As regular readers will know by now, when I get a Kickstarter game, and I’ve had a chance to play it a bit, I like to do an article reflecting on the campaign, the game, and generally how it’s all worked out.
Slightly later than originally planned, today it’s the turn of Aeon’s End: War Eternal.
First of all, a bit of background.
Aeon’s End was a game Kickstarted in 2016, which came out early in 2017, at which point I picked up a copy to review. The game-play was great, the components… less so.
The basic premise of the game is that players control Breach Mages, living in Gravehold, the last refuge of humanity. Each game sees Gravehold attacked by a Nemesis, a different horror intent on destroying humanity, via a deck of attack cards, delayed effects, and minions.
Each mage has a starting deck with some basic spells (Sparks), basic currency (Crystals), and their own unique starter card. They will increase the power of their decks by buying better Gems, Artefacts and Spells from a market, and try to reduce the Nemesis to zero life.
If the players get the Nemesis down to zero life, they win. If all Mages are ‘exhausted’ (reduced to zero life), or if Gravehold is reduced to zero life, the players lose.
It’s a fun game. I like marketplace deck-builders, working out card-combos and the like, and the fact that this is cooperative means that I can bring it to the table repeatedly, and therefore delve slightly deeper into the strategy than I can with something like Dominion.
A month or 2 after I got Aeon’s End, I read that they were Kickstarting a stand-alone expansion.
Now, to be honest, I hadn’t gotten even close to exhausting the content of the base game. As I got a Kickstarter copy to review, I had the base game, the retail expansion, and the expansion that was made up of a load of KS Promos bundled together. In numerical terms, that was 7 Nemeses (1 used per game), 12 Mages (1-4 used per game, generally 2 for us) 9 Gems (3 used per game), 10 Relics (2 used per game), and 22 Spells (4 used per game). The only real pinch point at that moment were the basic Nemesis cards – regardless of which Nemesis you were confronting, you also shuffled a random selection of generic Nemesis cards into their deck and (depending slightly on player-count), you saw 90% of them in every single game.
I guess that kind of begs the question of “why back this?”
There are a variety of reasons (some good, some bad) for getting involved. For one thing, I’m an expansion junkie and a completionist (I will never believe Microsoft, no matter how many times they tell me that completionist isn’t a real word).
On a more useful note, for any game like this where you buy cards from a marketplace, the re-play value increases exponentially as you add more possible cards to the marketplace – with 1/3 of the Gems getting used in every game, it doesn’t take long to start feeling like everything looks very familiar.
As already mentioned, the prospect of additional basic Nemesis cards was very appealing, as these were something that would crop up in most games, but the principle here was the same – adding long-term value, rather than necessarily making any big changes immediately.
Putting Together the Pieces
The other, slightly complex, issue was around the components.
As I mentioned, the component quality in the original Aeon’s End wasn’t great. The card stock was suspiciously shiny, and a bit thin. The dials were loose. The cardboard breaches that your mages cast their spells from were bendy, and the large mats which represent Mages and Nemeses were often warped and buckled. Partly this last seemed to be a consequence of a very inelegant storage set-up, where the play-mats were essentially balanced on top of a narrow-ish bit of box.
All of these were things that could certainly stand to be improved upon. Oddly though, that didn’t seem to be people’s focus.
There were, I discovered, a number of complaints flying around about the art and the graphic design of the game. Apparently, people didn’t think that a post-apocalyptic fantasy should be dark in its aesthetic. There were complaints about the overall look of the game, and the whole thing was to be re-done. There were some nonspecific mutterings about improving the component quality, but these seemed to be secondary to the cosmetic makeover.
I liked the old art. I liked the old aesthetic. Because I had no problems with the art, I hadn’t spent much time in art forums online, and hadn’t felt the need to post loads of threads demanding that things be kept the same. Those who didn’t like the art felt differently, and had posted a lot, giving a (false?) impression that the vast majority were unhappy.
