GeekInsight
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Back in the day, I played a lot of Magic: the Gathering. And while I performed decidedly mediocre at tournaments, I had an absolute blast with my friends. Eventually, other priorities came into my life and I’ve been out of the CCG for over a decade. I also missed the Heroscape craze that some people speak so highly about. So when Arena of the Planeswalkers came to town, I was excited to give it a go.

The Basics. Taking place in the same world as the CCG, Arena of the Planeswalkers is a miniatures game. It comes with five summoners, one for each color, and two different types of monsters that each can summon. The summoners and monsters are represented by longish cards. And players also have a hand of standard sized spell cards that they can cast in the battle for particular effects.

The board comes in six pieces that can be mixed and matched – although there are only two terrain types (land and water) so variability is rather minimal. It also has a few plastic pieces that can be fit together to add some hills and elevation at various points, as well as two keeps that provide walls.

Once summoned, the player can activate groups of monsters on their turn. Typically, the monster groups will move and then attack. Melee attacks require adjacency. But ranged attacks require line of sight. Rather than a typical rule system measuring hexes, here you simply put your eye behind the figure’s head and try to see any part of the opposing figure. If you can, there is line of sight.

Combat is resolved with dice rolls. The dice have blank faces, swords, and shields. The attacker rolls and counts swords for hits. The defender rolls and blocks with shields. Any additional damage is applied to the target. Once it takes a certain amount, it dies and is removed from the board, never to return.

There are a few different scenarios, but essentially you want to kill the other player’s planeswalker. The one who does, wins.

The Feel. I wanted to like Arena. I really did. But, like my own Magic performance, it seems mired in mediocrity. In areas where the game should have depth, it has merely dice rolling. Where there should be strategy, it uses overly simplistic systems. And where customizability should reign supreme, it simply lacks the tools to allow it.

Let’s start with combat. The roll-to-hit and roll-to-defend system is extremely dated and unnecessary. Having two rolls for every combat just lengthens the game and not in a fun or exciting way. It also makes the game feel more swingy as a good attack roll can be minimized or negated by a good defense roll.

And the line of sight system is just absurd. Measuring from the figure’s head is not as easy as it sounds. If you’re even a few inches behind, it isn’t so difficult to adjust your head so that you can always see a leg or arm from the opposing figure. Unless one of those giant keep walls is in your way, you’re going to hit. It makes you wonder why they bothered with line of sight at all.

Movement is also much more important than it should be. This is especially true later in the game as slower units are trying to catch faster planeswalkers. With just a one or two hex advantage, the planeswalker can often outrun pursuers. The monster then spends his whole turn catching up. This is an extremely annoying tactic – especially when an opponent is just trying to run out the clock.

Even while combat leaves something to be desired, the spell system is actually pretty fun. You get a finite hand of cards and can use them at opportune moments to turn the battle to your favor. Better yet, each of the unique planeswalkers has a unique set of cards.

And, like all things Magic, the game allows you to customize. Each creature and spell has a point cost and the players are allowed a certain point allowance. Which is great in theory, but actually is a little clunky in practice. Each planeswalker has two units and some spells of their color. Each card has a value and the sets adds up to the same amount making for equal play. But the values among them are all a little different. So it can be difficult to mix and match and still use all the available points. Perhaps this will be better as expansions arise, but deckbuilding opportunities in the base game are limited.

Components: 4.5 of 5. The pieces are actually really cool. Every unit has a unique sculpt and the planeswalkers come prepainted. The only down side is that I wish there was more terrain. Hopefully future expansions will provide more than the few plastic bits you get in the base game.

Strategy/Luck Balance: 3 of 5. The game isn’t without strategy. In fact, you generally want to be on higher ground (to the extent it exists) and it can be important to use movement to your advantage. But those opportunities just aren’t as prevalent as they should be. And the dice-based combat system means that it isn’t uncommon for strategy to be undone by a good roll – or a bad one.

Mechanics: 2 of 5. I just don’t like the systems included in this miniatures combat game. Line of sight is both silly and annoying. The dice combat leaves much to be desired. And the customization options are very few. This may be in part because they decided to use the older Heroscape system rather than come up with something novel and interesting. But the result is a bland mechanical experience.

Replayability: 2 of 5. Replay value with just the base game is fairly limited. Sure, you’ve got five planeswalkers to choose from and each has unique abilities. But once you get them to the battlefield, play continues pretty much the same from game to game. You move in, attack, and crowd around the minimal terrain or defend the few glyphs.

Spite: 1 of 5. As a two player game, there isn’t really any spite. There are a few spells that counter others, or unleash nasty surprises. And in the multiplayer version, you might see some ganging up. But those kinds of effects feel natural and don’t disrupt the flow of the game.

