Play Time: 120+ Minutes
Reviewed By: Dillon
Mistfall is being released in 2015 from designer Błażej Kubacki and Published by NSKN Games
In Mistfall, you are charged with guiding a group of heroes through an incredibly treacherous mythical land. In each game session, they’ll be taking on an individual quest, that can be part of a larger overarching story. Each one of these quests is made up with locations and each location will end up having at least one random encounter that appears and must be dealt with before proceeding onward.
The basic synopsis of Mistfall comes down to a style of game that has been seen before, and is becoming increasingly popular over the last few years. This set of games includes such prior titles as the legendary Mage Knight, and also shares similarities with the Pathfinder: Adventure Card Game. The idea is that each hero is defined by the set of cards they have at their disposal, usually combined with some unique abilities that their class provides.
I’m a huge fan of this genre of game, but have also developed some tastes over playing these titles that makes it a bit more difficult to find one that hits on enough interesting points or refines the existing formula to keep playing more than a few times. Mistfall jumped out very early on during its development as a title that just might do a lot of things right, while also trying some of its own new things.
As a preface, I tested Mistfall entirely as a solo game – and expect that many others will play it solo. I’m sure many of the points in the review function just as well cooperatively or solo, however.
Does Mistfall carve out it’s own place in a genre that is starting to become crowded with popularity? We intend to find out!
Complex Game - High Learning CurveMistfall is a game with a lot of depth and complexity, and it does not pull any punches when it comes to the rulebook or turn structure. We here at BoardGameBuds recommend watching a video or rules explanation to get an idea how to play the game before diving in and spending time with the rulebook. Ricky Royal has a wonderful set of videos here that step through the game, and they helped us tremendously in getting started!
Unboxing Mistfall was one of the more surprising joys of the whole experience – the game’s box isn’t quite as large as some others, but upon opening it, there is a ton of stuff just waiting to be opened, punched out, and organized. Mistfall comes with 385 cards, 153 tokens, 22 location tiles, 8 player/quest boards, and a few wooden cubes.
The sheer quantity of components definitely gives off an initial sense of being overwhelming – but in a game such as this where variety is a driving force in replay value, it is a welcome sight. The Kickstarter version comes with a few extra enemies, encounters, and some advanced time cards – the latter of which should probably never be used. The retail version will not be missing much, though, which is very exciting to report!
The cards in Mistfall have many different types, and all of them use a rather complicated set of iconography that will take one or two games to fully understand. That said, the same iconography is consistent throughout almost every component of the game – from cards to player boards, to the rulebooks. I was intimidated by learning it at first, but the consistency rewards the player who can get through those first few experiences.
The artwork is also wonderful! It reminded me very much of the artwork from Baseball Highlights 2045, in that it doesn’t jump out at you and demand attention, but over time it all flows together with such a sense of uniqueness that you start to realize you’re playing a game with its own distinct flavor. Mistfall is pleasantly unique, and has a distinct charm that is undeniable.
My only issue with the components is one that plagues a lot of first-run Kickstarter games (especially those of this complexity!) – there are cards that already have errata existing, and not just one or two of them, but quite a few. As it turns out, Mistfall ends up being a game that had me researching rules anyway, so I ended up finding these errata on my own – but the amount of them does need mentioning. Luckily, none of it is game-breaking.
I’ve been dreading writing this section, and wish that it didn’t come so early in the review. Mistfall’s rulebook is rough. Even taking into account the complexity of the game, there were many, many points along the way where I went back and referenced either Ricky Royal’s walkthrough, rules clarifications online, or read through a section word by word.
The manual is 20 pages in length, and unlike some other games that have fluff, or lots of pictures with examples, Mistfall’s rulebook is chock full of text, text, and more text. If the amount of components and text on the cards and player boards didn’t intimidate you, then it’s a very good chance that the rulebook will.
Now, with all of that said, I have to say that the good news is this: Mistfall’s Rules WORK!
Unlike some other games where the rulebook is a hindrance, or the rules flat out break what should-have-been-an-awesome-game*coughMythcough*, Mistfall’s rules gel together cohesively. There is a very valid comparison to Mage Knight in many departments, but in the rules it is very appropriate.
While I feel that Mistfall could have presented their rules a bit better, the fact that the work learning them pays off with a great system makes it hard to fault the designers or technical writers too much.
While starting out in Mistfall is a brain-burning exercise, once those muscles are properly warmed up, this game runs – and runs very, very well. In all but two of my seven plays, the party of adventuring heroes came down to the very last turn of the game before time ran out to pull out the victory. More than anything else, this stands out to me as a telling indicator of excellent design, and I was consistently impressed.
Mistfall has a few key mechanical elements that drive it: Deckbuilding, Randomized Encounters and Monsters, a Modular board, and Asymmetric Player Powers.
To start off, the Modular board and setup of tiles creates a great system of coming up with Quests that have a different flavor and dangers each time. It also presents the heroes with meaningful decisions on every turn, whether or not they complete an encounter. There were many points where I struggled with deciding whether to press on in a weaker state, or try to rest just one more turn to recover and prepare for the upcoming encounter.
