Nightfall represents the latest
tradable card deck building game to come out for the iPad. On the balance of things I am not convinced this game will do as well as others for a number of reasons, but I am otherwise thoroughly impressed with the implementation. In Nightfall, the sun has set for an indeterminate amount of time and a permanent state of night has cast its pall across your happy little corner of the world. As a consequence, hordes of creatures of the nights have risen up to wage a battle of supremacy. These tropes are extremely familiar to anyone who has been around gaming circles for any amount of time.
The objective of the game is to be the player who is wounded the least when the game ends. At the start of the game a number of wound cards will be placed into a deck equal to [10 x players]. When this deck runs out, it triggers the last turn. There are three types of wounds you can get, burns, bites, and bleeds; ideally you’ll have as much of an even spread of wounds as possible.
The game occurs across three stages and a cleanup stage. There is the combat phase where all minions in play are thrown at your enemies, where they can defend or incur wounds. This is fairly straight forward, their’s a damage value, and a number of wounds an individual minion can take. Excess damage is incurred as wounds. There is a chain phase where you play a sequence of orders, which either summons a minion into play or performs an action with immediate effects. The chaining aspect of the game is its most original and unique, which I’ll explain in a moment. Then there is the claim phase, where you use acquired influence to ‘purchase’ cards out of either a larger common set of cards or a smaller private set.
Each card has one of six colours, which is indicated by the large moon in the top left corner, it will have one or two smaller moons adjacent to it which are the linking moons. Don’t worry too much about the terminology, it’s only relevant to chaining and becomes very intuitive very quickly. Rather than having summoning costs or similar rules, you can only play a card of a certain colour if the previous card played has a linking moon of the same colour. That is, a card with a large purple moon may then have a small grey and a small blue moon next to it. That card is purple, but any card with a large grey or a large blue moon can be played immediately afterwards.
Orders chain in this fashion, starting with the player whose turn it is, who may play as many cards as they can chain, followed by each subsequent player. They then resolve in reverse order, which is an interesting balancing mechanism.
The only other major aspect of this game is learning the individual rules of the cards, which may have chaining effects (they resolve during the chaining phase), in play effects (always in effect once in play), and sometimes a kicker effects (effects that are triggered if the moon colour shown matches the moon colour of the previous card).
For me, while I find this to be an interesting mechanic, in practice I find this to create a game that is far more dependent on luck than it is on strategy. As a player, I like to feel that it is my choices and my planning that has the greatest effect on the outcome of the game. In this game, I felt I was more a passenger making reactionary choices in a sequence of events, rather than being able to implement any coherent master plan. Effectively, there wasn’t much I could do at the beginning of the game that would prove more relevant towards the end of the game than the luck of the draw itself.
It’s very clear from a casual glane at this game that a lot of talented development has gone into this port. The graphics, user interface, transitions, music, and tutorial are all very well done. I did find that I only kind of knew what I was doing having completed the tutorial though. I knew how to make the moves in isolation, but I had little to no comprehension of the strategies that go into player choices. Additionally, this is where I find the issue invoked above (balance of game more towards luck than strategy) is at its worst. What little player choice I have is very much about the text of the cards.
Unfortunately, I think the game is let down because this is not a game that translates well to the iPad. One of the downfalls I’ve noticed with card game implementation is that they encounter a critical threshold of presentable information. IPad games have consistently encountered the premium nature of space on the user interface and many have had to come up with clever ways to encapsulate that in one screen (Puerto Rico is a rather infamous example). In order for me to make informed choices, I found I had to go into each card in detail each turn as a means of assessing advantages and disadvantages. I found that this significantly slowed down the flow of the game. I would imagine that if this game is played physically, a lot of that information necessary is much more apparent at a glance and that would make my decision-making far more efficient.
This is what I think distinguishes card games from board games. In board games, you’re playing with pieces. Those pieces are symbols of abstract rules that need to be simple enough that can be captured in that sign. Cards, by the fact they have space for text, tend to depart from that simplicity and have a bunch of unique rules written on the text. Now this works when the cards are close to you and legible enough to take in quickly, but horrible when that text is shrunk down to fit on a screen (even if you can maximise them for reference). The few card games that I think have been successful on the iPad are those that have simple rules signified by those cards (Dominion, Bang, and to some extent Ascension). Nightfall doesn’t have that luxury because EVERY card is its own ruleset, rather than invoking a set of generic rules.
7/10: great delivery, but problematic port.