Nightfall is a masterful deck building game for iOS

Nowadays, it seems like a new iOS board game pops up every few weeks. As an avid board gamer, I could have one of two possible reactions to this. 1) I could loudly decry the death of my beloved analog game and stamp my feet and tell you why the digital version isn’t “real.” Or, 2) I could give them a shot and often be pleasantly surprised at the new playing opportunities that arise from the digital ports.

I love the deck building genre. It hit the board game scene hard a few years back, and since then we’ve seen a metric ton of them come out. Some still point to the originator, Dominion, as being the best (myself included). But while there have been quite a few clunkers there have also been some real gems. Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer was one of them, and was turned into a fantastic iOS port by Playdek later on. Now Playdek is at it once again with Nightfall.

A lot of deck building games seem to suffer from the same issue: even in a multiplayer game, it feels like you’re not often spending much time playing against each other. Rather, it feels like you’re playing against the game all at the same time in an attempt to get more points than your opponents before the end of the match. Interaction is pretty low.

Nightfall took this shortcoming and made it the centerpiece of their game. This game is all about interaction—violent interaction, at that. All of your cards represent either minions or attacks, both of which will be forcefully thrown against your enemies. Once your minions are activated and hit the table, it’s like the last rule of Fight Club: you have to fight.

In Nightfall, winning means wounding your opponent. You’re at war with each other, so you’re not scrapping for victory points: just raw damage. You summon minions to battle, sometimes attacking and sometimes defending, but always fighting. When one of your minions breaks through and attacks your opponent directly, they’ll draw and add a wound card to their deck. This serves to see who ends up with the most at game’s end, but also it clogs up your opponent’s deck with useless cards.

Nightfall

The game uses an interesting mechanic for getting cards to the table. On your turn you’re able to start a “chain” by playing a card to the table. Each card has differently-colored moon icons in the corner, one big one and few smaller ones. Let’s say you play a card with a large blue moon, then purple and red smaller ones. The next card you play needs to have a large purple or red moon on it. Then you can chain another card playing off the previous cards small moon colors. When you’re done each opponent can then add to the chain. After everyone has had a turn, the cards are then resolved in reverse order. Last in, first out.

The cards are typically divided into minions and attacks, so as you go back through the chain and resolve the cards, you’ll carry out the instructions on them. Some let you hand out wounds or damage minions. Some let you exile and remove cards from your deck. Others just let you summon minions and place them in front of you to attack and defend. It may sound confusing at first and to be honest, it kind of is. But the game’s tutorial is well put-together, and before long Nightfall not only makes sense, but is a real joy to play.

Playdek has once again hit it out of the park. Through rotating game fields and clever use of moving cards around, they’re able to focus on what’s important through the different rounds of each hand. For instance, the card layout for the attack phase is very different than in the claim phase. It’s perfect in its ability to transmit important information cleanly and clearly.

Nightfall

The offline and online games are handled exactly like Ascension‘s were. There are lots of different options, and again, they’re handled perfectly. While Ascension had no problem being asynchronous, given Nightfall‘s combative nature, I’d really recommend playing at the same time.

There’s nothing bad I can say about Nightfall. It’s Playdek’s finest game to date, and people that might’ve been a bit bored by the solitary nature of Ascension will find a ton to like here. For me, there’s an evolving level of strategy to the game, and I know it’s going to be front and center on my iPad for quite some time.