Myth is one of my Top 10 Games of All Time. So when Myth: Dark Frontier was announced, I was very interested, assuming it was an expansion for Myth. Not so, however. Dark Frontier is actually a standalone game set in the Myth universe.
Myth is a dungeon crawl, but Dark Frontier is a co-operative tower defence game of sorts: a kind of sophisticated Castle Panic set in the world of Myth. The nice thing for those people who already own Myth though is that you can use all the miniatures from Myth in Dark Frontier.
The game comes with miniatures for the heroes, but all the monsters who are attacking the city in the middle of the board are represented by tokens. So you don’t need to own Myth in order to enjoy Dark Frontier, but being able to re-use the miniatures is a great idea.
Dark Frontier was on Kickstarter last year and was one of my Top 10 Anticipated Games of 2018. It arrived last week and my son and I broke it out immediately. Is it as good as Myth? Can you really compare the two? Let’s find out…
Your goal in Dark Frontier involves running around the board collecting resources and trying to complete objectives, while fighting off monsters that try to make your life difficult and gradually invade the city of Farrenroc in the middle.
One of the really nice things about the game is that the city of Farrenroc is a ten-part miniature that gradually gets destroyed (removing pieces of it) as you progress through the game and the monster attacks intensify. It provides a great central focus to the game – you can immediately see by looking at the city what state the game is in.
You can win by completing enough objectives, but if the monsters achieve too many of their dastardly plans then the boss shows up and a final siege of the city begins. At this point, you can also win by defeating the boss, but you need to be quick as the boss makes his way for the city and starts to break off large chunks of it! If the final part of the city miniature is ever removed, you lose.
The game hinges on its action selection mechanism, which is really innovative. Each round (day) has three phases (morning, day and night) and players have to pick an action card to play in each phase. Typically, actions involve moving, fighting, questing, etc. The tricky part is the timing.
You take all the morning actions cards from the players, along with a random enemy action card, and shuffle them together. Then you do the same thing with the day and night action cards. Once all the cards are set, you resolve each of them one at a time starting with the morning cards.
So in the morning, everyone can decide what action they are doing, but not the order in which those actions are resolved – it’s random. Crucially, you don’t know exactly when the enemy will be taking their action (which can be pretty bad if you don’t time it well!).
You have to coordinate carefully with the other players.
It requires you to coordinate carefully with the other players, which I really like. If you need a player to take a particular action before you do, then you need to make sure your action happens later in the day. But then what are you going to do beforehand that won’t screw up someone else’s plans? There’s a surprising amount of depth to the mechanism, particularly when you factor in the possible enemy actions.
There are only five enemy action cards and you quickly learn what each one does (usually a combination of spawning minions, increasing enemy progress tracks and attacking). After the first day though, you place the two enemy action cards that weren’t used in the morning and day slots for the next day.
So you don’t know which one is which, but you know which two cards you’re getting first. The night card will then be a randomly drawn one from the three that you just had. To play effectively, you often have to take calculated risks as to which enemy cards will appear when. It creates a great sense of tension.
The other key mechanism I really like is the fate dice pool, which is very reminiscent of how dice are used in Mage Knight. At the start of the game, you roll all the fate dice to form a pool. Each action card (yours and the enemy’s) has fate dice symbols on it. If the symbol on your card matches one of the dice in the pool, you can trigger an extra action. After you’ve used a dice in the pool, you re-roll it and place it back in the pool.
Timing is critical.
To win, you really need to make effective use of those extra actions (and try to minimise how many extra actions the enemy gets). This means discussing not just which main actions (moving, fighting, etc.) people will be doing, but also which fate dice they will using and when. Again, the timing becomes critical. There’s so much to think about!
Other aspects of the game involve trying to pass tests (similar to Arkham Horror) to complete quests or acquire items and allies to help you in the fight. There’s a nice system for gaining resources as well. You have to build fortifications, which will generate resources for you each round, but the enemy will destroy them if they manage to get into the same space and attack. It means resources are tight at the start while you’re building up fortifications, but if you play it well, your resource generation will steadily increase allowing for a nice acceleration throughout the game.
Overall, it feels like a more complex Pandemic (although the mechanisms are quite different). It provides a similar amount of tension and need for co-operation. There really is a lot going on, which can provide a rather steep learning curve. You’re going to be referring to the rules a lot throughout your first game.
This brings me to a few criticisms. The rulebook is better than Myth’s original rulebook, but I still struggled to get my head round certain concepts (particularly minion spawning). The graphic design is great, but the rulebook is difficult to learn from and also difficult to use as a reference. I get the feeling it didn’t see much blind playtesting.
One of the reasons the ruleset is difficult to learn though is the fiddliness. There are quite a few rules that behave one way in one situation and another subtly different way in a different situation (minion spawning again!). It feels like it needs streamlining.
The game also slows down rather a lot with four players. This is hard to get around in any game where players are taking turns, and it does speed up when players know what they’re doing, but I wouldn’t recommend playing with four new players. As a two-player game, it’s fantastic though – the turns zip by!
So is it as good as Myth? Honestly, they’re too different from each other to compare sensibly, but if you like Myth, I think you will like Dark Frontier. It’s a similar weight, has a similar mix of Ameritrash and Euro elements, and it feels familiar. It’s less of an adventure and more of a timing puzzle though, so I guess that might sway you. Personally, I’m loving it. As is my son.
Have you had a chance to play it yet? What are your thoughts?