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Aeons End: Fighting for Survival Once the World has Ended

aeons-end-card-game-box The world has ended and Nameless beings are here to destroy the survivors and the place that they call home. Aeons End is a cooperative deck-builder which puts you in the shoes of Breach Mages, survivors who dabble in the mystic, and seek to use the Nameless’ own holes in reality to defeat them.

After a hugely successful Kickstarter last year, Aeons End has been generating a lot of buzz, but can it live up to the hype? Let’s find out!

Aeons End- what’s in the box

aeons-end-card-game-contentsAeons End is a card-game, and most of what you get in the box is cards: cards for your Mages to use against the Nameless, and cards for the Nameless to throw back at you.

You also get a handful of play-mats – 7 for the different Mages who come in the base box, and 4 for the Nameless, as well as tokens, counters (for life, energy, etc), and of course the Breaches themselves.

aeons-end-card-game-dials

Left are the Aeons End dials, with the sturdier Lord of the Rings dial for comparison

Overall the components are good. The art is nice, and the iconography is fairly easy to follow. A lot of the cards are a bit bendy, but they look like they will flatten out over time if stored properly.

The biggest disappointment component-wise was the dials for keeping track of life: they just felt a bit wobbly and flimsy, with the plastic axles being a bit too long and loose – design-wise these are very-similar shaped to the Threat Trackers in the Lord of the Rings LCG, and it’s a shame that they couldn’t match the production quality.

The overall graphic-design of Aeons End is good: there’s a healthy amount of flavour text, and everything ties together well to give you an overall sense of  where and why the action is taking place, but at the same time, that text is mostly on card-backs, or other unobtrusive places, so that those who want to can jump straight to number-crunching and combo-crafting can do without getting bogged down in the story.

aeons-end-card-game-heroes It’s alluded to at various points in Aeons End that pre-apocalypse Mage-dom had historically been an all-female profession. Due to the near-annihilation of the human race, it has now been opened up to anyone with the aptitude/bravery to fight, but this gives you a solid foundation for the playable characters: many are female, and they cover a broad range of ages and ethnicities, all properly dressed for combat (rather than looking like an implausible glamour mag). The Monsters of Aeons End are probably a bit too scary to be playing this with really young children, but it’s nice to know that this is not a game that you’re going to need to worry about presenting lazy stereotypes to teenagers.

Nice theme, What do I do?

aeons-end-card-game-player-setup

The mat indicates your Breaches (green), your starting hand (blue) and your starting deck (red). It also has space for your player-number and hit-points, as well as your unique ability.

At the start of each game of Aeons End, you choose your Mage, and set up their unique character mat – this will tell you what their starting configuration of breaches is, their starting hand and deck, along with their unique ability and the number of charges you need to pay for it.

For the most part, your deck in Aeons End is never shuffled. When you acquire cards you add them to your discard pile, and when you cast spells, spend gems or activate artefacts, they also go to your discard pile. When your discard pile runs out, you flip it over – unshuffled! – to form a new deck, and just keep drawing.

aeons-end-card-game-no-shuffle

This is actually for the tutorial, but it’s a good reminder!

Aeons End also differs from other deck-builders like Dominion or Legendary in that you don’t automatically discard your hand at the end of a turn. If you can’t play a card this turn, or you’re holding on to combo it with something else, then you just keep it, and only draw as many new cards as you need to top back up to 5 in hand. Neither the “no shuffling” nor the “no auto-discard” seem like major elements at first glance, but actually they give Aeons End a level of nuance above and beyond that of most other deck-builders out there.

aeons-end-card-game-marketplace In addition to your starting hard, each game of Aeons End features a market of 9 different sets of cards that you can buy to add to your deck: Dominion-style these are all laid out from the very beginning, ready to buy.

There are three card-types you will have in hand throughout the game: gems, spells and artefacts.

aeons-end-card-game-gems Gems generate aether, the basic currency of the game, and you will need better gems than the starting ones, to afford more powerful cards later. You can spend aether to buy cards from the market, to focus or open breaches (see below), or to buy charges.

Most characters have 3 or 4 breaches –1 or 2 will be open from the start of the game, and the remainder will be closed. The right-way-up edge of a closed breach will always tell you how much aether it’s going to cost to open it, as well as the cost to “focus” it – that is to turn it once clockwise, and bring it that much nearer to being opened.

aeons-end-card-game-spells To win a game of Aeons End you need to reduce the Nameless to zero life, and Spells are your main way of doing damage. In order to cast a spell, you play it onto a breach – either a breach that is already open, or one that has been “focused” this turn. Once a spell is prepped, you need to wait until the start of your next turn to cast it – optional on an open breach (you might want to hang on to it for later), forced if the breach was only focused.

Lastly, each Mage has their own unique ability – this will require them to spend a fixed number of charges, and may heal a character, cancel a card, deal damage. Charges can be bought for 2 aether (or gained via other card effects).

