In the darkness of Gravehold, after the world has ended, a group of survivors try to hold back the Nameless with their breach magic. Seems pretty dramatic, right? Well, it is! Aeon’s End brings this situation to life in a cooperative deckbuilder that skirts the same edges as games such as Sentinels of the Multiverse, and Marvel: Legendary (among others in that line). While I have enjoyed those types of games before, I found Aeon’s End far more engaging and something that I’m keen to get to the table more.
The basic premise of the game has players cooperatively defending their home Gravehold against one of the Nameless creatures (of which there are a great variety in the base pack, some in an expansion released already and one more Kickstarting later this month). Each player starts with a unique character – you’ll have a particular starting deck, although there’s overlap in starting card types between most, as well as a special character power that you can charge up and use in the game. There’s a variable pool of cards for players to buy from – gems, spells and relics – you can change things up from game to game depending on your tastes, and the rule book offers a few starting supply layouts to help, which I found useful. I haven’t strayed into randomizing territory yet, but I think it wouldn’t be too bad given how many cool types of cards there are overall.
As far as the types of cards, there’s a good mix of items and spells that let you create your strategy – especially seeing as this is a deckbuilder in which you don’t shuffle your deck. Gems vary in their value, and they’re the currency of the game – what you spend to gain new cards, focus and open breaches, and charge up your character’s ability. Spells are cards you assign to breaches so you can cast them to gain benefits for your crew, or to attack the nemesis and its minions! Relics are items with a variety of effects that will take effect when you play them – charging a player’s ability, casting spells early, or even healing Gravehold by destroying a relic card. What I liked was that there’s a small pool of card types, which means you can quickly see where synergies will lie and use that to your advantage when you’re stacking your discard pile ready for future turns.
Stacking your discard pile, you say? “Cheater!”, you say? Well, that’s how Aeon’s End works. I mentioned above that Aeon’s End is a deckbuilder in which you do not shuffle your discard pile when rotating through your deck. This is one of the most fun things about this game, and it’s a huge draw to me as far as innovating deck building. I sometimes feel frustrated in deckbuilders when I’m unable to really get things flowing because I’m unable to properly anticipate what I’ll be getting. So being able to discard things in a certain order can really help build up a strategy for approaching each round, while still allowing for some tactical moves as a group when dealing with the Nameless.
Related to the deckbuilding and maneuvering of your turns are your breaches and spells. Rather than just playing a spell card for an effect, you can set them up in your breaches – in an open breach they will fire off when you choose, in a closed breach they will just be cast on your next turn. While costly, opening your breaches is worthwhile – not just to have more control over your spellcasting, but some breaches add damage to your attack spells. Making sure you have the right spells coming up at the most opportune parts of your deck is a delicate balance, but is most certainly worth the effort.
Now with all of this said – what about the baddies? Each of the Nameless works a little differently so I’d recommend taking the time to look them over before selecting your characters and card supply. For instance, Crooked Mask will fill your deck with corruption cards, getting in the way of your turn while you have to resolve them (doing pesky things like making you shuffle your deck, even!); Rageborne is easily driven to fury causing him to strike out often more than once in a turn; and every Nameless will send a variety of awful minions out to distract you and pick you off while they run rampant on Gravehold. Oh how truly awful they are, too – this art really shows some creepy as heck critters. Don’t be fooled by the power you feel you might have as badass magical warriors – the Nameless are incredibly punishing. My first game came down to a hit point for Gravehold and for Rageborne and we just squeaked out victory. On my first solo run through I was utterly crushed by Crooked Mask having barely chipped away a third of his health. It’s a challenge, and it helps you appreciate the unique play of the game – card types, using spells and the non-shuffled decks.
While you’re keeping an eye on how Gravehold’s doing, and what your nemesis is up to, don’t forget your own character. While the drive of the game is to make sure Gravehold survives, each character has life as well – if you end up at zero you’ll be useless to your group. Play to your strengths, too – if your starting hand and deck allow you to start churning through the card supply, get into that. Or perhaps your unique player power is something you’ll want to focus on depending on what others can do for your group – there’s some really interesting somes that can help with returning cards to your hand, healing players or Gravehold, gaining spells or going at the Nameless’ deck and damaging minions. It’s not just the player powers that are unique and awesome though – where the art for the Nameless runs the gamut from gross to terrifying, character art is thoughtful and inclusive. A great range of ages, genders and race are represented in the variety of Breach Mages and the art does a terrific job at conveying character. How refreshing to have a game full of badass mages who aren’t all Gandalf-esque!
It might seem that I’ve got nothing bad to say about this game – and honestly, it’s hard to think of anything. Despite struggling a little with some of the ruleset and searching to find clarifications as I played, there really isn’t much to complain about with Aeon’s End. This co-operative game of magicky post-apocalyptic survival is an engaging and fresh take on deck building, fleshed out with a great setting and lots of snippets of story and flavour text with rich, colourful art. I would hesitate to go back to some of the others I mentioned in my introduction to this review, because Aeon’s End does such a good job at what it is – and despite having the same fiddly setup as any deckbuilder, has a terrific flow of play. If you’re into weird fantasy co-op fights against creepy monsters, then dive into Gravehold!
Aeon’s End plays 1 – 4 players in roughly 45 – 80 minutes, and is designed by Kevin Riley with art by Gong Studios. I received a complimentary copy of the base game plus available expansions for volunteering my time and voice to be the voiceover on Action Phase’s Kickstarter project for the game. Thanks, Action Phase!