadly, it’s one of the worst she can draw. The time charter increases by two and Arani has to discard two additional cards to keep the track from increasing even further as part of the event.

From gallery of Ruud2009

Now the next round will start, during which the “reinforement” step has suddenly become important. During this phase, the quest charter shows if new enemies should be drawn from the deck. Luckily for Arani, this is not the case. The “active encounter” has a “reinforcement value” of “0”, and she herself has an “enemy focus” of just 6. If she would have gotten all the way up to 7 “enemy focus”, the track would have shown that Arani would have had to draw one additional enemy card to the quest area. The one enemy remaining in the quest area now is assigned to Arani because she has more than 0 enemy focus, and there are enemies “waiting” in the quest area.

Our opinion
Let me start off by giving my opinion, because I’m going to be sound overly critical from this point onwards. So I’m going to say that I liked Mistfall. It’s a good game for sure. You are continuously busy optimizing your plays, deciding if you are going to fight the encounter, or retreat. And evaluating how much time do you have left before the game ends, and if you can spend time on your current fight. Because you only have 1 Regular Action per turn, you are forced to play your cards smart, think about interactions and aiding your fellow heroes. I really enjoy these kinds of games, and it reminded me a little bit of Mage Knight the Board Game in its puzzle like nature. The downside of this kind of game is clear too, it can become solo-ish. I am a little bit of an ADHD gamer, so I strongly dislike waiting for my turn. Mistfall’s turns can escalate, and while you can aid your fellow heroes, it’s easy to just focus on your own plays and maximize those. Because of this, I played Mistfall mostly solo and once with two players. Even with two players already, we both almost exclusively focused on our own hands and plays. I think playing the game a lot with other players will mitigate this issue, but for me playing multiplayer was not interesting enough to explore further.

Another one of the risks of Mistfall is that you become overwhelmed with all the moving parts. Having to sum up and pay attention to your heroes enemy focus, the relationship with the quest-charter I addition to your hand makes it at times overwhelming.
For me, I therefore see myself playing Mistfall solo most of the time. If I’m with other gamers, I like to be able to play a little more relaxed kind of games. For solo play, I think Mistfall offers very interesting and has plenty of challenging decisions.

As for its theme, I think Mistfall does a good job for a card game. Yes, it’s not highly thematic. It’s mostly abstract card play, as all card games tend to do. I do feel that all characters in Mistfall are incredibly different in how they play. I really did not expect the heroes to feel so different, and I think that adds a lot of replayability and theme. In addition, the artwork that’s on the cards and board is gorgeous and the flavor text on the cards is pretty interesting. The world of Mistfall seems genuinely interesting, more so than often seen in board and card games. For a card game, I think Mistfall’s theme is pretty solid.

The components of Mistfall are fine. I really like the cards and the finish on them. The cards shuffle very easily and seem very durable. The card board components are typical quality. The biggest problem with the components of Mistfall, is that we as gamers have become used to the luxurious overproduction of some American board game companies. Cool Mini or Not and Fantasy Flight Games, I look at you! Mistfall is a bit more basic in its production. In Mistfall, there are no miniatures, there are brown cubes and Mistfall has lower amounts of artwork. There is one part where the lack of art is a bit confusing, in the sense that all heroes have identical art on all cards. It would have been nice to have unique art for each card, so you can easily identify the card instead of having to read the card. Otherwise, I have no complaints. Mistfalls production Is very functional, high quality and looks pretty.

In my mind, the biggest problem of Mistfall is the rule book. I had a difficult time learning the game based on the rules as written. It’s not that the rules are incomplete, or that they are bad! For me, the biggest problem with the rules is that there are many moving parts in Mistfall and the rules don’t give you a gameplay overview first. You are basically confronted with a wall of rules and details before you have an idea of how the game plays. I think the way Fantasy Flight currently does the rules, with a “learn to play” and reference book would have solved all my problems learning Mistfall. I think even just a clear example of a round works, would have helped me get a good idea of how the game plays before you are confronted with all details. There is just so much game pieces and tracks in Mistfall, from the quest charter, enemy focus, the way range and cards work. It’s so much to take in, that I think doing it step-by-step with examples would be extremely helpful.

In any case, I think Mistfall is worth it “fighting” your way through the rules. If you like card games, fantasy and action-optimization, I think Mistfall may very well be the game for you. Especially if you like solo games, I think Mistfall could be the game for you!

We thank NSKN games for a review copy of Mistfall. Of course, this does not influence our opinion on the game.
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Great review. This really sums up my feelings about Mistfall.
The game plays great with a few players and there's lots of variety and ways to build your character.

I agree that most of the negatives comes from a badly structured rule book.
The best way learn how to play the game seems to be just to play the intro scenario and read rules as you go a long.
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Ruud2009 wrote:
[center]
In my mind, the biggest problem of Mistfall is the rule book. I had a difficult time learning the game based on the rules as written. It’s not that the rules are incomplete, or that they are bad! For me, the biggest problem with the rules is that there are many moving parts in Mistfall and the rules don’t give you a gameplay overview first. You are basically confronted with a wall of rules and details before you have an idea of how the game plays. I think the way Fantasy Flight currently does the rules, with a “learn to play” and reference book would have solved all my problems learning Mistfall. I think even just a clear example of a round works, would have helped me get a good idea of how the game plays before you are confronted with all details. There is just so much game pieces and tracks in Mistfall, from the quest charter, enemy focus, the way range and cards work. It’s so much to take in, that I think doing it step-by-step with examples would be extremely helpful.

In any case, I think Mistfall is worth it “fighting” your way through the rules. If you like card games, fantasy and action-optimization, I think Mistfall may very well be the game for you. Especially if you like solo games, I think Mistfall could be the game for you!
Great review!

I agree with a lot of your points in the review, and this one here big time. Mistfall is a ton of fun once getting your head around the rulebook.
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