Game Buzz: Nightfall

AEG scored the second big deck-building game when they came out with Thunderstone.  It followed Dominion into the market, but added a fantasy theme that set the two games apart.  With a third expansion coming out soon, the system seems to be working well, so AEG is trying another deck-building game, this time with a horror theme.

Nightfall - image by BGG user AEGTodd

Nightfall is a game from designer David Gregg and publishers Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG).  It’s playable by 2-5 players aged 12 and up, and takes around 45 minutes to play.  As I said, it’s a horror themed deck-building game in which players are controlling various factions attempting to seize control of a world where the sun has disappeared.  I’ll admit that I’m not terribly interested in the theme – I’m not really a horror fan in any medium.  However, there’s something about deck-building games that draws me in and wants to see what’s going on.  This game is different from a lot of the deck-builders I’ve seen in that it’s a game of combat – you win by destroying your opponents.

Nightfall is a card game, and therfore comes with a bunch of cards – 228 order cards (including minions and actions), 60 wound cards, and 24 draft cards.  There are 31 dividers that will help with organization, and three more dividers that can be used with promotional cards…seems weird to include dividers in the game for cards you may or may not get.  AEG has won a lot of praise for their organizational system for the Thunderstone expansions, and from what I can tell, those lessons are being applied to Nightfall.  All cards can fit in the box using foam to keep them standing up, and there’s plenty of room left over for the inevitable expansions.

During setup, the wound cards will be shuffled together and 10x the number of players are turned face up.  There are three types of wounds – bites, burns, and bleeds.  The types are really only important for the tiebreaker.  Each player gets a starting hand that contains 6 pairs of the starter minions.  These are recognizable by yellow text.  The draft cards are then shuffled and four are dealt to each player.  Each player chooses one for their private archive (face down), then passes the rest.  Each player will then choose a second for their private archive, then passes the rest.  Each player will then choose a card to go face down in the center of the table to form the commons.  The final card gets discarded.  Cards are then dealt from the draft deck so there are eight in the commons, and the rest are discarded.  All draft cards are then turned face up and replaced with the corresponding piles of seven cards.  You won’t use the draft cards in the game.  If this all seems too complicated, there’s a quick setup in the rules.

Ivan Radinsky - image by BGG user AEGTodd

You’ll shuffle your deck and draw a starting hand of five cards.  So far, it plays a lot like Dominion…but the similarities are about to end almost entirely.  Unlike most DB games, you won’t have the ABC order (Action, Buy, Cleanup).  Instead, there will be the 4 Cs – Combat, Chain, Claim, and Cleanup.  In the Combat phase, all minions you have in play will attack other players – you can choose who goes after whom and the order of attack.  Damage is inflicted based on the strength of the minion (the number in the upper right corner of the card).  Minions can absorb some of this damage if they are present.  You can track damage by rotating the card so that the number of slashes on top equals their current health.  If the minion reaches zero, it is destroyed (discarded into your discard pile).  Any unabsorbed damage results in wound cards being dealt to the target (one per point of damage).  Once you’ve completed combat, all of your minions get discarded.

In the Chain phase, you’ll play cards out of your hands.  Play any one card that you possess, and then start chaining them.  If you look at Ivan’s card, you’ll see three moons in the upper left corner.  The big moon is the main moon, while the small moons are what you need to chain – the next card you play has to have a big moon that matches one of these smaller moons.  So, the next card you play after Ivan must have a big blue or purple moon.  You’ll only link to the most recently played card.  Once you are done with your chain, the other players all get a chance to continue the chain if they want.  This is done in player order.

Once the chain is completed, you resolve the chain, beginning with the last card played.  Each card’s action is the top text on the card.  If the text says Chain, this is an action you take now.  If the text says Your Chain, it only applies if you started the chain.  If the text says In Play, it only applies once your minion is in play.  Once the action is resolved, you either discard the card or place it in play (if it’s a minion).  Some cards have kicker text, giving you an extra action if an appropriately colored main moon exists in the chain.

One more vocabulary word for you – if you see the word “exile”, it means that a card gets removed from the game.  This is like the word “trash” in Dominion.

Once the chain is resolved, it’s time for the Claim phase.  This is where you “buy” new cards, although the term “claim” is probably going to be less confusing for people.  You start each turn with 2 influence that you can use to claim cards from your personal archives or from the commons.  Some cards will give you more.  You can also earn influence by discarding cards from your hand (1 point per card).  The claim value of each card is the number to the right of the card name (4 for Ivan Radinsky).  You can buy as many cards as you want as long as you have the influence to pay for them.

In the cleanup phase, you do not discard cards in play or from your hand.  Instead, you simply draw up to five cards.  If you drew any wounds, you can discard them for two cards per wound.  This means that wounds aren’t necessarily bad, but you can only do this discard once per turn.  If you draw more wounds, you’re out of luck.

The game continues with everyone taking turns until the last face up wound card has been awarded to someone.  Finish the turn you are in, awarding face down wounds if needed.  Then, players count up how many wounds you have in your deck.  The player with the fewest is the winner.  If there’s a tie, count your different types of wounds.  Whoever has the least in the type of wound they have the most of is the winner (sounds like a Reiner Knizia scoring method).

Nightfall seems to fall in the category of deck-building games that’s trying to take the genre to the next level.  Eminent Domain is one that offers the opportunity for other players to piggyback off what you are doing, and Puzzle Strike is another that introduces head-to-head competition as the goal of the game.  Nightfall looks like a pretty intense and strategic experience where you’re trying to defend against the attacks of your opponents while trying to deal out as much damage as possible.  The act of chaining cards seems like a good way to get cards on the table, but the ability to continue other player chains might deplete your hand if you aren’t careful.  I think it’s interesting that if other players continue your chain, they get to take a turn before you.  As always, I’d need to really study the cards to figure out how everything works together, but the game seems like it will flow really well.  I look forward to giving it a try sometime.  It looks like it’s going to retail for $40, but AEG is currently running a promotion, giving away a copy a day for the first 100 days of 2011.  So maybe I’ll win a copy.

Thanks for reading!

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