14th Feb2020

‘Aristeia!’ Board Game Review

by Chris Thomas

aristeia-box

I am someone who puts huge value in something being “fun”. There are hobbies that might be fun, but also teach a skill (playing the clarinet, reading about Prince2) but as I get older, I believe that “fun” has its own intrinsic value and should be cherished. I love playing tabletop games with a friend, sharing a crazy story we create as we go with tiny plastic models and dice rolls (I go into this a bit in my recent review of Kings of War). There are currently too many good tabletop games out there, which makes it super difficult to know what to spend limited hobby time and money on. However, sometimes a game comes along and it’s so good you suddenly make the time for it.

Aristeia! is set 175 years in the future, the world still exists, and everything is “very sci-fi” (think Mass Effect rather than Blade Runner). It is set in the “Infinity” universe, however I know very little about this, so I will skip on. Aristeia! is the most popular sports entertainment programming in “the human sphere”. Basically, it is a blood sport with no ball. The game is competitive and for 2 players, giving each player control of 4 larger than life heroes (samurai, panda man, cowboy…).

Ultimately the game is a lot like a manga – sci fi version of Underworlds (another very good game by Games Workshop). Aristeia! does an excellent job of being a really good board game with the base set, and a really good tabletop hobby game for those that want it. The miniatures all come preassembled (I speed painted mine in an evening) and you get a really generous experience out of the base set (around the 40 pounds mark, cost-wise), so if you want to treat this as a really good 2 player board game I would still highly recommend it.

There are various game modes included in the base set but the simplest involves getting players into scoring zones, first to 8 points wins. Death here is only temporary, every decision must be about either scoring points of denying your opponent something. There is no measuring of distances, as the game is on a hex grid, so you simply count out the spaces. I read the rules twice (surprisingly thin and well explained), watched a couple of videos on YouTube and I was able to explain the game to my friend and we were up and playing our first game within 15 minutes of opening the box. The heroes can be mixed and matched into teams, but the rules do a good job of giving helpful suggestions for the first few games to make sure that new players are not overwhelmed. The rules set out what your first game should look like.

aristeia-1

Along with your 4 models you get a deck of 18 cards which can be played to give you the advantage in an important dice roll or allow for neat tricks (you start with 4 in your hand). For each of your 4 heroes you select 2 of their own, personal cards which really gives another layer of strategy and some hidden information.

Our heroes are broken up into MOBA style categories – tank, damage dealer, support etc. and each has a character card which lists all their abilities, it is wonderful to have the card in front of me as I play, rather than buried in a rule book. The heroes typically have about 3 or 4 important and powerful rules to keep track of. Some of the heroes are generalists but some are very specialized and using them for what they are good at is key to success. For example, the free running cat lady is brilliant for blinding opponents then darting away and scoring objectives but is useless at fighting (except she is great at blinding people!).

Like any good miniatures game Aristeia! is about movement, movement tricks, and using skills and abilities to bend the rules to allow you to temporarily take out opponent’s models or score points. An ability that can nudge an opponent’s model 1 hex can be more important than sniping a character with Major Luna.

The game is fast, fun and gives you interesting decisions to make. Crucially it is simple to learn but hard to be good at. I was very interested in Godtear, a game that would fit in a similar space in my life, faster to play than Kings of War, without the need to lug terrain around and the like. I played a handful of games of Godtear, and I love the idea, I love the models and it looked like a done deal that I would get into that. The problem is that you must commit to your entire strategy for that turn all at once, you cannot be reactive in any way, and, for a beginner you have a fast array of options available to you. The game is expecting you to make complex decisions, in a competitive setting one after another. It is rough for beginners and makes it incredibly likely that the more experienced player is going to run away with the win every time.

aristeia-2

In Aristeia! you take it in turns to activate individual models, with the “underdog” getting to decide who activates first (a very important advantage). It is fun, fast and both players are involved. Usually it is a dice roll that decides events (e.g. an attack, or an ability) and what is needed is super clear and fast. The game uses coloured, bespoke dice so it is clean and simple to keep the game moving.

If you are interested to expand your experience, expansion boxes are available, offering new characters and new cards packed with them. I have ordered most of them, and I cannot wait to play my legally safe knock offs of Hellboy, Deadpool or Gordon Freeman.

Either as a board game or as a miniatures hobby game Aristeia! offers an awful lot of fun in a small box. It doesn’t need a huge amount of space to play nor anything that does not come in the core box.

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