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Subject: Nightlancer review - A little case in the Cyberwar rss

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Matthew Hackett
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Taken from review on https://biggrumpygamer.blogspot.co.uk

Nightlancer – Adversity Games

You find me at an interesting point in my “career” as a blog writer. Sat, looking at me across my gaming table (its a completely fictitious term, the truth is its really my dining room table) is a copy of a very very new game. In fact its so new that it isn't even out yet, heck its not even in production yet. What I have in front of me is a copy of Nightlancer, a game which is going to be hitting Kickstater in the next few months. So the initial thing to say here is, considering my blog has been going for all of three months, thank you ever so much to Adversity Games for considering me as a reviewer.

That aside, what we are going to do right now is look into this game in as much detail as I can muster. There is a lot to say as well about it. Quite frankly considering this game is in prototype mode there really is a lot of well rounded ideas in the box, and you can likely guess that my overall judgment on this game is going to be very positive. I'm somewhat loathed that I have to send this copy off to the next reviewer if I am honest. I'm going to, within this review, go through the background of the game, the overall turn mechanics and then a kind of hightlights and lowlights section (for what its worth the lowlights really are few and far between).

Now, I'm going to add a small comment from Adversity Games here, the game was in prototype phase so the graphical content of the game is going to be worked over before it hits kickstater. The box art gives you an idea of what they are aiming for, and if that is the case then anyone who has played Cyberpunk 2020 than you will have a pretty good idea of what the art work is going to be like. The whole game has that genre at its very heart, and certainly you can tell that they really are looking at condensing the feel of that RPG into a semi-cooperative/competitive game. That last part being quite important so read down later if you want to see what I mean.

Background

So the background.. set in 2099 the world is in the grips of geopolitical turmoil and dystopian disasters. Humanity begins to use cybertechnology and narcotics to basically try to forget the rubbish of the world, and become more than human. While this is opposed by some groups, the rich use these vices to “transcend” the state of being human. Do it too quickly though you might find yourself less than human. These techshocked individuals form raging bands and police control slips, further dividing the rich and poor, as slums become insecure zones. You play a Nightlancer, someone willing to take on dark jobs and use even darker cybertech or weaponary to give you the chance of affording a way out of the slums.


So, this is definitely a staple of roleplay game communities, with several games reaching into this post-human, dystopian ideal, but I've not seen many board/card games that delve into it. Sure there is Shadowrun out there and the recently funded Oligarchy card game, but it hasn't been a major genre outside of RPGs. While this means it certainly triggers a certain amount of comparison with RPGs, Nightlancer certainly doesn't suffer under its Grandad's shadow.

Gameplay

Predominantly Nightlancer is a character progression style card game. There are a lot of decks to look after, and this can be quite daunting at first. Certainly there is a reasonably large set up time, but there are two very handy organisation boards to make sure everything can be set out easily enough. Going though them then, there is the Blackmarket deck (for cyberwear, weapons and other items that you can buy), the Contacts deck (which you get at least two of each turn and can affect skill rolls, or grant more of the other cards), the Agendas deck (which you can use to gain points, or some of them allow you to maintain your ideals), the Skills deck (which you get a number of each time you finish a mission, and can buy one of if you want, adding permanent boosts to your skill values), the Missions decks (Low and High difficulty), and the Events deck (which tell you how many missions of each type to use each turn, and then sets an immediate challenge to all or some players). In the first game looking at all of this was a bit of a headache, but actually each deck has very specific times when they are used, and following the board around can be done by which deck you are using each time.


At the start of the game you set the various decks up, and then turn over an Event card (you get 8 in total, 4 early events and 4 late events). Using that card you then turn over the correct missions, open up the black market cards for the turn and hand out contacts. Then you take the event test, which is normally a skill test. Picking a missions to do then finishes off the prep stage of the game. The Street phase allows you to buy points, complete an agenda, take out a loan, or buy a single card from the black market. We only did one of these things, so working out if we wanted something to complete your mission was also a bit of a risk reward as you can't do anything else. However, in light of a conversation this morning with Adversity Games, you actually get to keep going around (in turn order) til everyone has passed, and I think this is definitely a far better idea, as it makes the loan mechanic far more appealing, and obviously the option of completing more than one agenda and still buying items is really handy. In the end trying to figure out if you should be using the money you have to get the points you need at the end of the game, or pick up those nice Cyberclaws so you have a better chance at a fight you know will be on your mission can be vital, and not being limited to one or the other will certainly help.

