Friday, June 3, 2011

Expansion Review - Nightfall: Martial Law

For just a second, I was thinking about deliberately misspelling the title of the new Nightfall expansion. Not because it's bad - on the contrary, I love it. More like poking fun at myself for screwing up the last one. But then I remembered, that would be stupid.

So instead, I'll just tell you how much fun Martial Law is, and not call it Marsha Law (I once knew a girl named Marsha Law. Her parents must have been dropping acid while listening to Nine Inch Nails). And here it is - it's fun.

The one thing Nightfall has needed since it came out was more cards. So many of the cards in the base game do essentially the same thing - damage opponents or hit minions. And that takes away from the strategic deckbuilding, because everybody is essentially making the same deck, unless some really wacky stuff hits the table, and then you're probably ignoring the wacky stuff because you need stuff that will whack your enemies.

Plus, you need more cards because of how crucial it is to chain them successfully. There are not enough blue cards that chain to green, and green cards with blue kickers (that's just an example. I didn't make a spreadsheet to analyze the chains. That would be obsessively retarded. And I'm pretty sure someone else did it, someone with too much free time). More cards means more chances to chain. I mean, you still only have the ten cards to choose from, but there's a better chance that you don't have to buy that lame Flank Attack just so you can have a yellow moon.

But just having more cards isn't enough. To really kick ass, Martial Law needed new ideas that added new options. Sure, more cards was great, but if all they do is give you more ways to stab opponents or their minions, what's the point? Happily, Martial Law gives us a good dose of new, cool stuff.

For starters, lots of the new cards are just plain kick-ass. Lots of them just find new ways to do the old stuff, like Headshot that takes a minion out of the game for good, or Queen's Bishop who deals damage to whoever he wants, right before he attacks. Use those properly, and you can counter some of the really scary bastards, like Vulko and Big Ghost, and still get your attack through to your opponents.

But the really cool new cards actually change up how the game works. Jerome Carceri, for example, stay in play after he attacks, which makes him ridiculously scary, because he can be used for defense even after you use him for offense. Legion Ten can absorb all the damage from a single attacker without passing any of it through, and still manages to be one mean motor-scooter on offense.

Lots of the cards in this deck let you manage your deck better, too. Roland LeFontaine lets you draw cards when he attacks. Tactical Prep lets you rearrange the top of your deck. Lone Hound lets you exile cards from your hand when he attacks, making him one hell of a healer. There are more cards that do cool new things, and if you want a list of what they are, go bother someone else.

Possibly the coolest new power in Martial Law is the ability to feed. A bunch of the cards give you this option, which lets you use the same ability twice. Like Sweep and Clear, that lets you draw a card, and if you discard two, you can draw again, for as long as you can afford it. Or All-Out Lunge, that lets you lay a little beating on an enemy, and then discard to do it again. To really take advantage of these abilities, you have to keep a few cards back when you lay down your chain, which adds another layer of strategy to building your deck.

I also really like the Martial Law wounds. In the original, wounds you draw at the end of your turn can be traded for more cards. This used to be about the only way you could build a really big hand. But the wounds in Martial Law can be used when you attack, to throw a little blood fury into your attacking minions and ramp up the damage they do.

One really nice thing about Martial Law is that you don't have to own the original game. It comes with all the wounds and starting hands you need to play, so while I would obviously prefer to mix it with the original game (and already have), you don't have to buy both boxes to play Nightfall.

Now, the same complaints I had with Nightfall carry through to Martial Law. For starters, the vampire/werewolf/human war is so overdone, it's almost campy. And it's not even that thematic - when your attacking force consists of a Dracula, the Wolf Man and Van Helsing, any concept of war between monster races starts to fade. There's no advantage to having just vampires, or just werewolves, or just humans, so there's no reason not to just buy whatever works, and not even pay attention to what kind of monster you're shoving into an office chair and putting to work.

But my complaints continue to fade every time I play Nightfall. It has become a staple of my group. We usually meet once a week to try out all the games that I'll review that week, but we don't even pretend to make excuses when we drag out Nightfall. Fact is, we're up to our assholes in games we don't really like very much, and sometimes, after we play two or three total stinkers, we need to play a good game just to remember that these things are actually fun now and then. We all enjoy Nightfall, and Martial Law takes a game that we enjoyed and makes it even more awesome.

If you haven't tried Nightfall, you really owe it to yourself to give it a whirl. You can start with either box - both are great. And if you already have Nightfall, and play it often enough to know how much fun it can be, you'll want to pick up Martial Law as soon as you can afford it. Never mind all the black eyeshadow and leather trenchcoats. The game is a blast, and Martial Law makes it better.


New mechanic adds more strategy
New wound cards add more tactical options
New cards with new abilities add more reason to play Nightfall again
It's awesome

Same angst-ridden theme, still with weak execution
Some serious printing errors on a few of the cards

Son of a bitch. I did it again. Nightfall: Martial Law will be out in July. That's a month away. Hopefully you can wait, because it's worth it.

QUICK REMINDER: Just two weeks left in the The Spoils contest (that name is intensely awkward). Read about it here, and the enter to win a really fun game:


Mike Schloth said...

Hello -- Could you please expand on the "serious printing errors"? Thank you.

Matt Drake said...

Some of the words are all goofy on the kicker portion of a couple cards, but you can still totally read them. Mine was an advance copy. Yours will probably be fixed. Barely worth a mention.

Todd Rowland said...

Actually it won't be fixed, something happened between the proof approval and final printing. Luckily so far it seems to have been all contained to only the draft cards, where the error doesn't have as serious an impact.

We're sorry about it of course, but if anyone wants to come over I can show you the proof copies I have that didn't have that error! :-D