This review was completed using a free copy of Nightwars given to us by Games Workshop.
About a year and a half ago, Cursed City hit the headlines – but not all for the best of reasons. We reviewed the game back when the limited run came out, and I reviewed it with the understanding that it wouldn’t be quite so limited. Unfortunately the game sold out in minutes and a second production was not run until now, after much demand. If you were one of the many who didn’t get to grab cursed city back when it was new, it is going up for sale again – in not so limited quantities – at the same time as this expansion so you can buy it and get started. In short, it’s a good game and has that Warhammer Quest quality, I’m genuinely happy that more people are going to get to play it. About the only change I’d say from the review a year and a half later is that it’s become a much better bargain for aspiring Soulblight players now that the characters can be taken separately and a much worse deal for the Heroes since they are currently illegal in 3.0. Fingers crossed this will be addressed because they’re pretty cool models.
Let’s now turn and focus on the expansion pack and what purchasing this means to your game experience.
Some Accessories Not Included
I’m going to open up by discussing one of the more controversial parts about this expansion, because it’s going to be the first thing you see. There are no models included in this set, there are cards, tokens and a “Quest Book” but no models. These were sold separately when the Soulblight Gravelords book came out, and many correctly guessed they were intended for a Soulblight Expansion that was cancelled. Well, now it’s uncancelled but these models have been in the wild for over a year now.
If you want to play you need to buy a fair number of models. Radukar the Beast, Lady Annika the Thirsting Blade, Kritza the Rat Prince and the Vampire Lord. The Vampire Lord represents a named character here, Carmilla DuSang, it’s hard to tell if this was the intended use of the Vampire Lord from the start and she got rebranded as a generic Vampire Lord for Age of Sigmar or not. You also need to grab some Fell Bats as they are utilized in the new random encounters table. Surprisingly, Belladamma Volga does not make an appearance. Maybe a future expansion?
On one hand I do understand this. These models have been sold separately for some time and many Soulblight Gravelords players have them, especially Radukar, the most expensive of the lot. By not including them it brings the cost down significantly for players who already bought them, and selling 2 SKUs probably isn’t helpful. I don’t think this is why they did this though, it’s more likely stock issues prevented this from happening (expect these characters to suddenly disappear from the store for a long, long time). It’s going to be a very hard sell to people to buy a board game that costs over $200 and then this expansion pack and they still have to go buy over $100 worth of models? Bad start to be sure.
A Long Awaited Sequel
The good news is you really do not need to buy this alongside the core game, in fact I wouldn’t recommend it. This is fully intended to be played for those that finished Cursed City, saw the ending of the story and have a retinue of grizzled, max level veterans. Since most players are only now able to even get a chance to get their own copy, that’s probably a long ways off. There are rules to use the equipment and the Fell Bat Encounter in a “core” game, but I wouldn’t really buy it for that purpose.
So spoiler alert going forward if you didn’t finish Cursed City, you have been warned.
Nightwars takes place after the events of the core game’s quest “Ulfenkarn in Peril”. After defeating Radukar the situation in Ulfenkarn really doesn’t get much better. Many of its mortal denizens are so beaten down that they cannot fathom victory, without Radukar to control the mindless undead the skeletons and zombies that roam the street now attack citizens at random and with the tyrant gone a power vacuum has allowed some of his lieutenants to seize power.
One day a curse of eternal night came to Ulfenkarn. It’s unknown which of the three summoned the darkness that now blankets the city but without any daytime to grant reprieve the people of Ulfenkarn again live in fear. The heroes who slayed Radukar must once again pick up their weapons and put down his lackeys who hope to take his throne.
New Structure, New Mechanics
Mechanically, Nightwars is a natural extension of the gameplay from Cursed City but it does put the effort in make the quest structure more unique. Structurally, there are 3 “bosses” that must be defeated, and players have a lot of agency in taking them down. They can choose to cycle through different missions or keep pursuing the same one until the job is done and move onto the next one.
Taking Down the Bad Guys
The lore states that these lieutenants did not have the Gravesand Hourglasses like the characters in the core game, which is why they never showed up until now – they were hiding. A bit of a flimsy explanation but I’ll take it. Each Vampire Lord controls a section of the city and players choose which of the three bosses they’re going to go after.
After choosing which vampire lord to attack, the heroes set up the mission like the original game, using predefined maps but with random encounters, events and items. One point of criticism I would make here is that attacking a specific vampire lord always leads to the same mission objective. Annika always has a Purge mission (kill stuff), Carmilla a Sabotage (dismantle stuff) and Kritza a Pillage mission (break stuff). This means that if you want to hyper focus on one character you will be doing the same general task repeatedly, even if the window dressing changes you’ll be doing some repetitive grinding as you need to do a given mission 3 times before you unlock the final Decapitation mission.
