Review: Nevermore

IMG_1987

Length 45 minutes

Release Date 2015

Designer: Curt Covert
Artist: Hannah Kennedy
Publisher: Smirk & Dagger Games
Category: Drafting
Players: 3-6
Price: $22.79 Amazon.com

Nevermore is a 2015 release from Smirk & Dagger Games, a company known for making simple, yet cutthroat games. In this pick-and-pass game, 3-6 players try to get the most cards of certain suits, while making sure not to give their opponents too much of what they want.

Content Guide

Nevermore is loosely based on the Edgar Allan Poe classic, “The Raven.” While the game is very abstract, it contains decks of so-called “Light Magick” and “Shadow Magick” cards. These merely serve as action cards, but the theme of magic, however thin, may turn some folks away.

Review

For being such a simple game, Nevermore packs a lot of punch. At its core, it is a basic pick-and-pass card game, but it manages to feel fresh despite using common mechanisms.

The goal of the game is to either be the first player to six points or the only player who has not been turned into a raven (see below). At the start of the game, each player receives four or five health markers, depending upon the number of players. If a player’s health ever drops to zero, she transforms into a raven, and cannot win until she turns back into a human.

Nevermore features a deck of sixty cards, distributed evenly between five suits. Each round, players are dealt a hand of five cards, from which they pass cards to their neighbor three times. The first pass involves everyone handing their neighbor three cards, the second, two, and the third, one. In this way, players always have five cards in hand, but these cards will change a couple times each round based on what gets passed.

Once players have passed cards three times, their hands are evaluated, each suit being resolved individually, one after the other. Six tokens begin in the center of the table, corresponding to the five suits (the Raven suit has two tokens associated with it; I’ll explain why shortly). The suit resolution happens in the order of the tokens, which may change from round to round.

When resolving a non-Raven suit, players determine who has the most cards of that suit—that player will receive its special ability. To figure out the strength of the ability, players look at who has the second-most cards of the suit, and subtract that total from the total belonging to the player with the most. To illustrate, suppose players are resolving the Attack suit:

Amanda has two Attack cards.
Matt has one Attack card.
Stephen has zero Attack cards. (He’s not very good at this game.)

Amanda has the most, and Matt has the second most. Amanda receives the Attack suit’s ability with a strength of one—the difference between their numbers. If multiple players tie for the most of a suit, all tied players receive its ability.

Here is a breakdown of the four basic (non-Raven) suit abilities:

  • Attack: Deal damage to an opponent. That opponent loses health markers.
  • Healing: Regain lost health markers (cannot exceed starting amount).
  • Radiance: Gain Light Magick cards, which give special actions.
  • Victory: Gain victory points.

All four of these abilities are awesome, and it’s interesting just how much the order of resolution can matter. In addition to these, there is also a fifth suit—the Raven. Raven cards are generally bad, but they can be extremely valuable, if used correctly. When resolving suits, Ravens are always resolved first AND last, hence their two tokens.

Before any other suits are resolved, players check to see if anyone has five Ravens in hand, a so-called “Conspiracy of Ravens.” To use a Hearts metaphor, this is comparable to “shooting the moon.” If a player has managed to get five Ravens, she deals one damage to all opponents, receives a Shadow Magick card (the other, better kind of special action card), earns a point, and ends the round immediately, meaning no other cards/suits are scored. It is tough to get a Conspiracy, but if someone does, it’s ridiculously powerful.

Examples of Light and Shadow Magick abilities.

Assuming that no one managed to get a full hand of Ravens, the suits are then scored one by one. However, each Raven a player holds cancels one non-Raven card of her choice. As an example:

The Victory and Attack cards are great, but those dang Ravens will negate two of them.

Here, the player has one Attack, two Victory, and two Raven cards. The Ravens must each cancel one other card, meaning two of her “good” cards will be lost. Thus, when all is said and done, she will only be left with one Victory or one Attack card. (Not a great hand!)

At the end of the resolution, the player with the most leftover Ravens (if any) receives Shadow Magick cards.

If a player becomes a Raven (i.e. loses her last life point), her game changes a bit. For the sake of length, I won’t go into too much detail, but suffice it to say, this mechanism puts a nice twist on things.


It might not appear so at first glance, but Nevermore has a lot of interesting stuff going on. The pick-and-pass mechanism itself is nothing new, but the way it’s executed here is clever and intriguing.

This game flips traditional player elimination on its head. If a player “dies” and becomes a Raven, she is still actively invested in what’s happening, and can still come back to win the game. A lazier design would have just knocked the player out of the game altogether.

The Raven cards really spice things up, too. Their multi-use, good/bad nature rewards subtle strategy. Suppose a player is trying to get a Conspiracy of Ravens, but her neighbor suspects what she is doing and makes the last card he passes to her a non-Raven, to ensure that this doesn’t happen. Now, the player is stuck with four Ravens and one useless card that will be negated anyway. Sounds like an unsatisfying round, right? Not really, because odds are that the player will have the most leftover (“Skulking”) Ravens, meaning she will get awesome Shadow Magick action cards for next round! Everything about this game just works.

In my opinion, Nevermore is way underrated. It feels like a classic design, as if a traditional, “old-school” card game got a major face-lift of modern, hobby game sensibilities. I highly recommend checking this one out. Just make sure not to pass your neighbor too many Ravens…

A review copy was provided by Smirk & Dagger Games.

The Bottom Line

Nevermore is a cool game. Definitely worth checking out.

 

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