Imagine a card game where every fantasy creature was fighting for dominance, in a World of Darkness way, with regular humans caught in between. Welcome to Nightbanes, where a veritable host of creatures go bump in the night, but at your command. Playing as a Vampire Lord, you make a deck of cards filled with spells, creatures, and equipment to tackle quests or other players in PvP.
The gameplay of Nightbanes works really well, minus a few mind-boggling decisions. Creatures can be played at any time but they have a resource called “bloodlust” that is essentially a timer for when they can act. They get one point at the end of each of their turns. So, if a creature has three bloodlust, it can act on the fourth turn after it was played. This mechanic helps add strategy to the game, because you can play these creatures at any time, but you need to play them later so they stay alive. This is because creatures attack across from each other. If you have one more creature than your opponent, you won’t have to worry about it taking any damage while it earns bloodlust.
Combine these mechanics with armor, weapons, and abilities, and you have some interesting combat. At least, you would. The problem is that spell cards, or powers, and some creature abilities are random. All of your strategy gets thrown in the trash if the game’s RNG doesn’t love you. Some cards have two effects, such as Immolate. The card deals two fire damage to a creature, randomly. But it also has a firecurse element, where it will cause an enemy to take extra fire damage. That effect is random and can hit a different enemy. So, not only is your damage not consistent, but you can have a wasted effect because of the random nature of the cards. This is a terrible mechanic for a game that rewards forward thinking.
The plot of Nightbanes is sparse and told mostly through flavor text on cards and quest areas. There’s not much of a narrative, not that one is expected. The world is very interesting though. Creatures are diverse, fitting into one of twelve categories. These categories include fantasy favorites like vampires and undead but also categories like Righteous and Corrupted. The diversity of card types makes the world feel very populated. There aren’t too many of each type of creature and even the ones with a lot, like vampires, have many different types. For instance, there’s the heavily armored Blood Knight who stands in stark contrast to the Vampire Concubine.
The card art is superb. All of the cards are wonderfully realized and help create the game’s setting. Most card backgrounds show a night setting, which lends itself well to the games aesthetic. The fact that they aren’t too clean and still have an art look works even better. Even the background images in the menus are wonderful. The menus themselves are oddly placed, hidden behind a rather large menu button. This doesn’t seem like a big deal but it makes traversing the game’s menus tedious at times. Another odd design choice is the link to the game’s own wiki page in the encyclopedia. It’s great that there’s a wiki and that the game even tells you about it but all of the core information should be in the game. I found myself using their wiki link to understand mechanics that weren’t really touched on in the tutorial. A better tutorial and adding some actual encyclopedia entries to the encyclopedia could remedy that and help ease players in to the learning process of their game.
The game does feature micro-transactions, and there are a lot of resources to figure out. There’s Blood Badges from PvP, Blood Diamonds you can buy and you get from logging in, and Blood Gems and Blood Pearls you get from PvE quests. Featured cards and single booster cards can be purchased with Blood Diamonds, booster packs with Blood Gems or Blood Diamonds, and a “light” pack with Blood Pearls. It seems tedious, but you will acquire a good amount of cards from PvE. There are also PvP exclusive cards. A lot of time will have to be put in for those cards, but they are worth it.
Overall, Nightbanes is a fun card game that needs a few mechanics tweaked. The cards and their art are really well designed and the game has the potential for some great strategy. The game is held back by a few odd design choices that seem to run counter to the rest of the game’s design philosophy.
NOTE: This is a review for the Steam version of Nightbanes. This version is behind the current browser-based version.
A Good Card Game That's Almost Great
Gameplay - 8/10
Plot - 8/10
Design - 8/10
+ Great card design and aesthetic
+ Fun and deep strategies
+ Diverse cards and playstyles
– Odd gameplay mechanics that ruin well planned plays