Aeon's End Review - By The Power Of Gravehold!

Say that title in the style of the old He-Man cartoon while holding a sword aloft, sounds very similar right? No? I thought it did. God I miss the 80's, back then we had proper cartoons to watch!

Anyway back to Aeons End. . . . WHAT?!?! Sentinels of the Multiverse for fantasy players? EXPLAIN! That was pretty much my reaction when I first heard about this game. Whether that's an accurate representation remains to be seen, but this was the description I got. So given that it's no secret that Sentinels is my #1 game, let's just say I reached the peak of my curiosity, to hell with the cat!

Putting that aside, there's a lot of potential here. A co-operative deck builder against one big boss with randomised turn order and a variety of characters and spells/items to use. Sounds like it's borrowing from a few games in this genre, certainly Thunderstone springs to mind with a hint of Sentinels thrown in. But I feel like there's a shortage on good co-ops lately and am very keen to see more released. And I don't mean yet another 1 vs all, gigantic miniatures game that costs an arm and a leg and has a ton of rules, we're getting a little overrun with those at the moment for my liking.

Certainly a big box anyway, let's see what Aeon's End brings to the market of which there is some very stiff competition.




Designer: Kevin Riley
Publisher: Action Phase Games / Indie Board & Cards
Age: 14+
Players: 1-4
Time: 60-120 minutes
RRP: £49.99


From BoardGameGeek:

The survivors of a long-ago invasion have taken refuge in the forgotten underground city of Gravehold. There, the desperate remnants of society have learned that the energy of the very breaches the beings use to attack them can be repurposed through various gems, transforming the malign energies within into beneficial spells and weapons to aid their last line of defense: the breach mages.
Aeon's End is a cooperative game that explores the deckbuilding genre with a number of innovative mechanisms, including a variable turn order system that simulates the chaos of an attack, and deck management rules that require careful planning with every discarded card. Players will struggle to defend Gravehold from The Nameless and their hordes using unique abilities, powerful spells, and, most importantly of all, their collective wits.

SPELLCASTING ERROR?


Components for Aeon's End are a bit of a mixed bag. First, the good points, the artwork is stellar across the player cards/boards, though maybe some extra background detail could have been made for the Nemesis cards & Nameless One boards as they seem a little bland in comparison. But that's a small nitpick. It's also welcome that this publisher thought to include some useful dividers with full artwork in the box to separate all the relevant piles out (Upper Deck - are you reading this? Stop it with those bland generic logo dividers PLEASE!)

However from here it's a bit of a downhill slope. The card stock feels like very low quality and will see wear and tear from your first game. Sleeving I feel is a must for frequent play and when it comes to deck builders, that's a big cost increase. The tokens as well for various uses feel very cheap and are quite small and the flimsiness of the breach cards beggars belief. The hit point trackers also came very loose in the box where barely nudging it will spin the numbers out of sync.

But what I can't understand is the box design. This is a huge box and yet the base set cards will barely fill 30-40% of the allotted space even with sleeves. I know it's for expansions (on that note, shame on you for having Kickstarter exclusive content not for retail), but why can't publishers give us smaller boxes to begin with and then make a giant collector's box further down the line when expansions are out in force? AEG did this with their excellent Geeky Big Box and Greater Than Games are doing this with the recent Oblivaeon Kickstarter, (even though it was long overdue), but even their original standard boxes were well designed.

And it's not just external storage that's a pain, but the insert is questionable also. You get two rows for cards, which are too wide even for sleeved cards, but not wide enough to put the player/nemesis boards in. So you either put them in at an angle, balance them on the middle separation, or hide them underneath it - either way, they're going to bounce around in that box. With the funding it made and all the wealth of deck builder experience to call upon, I can't fathom why publishers are still messing up the critical element of a deck builder game.


YOU MUST LEARN CONTROL!


So a shaky start, but the gameplay is where Aeons End starts to shine. The game setup is similar to Sentinels where it's a group of players vs one big boss. Each boss plays very differently and range in difficulty, though frankly the only easy one in the box is Rageborne and he's the tutorial mission. In fact I give props to Action Phase Games for their innovative way of pre-packing the various cards needed for your first game with "STOP" dividers and including a fully illustrated reference sheet to go with it. You still need to learn the rulebook for gameplay, but this made setup so much easier to get me going quickly in my first solo game and I would welcome this from other publishers as well.

