Moonflight by independent designer Man O’ Kent games is a beautifully constructed deck ‘un-builder’ that puts the player into the strange world of Moonflight. A town born wherever the shadows of the hunter’s moon fall.
If I haven’t already lost you, then let me explain! Not the hunter’s moon bit, I am no expert there, although I believe it’s something to do with harvest time and prepping for winter. No, I mean the deck ‘un-building’ bit! I am sure you have heard of deck building. If not, go check this out. But have you heard of 'un-building'?
Well, this is a game where you need to build up your deck in the first half of the game before the ‘flip’ at which point you then need to shed cards like a sheep in springtime. This is because points are scored by what’s in your hand at the end of the game and there is a hand limit so you can only hold so many. And most cards are pointless!
It’s a clever idea and not one I have seen many times, but does it lead to an enjoyable experience? Well, yes! It really does! The first half of the game you are racing to build up your deck of cards to become more powerful. Essentially you want to generate money each turn to buy better cards. Your hand limit and maximum coin count is limited each round, so you need to get cards that can increase your hand limit and generate coins quickly each turn. You can only carry five coins over to the next round. As such, you want to spend all your money as best you can to make your deck develop as quickly and efficiently as possible.
A lot of the cards are set up to do this, so you will find your hand improves each round in the direction you intend quite easily. This is a fundamental part about why deck building games are fun. Seeing immediate gains and benefits to your efforts. Being able to do new things quickly. Using new cards is a lot of fun. Some deck builders force you to wait too long before you can use the new cards. Whereas in Moonflight you will not have this problem.
The cards you will have access to early in the game will mostly be worth zero points at the end of the game, but they will help you build your hand size and coin earning potential to get the higher value point cards. But they will clog up your deck later in the game.
The game has a clever timing mechanism using the stack of available upgrade cards. After each round when you acquire a new card from one of your own three personal stacks, if one of them is empty for you or any other player in the game, all players will draw three new cards to place on top of each stack. This is a very clever rule for many reasons.
Firstly, this allows players to cycle through their deck quickly to find the cards they want. This makes deck building more fun!
Secondly, it allows for tactical play to block your opponent’s more powerful cards. If you see another player has a great card available on their next turn, you can try to empty one of your stacks, meaning that they will then have to bury that card under another that you hope will be less attractive to them.
Thirdly, it acts as a variable timer on the game. When you can no longer fill one of the piles, the mid-game ‘turn’ happens. This is when all players will physically turn all their cards 180 degrees. Every card in their hand, deck, supply stacks and discard pile is affected.
Each card is designed to have two sides to it. A top and bottom. On the same face of each card, exists two different scoring options, costs, powers, and effects. When you flip them round, you will find that most turn from cards that help you to build your deck, to becoming cards that help you burn it all to the ground! Your once beautiful deck full of money and hand increasing powers becomes the target of a trash filled slaughter! In what essentially becomes a race game of who can devolve their deck the quickest, the 'turn' changes Moonflight completely on its head.
The end of the game is triggered when one player has exhausted, their cards so much that their draw deck and discard is empty during the reset stage. Each player then scores the cards they have in their hands. It’s a fantastic way to manage the games length and set the strategy that each player adopts.
There are four decks available at the start of the game which are chosen by the players during set-up. The Jack o’ Clay and Bones specialises in controlling the discard and trash stack, providing an ability to use both stacks to extend its users hand. This allows the player holding these cards to use newly acquired powers quicker and cycle through a build and trash mechanic a lot quicker.
The Jack o’ Words and Names can draw cards quicker than other cards allowing it to build bigger hands to carry out more powerful actions. After the ‘turn’ this power switches to controlling both hand and deck by drawing cards into your hand in incredible numbers. This risks getting a lower score, but also ending the game quicker so others suffer the same fate.
The Jack o’ Cot and Hovel likes to build a bigger tableau. There is an ability in the game to ‘set’ cards. This allows you to keep cards from turn to turn, rather than using and discarding. The Jack ol’ Cot and Hovel allows you to set cards quicker than one can type "game, set, m…" After the ‘turn’ this power to set cards continues, and now allows the user of this deck the power to order their cards in a specific way. Allowing the player to try and structure when they draw their cards worth the most points.
The Jack o’ Bond and Kind deck is all about generating coins. Giving you the chance to buy your way to victory, this can bring about the ‘turn’ quickly if you chose to do so. After the ‘turn’ this deck will require more time to prepare a final hand, using coins to trash cards. So, this is all about a quick first half and steady burn in the second.
The four decks feel very different. Their unique powers and theming is a joyful experience to behold. Having tried them all, I cannot say I favour one over the other. But I like the opportunity to use each one and work my strategy to each deck’s strengths and weaknesses.
Moonflight is an asymmetric deck un-builder. Is it a one-of-its-kind is this respect? I think potentially so! Does that mean you should go out and buy this? Well maybe! It certainly scratches am itch I didn’t even know existed before! But now when that tickle comes, I have no idea where else to look.
Designer Glenn Ford has created something special with Moonflight. I look forward to playing this game with new players over the coming years to see their face as they realise what it is this game is trying to make them do. It is a novel and refreshing experience that is a lot of fun to boot.
My only slight comments are the art and rule book. It’s all very brown. But the theme excuses the art in part. But it's a shame this isn’t a little more vibrant. The rule book works well but is ordered in a way that confused me. The game is not complicated but the rule book perhaps could have been structured in a more friendly manner. But other than that, this game delivers on all levels and these are minor quibbles for something that I think is quite special.
Speaking on the rulebook, designer Glenn Ford commented, “my previous game SSO had a very small, tightly written rulebook with essentially no examples or explanations and people struggled with it because of that. With Moonflight I had more space in the book and the box and so was possibly overly careful about giving extra explanations and examples, I also inherently personally prefer rulebooks that cover every eventuality, even at the cost of length and I’m still finding the sweet spot for other people, I think. I am always personally available for rules questions, and welcome the chance to add to any FAQs, but equally there really haven’t been too many questions that actually need clarifying.”
“As for the artwork, with the double ended nature of the cards finding images that worked either way up effectively while also fitting in with the ancient/timeless feel of the theme and coming in at the sort of price point a small independent designer can cover was always going to be tough, but I really stand by the overall feel of the game and am very proud of some of the small details in the cards. The art does have a lot of richness and historical references to it if not full colour and while I accept that’s not to everyone’s taste I think they reward repeated inspection in a way that I really like."
"Ultimately, with the artwork, its one of the most expensive and time-consuming part of any game and with a tiny budget and zero staff I aimed for making a virtue of necessity by shaping it to an overall theme and feel rather than commissioning higher impact pieces.”
I quite agree with this, and there are minor quibbles as I say. Overall, Moonflight is a beautiful piece for work that I am delighted to have in my collection and will play for years to come. It offer s a unique and engrossing experience that I think rewards mid-level strategy game fans heavily.