Edge of Darkness
Designed by John D. Clair
Published by AEG
2019, Card Crafting System
120 Minutes, Weight 3.37/5 on BGG
Image from BGG, provided by the publisher@AEGNicolas 8/11/17
In 2016, John D. Clair presented Mystic Vale to the world. For many, it was the first time they were introduced to card crafting, and to others, it was a spin on the deck builder. I know that I was in the latter of that camp. But on the back of the rulebook, another game was promoted that I was interested in experiencing. Edge of Darkness was there, and there seemed to be promises of adding combat to the card crafting types of games along with an exciting story. Now, most of the imagery of the promotion did not last, but it did promise one thing. Edge of Darkness was to be “AEG’s most ambitious, deluxe, tabletop gaming experience ever.” Now that I’ve had a chance to play through Edge of Darkness a few times, I would say that I agree.
Edge of Darkness is a game for two to four players and takes about two hours once you’ve gotten the main mechanics under your fingers. It’s played over eight rounds with a prologue and the most victory points at the end, wins. Setup is crucial to the game, especially if you’re playing with specific scenarios provided in the player handbook. The base game comes with two tales split into eight chapters that can be performed, and the expansion Sands of Dunestar comes with another. The game is set up with fifty provided locations and certain card advancements for those locations. You will choose ten of them either through the scenario book or through an effective scenario setup system. Once the locations have been selected, you will get the cards for those locations and place them on the board. Through the prologue phase of the game, each player will sleeve two advancements in their guild cards, three in a two-player game, and take the action provided. Any advancements not accepted by the players will be sleeved into neutral citizen cards in the starting deck on the table. Then, all cards that were sleeved with advancements will be placed in a common discard pile, along with the remaining neutral cards.
On a turn, players will draft cards from the street, a central area where cards are offered for play. You check your guildhall, where your guild cards are placed after being used by other players, and put them in your hand. The first card available in the street is free to pick up, but if you want to pick up cards farther down the street, you’ll have to pay influence on the cards. Once a player has three cards, or more depending on available locations, you are ready for your turn. You then count the cubes listed on the card and pull them out of a bag and place them into the threat pool on your player board. Once all players have drafted their hand of cards, play then advances to the action phase of the game.
In the action phase, the main meat of the game, you’ll interact with the cards you have in hand. You have cubes from the previous turns threat pool, you start with two at the beginning of the game on your player sheet, and they get dropped into the cube tower. The tower has three ports where the cubes can fall. Each port holds a card from the deck, but instead of standard advancements, they're shown on the opposite side of the card that includes enemies. After dropping cubes into the tower, you resolve any of them that might attack you (six cubes in a two-player game, seven in a three-player game, and eight in a four-player game). The card attacks whichever player has the most cubes in the port, or if the neutral black cubes have the most, the card attacks everyone.
After an attack, the current player chooses one advancement on the board and sleeves it onto a card they’re holding. Some of these cards will allow you to put out agents on locations that could make cards in your hand more potent as the game goes on. Then, they may take the actions on their cards. If, however, you don’t have much to do with the cards in your hand, then you may discard one to return an agent to your pool, or discard two to use any effect on a card in the street. If you happened to draft a card that belongs to another player, you must pay that player one coin per action you used on their card. Once you used their card, it goes back to the player’s guildhall for immediate use on their turn in the next round. Once you’ve completed your actions, your hand goes into the discard pile. After eight rounds, you tally up the scores, and whoever has the most points wins.
The mechanics of the game are quite simple in Edge of Darkness. For the most part, it’s draft cards out of the street, see if you get attacked, upgrade a card, then do your actions. But it’s the way that these actions get performed that make the game deep. Each location handles advancements in specific ways, and there are even mechanics that allow you to take neutral cards and make them your own. You have to train your agents since you only start with four, and they’re each worth one point at the end. And having more agents allows you to create more powerful combinations with your hand. When you defend against an attacking card, you don’t get rewards for doing so. You get the bonus of protecting your property, which could equal up to seventeen points at the end of the game. But you have options that allow you to hunt down the cards in the tower. Some of them offer great rewards, usually straight victory points, and some allow you specific actions that you can take immediately. Some cards allow you to buy victory points, and some cards just give you money. Overall, the main mechanics are quite simple, especially if you’ve come to this game through Mystic Vale, but the decisions are incredibly profound.
