‘All the vampires, walking through the valley, move west down Ventura Boulevard’.
For some reason, this Tom Petty lyric was stuck in my head as I played the new game from Ares, Masters of the Night. In this game you can control up to five vampires as you stalk the streets of the city bringing chaos and destruction with you. Well, when I say chaos and destruction, you spend your moves hunting agents with the goal of getting to nine kills, placing out your vampires' sigil, and then initiating a blood moon ritual to win the game. Simple - or is it?
The game is time limited - this time limit is set by the number of event cards in play, ranging from a difficult 18 to an almost impossible 12. The other challenge is the Veil Marker, where most of our games fell foul. The Veil Marker begins at 6, and is reduced by 1 every time an agent is placed in a district with one of your minions or vampires, and this happens most turns thanks to the random draw of event cards (you have some say over which district you place agents in, but as the Veil Marker decreases more agents come out) and also the Veil Marker decreases when an agent needs to be placed and none are available...
The game plays over a day phase, when districts have effects resolved (both positive and negative) and hidden agents come into play, followed by a night phase, when the vampires each have 2 action points to use for moving, revealing, fighting, healing, adding minions and using abilities. Moving is 1 action, revealing a hidden agent to allow it to be fought in combat is 1 action, and fighting is 1 action, therefore often it is difficult to reliably remove agents from the board. To offset this difficulty are the various powers and relics the vampires can obtain, but these are available only through clever placement of your minions, plus a little luck when the event cards are drawn.
Combat is resolved by taking a die from a pre-rolled pool so you know (to some extent) what your chances are when you go into combat. During the day, the vampires use the lowest numbers, so fighting at night is preferable, but when there are only a few die left in the pool, results are uncertain (you use two dice per vampire).
So what I’m saying is - this game is tough, really tough. Even in ‘easy’ mode, getting a win is hard, and takes a lot of careful planning and player interaction. Keeping the Veil Marker away from the bottom of the track is a real challenge as the game progresses, and it is very easy to have what looked like a simple victory snatched away in seconds as the Veil Marker drops 6 points in two turns! This might sound like a problem but, to be honest, it is where this game shines. The most comparable game for me is Ghost Stories (Repos), thanks to the tension the game creates with how challenging it is. I’m grateful to the designer, Nikolay Aslamov, for bringing a game where a win feels hard earned and not a given. The components are nice - good-quality card stock, some well-posed minis, thick card modular board and counters, and a rulebook that covered any questions I had during play. The artwork from Anton Kvasovarov and Irina Pechenkina is attractive, and the game doesn’t need too much space to play. The insert holds everything neatly in the box, although things tend to shift in transit. My one complaint is that a player aid showing the steps of the day and night phase would have been useful for the first few games.
Overall a really enjoyable challenge that can be played as a group or solo - there is no hidden information between players, so nothing is lost (other than having company) when playing this alone, so I can recommend this to anyone looking for a co-op or solitaire game that will keep you on the edge of your coffin!
(Review by Steve Berger)