So, my group this week was short a player for starting the new Traveller game, so we decided to give Nightfall by AEG a try. Nightfall is one of many games following in the giant-sized footprints of Dominion. For my group, Dominion is a favorite; it’s one of the few card/board games we are willing to play every time we play board/card games. Given that we like the deck-building mechanic of Dominion, we thought Nightfall might be a favorite as well (although we were a bit nervous because we had played Thunderstone in the interim and didn’t care much for it).
In any case, we think we might like Nightfall, but we think we need a few more plays to know for sure.
Here’s the premise: Each player gives orders to a bunch of vampires, werewolves, and hunters to go kill the other players. There’s a deck-building mechanic, where you use Influence (2+number of discards) to “claim” new cards from the middle of the table or from your private stash of two cards. You then play these cards in “chains” where the color of each card has to match one of the colors of the previously played card. Then your opponents get to add to the chain. (Part of the strategy of the game is in playing cards that don’t allow your opponents the opportunity to add to the chain.) The cards on the chain get resolved, either doing something immediately or putting a minion in play for their player (or sometimes both). At the beginning of each turn, your minions attack the other players, and each “wound” they take adds a Wound card to their deck (which basically takes up space that could be used for cooler cards–like minions). Play continues until a set number of Wound cards have been doled out, and then the winner is the person who has the least Wound cards in their deck.
What I liked most about the game was its speed. We played 3 games in under three hours, and we were rank beginners who had to keep checking rules every few minutes and who chat a lot about other stuff (like the impending end of the world this weekend…). In fact, it felt like the longest part of the game was in setup–digging out the right cards so we could play. (Not all cards are used in every game to add some variety to continued play.) I also liked being able to directly damage the other players. (I sometimes feel in Dominion like I am playing Solitaire.) And the cards look cool–scary critters abound. The rules are also reasonably intuitive. It took a little while to get going, but after a couple of rounds, everything was pretty smooth. We did have to do a little checking on some card interactions here, but nothing we couldn’t have made the correct ruling on by ourselves if the internet wasn’t around.
What I didn’t like so much, oddly enough, was the speed of the game. In the first two games, I felt like my plans were finally starting to come together when the game was over. In the third game, we had all figured out that speed was important, and the game was still over quickly. It seems a shame that there are so many cool card combinations in the game, but that most of the game revolves around you quickly picking one combination and trying to get it to happen as much as possible in the 3-4 rounds you have before the Wound deck runs out. Admittedly, we only played three times, so the game might feel a little deeper after more plays, but tonight, it felt like there wasn’t much long-term strategy. We also wondered if the game might have played a bit differently if the number of cards available for “claiming” by the players was adjusted based on the number of players. With only three players, we never felt like a particular card was in short supply.
Overall, we want to play again, especially with 4-5 players, where the strategies will be more diverse, and with 2 players, where the tactics will probably be more central. We ended the night feeling like Nightfall captured the feel of a Collectible Card Game really well without being a CCG. At its best moments, it felt like the mid-point of a CCG match where all the cards are starting to fall your way, and the game is about to be decided–like the highlight reel of a CCG match that only shows the part where the combos worked well.
(And Billy won all three games, leaving Robert and I to curse our fate.)