Darkest Before the Dawn: ‘Night of Man’ Reviewed

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Night of Man: The Battle for Earth's Survival (Flying Pig Games)Game Name: Night of Man

Publisher: Flying Pig Games

Designer: Mark H. Walker

Year: 2016

Players: Two players

Ages: 12+

Playing Time: 10 minutes or more

Genre: Card driven, tactical level science fiction wargame

Retail Price: $80.00

Components: 

  • 4 mounted game boards
  • 3 die cut counter sheets
  • 1 deck of 54 action cards
  • Full color rules and scenario booklet
  • Full color player aids

TGG Outside the Box

There are two quick items I want to mention before diving into the game review. First off, if you’ve check out the video above you’ll know that Night of Man should have received a review quite a while back but it was sent out to someone who wanted to join TGG as a contributor and then… Nothing. Thankfully, I was able to finally get the game back months later. Second? This is our first review for 2017 and I’m going to shift the style of the TGG game reviews away from rehashing the mechanics of a release and more toward the overall feel of playing and fun factor. On to the review!

The year is 2037 and the Earth has been thoroughly devastated by an alien invasion begun three years earlier. The vast majority of the world’s population has been extinguished and the new alien overlords, known simply as Killers, continue to ruthlessly hunt down the remaining remnants of humanity. Yet, even in Earth’s darkest hour, the human will to survive remains. Small militia groups are emerging, armed with jury rigged weapons and vehicles, to join forces with suddenly evolving meta-humans (possessing amazing mental powers) in order to take the fight to the aliens.

Night of Man (or mainly NoM from here on out) is a tactical science fiction wargame for two players; one takes command of the Killers while the other leads the humans. The action is essentially skirmish level with each counter representing a squad, vehicle, special hero character, or Walker. Each square represents about 50 meters and each turn equates to a few minutes of time. If you’d like to dive into the nitty gritty, feel free to download the latest rules here.

Night of Man Counters (Flying Pig Games)One of the first things to strike me when I opened the NoM box is the size of the unit counters. Seriously! They are nice, chunky, and (importantly) all the various factors printed on them are quite easy to see; I say that’s important because nearly of these counters have a lot of info on them and nothing drives me more bug nuts than having to practically climb on top of the table, nose practically touching the board, to make out what’s on a counter. All the other components are well presented too. I have heard of some people experiencing some warping with the four game boards but mine were just fine.

At first glance, NoM may look like a pretty heavy gaming experience; especially for those who aren’t well versed in wargames. All the standards grognards love – at least as far as modern tactical games – are here: soft targets, hard targets, morale, armor penetration, high explosives, line of sight, artillery, opportunity fire, and more. Add to this you’ll encounter the various heroes and their abilities as well as the Walkers (large mecha) and their options for customization so I can certainly understand some folks beginning to think NoM is going to be a bit out of their league, no matter the amount of interest they have in the title.

The truth is Night of Man is a fairly easy game to wrap your head around, once you’ve grasped the basics, although the rules in the box could have used a bit of touching up as some rules aren’t crystal clear. I probably would have presented the rules in a more logical progression as to how each turn plays out; the all important final Reserve Phase is discussed before the nuts and bolts of Player Impulses (which actually take place well before the Reserve Phase). Thankfully, the player aid cards help clear that up. The download link for the rules above also happen to be updated regularly to help clarify things.

Night of Man Unit Breakdown (Flying Pig Games)All the action in NoM is driven by the deck of cards. These cards are used to activate your units to get them to move and fight. The cards also determine who has initiative, special modifiers, one time ablilities, when the current turn ends, and combat resolution. Yes, you read that correctly, there are no dice in NoM so card draws will let you know if you’ve hit and damaged your target. The mechanic is actually a bit similar to that used in GMT’s Combat Commander series as you flip the next face down card in the deck for your hit result.

Boiled down to the basics, each Player Impulse will allow the active player to draw up to four cards and then use one of those cards to do something with a unit. You can move, engage in combat, rally, use a special ability, or use a one shot (say an artillery barrage) as long that’s indicated on the card you play; i.e. you can’t fire at an enemy if you don’t have a card with that action. The phasing player may also use an additional card to support what the unit is doing. Once again, only if if you have a card which can actually support the action. After completing the unit’s action (or card one shot) your opponent will take their Player Impulse.

Each side alternates Player Impulses until either A) both decide to pass or B) a number of End Turn cards, as designated by the scenario, have been drawn. Then each player performs their Reserve Phase, engages in a bit of clean up, keeps one of their cards in hand, and the turn comes to an end. Shuffle up all the cards, outside the two which the players are keeping, and get ready to start a new turn. The scenarios will indicate the number of turns as well as victory conditions to watch for or to tally up at the end.

I found NoM to be a rollicking good time once I had a grasp on the rules. I’ll point out I grew up on the old Avalon Hill/SPI case point system and can say to anyone newer to the hobby those rule books could be a real bear to get a handle on. It’s not that the printed rules for NoM are overly confusing or poorly presented but they were a little tricky for me to figure out for some reason. Luckily, once you play an introductory scenario or two, everything clicks and you can get on with having a blast.

Night of Man Action Card (Flying Pig Games)You’d be hard pressed to find a game of this sort that’s packed with as many cool options and wrinkles. NoM would have been a good SF game with simply the unique human militia, alien soldiers, plus real and fantastical vehicles. The game doesn’t stop there though as the humans get special heroes with various powerful abilities and the aliens get big, customizable mecha to throw into the fray. Each faction also plays to their own style and it isn’t as if one side is more powerful than the other; part of the enjoyment playing through the scenarios is discovering which tactics work best for the humans or Killers.

The card driven action in NoM makes for an interesting game since you may not be able to do precisely what you’re hoping to in your phase without the right cards. Sure, luck comes into play (as it does in practically any wargame) but it isn’t as if not getting the exact cards you hoped for in your phase is going to flush your battle plan down the toilet. I also like the fact you never precisely know when the turn may come to an end. This is a mechanic Mark H. Walker has used in the past (although mainly through chit pulls) and it lends itself well to this design since it promotes players taking an offensive approach to each battle. Rarely will a player hold an especially powerful card, waiting for the most optimal moment to play it, since the turn may suddenly end and a good opportunity will go by the wayside.

NoM is loads of fun and there’s lots to like about the game. I’ll guess a few people won’t dig the fact cards determine the combat results (I’ve heard the same complaint against Combat Commander) so if you find that bothersome you’ve been warned. I have no issue with the cards and just look at it as another mechanic to the design. I wouldn’t exactly call NoM a “beer and pretzels” wargame, as I did in the Outside the Box video, since there’s a lot more meat on its bones than that. In my opinion this is an excellent tactical SF game and makes for a perfect way for more established wargamers to introduce the genre to family and friends.

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