Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Saturday 9 June 2018

The Game Shelf Previews: Nightlancer

Game: Nightlancer

Publisher: Adversity Games

Designer: Joseph Norris

Year: 2018

Nightlancer is a competitive game set in the cyberpunk universe of dystopian 2099 AD Birmingham. Players take on the role of Nightlancers, leading a criminal life in the underworld. By taking on missions which suit your abilities, you can get paid and invest in the black market to buy weaponry, cyberware or other gear to prepare for harder missions.

You may be a criminal, but will you sacrifice your values to succeed and earn big money? Or will you just work to undermine your opponents, but maintain your ideals?


The objective of Nightlancer is to be the most successful mercenary and as such have the most Prospects (victory points) at the end of the game. The game takes place over the course of 8-10 rounds, each of which is split into several phases. In the first phase each player gets to replenish their resources a little bit, players regain a little health and energy, earn 1 money and drawn a new contact card. At this same time the new round card is revealed, dictating which missions will be available to select from and what event will befall those who choose to go on a mission.

Next, players will choose which mission to go on (or lay low to regain more health and energy). Each mission can have 2 groups attempt it, each group competing with each other, but you can also work together if you so choose, at the cost of sharing the final reward. Missions are your main way to make money so you'll want to choose one that looks achievable, based on your character's range of stats. Succeed your tests and you carry on, fail the test and you'll suffer a penalty or possibly have to drop the mission entirely. Each mission is split into 3 phases, each phase gives you an option of two stats to test against, so it's important to choose a mission you are well suited for.
The components in our prototype copy.

After selecting a mission players begin the streets phase. You will place 4 workers on various spots on the board to either buy new equipment from the black market, get fitted with cybernetic enhancements, heal yourself up, train new skills or simply buy some prospects for cash. Once you are finished preparing, the mission phase begins. Each player selects up to 3 pieces of gear (mostly bought from the black market) and heads out on their mission. To complete a mission task you must roll the die and add the resulting score to your relevant statistic. Should you roll equal to or higher than the mission's stats then you succeeded. Gear and skills often add to your stats so there is an element of character customisation as the game progresses. You can also play contact cards to give yourself a temporary boost, but beware as your opponents can play contacts to reduce your statistics too!

The rounds then repeat until the final round card is drawn. As you progress you should find yourself more capable and able to perform more rewarding missions before spending that money on prospects. You do have to be careful though, if you perform too many shady missions you can reduce your character's ideals, if your ideals get reduced to zero then your character enters a state of techshock and you will score zero prospects at the end of the game!

Amy’s Final Thoughts

The concept of Nightlancer is one I admire. It's a great idea to take your character and customise them to become specialists, then teaming up with other players to complete missions too tough to do by yourself. Unfortunately, in a two player game the collaboration is nearly pointless. Sure you can work together to take on a tough challenge, but why bother when your opponent will get the exact same rewards?

Nightlancer feels convoluted in its gameplay. You are playing an RPG-style experience where you upgrade your characters stats, but you upgrade those stats by playing a worker placement game. Going on missions is a simple dice rolling game with an element of take-that gameplay laid on top. You end up feeling like you are playing 3 different games that sadly don't complement each other as much as they ought to. Every slight gain of prospects requires going through the same gameplay loop of completing a mission to earn money followed by spending that money either to gain prospects, or to buy better equipment so you can perform more missions. While the numbers get bigger the game never truly evolves, which is a shame for a 2 hour long game.
The worker placement area of the board.

Nightlancer makes you work hard for every small gain. Going on a mission can quickly drain your resources, meaning you essentially have to skip the next round to recover yourself. Gaining a stat bonus that you want requires the right card to appear (either in the black market or as an opportunity), then for you to get your worker on the right spot before anyone else and spend the money, and sometimes health/energy to buy it. You then find that you can only take 3 bits of equipment on each mission, and only use one gun at a time so half the upgrades are meaningless anyway. On top of that there are some missions that you can't take certain weapons to, or that you can't take part in without having the right card in your hand!

Nightlancer is a game that needs to be looked at, simplified and given clearer symbology. A few improvements would be; to bring the playtime down closer to the 60-90 minute mark, to make getting the stats you wanted (and tracking them) easier, and to provide a higher incentive to the take-that elements or conversely the cooperative elements. Given a stronger push to get invested into your characters, it could become a nice light RPG-style experience. In it's current state though it strikes me as convoluted and forgettable.

Fi’s Final Thoughts

The concept of Nightlancer is one I like - in short - level up a character, take on missions to gain resources to cash in for objectives or further character improvements. Unfortunately, for me, the game just couldn't hold my interest. I felt like I was in a repetitive circle of swapping resources and not really making much progress. My character improved a little, but never to the level where the harder missions looked like something I would push my luck on. The weapon upgrades are powerful, but the opportunities to use them were always limited. To really do well you needed a specialised weapon for each stat and that was just too costly.

The box contains options for both competitive and cooperative gameplay, but we only played the competitive mode. One of the elements I was excited about was the ability to cooperate to go on missions, but in reality I did not enjoy how this was executed. Cooperating on a mission was essentially a way to guarantee you wern't undermined and to have two shots a rolling the dice. I think I would've preferred the option to combine your skills - it would've made me more likely to say yes to a harder mission, whereas I was much happier to go on a solo mission that I was confident in.

Mechanically, Nightlancer didn't do a lot for more. In all honesty, I was just bored with the repetitive rounds and completely not engrossed in the game or the character I was creating. I'm not sure if the art style contributed, since the retro graphics are not my style. Maybe it's a style that some people enjoy, but I found the art and graphic design a unhelpful in this prototype copy. Nightlancer might be worth a look for RPG players who are into the dystopian future theme - there's the character creation elements and dice rolling encounters that that type of player may be able to invest in, but for me, it's just not my kind of game.

The Good
  • It is interesting to improve your character throughout the game and make use of your custom abilities and skills.
  • The ability to join another player on a mission is an interesting aspect of collaboration in a competitive game.
  • If the prototype is anything to go by, then production quality will be high.
The Bad
  • The game takes place over 8 or 10 rounds, but every round plays the same and the game gets very repetitive.
  • The game consists of three sub-games that are very different mechanically and may not appeal to the same audience.
  • The game's rewards seem small in terms of victory points, and higher rewards would've increased our interest in the missions.
The Verdict
5/10 Nightlancer has some promising gameplay in terms of unique character progression, but the mechanisms of the game were not satisfying for us and the game did not provide sufficient interest for the game length.

Nightlancer was a review copy provided by Joseph Norris at Adversity Games. It is currently live on Kickstarter and you can check out the campaign here.

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