Wednesday, 31 August 2011


Plays: 3Px1, 5Px1

The Game

Nightfall is only the third deck-building game I've played, after Dominion and Resident Evil. There are many deck-building games nowadays, but I've never been particularly keen to try new ones, being contented enough with what Dominion is offering. It was a pleasant surprise when I found Nightfall to feel quite different from Dominion.

Quick overview of deck-building games: Each player usually starts with identical card decks. During the game you select cards from a pool to add to your deck, customising it to your liking. Often the cards available in each game differ, so there is much variability depending on what kind of card combinations come up. You use your customised card deck to achieve the victory condition, e.g. most victory points, most zombies killed etc.

In Nightfall, your cards are either minions or orders. Minions are put in play in your playing area. They can protect you from attacks, and at the start of your next turn, they attack once and then go to your discard pile, waiting to be reshuffled and used again. Orders have various effects and once executed they go straight to your discard deck. They don't stay around to protect you.

The top three cards are minions. The card names (in the middle) are in red font with a black background. The bottom five are order cards, card names in red font with a grey background.

At game start everyone has a same deck of 12 relatively weak minions who are exiled (permanently leave the game as opposed to going to your discard deck) after being used. This means the players' decks will gradually lose the common traits and become what their owners want them to be. Also at game start there is a drafting procedure for each player to pick two private card decks (called personal archives) from which only he can buy cards. The 8 decks in the common pool are also partially determined by players.

A player's turn consists of minions attacking (those already in play before the current turn and not yet defeated by others), chaining cards (i.e. playing cards) and claiming cards (i.e. buying cards). At turn end you don't have to discard hand cards (you can if you want to). You draw back up to five.

Chaining cards is a unique mechanism. If you want to play more than one card, the subsequent cards must fulfill the colour chaining criteria. Each card has its own colour (one of six possible colours) and two chain colours, which means other cards in these colours can be chained to this card. So when you build your deck, you need to plan for chaining, so that you can play many cards. You also need to see what kinds of cards others are buying, because non-active players can add cards to the active player's chain. This means you can play cards before your turn comes, which can be very useful.

This is how you chain. The first card is a purple card, with blue and white as chain colours. That's why the second card, a white card, can be played. The red number on the top right is the attack value. The yellow number in the middle right is the card cost.

When claiming cards, by default you have two influence (i.e. money), and you can discard cards to gain one influence per card. Similar to Dominion, claimed cards go to your discard deck, so you must wait for the next reshuffle before they can be drawn.

Attacks are simple. Each minion has an attack value, and you send him to attack whoever you fancy. Each minion also has health stripes along its edges. You send them to fend off attackers. You rotate them to reduce their health stripes as they take injury on your behalf. When they run out of health they are defeated and go to your discard pile, and you'll have to take wound cards.

Bad Smoke at the bottom is my minion in play. The stripes on the edges represent its health level. It's down to 1 health point now. Bad Smoke is a starting minion, and its card colour and chain colour are the same.

The game ends when a certain number of wound cards have been taken collectively by all players. The least wounded player wins.

The Play

Han, Allen and I played a 3-player game. The game is all about attacking. You put minions in play hoping they'll last until the start of your next turn, so that you can then use them to attack. They go away once they've attacked, so you need to make sure you always have some minion cards to play every round to protect yourself. Order cards can be powerful, but they don't stay around to protect you.

Han and Allen contemplating the card powers. We played at Allen's home, and I brought along this table cloth. When playing card games I prefer to have a table cloth because it's easier to pick cards up.

When we played, we found that it was more attractive to attack the player who was weaker (less protected) at the time, because that meant we could inflict damage. However there was also another consideration of needing to inflict damage evenly to your opponents. There is little incentive to injure someone worse off than you. You want to injure someone who is less injured than you. Things become more interesting with 3 or more players because trailing players can gang up on the leader, and negotiation and manipulation come into play. You definitely want to appear weak to encourage the active player to attack someone else.

In the starting deck there are two minions very strong in defense who stick around until defeated. This gives some buffer to players who are less lucky in the early game. These are temporary buffers only, because once defeated, they are exiled (leave the game permanently).

