Welcome, this is the first in a series of reviews called, "I've got this!" This is for games I've played probably a dozen or more times and have seen both enjoyed and disparaged at the table. Typically if I've played it enough times to warrant a review it's probably something I like, but to keep from coming off like a cheerleader I'll try to include some objective counter points as to why someone people might not like it too.
While I will be linking a base game to each review, it's safe to assume that expansion content is also being used. If I feel this content makes or breaks the base game experience, I'll be sure to note it!
Before I get into the review for Aeon's End I'd like to say I'm not affiliated with Indie Boards and Cards but I have playtested prototype and print and play copies of Aeon's End for them in the past. I've played nearly a hundred games of Aeon's End and counting.
Aeon's End is a cooperative deck-building game for 1-4 players that plays in 60-90 minutes. Each player controls a mage and their objective is to defeat the (one of many) Nemesis. To defeat the Nemesis the team either needs to reduce the Nemesis to 0 HP or outlast it by running it out of Nemesis cards. The players lose if all mages are exhausted (reduced to 0 HP), if the city of Gravehold which the mages are protecting is destroyed (reduced to 0 HP), or a third possible Nemesis specific lose condition.
Each mage is unique, with a special power they can charge up and then trigger, a unique starting card the compliments their power, and some generic starter cards.
There's three types of cards at the mage's disposal: Gems, Spells, and Relics.
A market of nine cards is formed at the start of the game from much larger pool of cards (think Dominion), typically three gems, two relics, and four spells. There will be seven copies of each gem and five of each spell. These are created by choosing which cards you'd like at your disposal or by using the randomizer cards to build a random supply. There's plenty of randomizing sites and apps for use as well.
Gems create aether when played which let mages buy more cards, increase the throughput of their spells by focusing/opening breaches, and lastly they can buy charges to eventually trigger the mage's unique power.
Relics each have a unique effect that is instantaneously triggered when played.
Spells are used primarily to deal damage but almost always have a secondary effect too. Spells however don't take effect when played, they're first prepped on one of the mage's (one to four) breaches and traditionally cannot be cast till the beginning of that mage's next turn. There's ways around this with powers and relics of course, combos abound! Most mages start the game off with one breach and have to open more to cast more spells per turn.
Turn order is randomized each round by a turn order deck, this helps to create tension and thwart some alphagaming tendencies. Each round the Nemesis also gets two turns.
A player's turn is broken up into three phases. 1.) Casting, this is where you can cast your prepped spells. 2.) Main, this is where you play cards, prep spells, and spend aether. 3.) Discard and Draw, this is where you discard your played cards and draw back up to a hand of five cards.
One thing Aeon's End does that other deck-building games do not is that there's no shuffling of player decks. When you run out of cards in your deck you simply flip your discard pile over and start drawing again. When you're done playing cards at the end of the your turn you choose the order they're discarded so you can pair up cards that'll combo well together.
On the Nemesis turn, in order of appearance persistent cards take their effects and then the Nemesis draws and plays a new card from it's deck. The Nemesis deck has three types of cards: Attacks which are just an instantaneous effect and then are discarded, a Minion which has a health score and continues to do it's effect till it is killed, or a Power which comes into play with X tokens. Each round a Power loses a token, if the last token is discarded then the Power triggers it's a effect and is then discarded. Powers either have a way to be bought off before they trigger or have a way to mitigate the damage when they do trigger. The Nemesis deck is created using a pool of basic and Nemesis specific cards. The basic cards work universally across each Nemesis due to the Unleash keyword. Each Nemesis has a different Unleash effect so the same card can do different things depending on the Nemesis you're fighting. These cards ramp up in difficulty as the game goes on.
The theme is a bit unique. It's dark fantasy/survival horrorish. If I had to call it something I'd say HP Lovecraft meets Blizzard's Diablo. It's not too heavily integrated into the game, it's more offered up with backstories on the back of the mage cards and flavor text on some of the others. It's well thought out but not in your face.
The components are good quality. They were a little small and thin in the first printing/KS but since the release of War Eternal the graphic design got a beautiful overhaul and the tokens are much better in terms of thickness and size. Despite the graphic overhaul, the card backs and rules remain compatible between editions. The health dials for tracking the Nemesis and Gravehold health are my biggest gripe, the wheels spin a bit too easily so I prefer to use dice instead.
You'd probably wouldn't like this game if:
Random turn order can be a big turn off for some. I find it part of the challenge but others do not. There's times where you just get hosed by this, you're in good shape and then the Nemesis gets four turns in a row (last two of one round followed by first two of the next round). When it happens, it isn't always game ending, but it can be demoralizing.
Market setup is a task that is often daunting. Some randomized setups are just not good. There are some guidelines that should be followed as far as cost and distributions but still some metaknowledge of what mages like what and what Nemesis you're fighting can change which cards will be good or bad. Some people have preferences on what card effects they like (healing and card destruction) and when forced to play without them they don't enjoy it as much. 100% random is a special kind of challenge that I don't recommend for the faint of heart, or really anyone.
Why I (and maybe you might) like this game:
I like cooperative games. In Aeon's End there's a lot of plotting and planning. Table talk is vital to success. Can we kill that minion before the next round? Can anyone deal with that power before it triggers, if not, who wants to eat the damage? You truly feel like a team when playing.
I enjoy building a long term strategy. There's no luck of the draw as far as purchases go. I'm able to build up my deck as I choose. Despite being predisposed to one or the other, any mage could fill either a damage or support role. There's more to the game than dumping your hand each round and drawing back up.
Tension/difficulty. The random turn order creates situations where you never know if your plans will shake out perfectly. You'll see a lot of moments like: If player A or B get to go before the Nemesis we have this or else we're in trouble.
Replayability, there's tons of cards to buy and mages and baddies to fight. There's countless market setups. The order and composition of the nemesis deck adds more variability to keep each fight different. Each market is a new puzzle to figure out.
Well done review!
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That's an interesting review, however if you want to keep that formula for future reviews (and I think you should), I'd go deeper in your analysis of the game.
Your part for who would like and who wouldn't like the game is a great idea, but I think it should act as a summary for your overall thoughts. I'd add another part where you use your knowledge of the game, since you've played it enough time to afford it, to go deeper into the game, analyze the weak and strong points of the game, address issues and emphasize successes.
That would be helpful for the designers.
Also you could go tell how the game lives through many plays and give your thoughts about replay-value.
So: nice start, good idea, good template, but still not deep enough in my opinion.