- Designer: Kevin Riley
- Publisher: Indie Boards&Cards / Action Phase Games
- Players: 1-4
- Ages: 14+
- Time: 60-90 minutes
- Times played: 5 with review copy provided by Action Phase Games
Since Dominion hit the boardgaming scene in 2008, there have been a bunch of deckbuilding games that have all tweaked the core idea of the genre – that is, adding or subtracting cards from your deck to make it play the way you want it to. Sure, I’ll freely admit that I’m biased towards the whole genre as a whole given my role in developing Dominion. At that same time, Pandemic also came to market, and for many Eurogamers like me, this was the first foray into the world of cooperative games. It’s hard to say if Pandemic was the first of the modern cooperative games, but it’s certainly the first one that I paid attention to. Aeon’s End tries to bring these two genres together – it’s a cooperative deckbuilding game!
In the game, players act as heroes who are protecting the city of Gravehold from the “Nameless” – a horde of enemies who are attacking the city. In the base game, each player chooses one of the eight available heroes and is given a starting hand of cards and a starting draw deck. Each player’s player mat also has a starting orientation for four breaches – these are square cards which go on top of the player board – which are used for casting spells. Each player starts with 10 life points, and each player is assigned a player number. Finally, near the bottom of the card, you will see the hero’s unique special ability. It can be used when a player is fully charged – you can see a bank of spaces to hold charges underneath the special ability.
The market is also set up. There are three basic types of cards in the game: Gem cards (which provide aether – the currency in the game), Spell cards – which must first be prepped and then can be unleashed against the enemy and Relic cards – which are have immediate actions. The market is generally made up of 3 gem cards, 2 relics and 4 spells. Take all the cards of each type (7 for gem cards, 5 for relics and spells) and place them in stacks in the center of the table. These cards will be the only cards available to the heroes other than their starting hands. You can decide to choose which cards to include in your game or use the randomizer cards to randomly select them for you. There are also a number of suggested sets of cards if you want to play with a particular theme.
The bad guy for the game is chosen and a bad guy deck is set up. Each nemesis has its own information card which should be placed on the table. One side will be filled with any specific setup rules. The other will outline the effects and special rules for the particular foe. Regardless of which nemesis you fight, you must construct a Nemesis deck. There are a number of basic nemesis cards which are in most every game and then each bad guy has a specific set of cards which are used each time you fight that particular baddie. The size and composition of the deck depends on both the number of players in the game as well as the particular enemy.
There is a damage counter for the nemesis – set it to the prescribed number of hit points. You can also find the damage counter for Gravehold – and set it to 30 health points.
Finally, you must set up the turn order deck. In a 4 player game, there will be one card for each player and two cards for the nemesis. These six cards are shuffled and placed facedown on the table.
Now it’s time to play the game. In short, the group of heroes will work together to try to defeat the Nameless nemesis and its minions. They will win the game if they are able to defeat the main enemy by reducing its life points to zero. The heroes will lose the game if Gravehold is destroyed OR if all of the heroes in the game are exhausted (that is, their life points go to zero).
In each round of a 4p game, each hero will get one chance to act, and the Nemesis will get two chances to go. One of the neat things about Aeon’s End is that the actual order of turns changes each round – determined by the card order in the Turn Order deck. Once the previous turn is over, you flip up the next card on the deck and the card tells you who gets to go next. It might be that the Nemesis gets two turns in a row at a critical juncture of the game – you just don’t know until you see the card. (Well, I guess you know when you’re down to the final card of each round…)
So, on a player turn, there are three main phases: Casting spells, doing all the other stuff, and then cleanup and drawing.
Casting spells – if you have spells already prepped in your breaches, you can cast them. Breaches have two states: open and closed. An open breach can hold a spell indefinitely – you are not obligated to cast a spell in an open breach. However, if you have a spell in a closed breach, it must be cast in this phase. To cast a spell, just read what’s on the card and do it. They are usually spells that create damage – the active player can choose the target of the damage. Usually – it causes some sort of damage. You can decide if you want to target the main Nemesis or if you’d prefer to target one of its minions. Once you have cast the spell, place the card in your discard pile.