In the games that we played, attacks either caused no damage, or caused a lot of damage, which was quite exciting. We liked to pick on the weak. However sometimes we also had to consider the consequences of not defeating some strong attackers. If they lasted until their owner's turn, they could wreak havoc.

The possibility of playing cards on others' turns reduces luck (in case your hand cards chain poorly), and it also means you need to pay attention to the colours of the cards your opponents are buying. The option of keeping unplayed cards gives flexibility and allow longer term planning. This is one big difference from Dominion. I can't say whether it's definitely better. Some may prefer the Dominion approach which is more challenging.

In our first game, Han took the approach of discarding many start cards in the early game to buy powerful cards, however that also meant these weaker start cards remained in his deck for longer. I tried to use them up quickly, and was lucky that I was able to chain them and thus get them played quickly. When claiming cards I tried to stick to a few colours that could chain one another. I didn't really pay attention to what others were doing. I won by a comfortable margin, while Han and Allen's scores were close. I'm not sure what I did right though. There's still a lot to explore.

The second game that we played was a 5-player game, this time with Alvin and Michael as well. Diplomacy and persuasion became even more important. Since I taught the game, I was perceived as the guru, so I took wounds earliest. Afterwards the focus shifted away since I appeared to be the most pitiful. Attention shifted to those who had strong offensive minions in play, and also to those who had not taken significant damage. We were all trying to divert attention from ourselves. I had some big attackers in play, and dealt significant damage to Han and Michael, whom I think were the least wounded at the time. Later on Michael took his sweet revenge, dealing me 11 wounds (I had no defenders at that time). I previously sent attackers of value 10 and dealt him 4 wounds after defeating all his defenders. In hindsight, he probably should have spread around some of the attacks, because he eventually lost by tiebreaker. Had he also attacked Alvin (who won), even 1 more wound to Alvin would have meant his victory. But of course none of us were tracking the wounds accurately enough to know this during the game.

The Thoughts

I quite like how different Nightfall is from Dominion. I only know very little about Magic: The Gathering, but Nightfall reminds me of it. You keep playing minions to protect yourself and to attack others. Compared to Dominion, it seems Nightfall's decks would be much slimmer, because you don't have treasure cards or victory points cards swelling your deck. You do have wound cards which are basically negative victory points (like Curse in Dominion), but you can use them to draw more cards for your next turn, i.e. a catch-up mechanism.

When claiming cards you have to consider both card power and card colour. Card powers help you win, and card colours help you get more cards in play. Player interaction is very direct. Afterall it's someone sending a vampire or werewolf to attack you! The player manipulation aspect is a bigger part of the game with more players, and may overshadow the deck-building aspect of the game.

So far I don't know yet how interesting the card combos are. In Dominion I find that you tend to play at a macro level - decisions being focused on how to customise your deck via buying cards. Executing actions and playing cards require less decision making, but the macro level strategy is interesting, depending on what cards are in the game and how they can form powerful combos. In Nightfall there is more decision-making in other parts of the game, but I'll need to play more to see how interesting the macro level strategy is. One worry is the need to consider card colours do restrict the freedom of buying cards based on their powers. This may restrict the players' strategies.

One word of warning. Just because your wife or girlfriend likes the Twilight series does not guarantee they'll like Nightfall. No vampire Romeos or werewolf hunks here, sorry.


sodaklady said...

I played this last weekend as well and quite enjoyed it.

One thing of note is that "Order" refers to all cards that are not wounds. Orders are broken down into Minions and Actions. This makes a difference with such cards as Flank Attack, Indigo Six or Sir John Travail which refer to Orders.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Oops... I confused the terminology. Thanks for the correction.

Jason said...

"One word of warning. Just because your wife or girlfriend likes the Twilight series does not guarantee they'll like Nightfall. No vampire Romeos or werewolf hunks here, sorry."

Good! Valuable and funny point!

Rob said...

I was able to play Nightfall, along with Thunderstone, Ascension and Penny Arcade: Gamers vs. Evil at PAX Prime last weekend. All of them are deck building games. They all had their good points, but Ascension really stood out for me. It's funny -- I actually thought I might be able to sell my wife on Nightfall because she's really into the whole current vampire genre. Thanks for the warning at the end :)