Terminator: Dark Fate – The Card Game is a co-op deck-builder with some unique twists that make it very thematic. Unfortunately, it is one of those games that I like way better when I'm not playing them then when I do. The mind works in mysterious ways.
There are four playable characters in the game, each having their own permanent ability. Their starting deck countains four useless cards ("setback"), five cards to pay for stuff ("prep") and one unique personal card. Every turn you draw a new hand of five cards, then decide to rest (destroy a card from hand) or play.
The solo variant has you pick two characters and add both personal cards to your starting deck of nine. So it's single handed play - and then you decide at the start of every turn which character you'll be, depending on which abilities you want to use. I must say this solo mode works very well. I played some multihanded sessions to compare, and you don't miss out in any way.
Goal of the game is to beat the Rev-9, and there are four versions available in the box.
The easiest one to take on is the Damaged Endoskeleton. You just have to work towards 15 damage to destroy it. Only problem is, that the fight is cancelled if it starts with 5 damage. Which means you'll work towards one big hit.
The normal Endoskeleton takes 30 damage, and it hits you harder once it has taken half this amount. Which means you can only fight it once you are versatile enough to cope with taking hits yourself. Oh, and the longer you fight it, the bigger the chance becomes you may be forced to flee it, after which it heals all it's wounds.
The Liquid Extoskeleton is a motherf*. It heals it's wounds, and you can't kill it with your ordinary weapons.
Finally, if you've got a deathwish, you can take on the Fully Operational Rev-9. It can't be destroyed, but you may be able to split the endo- and exoskeleton and take on these two at the same time.
Terminator: Dark Fate has a huge deck of cards to fill the market with: the fate deck. This market does not have a fixed size, there will always be at least one card added each turn. Some you can buy, to improve your deck - resource and combat cards, action and skill cards. Others will stay put, they are locations you can "travel to" by paying their cost. Some of these locations will heal you, some will give you a perfect opportunity to destroy the Rev-9. And then there are hostile cards.
Whenever the Rev-9 attacks, it triggers all hostile cards from the market, then flips some cards from the top of the fate deck, to throw away the useful ones and trigger any extra hostile cards it finds. You can fight these hostile cards on the market, or just leave them there so at least you know what's going to hit you. Because flipping over cards from the deck is nerve-racking.
Most hostile cards will give you a wound, a special card to put in your discard pile. If you ever end up with three wounds in your hand, you've lost the game. Also, hostile cards are put back on the bottom of the fate deck, so if the game takes too long, you're in for big trouble.
The Rev-9 card itself is also somewhere near the top of the fate deck, providing extra tension. If you draw it, you put it into play and it will start hunting (and hurting) you. Once you've managed to wound it, you get to make a choice every turn: fight or flee. Obviously, you need to fight it to win the game, but as long as it's in play it will also try to wound you. So pick the best time. If you decide to flee, you shuffle it back into the top of the fate deck, together with as many cards as you managed to wound it. Just one or two wounds? It will be back real soon.
Like I said, you can't kill the Liquid Exoskeleton. What to do? First of all, you may be able to find an EMP grenade available on the market. An electromagnetic pulse will destoy any form of the lesser three Rev-9's. Then, there are a few locations like the Hydroelectric Turbine or the Steel Plant, where you may be able to finish it off. You'll have to reach that location first though.
You see, you can only kill the Rev-9 when it is in play. But when it's in play, it triggers hostile cards. And not all of them wound you. For example, in one of my sessions I was real close to finishing off the Liquid one after half an hour, and then it got me cornered. All locations were suddenly out of reach. Nowhere to go for a long while, and nothing to do - as I had to shuffle it back into the deck with 10+ cards.
And this gets us to the point why it has to go, even though I love what they've done with the theme. It's pretty obvious which strategy to take against each of the versions of the Rev-9. But it could be a good filler game, as there will still be some really tense moments. Those wounds you take can prove to be fatal, drawing a new hand has never been more exciting. But in most of my plays, I manage to survive, and then I just have to drag it out until everything lines up right.
Once I've lost in 5 minutes, which is bad luck I can take. Once I needed over 1,5 hours to win, which is bad luck I can't deal with. All the fun had drained by then. Ignoring those extremes, a session took 45 minutes on average, which simply is too long for what it has to offer.