Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Nightfall at Ancient Wonders

Monday night board gaming at AW consisted of us playing the stores shiny new promo copy of Nightfall and new deck building game from AEG.

I normally don't do reviews of games I haven't played many times and don't own, but I made an exception in this case.  This review was originally posted to Board Game Geek.

While I'm sure I'll end up playing Nightfall again (others in my group like it) I know it won't change my outlook about it.

1. Theme -
If there is one single thing that I can point to that best covers the reason why I don't like this game, theme is it. As I have mentioned in my other reviews, theme is very important to me. Even in cases where the theme is really just a tacked on framework for a Euro math problem it's important because it gives my imagination the seed to work with during game play. I much prefer games with lots of theme (Arkham Horror for example).

This game has a pretty heavy theme and AEG has done a good job of trying to put the cards into that theme. The art is really good. The names and flavor text are only so-so but they get the job done.

But I'm giving the game no stars for theme for one very simple reason. I hate the theme they selected. Vampires? Werewolves? Really? Hoping to tap into the Twilight fad are we AEG?

I hate vampires. Hate them. They are a horrible horror genre. Werewolves are ok but they too have been done to death.

This alone will keep me from ever being interested in playing this game let alone buying it.

2. Components -
The cards seemed to be of good quality (keep in mind that the game I played was using my FLGS' promo copy). The box however was the best part. Very well constructed and best of all small. I'll confess to having something of a box fetish and while I've never had a problem with large game boxes there are times when a box is way larger than it needs to be for no good reason. In this case the box is big enough for the base game with some apparent room for future expansions while still being compact.

3. Rules -
I'm probably being a bit unfair here since I didn't actually read the rules myself. Also given that this was our first game we all knew we were going to get stuff wrong. However several mechanics got messed up multiple times with numerous reads for them and that gave me the impression that the rules were not written well enough to get the point across after the first couple of reads.

To be truly fair though there wasn't anything that really stood out to me as bad about the rules other than the confusion I've mentioned and that could easily be chalked up to the players themselves.

4. Gameplay -
Nightfall has a couple of interesting mechanics and a few that I didn't like.

Like Dominion, Nightfall has a "village" of cards that you can buy from. But rather than a simple randomizer deck to determine what cards are available the village is partially drafted. Also each player gets to draft two cards whose stacks only they can buy from (with some exceptions). I found this mechanic to be very cool and I think would make a great variant idea for Dominion.

Unlike other games of this type, cards come into play via a play chain started by the currently active player. You can play as many cards as you like onto the chain so long as you are meeting the chaining requirements (handled by colored moons on the upper left hand corner of the card). Once everyone has had an opportunity to play onto the chain the cards are then resolved in reverse order.

This mechanic is both interesting and annoying. At first I felt that it had been put into the game simply to set it apart rather than as a good idea. After some play though I can see how it can create some very interesting combos and chaining effects and it certainly is a novel method of getting cards into play. It also helps to keep players involved in the game even when they are not the active player.

But I disliked that the chaining was done using color matching. I personally am only partially color blind and really only have a problem with colors which are too similar. While I had no problem discerning the colors on the cards one of our other regulars Mark is green-red color blind and had a hell of a time with any cards using either of those.
 It also meant that you could end up without the chance to play a card onto the chain simply because you lack the color needed to add to the chain. Added to this the player starter decks have only a single color for chaining (all other cards have two) and in some cases you wouldn't want to play any of the cards onto a chain other than your own anyway. This made the game seem very very slow to get moving. To be fair however this was our first game and we were all feeling our way along so this could easily be just a failure of analysis on our parts.

One of the things that I think is a shortcoming for other deck building games is the lack of direct player interaction as a core mechanic. Nightfall flat out requires you to attack your fellow players if you have creatures in play. But then at the end of your turn all your creatures (again with a few exceptions) get discarded which I found annoying. Creatures are already able to take damage from attacks so the only reason I could think of to force us to discard them was to keep the cards cycling in your deck.

Victory Condition
The winner is the person who took the least wounds from combat during the course of the game. Wounds are tracked using special wound cards that form their own deck and this deck is the game timer. Once all the wound cards are gone the game is over.

What's cool about the wound cards is, while they go into your deck, they aren't a play detriment like Dominions VP cards. Not only can you discard wound cards from your hand to draw additional cards (only at the end of your turn) but you can also trash them from your deck with card effects adding another interesting dynamic.

Nightfall as a deck building game is not bad. It brings some interesting new mechanics to the genre. The card chain and the forced combat mean you will be interacting with your opponents which is something this game type needed.

For me though I just can't get past the theme. I know many others will love it and I would say that if you do like the theme and you like deck building games Nightfall is probably going to be great for you.

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