Okay, very preliminary impressions are positive.
I played through the intro scenario, which is deliberately easy, and I thought it was hard as hell to solo. I think it was a combination of noob mistakes and unlucky draws that did me in, not a fundamental problem with game balance.
The game basically works like this: Each player picks a character (there are 7 total for up to 4 players) and gets a deck of basic feats and gear. Their character starts with some abilities printed on their “charter” (character sheet), then you also draw 5 cards and play those. As you play, you’ll be adding to your deck, which also counts as your hit points, Pathfinder style. The cards-for-hits thing is the only thing Mistfall shares with Pathfinder.
The list of phases and steps is ultra-fussy and specific. You can’t really bull your way through because you’ll miss a step, you’ll forget to move some track (there are 2 main tracks — time and reinforcements — and then every character also has an “enemy focus” track, which tells you who is gonna get beat on by monsters), some step will be missed and then it’s over. If you’re cool with following a very, very precise procedure, this game will not give you any problems.
Setup is neat, and it solves a map-making problem I fought with for months when I was messing with my own adventure game design. You’ve got stacks of locations in three flavors (deadlands, wildlands and…badlands, maybe?); each location is keyed with a special twist ability and some other stats. Depending on the scenario, you might make a line of locations (which I did) or a grid of them, around which you can move orthogonally. You flip up locations as you enter them, or spend a token to scout them out in advance. Since it was just me and my bad guy was waiting for me way at the end of a line, I didn’t bother scouting. But it seems like a neat thing.
Basically wherever your party is, is the active location. You pull up an encounter card, which tells you who all shows up and what you have to do to cool down the location from “perilous” to “safe” (and you can only recover in safe locations). Then there’s this thing where new bad guys will slowly fill up in the holding cell area (before they’re assigned to individual heroes), so you can’t sit back and surgically kill the opposition. There’s also a ticking clock that forces you to run like mad through locations, triggering bad shit the later the game runs.
Mistfall feels a lot like Mage Knight: the Board Game to play, mostly because it’s totally deterministic: there are several ways to combo your cards, you do precise amounts of damage against precise types of critters. It’s very programmatic, no randomness other than drawing from lots of decks of cards. Many, many decks of cards. There’s of course also a deckbuilding component to the whole thing, as your party gains “resolve” (XPs) and you have to decide collaboratively how to spend those.
As a solitaire game, Mistfall felt really challenging and interesting. I’m betting the multiplayer co-op can easily turn dull as hell. I didn’t really see any ways to interact or help or anything, other than using ranged attacks to snipe bad guys off each other’s backs. But given how “enemy focus” works — which is very clever — I don’t think you’ll ever have a sniper archer type sitting waaaaay back staying out of the fray.
The rulebook is wicked dense, easily on par with Mage Knight in terms of being able to learn it. But I honestly don’t think it’s that “hard” a game — then again I don’t think Mage Knight is super hard either, in terms of understanding its rules. So take that as you will.
Anyway, it’s pretty neat as a solitaire. I’ll take it for at least one spin as a multiplayer but co-ops are not loved around here, so it may be a while.