Today I’m going to take a look at the recent Cryptozoic Entertainment release, Assassin’s Creed: Arena Board Game. Cryptozoic produce many board games based on well-known licenses such as The Walking Dead and The Hobbit. They also produce a very successful line of deck building games which includes licenses such as DC, Lord of the Rings, and the soon to be released Street Fighter. In recent months Cryptozoic have received a lot of positive press after they stepped in and rescued the backers of the The Doom That Came to Atlantic City Kickstarter campaign.
Anyway, that’s enough about the publisher, let’s take a very quick look at the franchise from which this Assassin-based board game originates.
A trip down memory lane… Ubisoft’s most successful franchise!!
Back in 2007 video gamers across the globe were introduced to the world of Assassin’s Creed, a title designed, developed, and published by Ubisoft. Since then the title has become one of Ubisoft’s most successful franchises and looks to be going from strength to strength.
If you’ve even the slightest interest in video games then you’ll be aware of Assassins Creed in one form or another. Whether it’s through one of the six main storyline games that were released for one or more of the PC, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Wii-U, Xbox One or Playstation 4 platforms, or through the many spin-off titles for handheld and mobile platforms.
Last month, March 2014, saw the announcement of the next chapter to the Assassins Creed story. With a launch slated for Q4 2014 Assassin’s Creed: Unity looks to provide yet more stealth-based, assassination fun for the loyal fans of the now famous franchise.
Now, with a little bit of video game history under our belts, let’s take a more detailed look at the board game.
Where to begin… Setting the scene!!
Assassin’s Creed: Arena is a simple two to four player game that pits rival assassins against one another in an effort to gather enough treasure, or victory points, to win the game. With a box time of thirty minutes – an estimate that’s been scarily accurate each time I’ve played it – It’s a pretty fast-paced game.
Each player starts in one of the four corners of the game board. Nine guards – four white, four blue and one red – are placed on the board in set locations. During the game these guards patrol the streets and interfere with your plans as you leap from building to building. Each guard has a different strength that you must match in order to defeat it, the white guards are the weakest with only 1 strength and the blue and red each have 2 and 4 strength respectively.
Identifying locations… Targets acquired!!
The very central board space is red and represents a Mosque, the eight surrounding blue spaces each represent a different named building that surrounds the Mosque. These named locations are then surrounded by forty non-descript white buildings that represent the rest of the city. As you may have guessed already, the guards patrol the areas that match their own colour.
A single red target token is placed face-down on the Mosque and one blue target is placed on each of the blue buildings around it. These tokens represent either an assassination target or treasure that you’ll find at that location. Throughout the game more targets can appear on the board, but this is governed by a set of event cards which I’ll discuss shortly.
Targets remain face-down until a player ends their move on the corresponding location, at this point you flip the token over and see what it contains. There’s two ways to score points from targets, either assassinate it if it’s a person, or carry it back to your corner of the board without being killed if it’s a treasure.
Lights… Cameras… Action Cards!!
At the start of the game each player receives a set of five action cards. These cards represent your health and enable you to perform different actions by spending them. If you ever lose, or use up, the last card in your hand your characters dies! Not forever though – there’s no player elimination in this game – you simply re-spawn, just like in a video game, on your designated corner of the board.
Action cards come in several different flavours, for example there are weapons that can be equipped to your character, damage prevention items, and for the most part, a selection of cards that display 1 – 3 dagger icons and some action text. The dagger cards are used in one of two ways.
Move – On your turn you can discard a single card to move the number of spaces indicated by the number of daggers on the card.
Combat – You could also discard as many cards as you want in combat, with either a guard or a target. For example – the red guard has a strength of four so it takes four daggers-worth of action cards to defeat and remove him from the board. It’s worth noting that you can only enter into combat with a target once you have defeated all of the guards next to the location of the target.
When you use dagger cards to either move or perform combat actions they each have their own effects written at the very bottom. These effects add a little bit of flavour to your actions by providing certain bonuses when used in a specific situation.
The anatomy of a turn… the guts of the game!!
I already mentioned this game plays extremely quickly, but let’s take a look at how a player turn pans out.