Main phase – here is where you do the bulk of your actions. You can do these eight actions in any order and as many times as you like.
1) Play a gem or relic card. If you play a gem card, you add an amount of aether to your pool. Just keep track of this amount out loud. If you play a relic card, you follow the instructions on the card and do what it says. These played cards remain face up in your playing area until the end of the turn
2) Gain a card – you can buy any available card from the market. The cost for each card is in the upper right corner. Subtract the necessary amount of aether from your pool and place the gained card on top of your discard pile.
3) Gain a charge – you can always spend 2 aether to put a charge token on your player board. When your row of charges is completely full, you can then spend them all to take your special ability as printed on your player board
4) Focus a breach – each breach can be in any of four states – it rotates around until it reaches the open side, at which point it flips over to the fully open side. Based on the current orientation of the breach, you can pay a fee to then rotate the breach one turn. As you focus the breach, this also allows you to prep a spell into that breach, even if it is not yet open
5) Open a breach – instead of paying a fee to merely turn the breach 90 degrees, there is also a fee that will allow you to flip it over to the open side.
6) Prep a spell – you can play a card from you hand into any open breach or any breach which was focused this turn. Each breach can only hold one spell, and some spells actually require multiple adjacent free breaches
7) Resolve a “while prepped” effect – some spells have specific effects which can only be used while that spell is prepped in a breach.
8) Resolve a “To Discard” effect – some Nemesis cards have a “To Discard” action on them – if the active player can discard all the needed things, that particular nemesis card can be removed from the table.
Cleanup and Drawing – in this final phase, you first take all cards played this turn (i.e. currently in front of you on the table) and place them in the discard pile. You can choose the order in which they enter the discard pile. Then, you draw back up to 5 cards in your hand from your deck. You do NOT discard unplayed cards in your hand – the only way to get them out of your hand is to play them. If your deck is empty, you simply take your discard pile, flip it over and it becomes your new deck. Note that YOU DO NOT SHUFFLE YOUR DECK as you flip it over. Thus, cards will come up in exactly the order in which they entered the discard pile.
At the end of this phase, you flip up the top card of the Turn Order deck to see who goes next. If it is a player card, that player then goes thru the three phases as above. If it is a Nemesis card, then the enemy gets a chance to play. There are two main phases in a Nemesis turn: the Main Phase and the Draw phase.
In the Main phase, any nemesis cards that are on the table are resolved from oldest to newest – it’s easiest just to keep them in a line stretching out from the large Nemesis tile with the oldest card being closest to the Nemesis. To resolve the card, simply read what is on the card and do it.
In the Draw phase, the top card of the Minion deck is revealed. Regardless of type, if there is an IMMEDIATE action on the card, that happens immediately. Then, if it is an attack card, that happens immediately and the card is discarded. If it is a minion card, that is placed in the line of cards on the table, and an appropriate number of hit points are placed on it. This card’s attack or effect will occur in every successive Nemesis Main phase as long as it still has hit points on it. Once the heroes have done enough damage to the Minion, it is discarded from play. If the card is a Power card, a number of time counters is placed on that card. On each successive Nemesis Main phase, one of the tokens is removed. When the final token is removed, the attack/effect printed on the card will happen. Oftentimes, this negative effect can be avoided by a player successfully performing a “To Discard” action on their turn.
Many of the Nemesis cards will trigger an Unleash action. The Unleash action is something that is generally bad for the heroes, and each enemy has a specific Unleash action as printed on its information card.