Overall: 1.5 of 5. I just don’t care for Arena. It felt like every other tactical miniatures game with almost nothing original other than the IP. The line of sight rules are obnoxious and certainly don’t enhance the experience. The combat feels old. And there are few “tactics” in this allegedly tactical game. Perhaps Arena will improve as expansions are added in. But, I’ll never know as it isn’t something worth pursuing.

(Originally posted, with pictures, at the Giant Fire Breathing Robot. Check out and subscribe to my Geeklist of reviews, updated weekly)
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Trueflight Silverwing
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Oddly enough, I feel almost the complete opposite as you on this game. Your highest rating came to the miniatures, while to me they were one of the weakest parts of the game. Coming from other miniature games where the pieces are thousands of times more detailed or even from Heroscape which the game is based on, where they are fully painted (and to much better quality).

I'd write more, but I'm on the way out the door at the moment. Maybe when I get home.


Interesting to see things from someone else's point of view though, even if it is opposite.
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J.D. Schipper
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Based on your review, you wouldn't like HeroScape. Pretty much every negative you mention (LOS, swingy dice rolls, etc.) is ported over directly from HeroScape. Even as a long time HeroScape player who attended and organized many tournaments back in the day, the lack of terrain modifiers, ease of gaining LOS to an arm or a leg, and swingy dice rolls left me flat on more than one occasion. (If you think dice rolls are swingy in MTG: AotP, imagine if all your squad units had only a single hitpoint! That's how HeroScape squads worked.)

Two things I think are worth mentioning:

1) Don't try to make the game more than it is. The HeroScape engine is an extremely light set of miniature rules. This means you can play it with an 8 year old and they'll be able to understand all of the rules. In my opinion, most of the strategy in HeroScape was in the draft before the game.

2) Try playing MTG: Arena of the Planeswalkers in a 2v2 situation. I think this is where the game shines as 1v1 can be a bit bland and free-for-all matches tend to get reduced to "gang up on the leader." While the HeroScape engine is light, I really thought the addition of the spells and the win condition of killing the Planeswalker was a step in the right direction for the game.
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As a review of the base game, I suppose this is fair enough.

I would urge you to try using expansions, though. The base game basically is a bunch of premade setups. Expansions allow for some true customization, and make the game far more interesting.
 
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Your review feels really invalid to me.

1. You wrote this a few days ago. You cannot pretend that there aren't 2 expansions out already. The base game is obviously a modular game from the get-go. It's like saying you bought 1 pack of MTG cards and concluded that the customization and variety are limited and there's too few cards.

2. You complain your slow monsters can't catch fast Planeswalkers. What do you think cards are for? How is this a valid complaint? The same goes for "1 bad roll invalidated my attack." Again, what are your cards for? And then you say the game feels too shallow? Maybe because you're not considering half the game?

3. The LOS issue is the only valid complaint I've heard. But it's such a minor issue because it is **so easily** house-ruled away. Sometimes house-rules break competitive games. But there are so many hex-based tactical games out there, you know you can easily and fairly house-rule this particular issue out of existence.

I know this post is strong, but it's not personal. Ppl are free to dislike games. But if they're gonna criticize it, it should be for the right reasons. And there are plenty to criticize about in AotP.
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To be honest, I rarely find LOS to be an issue anyway. It always seems weird to me how fixated people are on it. There is so little terrain in the game, and figures are typically never going to completely block other figures (with the Eldrazi ruiner being a possible exception.

I think comparing it to the MTG card game is pretty fair. Again, with just the base game, there is only a single configuration for each planeswalker. Customization isn't even an option (kind of like a prebuilt starter deck in MTG.

If this review had specified very clearly that it was for the core game only, particularly in the title, I suppose that'd be fair enough- but as is, it is a little misleading.

Regarding spell cards- yeah, it does seem as if GeekInsight does seem to not fully much of the strategy and nuance of this game. Dice will always be dice, but this game (better than most) allows for some serious mitigation.
 
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J.D. Schipper
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Subtrendy Gaming wrote:
...figures are typically never going to completely block other figures (with the Eldrazi ruiner being a possible exception.


...and that's exactly the problem. If the figure is standing behind a wall of figures that are the same height, it can still get targeted at no penalty. Even if a figure is attempting to hide behind the ruins, it's too easy to get LOS and there are no partial cover bonuses to boost its defense. The rules have been simplified to the point where positioning tactics lack a lot of depth that would exist if LOS could be blocked (or at least inhibited) by proper formations/movement.

To paraphrase someone on HeroScapers.com: Let's face it, the movement is where the depth of the game should lie as attacking is just chucking dice.
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Vydar wrote:
Subtrendy Gaming wrote:
...figures are typically never going to completely block other figures (with the Eldrazi ruiner being a possible exception.


