The first expansion for the deckbuilding game, Nightfall is nearing release. The folks over at AEG were kind enough to supply me with an early copy so that I could take a look at it. The timing was quite fortuitous. A couple of my student helpers at school have become totally addicted to the base game, so the early copy arrived just in time for them get in a few games with the new set before school was let out for the summer. Nightfall: Martial Law serves as both a stand-alone game (five standard starting decks and wound cards are included) and an expansion (with all-new minion and action cards).
For anyone unfamiliar with Nightfall, it is a deckbuilding game where players attempt to damage each other by giving their opponents wound cards either directly or by attacking with minion cards. At the end of the game, the player with the fewest wound cards is declared the winner. Perhaps its most unique mechanic is how cards are “chained” together. Every card has a primary (large moon) color and one or more secondary (small moon) color. Players may play only one initial card on their turn, but can then play additional cards in a long chain, provided each card’s primary color matches the previous card’s secondary color. This even continues around the table to let every player play cards (if they wish) on any given turn. Initial starting cards are removed from the game when used, thus helping to focus players’ decks toward their strategy while they are also accumulating more and more wound cards. This helps to create a nice crescendo of tension to the game as decks become more and more focused and deadly while simultaneously skirting the line of becoming dangerously over-full of wound cards. I’ve found the two player game to be a bit overdependent on the luck of the draw, but Nightfall is an excellent political game when played with three or more players, since players have a natural drive to attack whichever player currently has the fewest wounds.
Nightfall: Martial Law only introduces a single new mechanic, but uses existing mechanics in new ways in order to give the game a significantly different feel. The expansion game isn’t different enough to change anyone’s opinion about Nightfall in general, but players who enjoy Nightfall will see a slightly different flavor of game when playing with the Martial Law expansion. The two primary sources of this flavor are minions that stick around much longer and the new Feed mechanic.
The new Feed mechanic is a way for a player to get multiple uses of a card’s chain or kicker text. Simply discard the required number of cards from your hand, and you get to repeat the chain effect. Do this as many times as you like (or have the cards to afford.) This simple rule is enough to provide players with many new strategic decisions. Since cards can be discarded for influence (money), players are confronted with the choice of spending cards to improve an effect or saving them to buy more (and/or better) cards later. While card-drawing abilities have always been quite powerful in large multiplayer games, I could see the feed ability making card drawing a more useful strategy for two player games. The feed ability also comes into play in the new type of wound card introduced in the expansion.
Using the new wound card, players now have the possibility of discarding wound cards to “pump up” one of their attacking minions. Players can still only use one wound ability on each of their turns. This means that a player who discards a pile of wounds on one turn to pump up their minion, can’t then turn around and discard wounds for more cards at the end of their draw phase either. This makes sort of a two-round cycle for wound-heavy decks where one turn leaves a player with many wound cards in hand, they get used the next round in an attack, and then the player will have to wait another round before being able to discard wounds for more cards. Note that this new ability can be used after players decide which minions will be used as blockers, leaving the attacker with a nice little surprise up their sleeve if they wish.
The second theme running through the expansion is a set of minions that are far more persistent and robust than previous minions. The first type are a couple minions that stay in play until they are destroyed (like Bad Smoke in the starting decks).
With minions that stick around, unopposed players (or those who don’t need to use minions to prevent damage) can build up quite an army of attackers. This leads to some interesting situations, and makes direct damage to minions more valuable – a good thing in my opinion. It also presents an interesting challenge for deckbuilding. Do you buy extra copies of persistent minions since they’ll often not be in your deck? If so, when they all get wiped out your deck will now be out of balance with too many of that color…
Speaking of more defensively-minded minions, there is a minion that cannot be destroyed at all (it can be exiled or is simply discarded after attacking) and a minion that is especially good at blocking, absorbing all damage done in the attack (rather than passing some through to damage its owning player) but is then destroyed. These will obviously continue to cycle through one’s deck each turn but provide some needed defense for the upped offensive damage of persistent minions.
In addition to the Feed effect and new minion styles, there are a few other themes that can be recognized by players very familiar with the base Nightfall game. Obviously, there are going to be new card color combinations for chaining. I love the new purple-green chains. Partially because the colors look so nice together (I play green in my games when I can) but also because the color green gets some more love in this expansion. It was often hard to play effectively in the basic game.
Some situational specialty cards are now creeping into the game. Martial Law adds in a few new Hunter type minions as well as a new Goul type minion. With enough non-vampire, non-lycanthrope minions available, I could see situations where the anti-vampire/ anti-lycanthrope card, Silver Stake could be useful. It won’t be effective in every game, but taking out two minions with a single card is powerful.
Finally, Martial Law has cards with effects that have been seen before, but are appearing in new situations and times. Some cards grant abilities in new phases of the game such as drawing a card during clean-up, passing out wound cards to a target opponent when a minion attacks (in addition to its attack), and even exiling a card from one’s hand when attacking… (The new “Big Ghost” style card with an attack value of 5 also exiles a card from your hand when it attacks. This can be a good thing, but it can quickly eat up your deck if you don’t have any wounds in hand…)
All in all, there is some neat stuff to explore in the expansion. Martial Law may be a bit deadlier in 2 player games, due to the possibilities of some massive minion armies built over time. This would make the game swing even further to favor a player with significantly better card draws. However, this should be less of a problem in multiplayer games. I like how the Feed effect gives players more options with their “leftover card” resources and how persistent minions make targeted minion damage a bit more useful.
I give the expansion a strong thumbs up for any fan of the original Nightfall. People who didn’t like the combative, take-that style of the original Nightfall aren’t going to find anything here to cause them to change their opinion. However, players that were lukewarm on the title might benefit from giving it a second chance due to the new decision opportunities the expansion grants. As with most deckbuilding games, I think the first release is still the best game with which to begin. While Martial Law doesn’t add in much more in the form of rules, the new set of cards (and their various supplemental actions) may require a better grasp of the game in order to use them to best effect.
I’ve been waiting for someone to get an early copy and share their thoughts. Thanks for whetting my appetite for more Nightfall!