Do you think the future looks dark? I’m not talking about the presumed candidates for the U.S. presidency. I’m talking about the year 2034. That’s a short 18 years away, and do you know what happens? For one, that’s when dogs and cats start living together. What I really mean is aliens attack and wipe out billions of people. Don’t worry, there’s always a silver lining. It’s a wargame called Night of Man from Flying Pig Games, and everything is starting to look a little brighter.
Night of Man simulates the battles to take back Earth from the invading Killers. At its heart, Night of Man is a tactical, card-driven board game played on one or more maps (up to four) comprised of squares featuring all kinds of terrain over which your armies will clash and vie for objectives, and of course, bragging rights.
I feel confident in declaring that Night of Man is a “beer & pretzels” wargame, and I might also easily label it an introductory wargame that’s perfect for nudging your friends away from their exclusive Euro and/or Ameritrash obsession. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Upon opening the hefty Night of Man game box my first reaction was that my body had shrunk by 20% or more. The square counters are massive and render most adult hands into looking a whole lot like Donald Trump’s. To match the gigantic splendor of these playing pieces are maps that feature large squares. That’s right, squares. If you’re a crusty old wargamer, try to hold back the groans, because I found the grids to be just as fun as any hex-based wargame I’ve played. And of course anyone knows that if you’re really old and crusty (not me, not yet, for the record), Tactics and Tactics II by Avalon Hill was the dog’s bollocks.
Killers vs. Militia — Fight!
No science fiction setting is complete without advanced weaponry and technology. On the alien Killers side you have everything from speedy Hover Cars to the heavily armored Bouncer vehicles whose shots can ricochet off the first target and hit a nearby second target. The alien army also features the difficult to hit MECA soldiers and the highly customizable Panther and Cheetah vehicles.
Did someone say Cloaking Device, Laser Targeting, an Anti-Ballistic Coating and Autocannon? You can outfit these “Walkers” with all of these high-tech goodies and many more.
Meanwhile, the people of Earth have cobbled together the best old school weaponry they could find while adapting some new technologies. That means many of the militia vehicles and units will be familiar to most, such as the Abrams, Bradley and M901. They also sport the .50 Cal (machine gun) and standard Infantry militia units.
Abilities, Powers and Characters
It’s one thing to bash together vehicles and infantry units all day, but what adds an entertaining dimension to Night of Man are the sick abilities and powers afforded to some units, as well as to individual Characters. Thematically, these units are “Mentals,” because honestly, who doesn’t want to play with uber-evolved humans with superhuman powers? That’s right. No one.
Here is just a sampling of some of the crazy-fun Characters and how their stats will melt your opponent’s face:
- Doc (militia): He’s the face-melting guy. At least that’s how I picture it. His Telekinetic Blast can wreak havoc on armored and infantry units alike.
- T’Qual (militia): T’Qual possesses the Hands of Time, and you know what that means. He can turn back the clocks, so to speak, and remove stuff like I’ve-Already-Fired or -Moved markers from units that have already fired or moved.
- Handler (Killer): This character has the “Spiderbot Handler” power, which means you can spawn two mechanical Spiderbots on the board. I’ll let designer Mark H. Walker explain this in his own words:
“Spiderbots came from that scene in Battle for L.A. where you have that alien guy controlling the mech-like thing. And the writings of Peter Hamilton.”
Enough said. Keep making games, Mark.
Card-Driven Sci-Fi Battles
I was a little leery at first to play an exclusively card-driven wargame. I say “little,” because I am a fan of games like 1812: Invasion of Canada and Memoir ‘44, so I know that it works in principle, but these games also incorporate dice. How could a diceless system handle the intricacies of armor penetration, hit locations and everything else?
The answer is that Night of Man’s card play handles everything beautifully. With a hand of four cards, each card features two or three potential actions (when you include activating a Power) and some combat resolution boxes at the bottom.
Units can move once and fire once, or activate a Power once, and then they are marked “Ops Complete.”
The ease of play can be summarized like this:
- Draw up to your hand of four cards.
- Play a card (or more in some cases).
- Move a unit, Fire a unit, activate a Power or a combination of things.
- Discard up to two cards if you want.
Each turn you continue this process until a number of scenario-defined “End Turn” cards are drawn. Yes, this means you never quite know when the turn will end, so hoarding good cards may sometimes be a fool’s errand. Your units may not have a chance to move or fire or recover from being shaken. Your face-melting plans may be thwarted at the very last minute.
This rapid fire approach to movement and combat lends itself to gratifying, fast-paced gameplay. Couple that with the melange of abilities and powers in the game, and the potential interactions between units and players is seemingly endless.
The bottom portion of each card is dedicated to resolving all types of combat. Without getting into a quagmire, after calculating distance, terrain protections, etc., you simply draw a number of cards off the top of the pile and carry out the results. In the case of soft target combat, you’ll be looking for “hit” results. In vehicle combat you’ll need to first hit your target and then penetrate its armor. The mechanics for this are very clever and enjoyable, and once you get down the basic procedures, the deck, the information on the counters, and a few simple charts is all you’ll need to keep the battle raging into the wee hours.
Final Thoughts — Night of Man Review
Night of Man is so fun to play that it’s easy to forget about any of the negatives, but there are a few. For one, the rules as written occasionally left us scratching our heads. It’s not that there are contradictions or badly written rules. It’s more that there are situations that crop up during the game that seem to be special circumstances that don’t have a clear resolution.
No one likes being confused in the heat of battle, but there is a silver lining to all this. Walker is very responsive and active in the Boardgamegeek community, and has already answered — personally — five of my ten questions. The ambiguities in the game won’t remain ambiguities for very long, I suspect. In addition, Walker intends to update the rule book and incorporate the clarifications needed at some point in the future. (Please tell me the future is now. Please?!)
Another thing is the warped, mounted game boards. Two of the boards were in average shape, but the other two, especially the city board, requires a piece of plexiglass while playing. I typically use plexiglass over my wargames anyways, but you should be aware of this potential issue.
The final small gripe is that the rulebook quickly became well worn because the pages that detail the ability and power symbols are tucked inside. Perhaps other players have photographic memories, but we needed to look these up repeatedly, and it sure would have been nice to see them on the opposite side of the “Sequence of Play” player aid. Do you want to know what’s on the other side? An advertisement! Ugh. (Okay, I know, get off my high horse and scan the pages in, print them out and maybe even laminate them. No.)
Get This Game!
The game system in Night of Man is geared toward allowing players to dive in and become immersed in what’s happening on the battlefield. The options available to each player via their hand of cards reflect a well considered distribution of actions (meaning these were very nicely designed and balanced) that most commanders need. Moving and Firing actions are plentiful, and the smattering of other actions that either supplement your attacks, foil your opponents or let you unleash a barrage of off-board artillery (to name one) are wholly entertaining and keep you on the edge of your seat.
I found the dice-less system incredibly refreshing. Perhaps it’s my lack of experience with exclusively card-based systems, but drawing cards to determine damage and hits somehow feels more visceral. We all know that throwing dice gives you an instant “hit” or “miss” in most games, but I can’t recall feeling the level of anticipation I felt in Night of Man while waiting to see each card flip over. You have to try it for yourself. Just run the air conditioner on full, because you may begin to sweat.
There’s something primal that activates my monkey brain when immersed in a battle between a less technologically advanced opponent and a seemingly unstoppable alien civilization. I can’t help but be drawn to either side in such a conflict — as underdog or top dog — especially with such an array of new and interesting powers and abilities to explore. I dare you to spend an evening playing Night of Man with a friend and not conjure up scenes and images from pulpy sci-fi movies such as Starship Troopers, Terminator and Battle for L.A. I’ll tell you what; for my money, that’s right where I want to be.
“These are the rules. Everybody fights, nobody quits. If you don’t do your job I’ll kill you myself. Welcome to the Roughnecks!”
— Starship Troopers, Johnny Rico