The randomized encounters and monsters in Mistfall are the second part of this engine that truly create unique experiences in nearly every playthrough. These encounters range from very simple “Kill a ton of monsters” to more exotic “Fight off these never-ending monsters while putting out fires in a village”. Each of them presents obstacles that allow the individual heroes to dynamically alter their own strengths to fit the current task, and it keeps the player from really ever being bored – since you never know what is coming with that next tile!
The monsters themselves are all very well-done and balanced (aside from one key exception) – There are those that have lots of physical armor and health, some that hit hard but won’t hit for a whole round, others that stand back behind a row of other monsters and can’t be hit until you get through that first row. The only stand-out is the nasty Lasher fellow.
He is a Kickstarter-only character so you might (hopefully!) not see him! His ability to drop two conditions on a hero at a time, and potentially more if he is enraged, is a bit game-breaking and I would recommend altering his special ability. Either that, or using a house-rule to change the conditions in the game to drop completely from a hero on a safe rest.
On to the Heroes in Mistfall, these guys and gals are all awesome. You have your sword-and-board warrior, a ranger with bow and arrow, a rogue, a healer, a berserker and two mages of ice and arcane variety. Each one of them has a set of basic cards that determine your health, and some equipment to start off with, as well as a set of advanced cards that can be bought with “resolve” (experience, basically!) and two unique pieces of equipment that are shuffled into the reward deck.
This is honestly the meat of the game, and it is damn tasty! On every turn of every encounter you’ll be presented with a handful of options you can take, and will be tempted to spend resolve to buy more of your advanced cards – since you can use them as soon as you get them! There’s lots of great options for customization from one game to the next in those advanced cards and even one party of warrior/rogue/mage might look different from a similar party in another game.
The one amazing and remarkable aspect of Mistfall that stands out, when comparing it to other games in this genre, is the LACK of shuffling!!
If you’ve played Mage Knight, or Pathfinder Adventure Card game, or Dominion, or any other deckbuilder – you’ll know the feeling that a large part of your game is spent shuffling. Run out of cards? Shuffle them up. Play this card that resets your deck? Shuffle it up. The amount of shuffling that can take place is ridiculous, this game is an incredible breath of fresh air in that respect! In Mistfall you will shuffle cards at the beginning of the game, and really won’t shuffle much again until starting a new game.
Especially as a solo game experience, the importance of the lack-of-shuffling can’t be overstated. As complex as Mistfall is, the ease of playing once you get into it makes it addicting. It ends up having a Civilization-esque “one-more-turn” feel to it.
As for complaints of Mistfall, they are relatively minor, but noteworthy. In our games of Mistfall, we’ve noticed very specifically that conditions are extremely powerful. They actually seem too powerful when applied to the hero characters, simply due to the fact that only one is removed from a hero during a turn. The only character that has access to removal of conditions is the healer character. These two gameplay aspects when combined with the fact that most games only last 8-10 turns on average means that a bad round of conditions being applied can absolutely mean the end of a quest midway through.
We would recommend house-ruling conditions to be removed completely upon a safe rest – this gives hero configurations that don’t include the healer a fair chance of dealing with these potentially nasty effects.
Mistfall is a game that reminds me of learning how to walk. The first time through you’ll barely be able to sit up, you’ll probably lose, and have many questions about individual phases. I wasn’t frustrated with it, I wanted to try again with knowledge of the reward deck and possibilities of encounters.
The second game, you’ll start to feel like you are in control of many of the tools you have available to you. You’ll go from barely sitting up to crawling, but towards the end of it you’ll start to walk, and the pace will pick up. You can almost feel one foot leaving the ground while the other plants.
In your third game of Mistfall (or possibly before!) it will click, and you’ll be running. From that point on, the game is incredibly easy to set up, start, and play round after round. There were many times that I completely lost track of time while playing. This is an outstanding quality and I was playing without the Valskyrr Campaign expansion that will be released after the retail version. That expansion will be one I’m surely picking up to add even more replay value to an already-burgeoning experience!
The biggest compliment I can pay to Mistfall is one I’ve mentioned earlier: All but two of my games have come down to the very last turn. Oftentimes, this is the very last hero’s actions IN the very last turn. This means that every move I had made was right there on the wire of “just right” to get me to the finish, and then have to make the right moves to pull out the win.
This is likely the feeling that you will have while playing as well: If you’re following the rules (and I’m sure I’m still messing up one or two!!) your games will be tight, and your heroes will be right on the edge of the knife with every turn. The cool part is that you’ll know it, and it will keep you right on your toes from the beginning of the quest right until the end.
You’ll also get to construct the heroes differently to best fit the configuration of the party they are in – going from one game where the healer is sitting back keeping everyone topped off to the next where she is blasting the bad guys with fire is a lot of fun!
The pace of play aided by so little shuffling means that it all can happen very briskly as well, while moving through a quest that is unique and epic every time you play.
Mistfall stands tall in the shadow of great RPG Deck-builders that have come before, and establishes its own place firmly as a game that deserves acclaim, and to be remembered.