Decisions, Decisions

aeons-end-card-game-cast-or-notAeons End is a game that gives you a lot of decisions to make. How do you spend your aether? Most mages start out with only a few fairly weak spells, so you will want to buy better ones to do damage – however, spells are no use if you don’t have enough breaches to cast them, so you also need to spend aether on that. For most Mages in Aeons End, breaches 1 and 2 will be the most open at the start, whilst 3 and 4 will be the hardest to open. But when you do open them 3 and 4 increase the damage of spells cast on them, so do you take immediacy or long-term power? A unique ability like healing or card cancellation won’t be that vital at the start, but don’t delay too long in getting powered up, or you might find yourself unready when the time of need comes.

Each turn in Aeons End you will find yourself with a lot of flexibility as you choose between a fixed set of actions, resolving them as many times as you like, in whichever order you like. I loved the amount of decision making there was in this game, which gives loads of replay value, even with the same Nameless/Mages/Market combination.

Sounds Great – who’s going to stop me?

aeons-end-card-game-nameless

Ironically, all the Nameless have names…

Aeons End is a cooperative game, and like most co-ops there is an enemy to face. For each game, you will set up one Nameless, following the instructions on a unique reference card. The reference card tells you about the special ability of this particular boss, and determines their deck, composed from a mixture of Nameless-specific and generic Nemesis cards.

Each  time the Nameless takes a turn, you will resolve all the active cards it has out, and then reveal a new one. Again, this provides you with loads of decisions to make: when a minion comes out, do you attack it, or attack the boss? Minions are generally much smaller, and easier to kill, so you might want to keep eradicating them to avoid their persistent effects – too much time doing that though, and you’ll never doing any damage to the monster.

aeons-end-card-game-power

“Power” indicates how many times it will trigger before disappearing

There are also power cards, ones which will sit out in play waiting to unleash some nasty effect, but which offer you a chance to defuse, if you can pay the cost. Too many games have effects which are just “lose this” or “X happens” so adding an element of choice – particularly when it’s a hard choice between 2 bad options makes for a better game in my book.

The cards in the Nemesis deck are arranged by tiers, and although each is shuffled at the start of the game, the tiers themselves are stacked, to ensure that the difficulty ramps up throughout the game. Again, this is a really good feature, as it’s a great way of reducing the risk of getting smashed before you can get a foothold, but also prevents the late-game scenario of many a deck-builder where you can just breeze straight through everything in front of you.

However they go about doing it, the monster will be trying to reduce the heroes’ life to zero, or to do the same to Gravehold. Gravehold is the surviving settlement where the Mages of Aeons End live, and once it loses all 30 health, the game is over in defeat. An individual hero losing her last health does not lead immediately to defeat for the players, but it certainly makes the game harder.

Who now?

aeons-end-card-game-turn-order Whilst the player-decks in Aeons End don’t get shuffled, it still plays a part, in the turn-order deck.

The turn-order deck controls who activates next out of the various player-controlled Mages and the Nameless. In a 2-player game, for example, you would have 2 “Player 1” cards, 2 “Player 2” cards and 2 “Nemesis” cards. This ensures that everyone gets equal actions over the course of the game and allows the game to scale well, but most of the time, you never know exactly who’s going next – this provides a little bit of luck which prevents things from ever being completely secure, and introduces an element of risk/reward decision-making – I can’t take out that Minion this turn, but if I get my next turn before the villain gets its, then I could – do I damage it now? Or just use my spells to damage the Nameless himself?

Aeons End? The best deck-builder yet?

aeons-end-card-game-end It’s only February and the year has a lot more to offer us. Still, I think Aeons End might well be the best game of 2017. The theme is really well done, the different characters and monsters really do make each game feel different, and the whole thing is deep and immersive without overwhelming the mechanical aspect of actually playing it.

There is lots of decision-making, plenty of scope to experiment, and despite all that, it’s really quite simple to pick up: for a game so deep, I spent very little time referring to the rule-book. Aeons End really is one of those “Easy to Learn, Difficult to Master” games, and the amount of in-built difficulty scaling is great, as it allows you to play without getting crushed at start, but still leaves you plenty of scope to grow into.

I don’t think there’s any such thing as a perfect game, and as I mentioned there are 1 or 2 little component issues with Aeons End that are slightly disappointing, but by and large this is about as good as table-top gaming gets.

9.5 out of 10.

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James Phillips

I'm an avid board and card-gamer, on a gradual mission to indoctrinate all my friends into the hobby too. I particularly enjoy anything Lord of the Rings related, and play a lot of cooperative games, along with Dice Masters and Game of Thrones LCG Competitively. When not playing games, I can be found doing a mundane office job, or working on my own Blog, Fistful of Meeples.

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