Martial Law is the first expansion for AEG’s competitive deck-building game Nightfall, which features vampires, werewolves, ghouls, and hunters battling for supremacy in a world of permanent night. Martial Law is a stand-alone expansion, but this review will assume the reader is familiar with the basics of Nightfall.
What’s in the Box?
Martial Law contains twenty-four new archive cards; twelve Orders and twelve Minions in matching color-combination pairs, for a total of 168 new archive cards (plus the matching draft cards). Because it is a stand-alone expansion, Martial Law also comes with five players’ worth of starting cards, as well as 60 Wound cards. As with the original Nightfall, there are card dividers for easy sorting, including the rather clever innovation of having “starter deck” dividers – no need to sort those different starting cards back out just so you can shuffle them back up before next game. This works particularly well with Nightfall, since the starting cards remove themselves for your deck automatically, and so your starting deck has often already neatly separated itself out by the end of each game.
Martial Law brings two new mechanics to Nightfall. The first, the Feed mechanic, appears only on Order cards. It lets you pay a Feed cost in order to get the Order’s Chain effect again. This may be repeated any number of times. We were not really fans of how Feed was implemented. On the one hand, many of the Feed cards had costs that you would rarely want to pay. On the other hand, one of the Feed cards – Bleak Resurrection – seemed way too strong. More on that later.
The other new mechanic is a different Wound ability. In the base game, all of the Wounds had the same ability – you could dump them at the end of your turn to draw more cards. In Martial Law, some of the Wounds still have this ability, but some of them can instead be discarded to increase the damage from one of your attacking Minions. Having a different option for the Wounds worked out well, especially as a mix – you drop any Wounds in hand at the end of your turn to draw cards, then if you draw any of the new Wounds, you can use them at the start of your next turn when you attack , instead of being limited to discarding them for influence.
The addition of more card selection to Nightfall is welcome. However, the addition is not as welcome as it could have been. First, we thought that one Order, Bleak Resurrection, was so strong as to warp the whole game around it. Bleak Resurrection’s Chain effect is to put a Minion from your discard pile into play – by itself not a problem. But the card also has Feed, and the Feed cost is just to discard a card. So you can put a Minion into play, then discard a Minion to pay the Feed cost – and then put that same Minion into play with the repeated Chain ability. Since Feed can be used any number of times, you can just put all of the Minions in your hand into play, regardless of your ability to chain them. Or from your discard pile, if you’d rather. You won’t get the chain effects, but that’s not as much of an issue in Martial Law because the Minions have moved away from Chain effects (see below). It’s hard to say it’s “unbalancing” because everyone else can always just team up on you, but it’s a huge effect.
The Minions in Martial Law are focused on In Play effects – there isn’t a single Chain effect on the non-Starting Minions. Four of the Minions stay in play until discarded, and four of them have effects that trigger when the Minion attacks (forcing blocks, doing damage, exiling cards from your hand). The presence of so many Minions who stay in play until discarded can change the flow of the game, especially the 3 Strength/3 Health Grotesque Revenant (since he can swing for real damage and block) and the card-draw engine of “Brynna & Taylor” (we have adopted the Myriad Games references of “The Olsen Twins” for these two). Koi Jiang – who doesn’t fall into either of the categories above, but also has a big effect when she’s on the board, giving each of your Minions +1 Strength.
The different feel generated by having more Minions stay in play is enhanced by the seeming disparity in the power level of Minions and Orders. There are a lot of Minions that had a real “wow” factor to them. After Bleak Resurrection, we didn’t find too many impressive Orders, many of which were too situational to feel like attractive buys (such as only affecting Vampires, or hitting players with too many cards in hand). Since the Minions seems so much stronger, on average, than the Minions, this also contributed to some very Minion-heavy games. One Order that did stand out was Hysteria (aka, “Stephen Colbert”), which has the potent effect of having a Minion deal damage to itself and to its controller. The strong effect is balanced by the 5 Influence cost, which was high enough to make buying too many of them difficult.
We had been looking forward to more cards for Nightfall, and we were a bit let down by Martial Law. The disparate power levels of the cards means that it doesn’t play as well as the base game. Plus, we felt that Bleak Resurrection was so warping that it tainted our view of the whole Feed mechanic, and going forward we’re just going to “ban” the card. If you like Nightfall, Martial Law will give you a nice infusion of new cards. If you haven’t started playing Nightfall yet, we’d recommend going for the base game over Martial Law.
Promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy.