14 July 2021
What’s a little blood moon between friends?
Masters of the Night is a game where you get to control the baddies. Well, from your perspective you and your family aren’t bad, exactly, just… hungry.
As one to five members of a vampire clan who have arrived in a new and unfamiliar city, you must move from location to location, recruiting minions to do your bidding, regaining your powers by killing victims, and ultimately completing the sinister Blood Moon ritual that will consolidate your grip on the city. Sadly, you are not free to creep about in the shadows unopposed. Agents of the Inquisition are in the city, hunting for vampires, so you must be discreet, not drawing too much attention to yourself until you know you are powerful enough to take them on.
Masters of the Night is a fully co-operative game where you and your fellow players work as a team to negotiate the city in alternating day and night phases, spending limited action points and using the unique abilities of your vampire to gradually gain power. A mysterious force called The Veil hides you from Inquisition agents, but in using your stronger abilities and gathering thralls, you weaken the protection it gives you. If it ever reaches zero, the citizens awaken to the vampire threaten and hunt you down.
Fights against agents are resolved by taking results from a pool of dice. During the night, you get to remove and use the highest-value die, but during the day, when your undead Vitamin D allergy is at its most inconvenient, you must use the lowest-value die instead.
This, added to the fact that sometimes you roll a very bad or very good batch of dice, creates a nice rhythm to the game. At night you feel stronger, more up for a fight, but in the day everyone’s much more edgy, much keener to avoid conflict. This waxing and waning of power feels very thematic, and there’s much satisfaction to be had in converging on Inquisition agents as night descends and wiping them out.
Like many fully co-operative games, Masters of the Night suffers a bit from how open so much of the information is. If you’ve played a few games, it’s hard to bring someone new to the table without that person sitting there for most of the game while other players tell them what to do. Without major restrictions on what knowledge players can share or the prospect of hidden roles or traitor mechanics, it’s often clear to more experienced players what the optimal move is. If you’ve got a newcomer at the table, or if one or two players are just better at systems thinking and strategy, very quickly everyone else finds themselves a passenger rather than an active pilot.
Masters of the Night attempts to mitigate this by nominating a ‘Leading Vampire’ each round, who acts first and who has final say in deciding any tricky decisions. In practice though, with various edge-case rules (summarised in a page-long FAQ) and no player aids, for your first couple of playthroughs the de facto leader is going to be whoever is most familiar with the rules.
In fairness, this is not a problem with Masters of the Night alone, just something to consider if you know your gaming group is prone to quarterbacking. Overall, the modular board and variable vampires powers offer some replayability, and if you love vampire themes and a bit of group puzzle-solving you’ll certainly find much to engage you here.
In a marketplace where gamers are so spoilt for choice in terms of excellent, replayable co-operative boardgames, Masters of the Night faces some stiff competition. If there’s one place on your shelf for a co-op stalwart, there are stronger, more consistent candidates. But if you can’t get enough of group challenges and you’re partial to the macabre, this is a well-produced, crunchy little title you’ll want to sink your teeth into.
PLAY IT? MAYBE
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED Pandemic
In play the allocating of scarce resources (in this case Action Points) while counters pop onto the board is similar to Pandemic, so if that game left you feeling too virtuous and you’ve a thirst for turning the populace into docile servants, Masters of the Night might be a wildcard alternative.
Designer: Nikolay Aslamov
Publisher: Ares Games
This feature originally appeared in Issue 57 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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