We were sent an advance copy of this game in exchange for an honest review. We ended up going all the way and including it in our YouTube series!
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The Drink: Nightmargaritas
In a blender full of ice, combine:
1 oz silver tequila
1 oz lime juice (Rose's or fresh)
4 oz colored liqueur
- Orange curacao
- Blue curacao
- Strawberry liqueur (with an extra splash of grenadine)
To be an extra special snowflake, make three different colors and gently spoon them over each other to create three layers for the feet, torso, and head of your drink.
Do you remember those awesome three-flap picture books that you had as a kid? I definitely had one that was farm animals. Some people apparently call them mix-and-match books. You flip the pages and can get the head of a cow, the middle of a sheep, and the butt of a pig. Or you can do it with princess outfits or dinosaurs or really whatever.
In any case, Nightmarium is like those books, but it's a card game. And much creepier than that Tyranno-opte-saurus.
Basically, your goal is to build 5 nightmare creatures before your opponents do. As each creature is completed, you will activate that creature's abilities. Those abilities will either help you build your creatures faster or wipe out the creatures your opponents have so lovingly built.
Each card specifies whether it is a head, torso, or feet card (some can go in more than one slot) and creatures are built from the bottom up. Each card also belongs to a specific legion indicated primarily by the background color of the card, although the art on the card is also themed to that specific legion (insect, reptile, humanoid, or undead). If you build a creature such that all three parts come from the same legion, each other player has to discard from their hand one card of that color or (if they don't have a correctly colored card) two cards of any color.
I think that's all of the important bits.
For a much more thorough run down of the rules, check out our tutorial, linked above. And to see how this game actually plays, see our play through, also linked above. You got this.
First things first, let's talk about what's in the box. Some really seriously beautiful art has gone into these cards.
Wait, I totally take that back.
These monsters are mostly hideous and some of them are really horrifying. Not what I would generally call beautiful. But, it is really amazing art. There is a strange sort of joy involved in the creation of these nightmare creatures. Some of them are almost kind of cute! Emphasis on the almost...
The symbols to distinguish the cards initially seem pretty arbitrary, but there is a helpful reminder card that will help you distinguish between the Executioner and the Devourer, as well as reminding you what those powers actually do. Because there are so few rules though, I was able to start remembering which symbol was which much more quickly than I expected.
Unfortunately, the background colors are pretty hard to distinguish on the cards. Not a huge deal, as long as you're playing in a well-lit room and aren't color-blind. But if you are... you might have to do a bit of guesswork to figure out which legion your creature belongs to. Do these pincers look like they belong to an insect or a reptile...
One weird aspect of this game is that, as far as we can tell, the dominant strategy for the first few rounds is to just draw more cards. It's not just because having more cards gives you more options to create awesome creature combos, although that is definitely the case. Having more cards in hand also means that you also have more options to create pure creatures where all the cards are from a single legion (to force other players to discard) and you're more likely to have a card of the correct legion when another player forces you to discard (so you only have to lose one card instead of two).
In any case, the first three or four turns around the table are generally pretty boring. This could be easily remedied by just having all of the players start with more cards (which we may house rule for future play throughs). The only reason I can really see for leaving the initial hands as-is, rather than just starting with more cards, is that there is a little pre-game game of seeing who will break first and start playing instead of drawing.
Part of why drawing cards for so long seems so obviously like the best move is that other players almost always attack whoever is most obviously winning. Which, near the beginning of the game, tends to be whoever started playing cards first. If you are still drawing and haven't started playing cards, you literally can't be attacked because you have no creatures for the other players to attack. So, at least in the games we played, whoever started playing cards first got pretty seriously ganged up on and ended up losing.
Creating a creature that activates an awesome combo can feel really sweet if you can pull it off successfully. Realizing that you actually have the cards to finish off that fourth creature, then devour your own head to continue the combo and, if that herald goes well, you can actually win this turn. That is the definition of board gamer joy.
There's a pretty significant king-making element to this game because you get to choose which player to target with your creature's attacks. For us, this ended up being more like king-blocking because everybody is intensely focused on making sure the apparent leader doesn't win on their next turn. Which means it really sucks to be that "apparent leader."
Pro tip: If you're obviously in the lead, don't get too attached to your creatures. They're probably not going to last long.
So you go around and around, trying to make sure nobody else wins before you do, while gathering up the cards you need to pull off that amazing combo that nobody is expecting. Hopefully, that combo will take you from Zero to Hero so fast that the other players can't do anything about it. Congrats, you win!
There's also a fun element to finishing the creatures apart from their powers, just because you get to see how that hideous nightmare turned out. And figure out what sound it would make. And what it's name is.
Forcing other players to discard when you complete a "pure" creature definitely adds some interesting complexity to the game by incentivising mono-color creatures and making your best-laid plans less dependable (what if you have to discard that torso that is critical to the combo?).
But, it is also really annoying to repeatedly be on the receiving end of the forced discard. You can definitely get stuck in a cycle of drawing two cards on your turn, then having to discard those cards before you get a chance to play them because somebody else finished their stupid creature and, of course, you don't have a card of the correct color--you only have two cards. #notbitter
This effect is pretty prominent in four or five player games where there are several players who may complete creatures before you get your chance. But it also shows up in nasty ways in the two player game, making it really snowball-y and basically impossible for an underdog to get back in the game once they're behind. I haven't played with three players, so I don't know what that's like. Maybe it's perfectly balanced! #neverstopdreaming
Interestingly, not all of the powers are equally... well, powerful (#sorrynotsorry). We're all fairly sure that Herald is O.P., especially if you get lucky with it and draw the card you need. And meanwhile, the Scavenger power can be good if it's in the perfect combo, but it's generally pretty bad.
But, this doesn't actually break the game, because all players have equal access to the strong powers. (Or at least, an equal chance of randomly drawing the card with the good powers.)
One thing that's good to know is that the powers are not evenly distributed between the different legions. For example, Herald only appears in the yellow legion. Once you know this, you can start collecting yellow feet a bit more aggressively and hope that you draw a herald upper body to match, but it's really hard to figure out strategies like this when you don't know the differences between the legions. This isn't a huge problem, but does make the game favor experienced players over new players a bit more.
The length of the game can really vary depending on your group and how lucky your opponents are, but generally around 45 minutes for a 4 player game.
As mentioned above, the colors of the different factions can be hard to distinguish, which could pose a problem for color-blind folks.
The rules are relatively simple, so any level of gamer could play. But it does take a decent amount of strategy and planning to pull off the combos, which may require an experienced gamer to do well.
⭐️⭐️⭐️ - Interesting art and some interesting strategies, but too much focus on king-blocking for our taste
🍹🍹🍹🍹🍹 - DRINKERS: Creatures come to life that much more when you're a little drunk. Do recommend.
💭💭💭 - THINKERS: The combos can be really cool, but mostly just luck.
⚜⚜⚜⚜⚜ - THEMERS: The creatures are so hideously beautiful.
The English language version of Nightmarium will be coming to Kickstarter soon!