Review – The Coldest War (Nightfall)

The Coldest War is the latest expansion for AEG’s creatures-of-the-night deckbuilding game Nightfall.   The Coldest War moves the ongoing story of perpetual night to the Russian front in winter.  The Coldest War retails for about $35.

The Coldest War is a standalone expansion, and introduces a lot of new material, including all-new starting decks (indeed, in some ways it changes more about the game than the recent Thunderstone Advance changed about Thunderstone).  However, this is not going to be a review for the Nightfall neophyte, but will only cover the new additions – although The Coldest War is standalone, the appropriate entry point for a new player is still the base Nightfall game.

Besides, have you seen how long some of my reviews are?  I think I’m due for a “short” one.

What’s New?

–          New Starting Decks: Coldest War presents a new option for each of the starting Minions (still one mono-colored minion for each of the six colors).  Games can use all of the old ones, all of the new ones, a communally chosen set of six, or each player choosing their own set of six.  The red minion (Snowstorm) has variable power based on the number of minions controlled by the defending player.  The white minion (Clever Ivan) has relatively high health, and manipulates the top of your deck.  The blue minion (Patrol Zombie) blows itself up to draw cards.  The purple minion (Kilo 13) deals wounds when it blocks.  The yellow minion (JAREK) stays in play and regenerates lost health.  The green minion (Victor One) lets you claim a card from another player’s private archives.

–          New Wounds: Coldest War has some original Wounds, some Martial Law Wounds, and some new Coldest War Wounds.  The new Wounds are super-chaining cards – they can be chained from and/or to anything.

–          Wound Art: Each type of Wound (Burn, Bleed, Bite) now has its art.

–          The Moon Phase and Moon Cards: An optional new mechanic, the moons (there are six of them in the base game, for full, new, waxing and waning crescent, and waxing and waning gibbous moons), each have a global effect.  A random moon starts in play, and at the end of each player’s turn, that player may change the phase of the moon (this mostly results in a random new moon).  The moons have effects like powering up lycanthropes, giving card draw for putting hunters into play, or protecting vampires.

–          Attachments: Some action cards are now put into play by their chain text, attaching to a minion and enhancing it in some way.  These effects include keeping the minion in play through combat and boosting the minion’s strength.

–          Combat effects: Technically, the first Combat effect (“discard this card during combat: do something”) was in Martial Law, printed on the Wounds form that expansion.  The Coldest War expands this concept, however, putting Combat effects in the rulebook and on a lot of orders.  This means that you can sometimes do a lot from your hand without hitting the chain.  It can also require attention when drafting because some cards might often not be around to chained – a two-card back-and-forth combo is a lot less attractive if you’ll usually be pitching one half of the combo during attacks.

Opinions/Judgment Calls

Let’s stick with the bullet point format:

–          The new starting minions are a good addition.  They give options and variety without adding to complexity (a good thing, given the amount of additional complexity added in this expansion).

–          Blocking strategy matters more.  Games of Coldest War seemed to involve much more multi-blocking and spreading out of damage.  This may have had to do with the new starting minions – the yellow minion regenerates, the purple deals wounds when blocking, and the white one just has more health.  Combined with the red minion’s variable power, this moves attacking a bit further away from just pounding on the leader.

–          Timing needs to be more clear when chain/kicker text doesn’t happen right away.  It is not entirely clear what the duration is on text that says “whenever X happens, do Y” (end of turn?  end of chain?  while such minion remains in play?)  And when chain text says “you may claim something” it should be on the card if it means that I may claim it later in the turn, rather than right now (this information was in the rulebook glossary entry for the new green starting minion, but I shouldn’t have to look in the glossary to clarify how a starting minion works).

–          The new Wound effect is solid and interesting, and the fact that it appears only a quarter of the Wound cards means that it doesn’t throw Chain strategy out the window like one might think.  I’d rather draw traditional Wounds at the end of my turn to generate card draw, but after that Coldest War wounds are sexy.

–          The moon cards and moon phase are optional.  We suggest that you not exercise that option.  At least with the moons in Coldest War, there’s a combination of random and usually doesn’t do much and easy to forget about that detracts from the game.  The moons in Coldest War are creature-type specific, so they often do nothing, or only help one player and so quickly get sent away without mattering much (unless players just forget about the moon entirely, which was the only reason that a relevant moon ever stayed around in our games).  So it ends up as another mechanic to track and fiddle with, without affecting the game much – that’s a negative, in my book.  The mechanic itself isn’t necessarily an issue, but we felt like the moons needed to have broader effects and more common impact to justify the extra complexity points being used up (this would also require more thought before sending back any random moon that slightly helps an opponent).  Plus, on a (probably overly picky) personal note, a “Blue Moon” is a real thing, and is by definition a type of full moon, so using it for a random moon card name (that isn’t a full moon) was odd.

–          Combat effects are a big difference.  Unless I’m missing something from a prior expansion, being able to play cards without using the chain at all is a fundamental change in the way Nightfall plays (the one-off Martial Law Wound effect was a unique thing, and doesn’t really count).  Being able to destroy minions at “instant speed” before they can attack or block are a Big Deal.  It adds an extra amount of going around the table to see if there’s an effect, especially because they are some that can only be played before attackers are declared, necessitating a “does anyone have any effects before I attack?” step.  And, generally, it can change the significance of the chain – it used to be that the chain was, essentially, everything.  Combat effects get around that into a more traditional card game playing of cards.  Whether this is good or bad seems like a matter of personal preference, but it is a definite change in the feel of the game.

–          There are a decent number of cards that fiddle with health totals – changing health without just dealing damage (a relevant distinction because if you have a direct damage chain effect, you almost always use it to kill a minion, not just wound one), healing minions, or effects that look for a particular life total.  I like these because they make something that was already in the game matter in a different way, without adding any new up-front complexity.

As you can see, Coldest War adds a lot of new stuff.  The stuff that is not new mechanics we liked – increased though on attacks and blocks, more relevance to Health levels, new options for starting decks, and the new Wound.  The new mechanics, however, we are more ambivalent about.  The moon phase has potential, but not with the moons in Coldest War.  Plus the ability to use Combat effects to avoid the Chain phase could really change how Nightfall is played, and in a way we’re unsure about.  Most folks who like Nightfall are going to like having new options, be they Wounds, starting minions, or just new orders.  I would guess that their ultimate opinions on Coldest War will heavily turn based on how they like the feel of Combat effects.

There is also a Strange Assembly audio review of Coldest War available, either standalone or part of Episode 48 of the podcast.  Promotional consideration was provided by the publisher in the form of a review copy.

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