WBG Score: 9/10
Player Count: 1-4
You'll like this if you like: Made Knight, War of the Ring, Arkham Horror: The card game
Published by Action Phase Games, Indie Boards & Cards
Designed by Kevin Riley
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Hello! I'm George from Gaming with G&T. I started tabletop gaming with Warhammer Fantasy by my older brothers’ way back in 1994. I then moved into board games in 2017 when I saw a YouTube video from a Warhammer content creator playing Mage Wars. I immediately went out and got myself a copy and down the rabbit hole I fell! I play predominantly two-player games with my partner Tanya (the T in G&T) and my brother Owen. And now here I am on WBG!
Deck building with a twist
Aeon’s End is a deckbuilding game with a twist, your deck is never shuffled. It tells you right there on the first page of the rulebook, so it’s safe to assume this mechanic is somewhat important to the gameplay. Your goal is to defeat the nemesis before either you, or the city you’re sworn to defend, is annihilated.
Aeon’s End can be won by either reducing the nemesis to zero health or by exhausting the nemesis deck of all cards with no cards in play. You can lose the game by having all mages reduced to zero life, or by Gravehold (the city you are defending) being reduced to zero life. This makes the game a delicate balancing act of protecting yourself and the city, whilst trying to deal enough damage to the nemesis and his minions to win the game. And that’s not the only tightrope to walk. So how does it all work?
You start by selecting one of the eight included mages in the box, all with different abilities and breach setups. Then you select one of the four included nemeses and finally you set up your selection of nine market cards you will be able to buy during the game to add to your deck to aid you in your mission. All these steps are much more nuanced that it might seem on the face of it, so we’re going to need to...
Break down the break down!
Mages. I don’t want to go into all the ins and outs of how the mages work because this review will need multiple sittings to get through for any reader, never mind those with the attention span of a gnat such as myself. But I do at least want to point out that each mage is unique in several different ways; their breach setup, their starting hand, starting deck, unique ability and the cost to do said ability. Breach setup affects the number of spells you can cast and how much aether (money) you need to spend through the course of the game to open all of your breaches to maximise the number of spells you can cast in any given turn.
Each mage has one card that is entirely unique to them and dictates to some degree their opening few turns, and in some cases much beyond that. The rest of the mages starting hand and deck is made up of one of two basic cards, Crystals and Sparks. Either giving them a single aether or a spell that does a single damage. The mages unique ability is what really sets each mage apart from the other, with abilities ranging from double casts of spells, to healing mages, healing Gravehold or giving extra turns to a mage. Each unique ability is paid for by using charges, this can be bought using aether during the player turn or gained through cards you might play. Charges are stored on your player mat and kept until spent, or until the nemesis triggers some ability that makes you discard them all, spoiling your greatest laid plans and ultimately making you lose the game. Sometimes.
You have four different nemeses to choose from, Rageborne, Carapace Queen, Prince of Gluttons or Crooked Mask, each with their own mat that contains all the information you need to set up and play against them. Each nemesis has an Unleash ability, which is triggered by certain cards in their deck, reading each of them will give you a rough idea of how they play and what their key mechanics are. The nemesis deck consists of a combination of basic cards and nemesis specific cards, you will always use the nine nemesis specific cards and several basic cards based on the number of mages. The deck is separated into three different tiers, making the game progress in difficulty during play.
The market is where you will find the cards you can buy to add to your deck, and these come in three flavours. Gems are your currency cards, adding aether to your pool as well as, mostly, having some kind of special ability. Relics are the second type of card and give you instant abilities, either adding damage to cards, giving you charges, healing you or allies or various other abilities. Spells make up the final category of market card and are used mainly to deal damage to the nemesis in a variety of different ways, with other nuanced abilities contained within them.
Cast your spells
On your turn you start with the casting phase where you will cast any spells you prepped to focused breaches in the previous turn and you have a choice to cast spells prepped to open breaches, placing any spells cast into your discard pile. Then you move on to your main phase where you will play gem or relic cards, spend aether on either new cards, focusing or opening breaches or gaining charges for your unique ability, or preparing spells. Cards you purchase are placed into your discard pile and then, at the end of your main phase, you place any gem or relic cards you have played in the turn in your discard pile in any order (this is important) and then draw back up to five cards. If you need to draw cards but have an empty deck, you flip your discard pile and draw from the top, you never shuffle your deck between turns. This adds an incredible dynamic of making sure the correct combos of cards come out at the right time, instead of relying on shuffling to bring you the combo you need. It’s one of many elements of plate-spinning this game has.
