Aeons End Outcasts is being reviewed by me, a relative noob in terms of board games, a terrible strategist and a person who has yet to win a game of Wingspan against my 7-year-old daughter.
That doesn’t mean I am not qualified to review the game but it does mean I see these games with fresh, wide-eyed enthusiasm and I appreciate it when I see something that is new to me.
This does mean I have never played Aeons End but I am fully aware of the complaints about its narrative progression being spoiled by the fact that you saw what was coming simply by opening the box.
So firstly this has certainly been addressed and there is no danger of seeing what is coming in Aeons End Outcasts as each deck has a Stop card at the front and rear, there are 7 sealed envelopes to hide future elements of the game and the narrative book has a warning not to read ahead.
You will open the first envelope, 1d, after your first battle. There is a new deck to open too and at this point the progression system is clear but this is where I add a little caveat to this review. I am going to do my very best to not speak about the story, I will try not to mention any names or talk about anything but the mechanics of the game.
It may seem like a compassionless approach so I should let you know now that I didn’t like Aeons End Outcasts whilst I was reading the rules or setting up. It seemed fussy and overly complicated for no discernible reason. I had to move from my living room coffee table to the dining table to play as the game seemed to sprawl and spread while the setup went on and on. I was very careful to follow the rules when setting up as I understood that I could have spoiled the story by seeing the secrets but it felt like work instead of fun.
That said, once I was actually playing the game the rules made more sense but this could say more about me and the fact I learn by doing than the game itself.
So no spoilers if I can but the game is essentially the tale of Z’hana, a breach mage who has turned away from New Gravehold and Xaxos, who betrayed his fellow breach mages and was exiled.
After Xaxos approaches Z’hana with a quest to find a mythical artefact that can bring back lost mages who have fallen in battle you set out on an adventure.
I am not going to tell you any more about the story because that would be unfair as the story is quite compelling.
I played with 2 mages and mechanically the game works quite well but there was a moment after I set up when I sat staring at my table and wondering, what the hell should I do now? You can play with up to four players and I would have loved the Pandemic to have ended so I could have someone else show me how to play but I got there in the end.
Essentially you will be fighting the nameless, protecting the village, gaining treasures, unlocking cards, finding new nameless and progressing through the story to its ultimate conclusion.
There are things I thought were really good, such as the way the turn order is randomised each round and this has the added bonus of introducing a level of unpredictability to each fight, there were times when my foe would have 2 turns one after another which could mean you taking damage in succession but also meant that you would probably be stringing several turns together. This means that as your deck builds you can plan to focus or open a breach whilst knowing what your likely draw would be as you do not shuffle your deck during play.
That is an odd concept but during a round, you will be able to purchase cards to add to your deck, these cards are added to your discard pile and only when you run out of cards in your draw deck are you able to turn your discard pile over and it becomes your draw deck.
Conversely, tracking what was happening was going on during the game was overly complicated. I found that playing alone was a lot simpler and I didn’t miss as much as when I tried to play with another inexperienced player.
You have a total of four breaches that must be open for you to cast a spell from it. Initially, you only have one open breach but before you can open a breach you must focus it. This means the start of each game was quite slow but your nemesis was not hindered in the same way. As the game progresses and you open all your breaches you can put out a lot of damage in a single round however, there were times during the game that a breach would be destroyed completely and once again, your plans were scuppered.
The unpredictability kept the game fresh and quite fast-paced. The only thing really slowing down each turn was my inability to keep a track of things as quickly as a more seasoned player might have.
I am really struggling to write this review without mentioning anything about the story, the spells and any details that could ruin something for you so from here on out I think it would be better to say that you should skip to the summary if you really don’t want to spoil anything about the story because I will say that I hope the details I will now mention are already well known.
There are a total of 8 mages and each has a different play style, as expected this added a layer of strategy as some of the mages work really well in a support role and can really increase the power of an allies cards. I played solo but as two mages throughout. You meet new mages and enemies on your journey and each battle became a little more taxing as you added upgraded cards to the enemies deck.
As each battle began and added a new enemy with new cards or even a new mage the game felt fresh each time and by the third battle, I felt far more comfortable with how to play. Xaxos will also be able to assist in some battles and this, I discovered was a new mechanic for Aeons End.
It’s almost as if each enemy is a puzzle that you have to figure out how to defeat whilst being confronted and attacked by it at the same time. It’s a really interesting mechanic and one that I thoroughly enjoyed. Almost every fight I won was a victory I felt like I snatched from the jaws of defeat and I never had a moment where I felt comfortable, where I could say to myself “I got this”. I did win each battle of the campaign before progressing but not necessarily on the first try.
I cannot talk more about the game without spoiling a fantastic experience for you so I will stop there. However, I would like to talk, briefly, about the quality of the components and the overall presentation of the experience that is Aeons End Outcasts.
Firstly, the card stock used is of good quality however, the artwork on the cards, the box and character/villain mats is incredible.
There is a simplified feel to the borders of the cards that makes the artwork pop and it really resonated with me that, whilst there is an awful lot of text on display, it was all presented in a clear way. I did feel quite confused with some of the instructions on the cards that I felt contradicted each other but this was probably my confusion with the mechanics of certain aspects of the game more than the fault of Aeons End Outcasts itself.
My overall impression of Aeons End Outcasts is one of an enjoyable but intense experience. I never felt truly at ease with the rules or what the strategy should be but I think that is the point. This is a battle game, you are in a fight and fights are confusing and difficult, you shouldn’t be able to develop one strategy and use it over and over until you win, your opponent will adapt and fight back at you in an unpredictable way and if you don’t reciprocate with your own adaptations and new strategies then you will lose. Aeons End Outcasts was my first introduction to the Aeons End universe and I think I may have entered at an excellent time.