So – it looked like there was a simple choice. Stop with the content I have, or put up with clashing art-designs whenever I played a game that combined wave 1 and wave 2 content. I wasn’t thrilled by 1, and 2 was never going to be an option.
It turned out though, that there was a third option. For $10 I could have all the cards for the sets I already owned in the new card-stock/layout. This was very specifically a one-time-only offer: if I didn’t take advantage now, my only option in the future would be to re-buy the whole game. I decided to take the plunge.
I spent roughly £72 on this – $65 for the base game (includes stretch-goals), $15 for an expansion, $10 for the re-prints of the first edition cards.
Pledging in April, this estimated delivery in August, and arrived in October. It’s quite a big miss as a percentage, but 2 months is still not a big deal in a board game kickstarter.
The War Eternal main box was retailing at £45, although it currently seems to be out-of-stock in most places. A UK site has the expansions up for pre-order at £16 and £18 (minus a few pence). Overall then, that probably puts me about a fiver to the good, but it’s fairly marginal, and I expect that over time / when sales crop up, any financial saving will be more-or-less wiped out.
There is a difference in component quality between the editions.
The breaches, subject to great ridicule during the campaign are the most obvious point for this – thicker, flatter, sturdier, and with rounder corners.
The dials are still a bit awkward (Fantasy Flight have spoiled me with their excellent dials), but not nearly as loose as before.
The card-stock is mixed. Generally speaking, it’s fractionally less shiny and fractionally thicker than before, although it’s still not amazing. There’s also a discernible difference between War Eternal cards, cards from the new expansions, and cards from the update pack.
Part of the issue with card-stock is that player decks (generally) don’t get shuffled, so this is one of the few card games that I haven’t sleeved. If I were to sleeve though, these cards would probably look fine (but then I’d have to buy a load of sleeves and work out a new storage solution).
The Mage and Nemesis boards still seem a bit prone to warping, which is definitely something of a disappointment, and one of them arrived decidedly bent (it will flatten out under pressure, but the crinkles are there to stay).
All in all, I think I’d have to rate the component quality as “disappointing” – there’s nothing here that’s preventing me from playing the game and enjoying doing so, but given that this is the ‘improved components’ version, it still feels a bit half-hearted.
I’m still not convinced that they made the right call on the art – here’s a comparison between original, update, and War Eternal Sparks (the starting spell): the War Eternal version is easily my least favourite, but I’ve got enough Sparks to use the update versions (old art, new layout/design) without things standing out based on card-backs.
I’ve played this a dozen times since it landed – at an hour (ish) per game, that’s still a little way short of breaking even, but I’m not especially worried – this has got miles and miles of play left in it. Hopefully we won’t be too far into 2018 by the time I clock up the extra 3 sessions needed. (The game overall was fine for last year, because of the amount of play it got before the KS-content arrived).
Overall, this is currently showing a slight KS deficit, due to outstanding play, but I think it won’t be very long before this joins Massive Darkness in the positive column.
The point at which I’d start to worry about how quickly we were running down that shortfall, would be if I was shelling out more money for Aeon’s End content.
The next product in the Aeon’s End line is “Aeon’s End Legacy” announced for 2018 – a campaign to create your own unique Mage, who can then be used in ‘standard’ games, as can various market cards from the new wave. I’ve warmed up a bit to Legacy games in recent times, and the designers have done a good job of offering reassurance that 70% of content will be usable outside of Legacy mode. There are other reasons I’d need a fair amount of convincing to get involved in this – right now my AE collection fits into the War Eternal box (slightly smaller than the original AE box), and whilst the custom inset I’m building will make things a bit easier to sort, there’s no way a whole extra game is going in there. At this point, I feel like there’s enough variety in the cards I have that I shouldn’t get bored, at least for a few years.
I was lucky not to have paid for the original Aeon’s End, and that probably left me able to focus on the great gameplay, rather than getting hung up on some shonky components. There are too many wheels within wheels to really say conclusively whether what I’ve ended up with and what I’ve shelled out count as “good” value, at least in the short term, but I certainly don’t have any regrets.