The nemesis will then start their turn by resolving the effects of all the cards they currently have in play, starting with the oldest. Then they will draw a card and the card type with determine what happens next; an attack card will resolve immediately, a minion or power card will enter the board with the appropriate number of life or power tokens and resolve any ‘IMMEDIATELY:’ effects. Anything else on the card will not be resolved this turn, instead, ‘PERSISTENT:’ effects will trigger on all subsequent turns and power cards will lose a power token at the beginning of each subsequent nemesis turn until they have no tokens left and then will resolve.
Turn order in this game is resolved with a separate deck and this is the only deck that gets shuffled every time it runs out. In a two-player game you will have four player turn cards (two each) and two nemesis turn cards. This is an element that I didn’t like at first but have grown to love. Dreading those nemesis double turns but revelling in your own, and the fear that a double nemesis turn at the end of the deck installs within you, knowing that now there is the possibility of a quadruple nemesis turn adds to the tension and drama in a way that fixed turn order simply can’t.
Many Mage make-ups
The mages are so different from one another, that playing the same nemesis with a different pair of mages can feel like a completely different game, forcing you to build a strategy around each mage, both as individuals and as a team. The market adds another layer of customisation, with the included nine gems, six relics and fifteen spells, with a typical market setup that’s three entirely different markets you could play with without duplicating any of the cards. The nemeses themselves deserve especially high praise for their uniqueness, they are so incomparable with each other, each ‘breaking’ the game in their own special way. I love all four, but the Prince of Gluttons deserves a special mention, being a nemesis after my own heart by introducing a mechanic of literally eating the market cards, limiting the choices the players can make and introducing a new way you can lose by running out of market cards. The customisation options in this game are truly staggering and add a level of replayability that it’s hard not to keep coming back to, with each game feeling more different than the last.
The game also deserves particularly high praise for the way it handles a player's first game. With a clearly laid out sheet that tells you how to setup your first game, which nemesis to use along with a prebuilt nemesis deck, suggested mages with their separate decks and a separate market setup, with each of these decks clearly noted with a card at the front which screams STOP. I haven’t seen a game with an introduction to it quite like this and it really is brilliant.
Things that don’t deserve such high praise is setup and tear down time. I’ve genuinely had games that have taken me longer to setup than have taken me to be beaten into the dirt. With so many moving parts and so much customisation, there is a lot to get through to get it on to the table and this is honestly the only thing that stops me from playing it even more often than I already do. I’ve had to have tea breaks in the middle of setup at times, it has taken me so long.
Another is the artwork, I know everyone’s mileage varies on this point, but the amount of people that won’t look twice at the game because of the way that it looks, despite the numerous awards and glowing reviews from respected avenues tells you something. It’s vastly improved in the second edition which is the version that is available to purchase currently, but it still isn’t great and is something they have continued to change in later releases.
Difficulty is a tricky topic to cover, the skill level of any given gamer and what kind of challenge they want from a game varies so much. I can only really draw from my experience and what I like in games. I'd say I’m about average skill wise and although I don’t mind a bit of a challenge, I don’t want a taxing mental workout. With that being said, this game can be difficult and you will lose games, for those more skilful players there are increased difficulty rules on every nemesis mat and even further increased difficulty rules in the rulebook. For those that are more like me, there are included rules to make the game a little easier, but once you learn the game, the mages, the nemesis and the market, you can begin to use those customisation options to really tailor your experience. But if you don’t want to do that, there are randomiser cards you can use to create a market of randomly generated cards.
I’ve played single mage solo several times with this set and it just never feels truly balanced. Later iterations of the rules added new rules to playing single mage solo, but it still never really fixed the issue to me. Maybe that’s because I was so set with playing with two mages and the power level of each nemesis being something I roughly knew, having that flip on its head was too much for my tiny mind to compute. I think the lack of shuffling and random turn order actually helps this game being played two-handed; I've tried other games two-handed and often find myself getting lost and repeating actions or missing them completely.
An everlasting experience
Honestly, this game feels like a stroke of genius to play. The vast amount of creativity to make every single element so unique is simply staggering. You will never confuse Aeon’s End for any other game after even a single play, and like it or love it, the experience will stick with you. I’m willing to bet that the vast majority will love it.