NightFall is a zombies, vampires, and werewolves-themed deckbuilding game that also includes a little bit of combat. Whilst most traditional deckbuilders focus on obtaining the most of ‘something’ to fulfill their win condition, NightFall opts for the opposite. You try to escape having Wounds inflicted upon yourself, whilst dealing as many as you can to your opponent(s).
NightFall was originally released as a tabletop card game before finding its way to the digital marketplace. Although they play quite differently, NightFall is published by PlayDek, the same company that brought us the critically acclaimed Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer.
It’s time to sink our teeth (claws, fangs, etc.!) into the game and see whether it can survive the night! Read on to find out…
The thing that struck me first about NightFall is how easy it is to learn, despite all the different phases and their rather nonsensical order. The tutorial is a great way to learn the game for those new to NightFall, or deckbuilders in general. The only thing that is left for you to discover is the best way to play the game. Well, you can’t expect them to tell you how to win, can you?
Setting up a game is easy – you can choose to play against the A.I., human opponents, or a mixture of both. These options are available as both online and offline games. The A.I. difficulty can be set to one of three levels, ranging from ‘easy’ to ‘hard’. I would recommend that you spend some time against a few ‘easy’ A.I. opponents so that you can familiarize yourself with the game a little more.
During the set-up you can also choose whether you want to draft your Private Archive and some of the Public Archive or leave it all to chance. An Archive is where you can buy additional Minion and Action cards (think of it as like a ‘purchase row’ or ‘bank’ from other deckbuilder games). Each player will start out with 12 identical ‘Minion’ cards that are then used to help you gain more cards from the respective piles.
Influence is the currency used to “buy” cards from the Archives, and there are several ways to obtain this currency. One is by playing cards during each of your own Chain Phases or by discarding cards in your Claim Phase. It should be noted that even if you chain in an opponent’s turn, you will not gain Influence to buy in that turn and it is not stored. Playing cards at the right time is crucial if you want to avoid gaining Wounds.
During each player’s turn there are four phases to play through. I’ll break these down in a little more detail.
- Combat: Usually a combat phase is in the middle or toward the end of a turn in most card games. NightFall throws this one at the start instead! You must attack with all of your Minions during the combat phase — no exceptions. You can choose the target player for each Minion’s attack and the chosen player can defend with their own Minions (if any). Minions have health and will absorb the attack value by subtracting it from their health. Any resulting damage is dealt to that player in Wounds. You acquire Minions to attack with by playing them during Chain Phases, whether it is your own or your opponent’s Chain Phase. At the end of each player’s Combat Phase, any surviving Minions are sent back to the discard pile. I’m assuming this is to stop any one player from having too much advantage!
- Chain: This phase is sort of a set-up phase. You can play any Minion or Action card from your hand during this phase, but to chain them to one another the next card must have a chainable color. All cards have a main, colored ‘moon’ in their top left corner and one or two smaller ‘moon’ icons next to that. You can play a card if the smaller moon of a card played matches the main moon color in your hand. You may chain as many cards as you like, but it’s not always wise to do so!
- Claim: With each card played in the Chain Phase, you earn ‘Influence’. This is your key resource and gateway to acquiring new cards. If you don’t have enough influence to buy a card, you can discard more cards (including Wounds) from your hand to gain more Influence. Keep that in mind when chaining in the previous phase. Just because you can chain, it doesn’t mean you always should!
- Cleanup: Here you re-draw to five cards in hand and wait for the next player’s turn. Remember that you can chain your own Minions and Actions during their Chain Phase, so having a full hand at the end of your turn is essential. You can also discard Wound cards here to draw two cards from your deck per Wound discarded. This gives you access to more chainable cards… So long as you didn’t draw more Wounds! When you do, it hurts!!
MODES AND FEATURES
NightFall falls short of additional features. So much so, that the only additions of note are the purchasable expansions. Well, I say expansions, but there is currently only one available. There will be more to come in further expansion releases, since the paper version of the game has a few now, so there will be some longevity to the game still.
There is also a card gallery that allows you to look at all cards in the game. I guess if you like staring at vampires and other night creatures for a long time this is where you can do this. It certainly helps to be more familiar with the cards out there so you know what strategies are possible in the game. The artwork is very good, if a little on the “comic book” side of things rather than realistic fantasy/horror art, but the art is still much more appealing than many other deckbuilders, that’s for sure!
DECKBUILDING AND STRATEGY
In NightFall the strategy comes as you play the game. You can’t really plan for a strategy before playing because the Public and Private Archives will be different in every game. The more players that are involved, the more distorted that strategy will end up being. They will likely purchase cards from the Public Archive as quickly as you will.
Identifying the best cards in the Public Archive is essential. Purchasing the wrong cards will leave you on the back foot in a big way and it’s very easy to fall behind quickly as the game snowballs in favor of the leading player. When playing my first few games, I examined the purchases the A.I. was making so that I could learn from this. It was a great help and I think this led to me winning a lot of games after that.
Other than the Combat Phase, you will need to put a lot of your efforts into being able to chain in your opponent’s Chain Phase. Not only will you gain a lot of Minions to attack with in your Combat Phase, but you will also (if playing a lot of Actions) interrupt a lot of potential damage they can do to you. I found that having a good mix of colors within the ‘moon’ symbols to be the best play when there were no obvious ‘power’ cards in the Public Archive.
I don’t think there has been a deckbuilder that I don’t enjoy playing, and NightFall is no exception. The game is not perfect by any margin, but it is enjoyable and fun. What I love most about NightFall is how clean and smooth the user interface is. The game flows through the phases smoothly, though sometimes a little too fast to see what’s going on, but you can change this in the settings.
The artwork and sound effects certainly suit the game and I did find the overall aesthetic to be highly pleasing (it reminds me a bit of one of my favorite TV shows, Buffy the Vampire Slayer). I’m not sure the mechanics are the best out there, and was a little bewildered at first. Working out how to chain as many cards as possible with the colored moons is really difficult. (I’m upset on behalf of any colorblind players out there, too!) Also, attacking first feels like you are playing a turn behind. I just had to remember that I needed to set-up way before my Combat Phase rolled around.
The depth of the strategy is what carries the game. I really like the chaining sequences and the ability to chain my cards during my opponent’s turns. If you start off poorly or have some seriously bad lack in your card draws at the end of a turn, the game can feel like it’s snowballing against you. I found this to be very rare, but it is worth noting anyway.
NightFall doesn’t score as well as its genre-buddy Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer on many sites, and we’ll be no different. This is because NightFall has far more complex game mechanics than Ascension. This makes it far less accessible to those who aren’t that good at card games or are unable to spot card combos quickly, and those types should probably steer clear. However, if you’re into a really gritty, tactically difficult card game, fancy a great challenge, and love the thrill of fighting with the undead, then this is right up your street!
For more screenshots, click here.
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