The mission phase resolves around taking at least three tests to try and get to the end. I've deliberately skipped a bit of the Prep phase hear because it'll be easier to explain now. When you pick your missions you do it in the current turn order, and being the first person on a mission makes you the primary person in the first team. People can offer to join you, and if you accept then you basically get someone along who will make the same tests as you, and between you the highest result is then used to see if you pass. Of course you can say no, at which point they can do the same mission in the second team slot. Should you both get to test number 3 then you have to fight each other to see who actually gets the chance to try and complete the mission. Losing a gun fight is really harsh, as you lose all life and a point of ideal (if you have zero health you aren't out, but if you have zero ideal you can't win the game). Lastly, if you have the right contact card you can lock out the second team space on a mission, making it yours and no one elses to run through. This is where the semi-cooperative/competitive thing really shows up in detail.

The tests for each mission basically fall into either standard challenges or combat challenges. Each of the characters has base skill levels and these can be boosted by items or skills. Now there is a lot to go through with those, but skills are always on, cyberweapons are also permanent, but you can only use one weapon in any one test, so you'll need to decide if the cyberweapon is the one you want each time. “Normal” items are limited, firstly by a carry limit of three, but some missions you need to be sneaky or quiet (so that big old sniper rifle has to stay at home). Add up your points, roll the dice and see if you beat the number. If so move on to the next test. If not, you might find yourself shaken (unable to carry on, but also safe from the next event), just outright failing, being followed by the police, or in an outright gunfight (and as we know from above, loosing a gunfight is pretty serious). Standard challenges can also have special “flavours”, which require additional cards in order to even be able to pick that option, whereas Combat challenges automatically cost health.


The game lasts 8 rounds, and each time you work through the same steps. You can choose to miss picking a mission, which you do need to do because it reduces your heat (how interested the police are in you) and lets you fully heal up. After the game ends you work out your score, based on the points you have gain during the game from cards or buying points. Then you also add points for the money you have stored up, the ideals you have left, and lose points for any loans or heat you still have. Highest score wins.

Highlights

Firstly, this is a really well put together game idea. There is just enough of a strategic edge to it without it being overawing, the cards have enough different options on them that you don't feel each one has limited uses, and there are plenty of strategies to winning each game.

It didn't take too long to work out how to play it. We missed a few rules each play through, and honest they make a big difference to the game, but they didn't stop the game being playable, so it is quite forgiving if you forget things

There are a lot of these semi-cooperative games that fall over because the competitive side is an afterthought at the end of the game. There are plenty of ways in Nightlancer to really make things harder for other players and keep it competitive.

Even with it being a prototype there was enough in the box to keep track of everything, and I do love any game that gives you a clear organisation method.

Going back to the background, this is a pretty unique genre for board games, and it doesn't stumble in terms of keeping the background in the look and feel of the game.

One of people in the first group I played it with said its not a game they would turn down playing again, and they aren't anywhere near as involved in the board gaming world.

Lowlights

I personally think there were a lot of symbols to have to remember. Now I personally think there are a lot of ways to deal with this, and certainly I think a lot of this will be solved with the move from prototype to production.

Lastly, the amount that goes out onto the table might well put off a group that has no gaming experience at all. This wouldn't fall into my gateway games list.

Overall


I really really like this game, and I will likely be putting money on the kickstarter when it comes out. I really felt that after playing this a couple of times I well on the way to working out exactly how the game worked, and we didn't really have to pick up the rulebook that often when we played it the second time around. I am looking forward to how the design moves forward. It also fits a very good gap in my games list, as I don't have many “light” strategy games where there are many options for winning and also a direct set of confrontation options. The fact that it can stand alone, not just as a game in my collection, but also side by side with the roleplay games that also fit this genre. I can see me showing this game to people who know, and play, a lot of other games. I really can see some of my normal gaming group really enjoying this game, and certainly there will be avenues they will open up that we didn't see a lot of over the weekend (certainly someone I know will really like playing the negative effect of cards on their opponents, which we did little of in the games we played). It has that scope for people to play it in different ways and each option will be viable to get the win.

There were a couple of hiccups because we missed rules, I do, however, think a lot of that will be the normal rush through of the rules, and some aspects of the rulebook needing a little reworking. I'd also be quite interested in the event cards having a long term effect over the missions as well, just to add even more re-playability to the game (not that there isn't already a lot of that anyway)

This is a solid 7.5/10 game, but also one that might well go further up the scale the more it is played and the more options you get to see. Each game also doesn't go through all of the mission cards and there are more than eight of the event cards in the box, so there is definitely a lot of re-playability anyway.

The Important bits

The Nightlancer game has a facebook page which can be found at http://www.facebook.com/NightlancerGame

The images used on this page are from the Nightlancer page itself (as you will see)

Adversity Games themselves can also be found on the following pages
http://www.adversitygames.com
http://www.facebook.com/adversitygames
http://twitter.com/adversitygames

It is well worth a look around the various pages, and I have added links throughout this post for Nightlancer itself so curiosity should have got the better of you by now surely.
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