Nick Van Dam
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I heard about Magic: Arena of the Planeswalkers (AOTP) when it came out, but was disinclined to pick it up for one simple reason, I’m not a fan of Magic. I remember the early days of Magic and my friends getting caught up in it. I wasn’t a fan of the generic fantasy theme then and got caught up with the Star Wars CCG. In the end I didn’t like the CCG system and so I’ve always associated that experience with Magic which has been shown to be the king of CCGs. So how did I come to write this review? Well I thrifted a copy of Heroscape and loved it, in my research of it I found AOTP was a reworking of the same system. I saw a copy of AOTP being sold for $5 and figured it was worth the risk, it might add something to the game I was already enjoying. Here are my thoughts...
(note most of the pictures included feature my own custom Stargate SG1 figures)


Components

Figures – are the biggest feature of this game. They are of good but not great quality. The five planeswalkers that come with the base game are painted, at a similar standard to that of heroscape, which means about as good as I might do, and good enough for table play. There are also 30 unpainted miniatures, good sculpts, but not highly detailed, also the bases are uneven on a few of them.
Cards – the cards are of good quality, they draw from the Magic theme and therefore have good art work depicting the characters and actions.
Dice – There are 10 custom black and white dice. The printing isn’t always centered, but they are clear and have a nice feel to them.
Glyphs – These are also black and white, there are four – knowledge, defense, attack, and move, they are also very functional.
Health Counters – these are small semi-translucent red cubes, think every other plastic cube you’ve seen in a game, like that but slightly smaller.
Boards – The board is made out of cardboard puzzle pieces. They have the playing surface on one side and some non-functional but pretty art and character text on the other. These are not of the best quality, after just a few games mine started to show wear on one or two places where they meed up. They are not terrible, but they are only in the ok quality range.
Plastic Hexes – AOTP has interlocking hexes just like that found in Heroscape, these have a light tan/sand color. The base game comes with two 3 hex pieces and 2 single hex pieces. They are of good quality and work well.
Rule Book – The rule book it fairly well written and has a lot of visuals to help the learner. Though as always I suggest using a youtube video along with the rule book when learning.


Game Play
(not meant to be a complete rules explanation)
The object of the game is to win, this can mean a different thing depending on what scenario you play, but the standard game is either to wipe out the opposing players army, or to kill their planeswalker(s). You accomplish this though dice combat and card play. Each figure has an attack value and defense value which are stated on their player cards these indicate the number of the dice they roll when attacking and defending. When attacking if a player rolls the weapon symbol that is the amount of damage inflicted. Then the defending player rolls their dice, the number of shield symbols they roll reduces the damage done by that amount.
Figures move about the board to gain tactical advantage, height over an opponent adds one attack and one defense die to the higher figure when rolling.
The planeswalkers have an additional ability, to cast spells or play cards. These cards have various affects from buffing your own figures to attacking the opponent’s figures, redeeming lost figures, or removing cards from the opponent’s hand, and various others.
Each player takes a turn activating one of their squads, heroes, or planeswalker(s). Play proceeds back and forth until the objective is achieved.
Glyphs are buffs that apply to the army of the person whose figure resides on them. Deck and army building are not possible with just the base game.


Our Experience

Being familiar with Heroscape this game was relatively easy to pick up, although the card play did make the experience a fair amount different. My first few plays were with just the base game by itself, and I found the game quick and interesting. There was a fair amount to keep track of, and each color/planeswalker played differently. The board made for a quick set up, but with only a few hexes the tactical play I was hoping for really didn’t materialize. It ended up being a quick slugfest most of the time, with a lot of dice rolling and the occasional interesting card played. By in large this experience was ok, but could veer into being as boring as the board of the game looks. Once I added more terrain from my Heroscape game AOTP took on all the same dynamic and interesting play that exists in the other, but with the added layer of card play. There was still limited variety due to the fixed armies, but even this small change elevated the game greatly. We then built armies that included both AOTP and Heroscape on a mixed Heroscap AOTP board, which I will appear towards the end of this review.

