I recently fell in love with a hex-and-counter wargame called Combat Commander: Europe. That game uses an awesome card driven system to play out thematic World War II infantry battles, and it’s tense and exciting from start to finish, quickly becoming one of my personal favorite games. So, when I came across Night of Man by Mark Holt Walker and Flying Pig Games, a sci-fi themed tactical skirmish game that uses a card based system very similar to (and, indeed, inspired by) Combat Commander, I became very excited to try it out. While it doesn’t quite hit the lofty heights of Combat Commander, I’m still very pleased with Night of Man, and, with a few tweaks and clarifications to the rules, this system could really shine.
The first thing that stands out about Night of Man are the enormous unit counters. The counters are absolutely huge, especially when compared to other tactical war games. The art is vibrant, and the stats on each counter are easy to read from across the room, let alone from across the table. They are all printed on thick cardboard as well, and are fun to play with. Another benefit of the large counters is that they are very easy to sort, making setup and tear down a breeze. Night of Man just might be the quickest-to-the-table tactical skirmish game I’ve played. When you feel like playing Night of Man, you can grab the box and have it ready to play in short order.
The second thing that really stands out about Night of Man is the theme. Sci-fi is far more common in tabletop miniatures games while wargames tend towards the more realistic and often use historical themes. Night of Man mixes the two together, pitting the desperate humans against the villainous alien Killers in a grid-and-counter fight to the death. It obviously has a wargaming pedigree, but the outlandish theme is a fun departure from the standard historical fare. The theme also allows some units to have crazy powers that just wouldn’t work in a historical setting but still work really well inside of the system the game is built upon. In addition to fantastical powers, the theme allows the two factions to feel and play very differently from one another. Historically, different sides of conflicts did employ different weaponry and tactics, but Night of Man cranks up the differences in firepower to eleven. Humanity’s best units are unique individuals with powerful psychic abilities, while the Killers can field enormously powerful mechs.
The mechs deserve a special mention, because they are both powerful, but also customizable. Not only are the counters even bigger than the otherwise giant counters used for the other units, but the player controlling the mech gets to build it out how they see fit before each mission or skirmish. There are 11 different components, with varying points costs, that can be used to modify the mech for combat. They range from weapons, to shields and armor, to legs that are sturdier than normal or allow the mech to move farther. Putting together different combinations of parts is fun, and regardless of how it’s built, the appearance of a mech on the battlefield is a terrifying sight to behold. The one downside to the mechs is that the component chits themselves become a little fiddly during play if you try to stack them on the mech token itself, even though it is large. It’s easy enough to keep the chosen tokens to the side, but it then becomes necessary to look to where they are placed, rather than the unit itself, to see its stats. The cool-factor of the mechs outweighs the fiddliness of the bits though, hands down.
Like many other games, Night of Man uses its first few scenarios to ease players into the system, giving each side access to only a few basic units. Unlike some other systems though, Night of Man takes the gloves off fully in its third (of 8) scenario, giving players access to just about everything that their faction has to offer. That jump, straight into the deep end, was a bit shocking, yet really pleasantly surprising, and it speaks volumes about the accessibility of the system Night of Man is built upon. It doesn’t take long before players are swarming each other with groups of tanks, mechs and infantry units, fighting bloody, explosive battles that leave broken vehicle wreckage strewn about the battlefield.
The card driven system worked wonderfully in Combat Commander and it works for Night of Man as well. Even though both players draw from a common deck, the two armies still feel distinct because of the differences in their units and, if anything, it makes counting cards more difficult, because you don’t know which cards your opponent is holding. The cards do a great job of simulating battlefield confusion while simultaneously presenting players with a varied rotation of choices, leaving it up to the players to make the most out of the situation at hand. There is a luck factor, as there will always be when card draws are involved, but intelligent tactics are king in Night of Man, so expect poor decisions to turn around and bite you, but don’t be afraid to take a desperate chance if it just might win you the battle.
Even though different units have different capabilities, once you’ve learned how to use infantry, it’s easy to use any of the infantry variants. The same holds true with vehicles and, even though the systems for both are fairly streamlined, the units still manage to feel different and slot nicely into different tactical roles, and because the disparate factions’ units are so different from one another, each side requires a different tactical approach. Even the basic infantry units for each side are different enough that they warrant different tactical considerations, both when playing as, and when fighting against. The differences in playstyles between the factions not only increase the replayability of Night of Man, but help highlight the thematic flavor of the game.
Night of Man’s rules are very pared down for a tactical wargame, especially one that takes line of sight, cover, terrain, etc. into account. While this means that the game is easier to learn and play than more complex tactical games, it also leaves room for confusion, especially when it comes to End of Turn timing. Mark Holt Walker is fairly active answering rules questions here, and many of the the common questions could easily be answered with an updated rulebook, but be aware that currently you may have to look outside of the rulebook for answers to questions that arise during play. Aside from that though, the game is quick to learn, quick to set up, quick to play, and a lot of fun.
A note on setup time: One of Night of Man’s best features is just how quickly the game sets up and tears down. The large counters are easy to handle, and most scenarios can be set up and torn down in a matter of minutes. Coupled with the streamlined rules, the rapid pace that a game can be set up and played means that Night of Man is a great choice for those times where you want to scratch a tactical-game-itch, but don’t have a whole evening to do so. The rapid setup time also makes Night of Man a great choice for players who prefer shorter games over games that take the better part of an evening to set up and play through.
A note on “chrome”: Night of Man has neat components, especially its gigantic unit counters. The art is fetching and the cards are good quality and easy to read. The map-boards themselves do have a slight warping issue, but the warping really only has a minor effect on gameplay when two boards need to be set up next to each other, although quite a few scenarios call for this. The player aids are useful, and the aid showing the movement costs and combat modifiers is well laid out, although it would have been nice to have the Abilities and Powers on the back of the Turn Order player aid rather than pictures of other games. It’s not hard to turn to the page of the rulebook that outlines them, but it would have been nice if they were included on a player aid.
The bottom line:
Night of Man is a very good game that has just a few small rules issues and ambiguities that could be easily fixed/clarified to make it a great game. It is still a worthy purchase, especially if you are interested in wargames but don’t know where to start, are put off by the historical themes of other wargames, or want a tactical game with a quick set up and manageable play time. Night of Man has enough going for it that I’m excited to try other Flying Pig Games and other Mark H. Walker designs. Even though it’s a great gateway into heavier fare, Night of Man should appeal to board gamers who aren’t interested in testing the heavier wargame waters. The combat system is fun, the giant counters give a great sense of tactile satisfaction while playing, and the scenarios are interesting. With eight scenarios and a point-buy skirmish mode, there is a ton of content and value in the box, especially considering how differently the two factions play from one another, so if you want a lighter wargame with a fun sci-fi theme, or you want a fun tactical skirmish board game, then you should give Night of Man a serious look.
Get this game if:
You like wargames, and want a lighter game with a fun sci-fi theme.
You like tactical skirmish board games.
You are looking for a great gateway into heavier hex-and-counter wargames.
Avoid this game if:
You dislike directly confrontational games.
You prefer wargames that favor complexity and detail over streamlined rules and quick play.
The copy of Night of Man used for this review was provided by Flying Pig Games.
Night of Man sets up quickly and uses a fun card driven system to play out its thematic battles. It is a very good game that only stumbles a bit due to a few rules ambiguities.