Crimson Siege is the fifth expansion for AEG’s creatures-of-the-night deckbuilding game Nightfall. Crimson Siege moves the story but stays in Europe, as the werewolves and vampires battle it out in Rome/Vatican City. Crimson Siege retails for about $30. This review will presume that the reader is familiar with Nightfall.
The Short Version: A mixed bag. You get more options, of course, the new cards were generally interesting and had good flavor integration, and we were happy to see fewer attachments. But without a houserule the new Summon mechanic really messes with the great Avatar mechanic from Dark Rages. Plus there’s another card that lets you dump a bunch of minions into play without having to chain them, which we didn’t like back when they did it in Martial Law.
Crimson Siege, like the other non-stand-alone Nightfall expansions comes in a tiny box – which is great, because the cards are all going to end up in one box together anyway, and I don’t need empty boxes taking up more space on my shelf.
Crimson Siege adds 24 new Order cards to your Nightfall options (12 Minions, 12 Actions), and includes the usual dividers and draft cards. The new mechanic for Crimson Siege is Summon. There’s a special 30-card deck of Summoned Ghouls (they recycle back into the deck when they leave play, as there is never a shortage of corpses in the world of Nightfall), with the summoned ghouls having 1-2 health and 1-2 strength. Various cards let you summon the ghouls to do battle for you, or let your opponent summon ghouls.
To go with the Summon mechanic, there are also more cards in the set that interact with the Ghoul creature type.
Standing alone, the Summon mechanic is decent, but not great. Mild extra fiddling, mild extra benefits, and since diversity is nice is a game like this that you’ll play over and over, that’s a good thing.
On the downside, Summon generates the two things we didn’t like about this expansion. First, it’s a problem for the Avatars from Dark Rages. If you’ve got a good memory (or if you click this link) then you know that we thought Dark Rages was the best Nightfall expansion because they were such a good addition to the game. Almost all of the Avatars provides benefits or drawbacks based on the creature type of your Minions. Unfortunately, because the Summoned Ghouls are, well, Ghouls, this really messes with several of the Avatars, making them useless or wildly overpowered. So if you’re going to mix Summon and the Avatars (and if you’re playing Nightfall, we really think you should use the Avatars), then I’d strongly suggest houseruling the Summoned Ghouls so that they don’t count as Ghouls for purposes of the Avatars (I’d just say “don’t count as Ghouls,” except several of the Crimson Siege cards seem to be designed to interact with the Ghoul status of the Summoned Ghouls). While this is a pretty simple houserule to fix the problem, it was disappointing that an interaction like this between the showpiece mechanics of two consecutive expansions was not identified and dealt with.
Second, we did not like the Summon card Fodder. Fodder’s Chain effect is Summon 2, with a Feed cost of discarding 2 cards. Those of you with even longer memories (or the ability to click this link) know that we were not big fans of the Martial Law expansion, and a big part of that was Bleak Resurrection. Now, Fodder is not as strong as Bleak Resurrection – the Minion cards in your deck are way better than the chum Ghouls that you can Summon. But, like Bleak Resurrection, Fodder does let you use one card to turn your entire hand into Minions on the table, without having to go through the game’s core mechanic (the chain) to do it. And this, to us, is a negative experience in a game of Nightfall.
With that said, there were a variety of interesting new cards, which include a number of strong-but-not-ridiculous effects. Three of note were “Songbird 27,” which was the result of a charity auction won by Christine Bentz (although I have to admit that I don’t know what charity auction that was). Songbird 27 will patch you up every turn if you get hit, and provides solid health to soak up hits in the first place.
“Hot Blonde” is, despite what you might think, not a lame reference to an attractive female, but a pun on the cards art, mechanic, and the fiction included with the expansion. Now, I don’t really think that puns are ever fun and/or clever, but I have been informed that some other people do, so you might enjoy it. “Hot Blonde” seems to be the leader of the werewolves in this expansion, and the “hot” part is because she has a thing for fire – jumping out of fire to go after vampires, fire burning in her art, and discarding Burn Wounds for her Feed cost (she’s one of several cards with thematic double-Wound Feed costs).
Fans of JAREK (first introduced in The Coldest War) will enjoy seeing “Little John,” who is JAREK in Hunter form. His origins as a mashed-together collection of Ghouls are still apparent, however, as he grants a Summon 2 effect whenever he’s destroyed. Another very nice integration of flavor and mechanics.
In sum, Crimson Siege provides some nice additional variety and good integration of flavor and mechanics, but has a couple of black eyes from its negative interaction with the Avatars mechanic and the mass chain-circumvention of Fodder. We’d still recommend Dark Rages as the first Nightfall expansion to pick up after you’ve got the base game and stand-alone Coldest War. Whether you’d want to go with Blood Country or Crimson Siege after that would probably depend on whether the Summon mechanic sounds interesting to you.
Promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy.