Nevermore Review

Theme and What is it?

Poe’s late night visitor croaked “Nevermore.  Only this and nothing more.”  The ravens are gathering in this three to five player drafting and trick-taking game.  Choose what to keep in your bid for power and what to give in hopes of destroying your enemies.  Take caution lest you succumb to the curse of the raven and find yourself cursed and simply “Nevermore.”

Gameplay Mechanics

Nevermore features drafting and trick taking.  There are five suits, of twelve cards each, which yield different effects during the resolution phase.  Each player is given a double sided token featuring the heart of the healing suit on one side and a raven on the other.  Players begin with either four or five health, depending on player count, which they should place on their heart token.  A player who gains six victory points wins the game.  Each player is dealt five cards prior to the drafting phase which includes three steps: keep two and pass three, then keep three and pass two, and finally keep four and pass one.  The direction of the draft changes after each hand.  Next, begins the resolution phase where players will resolve the suits.  This phase includes six steps, the first and last always being the same (Conspiracy of Ravens and Skulking Ravens respectively) while the middle four suits are arranged randomly and played face down in every round but the first.  The result is that players will not know the order in which suits will resolve.

The suits are Attack, Healing, Radiance, Victory, and Ravens.  In resolution, the rules state that players should first indicate the number of cards they are committing to a suit, possibly as a bluff.  They then either reveal their cards or they place the cards back in their hand for later suits.  Neither I nor the players at my table could ever wrap our heads around the value of such a bluff.  The rules play up that aspect of the phase, and perhaps a strategy for bluffing might reveal itself in additional plays, but we often found ourselves stumbling on or outright skipping it.  After the reveal, the player or players with the most of a suit will subtract the value of the player with the second most yielding the value of the effect.  Ex: Susan has three cards of a given suit, Tom has one, and both James and Tiffany have zero. Susan will have two points of effect for the suit.  The effects are as follows: points from Attack are given as damage to one player; points from Healing allow a player to regain health; points from Radiance allow the player to draw Light Magick cards; and points from Victory yield victory points.  Each suit also features a special scenario whereby victory points may be earned based on particularly high margins of effect.   

Ravens are different in that they cancel out a card from the suit with which they are played during the resolution phase.  Should a player have three or four ravens, they may end up with leftover ravens.  These are called skulking ravens and award said player Shadow Magick cards.  If a player manages to get five raven cards, this is called a conspiracy of ravens and the player in question will deal one damage to each other player, draw one Shadow Magick card, and gain one VP.  The Light and Shadow Magick cards mentioned either display a suit, and can be added to a player’s hand during the resolution phase, or feature a one-use power, which alters the game in some way: perhaps trading hands with other players, cancelling that round’s draft, or granting a discard or additional card draw. 

Players who lose all of their health become ravens and must gather either five of a suit or one card from each suit in order to regain their humanity.  As a raven, players no longer gain the associated effects from winning suits, but in the case of attack, healing and victory cards winning the suit allows the raven to “peck” one other player for a single point of damage and if the raven is uncontested in a suit they may peck all remaining human players.  They may also benefit from certain Magick cards which feature a Raven Ability.  Should “pecking” damage eliminate all human players from the game, the raven’s curse is broken and that player wins.  Otherwise, it is impossible to win as a raven even if one obtains six victory points.

Initial Impressions

I was looking forward to trying Nevermore as it was primarily a card drafting game which meant that any take-that gameplay or “hate drafting” as the rulebook calls it is more a byproduct of the main game mechanism than from mean-spirited play.  The ability to manipulate and break game rules through the Light and Shadow Magick cards meant there would be opportunities to mitigate a bad hand to either improve your own hand or simply affect everyone’s hand and throw some real uncertainty into the mix.

Quality of Components and Insert

In Nevermore you will find 100 cards, 60 wooden cubes, and a token sheet.  The three decks of cards are of good thickness and have a nice finish on the card backs.  The wooden cubes are your standard size found in most games, with purple for health and yellow for victory points.  The few tokens the game requires are nice and thick with good weight, an almost glossy finish, and clear high quality art.  The insert features two long rectangular compartments for the tokens and cubes in the top half and two compartments at the bottom for the cards.  It is functional and holds everything nicely.

Artistic Direction

The art on the tiles and the main deck of cards is really sharp and clean.  There is good depth to the suit art with vibrant colors and swirling ethereal backgrounds.  The glossy finish on the tokens helps the art pop.  The Light Magick and Shadow Magick cards are okay, but I did not find the art on them as impressive.  However, they do feature text, unlike the main suit cards, so the more subdued artwork keeps from obscuring the text.

Fun Factor

As a drafting game, the pace of the game is quick.  The draft also creates some tension as you discover what cards you have received from your neighbor as you try to construct your hand.  Building a strong hand that yields numerous points of effect is always satisfying and can create some stand-up reactions at critical moments.  Becoming a raven makes the game more challenging and created some frustration as players found their options restricted.

Difficulty and Age Range Suggestion

Nevermore is first and foremost a card drafting game and that root mechanism is easily accessible and approachable to younger gamers.  Some of the lower probability scenarios, like triggering the special effects from the suits rather than their standard effect, might be more to difficult to achieve, but our table found them to difficult to trigger in general.  There is also a high level of player interaction with which young players will need to cope.  The box indicates ages 14 and up, but as long as players can understand the strategy behind a card draft, they should have no trouble playing Nevermore.  I know some people can have concerns about children and magical themes in games, but in the case of the Light and Shadow Magick cards there is nothing that ventures into the mystical or nefarious.  There really isn’t even any flavor text playing up the magical aspect of the cards.  They merely affect gameplay and feature text describing their effect in mechanical terms.
 

Conclusions

Nevermore is a different take on traditional trick-taking games in two ways.  Firstly, it uses a card draft which, while not the only game to add drafting to trick-taking, adds strategy in deciding what to keep and what to pass.  Secondly, and more uniquely, the random order in which suits are revealed can change the relative strength of your hand and also your benefits.  Maybe you are set to score the bonus victory points for Healing, but then Attack is revealed first and you take some damage.  You are able to heal that damage, but miss out on the victory points you could have otherwise triggered.  When you add in the Magick cards, Nevermore becomes a game that requires the flexibility to adjust your plans to the chaos of both the draft and other players.

Some of the players at our table found it too difficult to reenter the game once they had become ravens and became frustrated with the limited options available to ravens, though I feel more plays over time might help with this aspect as players learn how to strategize to the differences of being a raven.  Players may also discover value in trying to earn Shadow Magick cards early, through having skulking ravens during play, as these cards can sometimes have raven specific powers.  I also think it is very difficult to get five of a suit unless a player at the table misplays during the draft.  When not a raven, players can use certain Light Magick cards to add to their suit strength and total count, but this is not available to players who have become ravens.  Speaking to strategy, this game is one that will almost certainly develop a meta within your playgroup, as individual player trends and strategies emerge, and that will either enhance or degrade the experience depending on personal opinion.

A few small complaints aside, I enjoyed playing Nevermore.  I tend to find games that primarily feature card drafting move at a fast pace with little downtime and Nevermore meets that expectation.  The resolution phase is always exciting as players hope to earn the best advantages for the suits they chose to pursue during the draft.  The Magick cards offer some chances to mitigate the luck of the draft or otherwise affect the regular order of play and, thankfully, they generally target the whole table as opposed to specific players so one does not feel guilty
for having to target a specific player with their cards.

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Originally posted 2017-07-25 19:59:38.