When Dylan first approached me to help him review SilverClutch game’s “Beneath Nexus” I as unsure of what to expect. The initial thought was how will I coral 4-6 people with limited attention spans to play a prototype card game. I prepared by reading the 11 page PDF on their website to start understanding the rules. Essentially, one player is the blight lord and the other 3-5 players are the heroes intent on defeating them. At the start of the game the blight lord gets to choose one of four lords, each with their own play style and abilities. The other players get to choose from six characters which take on the traditional architypes such as the healer, tank, support, etc. What makes the gameplay interesting is that each game it is not in the player’s best interest to choose their favourite character. Rather the team needs to be constructed as a whole and engineered to combat the specific blight lord. The heroes must fight their way through two dungeons and then defeat the blight lord in the final battle. The blight lord gets as many moves or “actions” as there are heroes playing on the opposing team. The heroes then play in order of fastest to slowest (as shown on the cards) and each hero gets one action. Their objective is to make it through 2 dungeons and then fight the Blight Lord.
My recommendation is that if only one person is going to read the rules, that player should be the blight lord. The first time through will honestly be like herding cats but the payoff is definitely worth it. Each dungeon run is called an “Encounter”. The encounter begins with a dungeon being chosen by the heroes and they usually favour the blight lord. Each dungeon has its own interesting mechanic which ranges from crippling the monsters inside to limiting healing to altering how treasures are distributed. Once two encounters are completed, preferably with all heroes intact, you fight the blight lord which is effectively a well crafted combination of separate monsters. Of course after reading the rules through I insisted on being the blight lord. As our first blight lord I chose the Ether Dragon APEP.
And so the Heroes began their journey. Very slowly and cautiously. Because I had to look back at the rules quite a few times. The first encounter was full of “so what are actions and how do they work?”, “When can I play the cards with yellow gems?” and so on. But on completion of the first encounter we had ironed out the details of playing and it was a blast. I was thoroughly destroyed because my strategy went directly against the way APEP was intended to be used (He is designed to burn through his own hand and monsters, pun intended). But at no point in the game did I as “the bad guy” feel like I was left out or isolated. Being the blight lord wasn’t a chore or feel like you were “it” in a game of tag or hide and go seek. After the first game I wasn’t just adamant that we play again but I wanted to remain the blight lord. At this point Dylan had to step in and recommend I play on the heroes’ side so I could see the game from a different perspective.
After the first game I was scared that it may be unbalanced and the heroes could have the upper hand naturally and win every time. Once we started the second game we found out that was no where near the truth. The blight lord this time was LAMASHTU who has much more control over the monsters in front of her. For the most part my allies stuck to their guns and used the same heroes because they felt they understood the character and actually formed some sort of attachment. I chose The Braveheart looking Laoch. He acts as a damage powerhouse that gains bonuses for dealing the final strike to monsters. If the team plays to this advantage he can dish out massive damage to multiple monsters. This takes a lot of coordinating with your team and in our games lead to more than one team strategy session. His downside is he has very limited ability to heal himself and must rely on the healers Vairin and Lunja to keep him on his feet. Both have the abilities to do this if they stay on task. Either way we were pounded into the ground by the end of the second encounter with Lamashtu and didn’t even get a chance to fight her directly.
None of us were overly disappointed. There were no allegations of cheating and the games themselves were not marathon like slogs. This is a game that can easily be completed in one sitting. Maybe not the first time around as the rules take a little getting used to. But if we can not only learn but adapt to the strategies of the individual Heroes and Blight Lords within one encounter any one should be able to pick this game up and easily be able to join in. In fact, by design the game is inclusive. Generally, the more experienced players will want to be the blight lord or they will want to lead their team and teach them the mechanics. Before this game was brought to me I had no idea it existed. And after a few play throughs full of strategizing and friendly competition I honestly want a copy for myself and as a gift for my brothers.
Let’s look at some of the finer details.
The art is dark and mysterious but also consistent and doesn’t distract from the gameplay. The art is drawn in a style akin to that of magic the gathering and definitely complements the games overall feel.
The rules are for the most part easy to follow. I understand it is a demo version that we played but there were a few ambiguous cards that we had to make some assumptions about. One was a +2 damage to a selected hero card. We were not sure if it was for the next attack or for the full round. Only once did we have to remove a card from the game entirely and that was a dungeon card that allowed a second blight lord to be summoned as a monster “at level 1”. Since there are no levels in this game that we could find and summoning at full blight lord strength would be way too overpowered we had to make the decision to set the dungeon aside and choose another. I don’t mean to speak negatively about this and on the contrary would like to say I was intrigued by that particular mechanic and am interested in seeing how it should be interpreted. One other minor complaint was that sometimes wording wasn’t very consistent. As mentioned above that is the only instance of level I found throughout the game.
From what I have experienced the game is surprisingly balanced. More importantly It isn’t a matter of choosing your favourite hero and going after the blight lord. Each team must be adapted to the play style of the target blight lord and to work to each other player’s strengths. I think in this regard the developers did an excellent job in creating inherent replay value by changing up team builds and team level tactics.
The rules and gameplay are pretty easy to follow but the hardest part is to keep track of HP for both the monsters and the heroes. We ended up using a spread sheet displayed on my tv so that the healers knew what was going on and offensive heroes knew what to target. In the end we came up with an effective system but when playing make sure you have a pen, paper and a trustworthy scribe ready.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this game and plan on playing it again tomorrow and as soon as it goes on sale I am buying a copy for myself and my aforementioned brothers.