The first key difference in Aeons End from other deck builders, which I've rarely seen is that you never shuffle your deck here. Instead you choose how your cards hit the discard pile and you flip your deck over to replenish. This allows for a higher degree of control over your deck and your hand for a future round, making the ability to destroy cards from your deck even more important as if you can last long enough in the fight, you can sculpt your deck to be a powerhouse. Next up is the turn order mechanic. Instead of clockwise, it's now randomised by a deck based on the player count. You can no longer plan turns in advance as sometimes the boss will wail on you twice in a row before you can act or vice versa. Other times it will alternate throughout and you have to react to it. It's an enjoyable mechanic, but it's basically the random element that balances out the added control from not shuffling a deck. This is probably the part that will make or break Aeons End for many.

You have a plentiful amount of options each turn, most of which are based on how much "aether" you can generate from your cards, but at least it's not just simply "play a card, buy a card". Now you can also focus breaches, open breaches, charge up your character's ability and prep spells and all in any order you choose. If you're good at coming up with combo plays or planning your turns in advance, you're going to be in your element here with the spellcasting.


VARIETY BOTH PRESENT AND MISSING


I love variety in games as you know and within a co-op deck builder it's even more essential. Aeon's End gets it right in some places and not in others. There are a decent amount of cards available to buy from the supply decks allowing for many combinations to change the strategies up. There's also a lot of characters to choose from, each with unique abilities. Less so is you only get 4 bosses and one of them is the easy-mode one that you'll quickly get bored of. It is no secret that more bosses and player cards were included as part of the Kickstarter promo exclusives (again, shame, I'm ringing that bell!) and really should have been a stretch goal or at worse, included in a future expansion.

But the big mis-step is the starting setup for each character. Their breach setups are different but you'll barely notice for the most part. And each has a unique starting hand/deck, but basically they're simply X crystals (aether) + Y sparks (damage) + 1 unique card. The unique card is the only actual meaningful difference here and they're not exactly game-changing or that unique by themselves. It's nice to have some individuality, but it's barely noticeable and I would have liked some more unique starting cards or even better, perhaps a deck brought to the market (where you buy cards from) that only appears if you use that character. This chapter though brings up more nitpicks than problems.


GOOD, GOOD, AMAZING, OH HELL NO!! 



Aeons End scales well. . . . up to a point. Regardless of the number of players it's quite a long game for what it is. Some bosses require you to play the long game and as such finishing this in less than 90 minutes after teaching is unlikely and chances are you'll hit the 2 hour mark and then some. That's cutting it close to how long I want to play a deck builder for before repetition sets in. And a lot of that comes down to player discussion, but also that commonly you'll find yourself ready to lay the smackdown on the boss only for some extra persistent threats to suddenly appear that require your attention first.

A true solo mode exists, which is good for some quicker fun. 2 player works well as with the turn order deck mentioned earlier, each player gets two turns per round. 3 player is so good however that it completely overshadows a 4 player setup, which I actually don't like as having one turn per round can lead to some extended game length and downtime to boot. With 3 players each player gets one turn base, but a "wild" card is included in which players can choose who gets the extra turn. This is such a huge boost in enjoyment it's unreal, as now players can discuss tactics as to its use and it allows multiple turns a round. I like it so much that it almost constrains Aeons End into a 3 player only game for me - thankfully solo mode is still fun.


VERDICT ON AEONS END


Aeons End brings together some elements from other popular deck builders and co-op's and adds it own unique twist with "prepping" spells and randomised turn order. The experience is very enjoyable, however that additional chaotic element from not knowing who's turn it is next may be a deal breaker for some. It creates good tension and allows for some degree of tactics, but can also screw you over at times and fluctuate player downtime.

Aeons End can stretch the boundaries for acceptable game length, but during that time there is a good feeling of engagement and co-operation among players. It works with all player counts, but there's a giant leap in enjoyment when playing with 3 players almost to the extent that it overshadows all other counts, though true solo mode is good fun. The variety is decent for a base set, though perhaps some extra thought into the box design and improvements in component quality could have been made.

Some degree of fine tuning and quality improvement would make this a truly great co-op deck builder on par with the likes of the Legendary series. And whether you think it's similar or not, it doesn't come close to matching my beloved Sentinels of the Multiverse. However I'm going to hang on to this one for now because it's still a very solid Kickstarter game that is definitely worth any co-op fan giving a try.


   

BROKEN RATING - 8 OPEN BREACHES OF INTER-DIMENSIONAL POWER!!



YOU WILL LIKE AEONS END IF:



You enjoy co-op experiences similar to Sentinels or the Legendary series.


You like deck builder's, but welcome the idea of having more control over your cards.


You think that 3 players is the most common mode you'll play this with.



YOU WILL NOT LIKE AEONS END IF:


You always play with 4 players - the game length and downtime exceed acceptable levels.


You feel the issues with the components bring it down.


You know that the randomised turn order mechanic is a deal breaker.


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