Review: Blood Country Steers Nightfall in a New Direction

In a crowded market of deck-building card games, Nightfall has emerged as one of this year's biggest success stories. With "take that" gameplay cranked up to 11, this game is now the poster child for deck-building with heavy player interaction. But what would you expect when vampires, werewolves, and humans are thrown into a pressure-cooker environment? There's going to be some bloodshed.

Nightfall: Blood Country aims to add a new thematic wrinkle to the series with two new short stories by famed author Kenneth Hite, both of which take the Nightfall mythos to small-town Oklahoma. Yes, that Oklahoma. In prior sets, Nightfall's humans were represented by heavily-armed SWAT teams and special agents, but this is Blood Country. As you can see from the game's cover, some good ol' boys with shotguns will be entering the mix.

Just the Facts:

Players: 2-5

Playing Time: 45 minutes

Age: 12 to adult

Publisher: AEG

MSRP: $29.99

Release: October 2011

The Gameplay:

This new cast of characters serves to freshen up gameplay with intriguing card abilities, but care is taken not to over-complicate the game with this small-box expansion. The majority of new gameplay twists come via self-explanatory card text, with very few actual changes being made to the core rules. That being said, here's a rundown of what's new:

  • New Draft Rules: The center archives are now determined before the draft begins, not after. This might prolong draft time as players have to factor the center archives into their decisions, but ultimately it's a leap forward for the game's strategic depth and welcome change.
  • Archives Cease to Exist: When all cards of any one type have been purchased, that card's archive ceases to exist for all game purposes. This is a simple change that tightens up the rules and prevents some potential loopholes with Blood Country's new card abilities.
  • The Feed Mechanic: Also seen in the Martial Law expansion, the feed mechanics continue to pop up on cards in Blood Country. It's restated here because players do not have to own Martial Law in order to add Blood Country to a game of Nightfall.

From the Martial Law review:

A new possibility for chain or kicker effects is the ability to "feed" a card. When such cards resolved, a "feed" cost must be paid, typically by discarding card or taking wounds. However, the player may pay this cost as many times as they desire in order to have the card effect resolve multiple times before the chain progresses.

Wound cards play a larger role in Blood Country, resolving a past fault of the series. Previously, the variety of wound cards (Bite, Burn, Bleed) served no purpose except as an overly-obvious setup for expansion content. That content has come mostly in the form of feed effects that require a specific type of wound card to activate, although there is also a combo damage-dealing minion that can only be interrupted by a specific wound type. If that type never appears, he'll just keep wailing away.

Some of the more interesting card effects in Blood Country include Pipe Bomb's ability to mix wound cards into an archive, Harley Doberman's ability to force discards and damage whenever other minions enter play, and Exit Strategy's ability to steal cards from the chain and into your discard pile. There are several other cards with interesting effects not seen before, but there are also some run-of-the-mill cards that flesh out the expansion.

Another running theme of this set is the ability to self-inflict damage or flat out destroy your own cards. Such actions trigger special effects such as forcing other players to lose influence or allowing you to draw additional cards. However, since these are not feed abilities, the effects can only trigger once per turn.

The Components:

In total, there are 24 new cards added to Nightfall, evenly split between new orders and minions. There is also a full set of draft cards and box dividers included. Speaking of the box, AEG deserves credit here for not giving into large box temptation. Nightfall really is just a deck of cards and it is appropriately packaged as such. The game ships in a roughly 3"x3"x6" box which is easily cast aside when the Blood Country cards are added to an existing Nightfall box.

The artwork here has improved, although not by leaps and bounds. Generally, the improvement comes in the addition of more fine detail work, and the end result are a few beautiful pieces such a "Pipe Bomb" pictured above.

Artwork was never a weak point for Nightfall, yet the scenes are still somewhat jarring wherever the werewolves are drawn leaping into action. See the cover of Blood Country's box for a prime example, perhaps not the best piece to feature. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I think it's some combination of odd angles and the fact that these werewolves' skin textures don't always convey the innate hairiness of such creatures.

Final Thoughts:

Passing judgement on an expansion can be a tricky beast. Additional content has the potential to fix a game in the eyes of its detractors, but it could just as easily break games that did not need fixing. Blood Country toes the line between the two by adding just enough content to keep Nightfall fresh while going to neither extreme. If you didn't already like Nightfall, that won't be changing. By the same token, there's no concern here that Blood Country will ruin your experience. If you enjoy the base game, I can almost guarantee you will enjoy this expansion.

Disclaimer: MTV Geek received a complimentary review sample of this game