Now, as promised, this game is big. It’s a table hog. But in the end, the experience is worth it. If I had to make a recommendation, allow yourself time for the first run-through of the game. With the number of rules and small bits of mechanics through the cards, I would have to say that we played the game wrong the first few times. Once we got the rules under our fingers, we understood exactly what needed to be done. AEG went all out when they made this game, from the cube tower that never allows a cube to rest within it, to the quality of the miniatures and plastic pieces throughout. The main concerns I had with Mystic Vale are not present here. In Mystic Vale, you had your deck that you were advancing, and when you filled out those cards completely, you could tell which ones were coming into your hand, just by the feel of the card. But in Edge of Darkness, the deck is shared, unless you have your cards in your guildhall, anything could come up. And you hope your cards are enticing enough to other players so they can make money on them.
And that is also the genius in the combat for this game. With all advancements being double-sided, anything that attacks you is your own fault. When you work hard to advance a card for use, you have to remember that the card could come out of the deck and work on attacking you. You have to think about what the future might hold for you when this card comes back. But at the same time, you get points for each slot advanced in your cards. When you advance your cards to the max, there’s even the possibility that you’ll pull more threat out of the bag for your next turn. Some mechanisms help you defend against attacks from the tower, and once again, it’s your fault if you don’t prepare for that. In a typical fashion for a Euro Game, you have to do everything with a limited amount of time and resources. And while the game might be competitive, everything that happens is an effect that either advances you or hinders you and the other players throughout the game. I played games of this where one player attempted to convince another that they shouldn’t place an advancement in a particular card because it could back and attack them. And in the end, it came out and attacked all of us right before the end of the game.
For those who might be concerned with variability, fear not. There are fifty different locations if you include Sands of Dunestar, all with different abilities. Even when you’re completed with the tales, there are scenario simulators that help you craft the perfect game for your experiences. There are different types of experiences you can create with the advancements, and each game I’ve played was vastly different than the last. And for those worrying about the components within the game, AEG delivered. Each game we played used a majority of what was in the box. I never felt at all that I wasted my money on useless pieces.
Now, before I get to my final thoughts on this one, I had a chance to think about the fans of Mystic Vale. Would fans of that game like Edge of Darkness? I’m not sure. I enjoyed Mystic Vale and played it a lot when it came out. But my major complaint about the game was that it needed expansions almost right away. If you sat down and played Mystic Vale twenty times within a few days, the combinations would get old, and you would want more. In Edge of Darkness, I don’t get that feeling. That being said, I have only played with a few expansions to Mystic Vale, and I’m not sure what was added later on in the game’s life. So take that opinion as you will. Those who yearned for more out of Mystic Vale will probably get the experience they wanted out of Edge of Darkness.
As for my final thoughts, I loved this game. It is a little pricey for our times right now, but I don’t think it’ll disappoint. It is filled to the brim with content. The sticker price for this game and the expansion through the store right now, since we still have some Kickstarter retail bundles available, equals out to the same amount someone would spend on Mystic Vale and the expansions. There are very few dislikes about the game, mainly that the rulebook is a little disjointed, and that the card advancements shouldn’t be left in a hot car, but other than that, this game is solid. I’m surprised not much was said about this one in 2019 as it will rank in my favorites of the year. When I was done with the first game, knowing that we got some rules wrong, I wanted to set it up again and go for a second round. Seeing what I could’ve done versus what I did is a significant part of this game’s staying power.
 Clair, John D., Mystic Vale Rules of Play, Ontario, CA. Pg. 23
BGG Rating: 9.5