...and that's exactly the problem. If the figure is standing behind a wall of figures that are the same height, it can still get targeted at no penalty. Even if a figure is attempting to hide behind the ruins, it's too easy to get LOS and there are no partial cover bonuses to boost its defense. The rules have been simplified to the point where positioning tactics lack a lot of depth that would exist if LOS could be blocked (or at least inhibited) by proper formations/movement.

To paraphrase someone on HeroScapers.com: Let's face it, the movement is where the depth of the game should lie as attacking is just chucking dice.


I mean, that's fair, but you're arguing that the rules are oversimplified. OP is arguing that they're too complex.

I didn't play Heroscape, but were there "spells" in it, like in this game? Because, as has been pointed out, the spells are really where the strategy lies (as is befitting of the MTG title).
 
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J.D. Schipper
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No, there weren't spells in HeroScape, which is one of the reasons why I think AotP so much better.

I don't think the OP was stating the LOS rules were too complex. He states that it's so easy to get LOS that "it makes you wonder why they bothered with line of sight at all."

It would be interesting to get a response from the OP to some of the comments made in this thread.
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Subtrendy Gaming wrote:
OP is arguing that they're too complex.


I think you may want to re-read the review. The main thrust of my problems with this game is that it is too simple, not too complex. Tactical maneuverability is largely absent (thanks in large part to the LOS rules) and much of what remains is just chucking dice.

Mlai00 wrote:
1. You wrote this a few days ago. You cannot pretend that there aren't 2 expansions out already. The base game is obviously a modular game from the get-go. It's like saying you bought 1 pack of MTG cards and concluded that the customization and variety are limited and there's too few cards.


I disagree. This game is sold as a complete, playable experience and I reviewed it as such. I note the addition of expansions at the very end.

Should I also not review Arkham Horror without any of its expansions? Or what about a review of the Netrunner base game (which does provide customization options even in the base set)?

Mlai00 wrote:
2. You complain your slow monsters can't catch fast Planeswalkers. What do you think cards are for? How is this a valid complaint? The same goes for "1 bad roll invalidated my attack." Again, what are your cards for? And then you say the game feels too shallow? Maybe because you're not considering half the game?


I mentioned the cards as the one aspect of the game that I really enjoyed. But you only get a few cards per faction (I think 10, I'd have to double check) and you draw those randomly over several turns. They don't begin to make-up for the loss of tactical depth in the rest of the system.

Mlai00 wrote:
3. The LOS issue is the only valid complaint I've heard. But it's such a minor issue because it is **so easily** house-ruled away. Sometimes house-rules break competitive games. But there are so many hex-based tactical games out there, you know you can easily and fairly house-rule this particular issue out of existence.


Anything can be house ruled. I could house rule more terrain types than just elevation. Or perhaps rules for cover fire. Maybe I could give some of the monsters new and more interesting effects.

Or maybe I could just play a game where extensive house ruling (and homebrew playtesting) isn't required. It's not as though there aren't exceptional tactical minis games on the market.
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MyParadox wrote:


I think you may want to re-read the review. The main thrust of my problems with this game is that it is too simple, not too complex. Tactical maneuverability is largely absent (thanks in large part to the LOS rules) and much of what remains is just chucking dice.


Ahh, I see now. I took this:

Quote:
Measuring from the figure’s head is not as easy as it sounds.


to mean that you were having difficulty with the rule, but I get what you're saying now.

Yeah, honestly I would have preferred to have LOS based more off traditional games (Imperial Assault comes to mind for me). Not so much for complexity's sake, but to nerf the already overpowered ranged units.
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I dont want to agree with you but I must. This is a game that takes me back to earlier times when spending an hour play GEV or OGRE with its simple system was just plain fun. However, I do find that game depth and complexity is such an interesting topic for discussion.

On my game nights, "the group" tends to play more Euro-style games. I continue to say that I like seeing a board with miniatures on it but enjoy all games. On nights when the heavy euro-gamer cant make it I bring out my Ameritrash games. In the last 6 months we have tried Wings of Glory, Blood Rage, Spartacus, Zombicide Black Plague and just recently Arena of the Planeswalkers with the first expansion.

We did a battle royale 4 players against everyone else and had more fun with the game than the preceding games. Mainly, because Arena of the Planeswalkers was quick, simple, didnt require a ton of rule review and still competitive to win. Glyphs were heavily contested. Ranged combat seemed to dominate which surprised me but there wasnt much blocking terrain in the map we quickly crafted so makes sense in hindsight.

