by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
Cards that go Bump in the Night
I’ll be honest, I instantly have serious doubts when I hear about a free-to-play digital card game. It’s not that it can’t be done right, games such as Hearthstone have proven otherwise, it’s that I’ve just been burned too many times before. The very concept of a collectible card game is just too perfect a match for gratuitous microtransactions. That being the case, I was reluctant when starting up Nightbanes for the first time. Luckily, while it does have its share of other problems, developer Diviad keeps the monetization mostly reasonable and delivers a fun, though not terribly deep, digital card game experience.
Upon starting up Nightbanes you’ll be prompted to pick one of three decks, and that’s the only full deck you get unless you buy more with premium (paid) currency. Each deck has its own theme, and plays up a certain corner of the game’s mythos. A nature themed deck uses more monsterized animals and werewolves, an Undead deck uses zombies and ghouls, and the Nosferatu deck employs deformed monsters and toxic abominations. Having played with two of the three, and against them all, they’re all balanced pretty well. What I recommend doing, although I suppose it’s all personal taste, is using 60 of your free 100 premium credits and buying the fourth deck not available as a starter. It’s city themed, filled with mobsters, hitmen, zombie rockers, and vampiric prostitutes, and it really stands out from the others. There’s a cool, wide variety of monsters, creatures, and people in the game that are really fun to see and use.
After picking your deck, more cards can be unlocked in quite a few ways. You get a single card after beating each computer player in the campaign a few times, you can buy small boosters with credits earned in game (or with real money), you can unlock cards with multiplayer victory points, you can buy individual cards after winning a certain number of games in each region of the campaign, and more. To be honest there are a few too many ways to get cards. There are way too many currencies that split things up and make them more complicated than they have to be. I don’t have a problem with the basic three currency types as, with patience, you can unlock everything without paying a dime (and enough of it is unlockable pretty quickly that I never felt the need to pay) but all the other reputation currencies, guild currencies, multiple currencies, etc. could go.
Gameplay itself is pretty fun, but, again, not incredibly tight or strategic. Each turn you can play one card. It doesn’t matter what card as there isn’t any form of mana or energy to spend. You can play any one card, then all of the available creatures attack. Lay down a creature and it goes in the middle of the board, with each subsequent creature being placed on its immediate right. Monsters must sit on the board a designated amount of time before becoming active where they can use their abilities and attack, and to attack they subtract their rage from the enemies defence. Kill an enemy and everyone slides down to fill the gap like beverages in a gas station fridge. No enemy in front of you means you get a direct attack on the enemies vampire lord. Card “factions,” split into categories such as undead, vampire, lycanthrope, etc. often benefit others of the same type, but with no energy/mana to worry about every card can be used in a deck with anything else no problem. There are also a few spells and equipment that deal damage or buff your monsters. Reduce their health to zero and you win.
It’s different than most card games because the strategy isn’t in who to attack with or against since everyone always attacks if possible, but instead which order to play cards in. Do you throw down that big scary monster with a bunch of abilities and crazy attack right away even though it might eat hits for 3 turns while it preps to become active, or do you spend precious turns throwing down weak cards and trying to get that powerful card far enough down the line not to get attacked by the enemy? Do you even worry about spells and equipment in your deck, or swarm with numbers from turn one? There’s definitely a different feel to the strategy, even if it’s much more limited than the nuances of more established card games, which is a nice contrast to the slew of Magic clones that basically play the exact same way with a different skin.
Roll the Dice
The thing that irks me about combat is the randomness of many of its elements. Many cards contain the words “may” or “an enemy,” as in “this card may heal one of your monsters 1 point,” or “deals 1 fire damage to an enemy.” The frustrating thing is there is no discernable way to tell how likely that may is. Is it 50 percent? 75? Does it vary depending on the card? It never says anywhere. Furthermore, far too many cards don’t let you choose which card they affect. Plenty of times I had a card that heals 2 damage from one of my monsters, or a monster that lowers an enemy’s rage, and I had a nice plan set up to combo a few things, but the (seemingly?) random pick made no sense and didn’t help. Why would I want to heal my character with 5 hit points left who’s currently across from a monster that deals one damage when I have a strong card with 2 hit points across from a card that deals 2 damage? It’s very frustrating and adds too much random chance in places where there should be opportunities for strategic play.
I’m happy to say that despite my initial worries about their pay model, Nightbanes is a fun, casual card game for people that don’t want to invest a ton of money on physical sets or spend days just trying to learn a complicated system. It’s a great game to play when you’ve got a 15 minutes before you have to do something (games only take about 5 minutes each) or you want something that won’t sap too much attention while you’re doing something else. Look elsewhere a for deeper, more strategically rewarding experience, but being free to play there isn’t much reason for interested persons not to at least give it a shot.
Fairly unique play style, cool array of different monsters to use
Too many currencies, too much random chance