Decapitation missions are gauntlets they are two part missions which do not give players any downtime in between. First you must defend the collection of beleaguered citizens you are sworn to protect, then take the fight to them. You have to fight the Vampire Lord at their peak of power and the encounters stacked in their favor. If the players succeed they can cross that one off their list and move onto the next. Once all 3 are taken out, the final boss battle can be tackled. I’ll leave the surprise for you.
The Night Grows Ever Longer
In general, Nightwars is much harder than the core game. This is of course natural, it’s intended for max level characters who are seeking a harder challenge. Encounters are drawn from the same deck as the core game, plus encounter cards added for Fell Bats, Radukar the Beast and whichever Vampire Lord the players are currently fighting. Since they can’t be so easily resurrected, the new Vampire Lords don’t appear as frequently as the bosses of the core game. Those guys showed up very often on the encounter cards and kind of drew a lot of the mystique away from them when you were constantly putting them down. Now encountering the bosses before the final showdown is much less common and its very possible you wont see them before the proper boss battle. If they do appear prematurely, I presume they just run away or something. It’s not very clear and left me a bit confused to make this a lore point and then backtrack on it.
Since you’re using the same encounter cards from the core game, that means the “boss characters” from the core games are all gone. This means you will just skip over them when drawing encounters. To compensate for this, the difficulty has been spiked in other areas. Since it always night, monsters always count as empowered unless some ability or event would change that. During most missions, monsters are also hidden until encountered which increases the difficulty as players don’t know what is around the corner. Finally, a feral Radukar can appear as an “elite” character who will absolutely ruin your day, think of him like Majima from the Yakuza games. Thankfully he is a very rare encounter.
One good change from the base game is the difficulty curve. The original got easier as time went on, not only did heroes get stronger and tougher, but killing lieutenants weakened the enemy because it meant they would not appear on random encounters anymore. Nightwars flips this on its head, as every time a Champion is removed from the board, the remaining ones absorb their power and become stronger. This is represented by some sealed “Vampire Power” decks that add new abilities to the remaining champions. I confess I did not have time to get this far before review time so I’ve kept them sealed for my own surprise.
Finally, it’s worth noting that events are more brutal. The discovery cards included have more fiendish traps, and the choose your own adventure style Crisises return and tend to lean on being more punishing than the core game. Even when something good happens, there tends to be a drawback too.
New Tools for the Job
The experience is not all stacked against the players. In addition to new empowerments and treasure for the players there are two new major mechanics that help work in their favor and add some depth to the game.
There are no new characters included in this expansion but there are Elite Classes. Since players in Nightwatch are already presumed to be max level, this is their next form of progression. Each character in the core game has a class, and each class has 2 options on how to progress once they are veterans and gain a single experience point. For example a Blade can become a Blademaster to become more nimble in combat or a Warlord to shout at their friends to fight better. This immediately grants them a new ability and from then on progression only happens when decapitating one of the 3 bosses. This means that growth is slower and more deliberate. Characters also can’t jump between classes, so choose wisely. By making these tied to character class rather than name, it opens the door for future expansions to add new characters so good call there.
The other mechanic is Haven which is your “downtime” area. Haven is a collection of the mortals who survived under Radukar, now living together in the same area for mutual protection. After each mission players can choose to do two activities in Haven such as visiting a temple to Sigmar or grabbing a drink at the Tawny Owl pub. Each activity confers potential benefits and helps increase the roleplaying aspect just a little bit. As players progress they unlock the ability to do more activities. I also like that the first stage of every decapitation mission is defending Haven, to help players build some attachment to the place. This isn’t a full on tabletop roleplaying game, but it’s a nice little compromise.
To be short and brutal: Nightwars is hard to recommend right now to the majority of players. Most readers here probably are preordering Cursed City to play for the first time as this review goes up, and you should, its a great game! It does however make it seem rather silly to release sequel DLC immediately at launch. Especially one which also requires the consumer to buy additional models to play it. You won’t get to really use the contents of this box for a couple weeks or months, assuming you’re buying the base game for the first time so I would hold off. Hopefully this time it’s not going anywhere.
For those who were lucky enough to get Cursed City on its first run and have beaten it, I think Nightwars pretty good. I take issue with selling the models separately for whatever reason they may have chosen to do that, but one can always resort to proxies as needed. The structure also makes it so you can just buy the vampire lords one at a time, but that can unnecessarily constrain the pathways to victory.
I have some issues with the structure, as it feels very repetitive. I’m hoping expansions continue to come out and learn some of the positive lessons from this because there is good stuff here and if you get hungry for more Cursed City this is more of that. I’ll give it a tentative thumbs up.
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