Pros
- The game is cheap, for the amount of miniatures and the amount of game inside $5 is ridiculously cheap.
- The system of the game is solid and relatively easy to teach and learn.
- The game is quick to set up and tear down and has a fast pace to it.
- The art in the cards is of good quality.

Cons
- The boards look boring, and with the cardboard standees it also looks cheap and uninviting.
- Some of the figures have warped bases.
- It is Magic themed, which as I have said was a turn off for me, and for a segment of the gaming audience.
- not enough armies and cards to do deck and army building
- Not enough terrain, there is simply not enough height variability in the base game for it to demonstrate how good of a game design it is. The player powers and abilities are flattened by the flat board, and tactical play is only a fraction of what it can be.

Responses to the Cons
- The boards do look boring with the desert landscape, but they are quick to set up, as a base for this type of game they actually succeed functionally. The cardboard barriers/standees are what make this game look cheaper than it would otherwise, simply leaving them off improves the look of the game. Other better looking barriers can easily be substituted for these.
- While warped bases will annoy some for the price and the number of figures it doesn’t bother me in the least. They may be adjustable/fixable with boiling water, I haven’t tried but this is just a minor ding for me, since it is only one or two in a set of over 30 that cost $5.
- Now I know my critique that the magic theme is a turn off will likely shock or anger a certain group within the gaming community, but just like generic fantasy or sci-fi is not everyone’s cup of tea neither is magic the gathering. That being said familiarity with the theme is not necessary, and ultimately like heroscape you can rework the lore of the game to suit yourself. What I’m really saying is if the Magic theme works for you great, if you don’t like it you might still consider this game anyway.
- The fact that there aren’t enough squads and cards to do army and deck building is understandable because they want you to buy expansions, it is just too bad they didn’t give you enough to do just a little to get a taste of what that might be like. The solution is simple buy their two expansions.
- Terrain, this is ultimately the biggest missed opportunity of this game. It literally and figuratively lifts this game to a whole new level. The solution is to buy heroscape terrain, even a little and the game starts to sing. If you already think the game is good to ok, do yourself a favor and just add some.


Combined with Heroscape

AOTP makes a great addition to heroscape. As I said many of the problems that I had with AOTP were solved by adding some herosape terrain, but also some of the drawback of heroscape are addressed by AOTP. The long setup of heroscape can be cut down considerably by starting with the boards from AOTP as the base level. The combination of figures from AOTP and heroscape create more choices and variety when selecting an army, and I’ve found the cost numbers to be quite comperable in the two systems. I haven’t painted my AOTP figures but I suspect I will with at least some of them. Figures also work as proxies for one another, if you want more AOTP zombies just borrow them from Heroscape (or another game), if you want more heroscape style zombies borrow them from AOTP.
AOTP and it’s expansion when found at a cheap price are an obvious addition to anyone’s heroscape game.


Conclusion

Arena of the Planeswalkers is a great game that is missing some of it’s parts. When those parts are added in this is a fantastic game. Without them (with just this base game) this is just an ok game that has a theme that self selects and audience (magic players) that like deckbuilding and high level strategy and what it delivers has no deck building and less tactics and more luck than they might be used to.
If you already like and have Heroscape this is an easy buy. If you don’t but you want to experience what the game is meant to be (deck building, tactics and strategy with fun dice chucking), it might be worth buying the base game and the two expansions and some heroscape terrain to have a good game.

By itself I are AOTP a 6/10


with added terrain it is 8/10


when included as part of Heroscape this actually elevates that game which was already a 10/10 for me.


Check out my other Reviews on my Geeklist
- Edited 4/24/19 to add link to my geeklist of reviews
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toothpickman wrote:
By itself I are AOTP a 6/10
I agree. I wanted a light pick-up-and-play skirmish game, but by itself it's too limited and dull. I'm not up for the effort, investment, and shelf space of the expansions and Heroscape stuff, so after trying each of the factions, I donated it to my local game cafè/MTG center.
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