I have just received the 3rd box in the mail and mixed it up with the preceding 2 boxes. Next time this hits the table, it will be interesting to see how "the group" takes to Planewalker drafting, spell deck drafting and army drafting now that they have a bit of experience. That part will be time consuming which is why I hope a generator of some kind appears. Also, I am looking forward to using this game as an intro game when my boys get a bit older. Catan Junior, Arena of the Planewalkers then right into Star Wars Armada.
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MyParadox wrote:
I disagree. This game is sold as a complete, playable experience and I reviewed it as such. I note the addition of expansions at the very end.

It's not a black-or-white issue, and pretending its worth is a binary quality is merely trying to advance a particular bias.

What do I mean? I mean this game is clearly marketed as MTG. Anyone even remotely nerdy, knows MTG is all about buying modular packs to expand the base game's customization. Also, the base game is quite cheap relative to other Ameritrash board games.

All this really should clue you in that this game is designed to be modular. Nobody buys a single MTG starter pack and can say he is playing a real game of MTG.

In contrast, for example, if Blood Rage feels like an incomplete game without expansions, then yeah I'd be pissed. The relative price alone should require that it "feels" complete.

Quote:
I mentioned the cards as the one aspect of the game that I really enjoyed. But you only get a few cards per faction (I think 10, I'd have to double check) and you draw those randomly over several turns. They don't begin to make-up for the loss of tactical depth in the rest of the system.

Yes you don't have a huge deck to use. See previous point.

I don't pretend that this game is a deep tactical squad-based tabletop. But it's not a valid complaint because this game doesn't pretend to be one either; it's a Heroscape-tier game, and that's all it is. You'll find tons of gamers loving the memories of the Heroscape run.

You're saying tactical depth is "lost". By what metric do you attribute this "loss"? Is it more shallow compared to Heroscape?

Quote:
Or maybe I could just play a game where extensive house ruling (and homebrew playtesting) isn't required. It's not as though there aren't exceptional tactical minis games on the market.

Not black-and-white. You do not need extensive house ruling and playtesting. For example, you can copy/paste the LOS rules from LOTR TMG, and done. That's what I did for the original Heroscape.

In general, "make your own rules" is not a defense for a bad ruleset out of the box. However when the only issue is just 1 thing, and it's a thing that's well-covered in almost all hex-based games, it's just not a big deal.

Again, I have no problem with you disliking any one game. However, I feel your stated reasons are not relatable. A rough analogy is if you said "I don't like X game because its minis are made of white plastic; I prefer gray plastic." Okay, you're free to have that aesthetic opinion... but it's not a relatable reason.
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Mia00 makes a good point about the modular quality of this game. Even though there aren't any small expansion packs yet, it's pretty clear that the game always intended to have expansions. After all, army building is discussed within the core box rules, even though back then it basically consisted of "use all components of your given color".

In regards to games being or not being "complete"- look at a favorite game of mine, Imperial Assault. As much as I love the game, it itself is quite modular (I mean, you could technically play with just the core box, but it's going to be far less enjoyable)- and this is for a game whose core box can cost up to 100 USD!

I think if you're unwilling to splurge and get the relatively inexpensive (and, in my opinion, required)expansions for AotP, it's at your loss.
 
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GeekInsight
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Mlai00 wrote:
You're saying tactical depth is "lost". By what metric do you attribute this "loss"? Is it more shallow compared to Heroscape?


Unfortunately, I never played Heroscape. But from I can gather, it seems that the vast majority of the enjoyment was from bringing in totally different factions and playing in toy-quality terrain. This game lacks that additional terrain.

If this is a similar weight to Heroscape, my guess is I'd also be disappointed with the Heroscape system. But at least I'd have the cool toys to entertain me.

Mlai00 wrote:
You do not need extensive house ruling and playtesting. For example, you can copy/paste the LOS rules from LOTR TMG, and done. That's what I did for the original Heroscape.

In general, "make your own rules" is not a defense for a bad ruleset out of the box. However when the only issue is just 1 thing, and it's a thing that's well-covered in almost all hex-based games, it's just not a big deal.


You admit that "make your own rules" is not a defense, yet use it as a defense here saying you can make your own LOS rules.

In any event, it's not just the LOS rules. There are only two types of terrain - water and land. That's it. And water is understandably concentrated in just a few spots. That doesn't leave a lot of tactical variety.

Because the system is so bland, it's rarely disadvantageous to simply run right up and punch the other guy in the face. Engagement rules actually exacerbate this since you want to run in close to lock down enemy units. And then, it's really just dice rolling with little additional strategy.

I understand that you like this game. More power to you! I hope you enjoy it and have many good times. But it's undeniable that the system is poor and that there are numerous other tactical miniatures games that are superior to this one.

I get that if a person likes the M:tG setting, it can make up for the games deficiencies. No problem. But ignoring the incomplete makeup of the game is just willful blindness.
 
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Chris Rice
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You'd be surprised how effective simply running up and punching the other guy in the face can be in real life
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