As the heroes take damage, they may eventually run out of life points. When this happens, they are considered “exhausted”. When this happens, any excess damage is doubled and taken from Gravehold. The exhausted player must then destroy one of his breaches (as well as any spell card that was in that breach). The exhausted player can never gain life and any time that the exhausted hero would take damage later in the game, it is doubled and taken from Gravehold.
The game continues on until one of the game end conditions is met. The players win if they can reduce the life total of the main enemy to zero. They can also win if the nemesis deck is completely empty and there are no Minion or Power cards on the table either. The players lose if Gravehold runs out of life points OR if all the heroes are exhausted. A few of the enemies also have immediate victory conditions – these will be printed on the nemesis card itself.
My thoughts on the game
Every year, there is one game that manages to stay on the unplayed shelf well into the depths of the Essen season… and then, once it hits the table, everyone in the group wonders how we managed to wait so long on such a game! Well, this year, it’s Aeon’s End. Sadly, it didn’t make it to the table until Christmas Break this year (though still not the last of over 90+ games from the Essen period this year), but it’s making up for lost time quickly. I’ve now played the game five times, and it looks like this one will continue to be a regular visitor to the gaming table in the coming weeks.
Thus far, the game has been a fascinating and ever-changing game. There is a ton of variety in the game setup. First, you have a bunch of different heroes to choose from, and each hero has a unique special ability. Second, the market is always different – with the expansions, there are well over 40 different card types to choose from, and you only use ten in each game. Thus far, we’ve enjoyed choosing the cards at random and then working out the possible combos as a group. And then let’s not forget that you have a handful of different Nemeses to fight, and each of them requires a different sort of attack from the heroes.
The game also allows you to scale the game difficulty wise by altering the starting life points of the heroes and the nemesis. For further difficulty, each Nemesis also has an “increased difficulty” rule on its card which can be used for a harder game. Thus far, we’ve been pretty satisfied with the regular difficulty level, with all of our games coming down to the wire.
Like any cooperative game, there is a lot of discussion amongst the players, and there is always the chance that the loudest voice will end up quarterbacking the group. Aeon’s End mitigates that with the Turn Order deck. As the actual order of actions is random for each cycle, the group has to constantly re-organize their thoughts based on who is going next (and who might be left to go this round). Sure, the loudest voice might still end up directing traffic, but this game gives all the players a constant chance to chime in with their thoughts. We’ve also found that each player seems to remember what is in their OWN discard pile (and in what order), and knowing that can influence certain decisions. Thus far, Aeon’s End passes the most important test of a co-operative game in that we haven’t had a quarterbacking issue yet in the 5 games that we’ve played.
I really like the challenge in each game trying to figure out how to combine the actions of the nine cards in the market, the special abilities of each hero and the unique characteristics of each Nemesis. There are some cards which work better when concentrated in one person’s deck or when they are perhaps found prepped in many different heroes’ breaches. The group has to figure out how to best manage those cards and then get them to the right places. The group will often have to discuss how to best deal with the minions and discard actions on the board. As you generally don’t know who is going to go next, you are constantly having to evaluate the risk/reward of discarding resources now to take care of a power card (and therefore not being able to use those resources for anything else on that player’s turn), or maybe taking a risk and letting a threat go another turn, hoping that another hero will get a chance to play before the next Nemesis turn.
The artwork is done by Gong Studios who also have credits for games such as Dice City, Fields of Green and Android: Netrunner. I find the art to be well done, though perhaps a little dark. The cards are on nice stock, and they have held up well so far – though of course, since you don’t really shuffle them, they don’t have to withstand quite as much. The only part of the physical components that hasn’t been great are the two spinner scoreboards for the Gravehold and Nemesis life points. I have found that the wheels can be too easily jostled. We have started to use d10 to keep track of the points for each instead.
The box has plenty of room for more cards. Right now, there are two channels down each side of the box, and they provide you with plenty of foam blocks to hold everything in place. They have thoughtfully provided you with divider cards which are slightly larger than the regular cards so that you can quickly index and organize your cards.
So far, I have really liked my initial forays into Aeon’s End. We are still playing the game at the starting level, and it is plenty challenging for my group. I have faced four different enemies thus far, and I have been very satisfied with the way that each makes the game feel different. I have also played the recommended enemy for the first game with a different Market setup, and that also gave me a game with a different focus as the action on the spell and relic cards were quite different. That level of variety bodes well for the game because it’s going to be hard to get tired of this one. Aeon’s End may have been one of the last Essen games to make it to the table, but it will end up also being one of the few that has a chance to join the permanent game collection.
Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers
Jonathan F.: Along with the non-shuffling of the deck, which is wonderful, the random turn order each turn is great. Instead of shuffling the deck and going in the same order, you don’t shuffle your personal deck, but you don’t go in the same order. I have enjoyed this game several times and look forward to playing it more. There are three reasons I cannot ‘love’ it. 1. I am a curmudgeon. 2. I really wish we could get the playtime down to an hour or a bit under. 3. It is not an immersive adventure. It is more a deck-builder with an adventure theme than an adventure game that uses deck building. Strongly recommended over many related games.
Eric E.: I love this game. Why? Well I am extremely partial to deck builders and engine building games. I like being weak in the beginning and growing in power. But I find in most deckbuilders the randomness can lessen my enjoyment as I feel my well oiled machine can break with a bad shuffle. Well you don’t shuffle this one and the strategy and timing with that is perfection. You can even, unlinked a lot of games like it, choose to not play cards and keep them for the next round. It’s a small thing but a strategic one that I like a lot. The enemy deck is also built in Tiers which gain power alongside the heroes and keeps the first turn from being “monster drew a 15 damage onslaught card that destroys everyone’s hand and we lose immediately”. Instead those will come at the end when the tension has built to a crescendo. All of this isn’t totally new but it works best here.
The game has a balance of survive the attacks and hit the bad guy. With the chance that the bad guy could go 4 times in a row with a crazy shuffle you have to prepare and be strategic. You also have to know when to fight back for the kill and when to turtle up and wait. It’s a great game and I wish there was more story or thematic hooks in it but overall I love it. As a solo game it is a bit heavy on bookkeeping and token management but overall it scales well.
Michael W: I’ve played twice and like the others have really enjoyed this game. The 2nd game was a nailbiter win, coming down to whether the Enemy got to go before either of a couple of players. So yeah, randomness “determined” the win, but it was a fun and epic struggle for us to get to the point where we had the opportunity for that lucky shot. Fortune favors the bold!
Craig V (1 play): I have wanted to play Aeon’s End again ever since playing it the first and only time. It is a really compelling game that feels familiar, but is different enough to be a captivating game. Most deckbuilding games feel like solitary experiences to the point that I pretty much only enjoy Friday (which is a solo only game) when it comes to pure deckbuilding. However, the cooperative nature and several other features/mechanisms of Aeon’s End finally changes that for me. While the theme of the game could be better, working together as a team to strategize is a lot of fun. Couple that with the random turn order and unexpected attacks from the bad guy and the game becomes immersive and fun for the entire team. Players need to stay engaged at all times, not just on their own turns. I’ve only been able to scratch the surface of Aeon’s End so far and doing so has left me excited to explore what awaits inside the box. I am really looking forward to playing the game more to discover how the gameplay feels different and changes when playing with different people and against different monsters.
Tery N (2 plays): I am a big fan of deckbuilders, so I’d been looking forward to trying this and it didn’t disappoint. The mechanic where you do not shuffle your discard pile is a nice addition; it gives you some control over what you will draw when and also what you’ll be drawing next time in order to plan ahead. I don’t always like cooperative games, but in this case it’s the right balance of group discussion and making your own decisions about the cards you will play.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Dale Y, Eric E, Tery N
- I like it. Craig V, Jonathan F, Michael W.
- Not for me….