You start your turn by drawing an event card. The event deck is built by using a set number of random cards based on the number of players. When the event deck runs out the game ends with all players losing.
The event card that you draw might be a one-time card that moves guards and adds targets to the board. Or, alternatively, it might be an ongoing effect such as “Players may not attack other players whilst the card is in play”.
Yes you read that right! Players can attack other players! In Assassins Creed: Arena, you’re not just playing against the game, you’ve also got Player Vs Player (PvP) combat. Anyway, we’ll come to that in a minute, for now it’s back to the turn!
Get a move on… Let’s play hide and seek!!
When you’ve resolved your event card, you get to perform a move action. To do this you discard a single movement card and move the number of indicated spaces. If you cross a path that’s within the sight of a guard, you must discard a card from your hand for each guard that saw you. Remember, cards represent your health so staying out of sight is extremely important in this game! You can leap over the heads of a guard unseen by moving diagonally over the guard on the board. However, if you leap over the guard and are seen by a second guard, they alert the first guard to your presence and you discard two cards, one for each guard that saw you.
Of course, you’re not forced to move. In fact, if you don’t have any dagger cards left you probably can’t move! If this happens you’re going to want to hide. Hiding is your way of regaining health, or cards. When you hide, you tuck yourself away from the prying eyes of the city guards and draw a number of action cards dependent on the type of building you’re currently hiding in. For white buildings you’ll get four cards because there’s plenty of places to disappear into in these areas. For blue you’ll get two cards and for red you’ll get one; this represents the heightened security in each of these locations.
Finally, and only if you want to, you can engage in combat. This might be with guards or targets as described earlier, but the one that you’ll get the most satisfaction from is the PvP combat. Unlike the other combat types, you can only play one card for PvP, first you move to the location of another player then you use a dagger card. Your victim must then discard a number of cards equal to the number of daggers on the attacking card. If that player dies then you get a victory point and can steal any treasure they’re carrying.
PvP’s a great way to stop your opponents grabbing those points and running away to victory, but it isn’t entirely without risk – sometimes your opponent might perform a counterstrike. If they manage to pull this off and kill you, then you lose a point for dying on your own turn and they gain a point for killing you!
After you resolve combat, play passes to the next player and continues in this fashion until either one player scores 15 points, or the event deck runs dry.
That’s a wrap… Or is it a nutshell?
So, that’s Assassin’s Creed: Arena in a nutshell. In my opinion it’s a fun lightweight game that plays at about the right amount of game time for its depth. There’s a degree of strategy required to manoeuvre around the city without being seen by the guards or ganked by other players, and although not particularly complex it kept me interested enough.
This is a game that I feel was designed for a specific audience – Assassin Creed fans and other video gamers who may or may not have experience playing board games. As a fan of heavier games this one didn’t quite have the depth I prefer to play. However, with 2, 3 or 4 players it provides enough entertainment that it’s enjoyable and I would definitely bring it to the table again. If that wasn’t enough though, there’s a selection of difficulty-changing variants and a two-player “Guard vs Templar” variant that are all included in the rules. Assassins Creed: Arena can be summed up as a nice, fast and easy-to-learn game that most people will be able to enjoy.
Still not so sure? Then how about this?
I think it’s a safe bet that if you’re considering getting this as a fan of the Assassins Creed franchise then you will enjoy playing it. If you’re someone like me, who’s into heavier games, then you’ll still enjoy it but it probably won’t meet your strategic needs. Taking that into consideration, if you’re now sat reading this and thinking that it really doesn’t sound deep enough for you, then I would suggest taking a look at Cadwallon: City of Thieves, and its King of Ashes expansion by Fantasy Flight Games
This 2010 release has a similar feeling of sneaking around a city, collecting treasure, messing with opponents and escaping with the loot, but there’s a greater strategic depth to it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s no brain-burner but it will certainly scratch that strategic itch quite nicely.
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Driven Instructional Designer by day, board game fanatic by night! Tom has a long background in eLearning design and is a strong believer that story and narrative are crucial to creating excellent learning and gaming experiences. A passionate blogger, game reviewer and play tester, he enjoys spending his time playing games of all genres.