Before I begin I was provided with a prototype copy, which may be sent on to another reviewer, in exchange for an honest review. This is not a paid review. If you would prefer to watch a video of this review, you can check it out below. If you are interested in getting your own copy use this link.
I am not going to spend forever waxing poetic about how much I love dungeon crawls. I do, they are great, they make me happy. Now what I will pause to say is that there are not very many Dungeon Crawls that are not of the fantasy variety. In fact, off the top of my head, I can think of two. Galaxy Defenders (which I loved, defeated and sold), and The Ghosts Betwixt (which has yet to be released), and as I was typing that sentence I thought of Shadows of Brimstone. Anyhow, the point is that there are not many.
So when I got the opportunity to preview this game (by got the opportunity read I begged Belen at Corvus Belli to let me do it), I was doubly excited. First because it is a spacecrawler, which is the first I have played (Galaxy Defenders was all terrestrial), and I really enjoyed Aristeia!.
I am going to continue with the assumption that you already know the basics of dungeoncrawlers, and I also will point out that the version that I played is a prototype, so rules may shift over time. The core of how Defiance plays is like most dungeon crawls, you have characters, they have gear, they get new gear and skills as you progress through the campaign, enemies are controlled through a decently complex AI system. You build the level with a variety of tiles, and various enemies of varying difficulty spawn and do their best to kill you dead. There is no magic, at least in the demo, though there is the ability to “hack” mechanical things, which kind of fills the void.
So am I saying that there is nothing, other than theme different about Defiance? Nope. Not at all. Here is what is different. The first is that it utilizes the dice system from Aristeia!. You roll your attack dice pool vs your opponents defense dice pool, and you compare. However, instead of just looking for hits and blocks, you are also looking for other symbols. These various other symbols can be used as “switches” to activate your character, or gear specials. This might result in more damage, less damage, setting someone on fire, sidestepping out of range, etc.
The second thing that really stands out as out of the ordinary is the use of a reinforcement and replacement system for enemies. As you play you build up reenforcement tokens; these tokens are earned by completing scenario events, wiping out enemy groups, or gaining way too much aggro for your characters own good! Then at the end of each round you look at how many tokens you have accumulated, and compare it to the enemies on the board. If they have a replacement cost (some do, some don’t), then you remove that many tokens and spawn another of that enemy. This makes is important that you wipe such groups out, rather than just kill a few. After that you look at the available units, and if you have enough tokens to spawn and entire enemy squad you do so.
The last thing of that I want to note is that throughout the game there is an overall alert system. As you progress through the level this can rise. As it rises the game, to put it bluntly, becomes harder. Enemies may start to react more aggressively, or if you get all the way to the top they may simply “level up” and become that much harder to kill.
Well the real final thing that I want to note, is that NOTHING is plastic. All the minis are metal, and highly detailed. By all the minis, I mean all of them. The enemies and the heroes.
So what do I think?
I will start out with the story elements of the game. It appears to have the right amount for me. In general, I do not like having all my games with pages of story to read, but I also want more than one or two sentences. To be fair I have only played the demo, so I am unsure what the actual story will be.
Second, let’s talk about the components. They are very good. The minis, as I said above are metal, highly detailed and stunning. I also want to call attention to the small size of the tiles. They are small, easy to set up and do not take up a ton of space on the table.
Moving on to the gameplay, I think Defiance does a good job of feeling like a regular dungeoncrawler on its surface. It is not overwhelming to learn, but it is the new mechanics that make it shine. The switches dice system, I loved in Aristeia!, and I still like it here. I am enamored of the reenforcement system, it really feels like you are moving through the ship, and enemies are being teleported in to take you down. Very cool.
Most of the things here are warnings of a sort. The first is that because of the nature of the switches system combat is not particularly fast. This is a bit of a heavier combat system, and it is entirely possible to roll a huge mess of dice and do absolutely nothing. The second warning is that this is an EXPENSIVE game. Since everything is metal that means the price is quite high, the all in pledge is a lot of money, especially if you wind up getting all the add-ons.
The biggest challenge I think with the game is that, as I said above combat is not especially fast, it can feel a bit fiddly because you are having to not only figure out your own attack and defense dice pools, but the enemies as well. When you play Aristeia! you are only responsible for one or the other, in Defiance you have to do both, and then figure out not only your switches, but each individual enemy’s as well. Is it hard? Nope. It just take a bit of time, and that can, in some instances make the game feel slow.
The second thing, and this is super minor, is that there are a lot of icons to learn, especially on the AI cards. Enemies may, find a target, they may retreat, they may find the target with the most aggro, the least aggro, they may attack, they may hack if they can, the might focus. All of these are icons. Once you learn them, they are simple enough, but you do have to learn them, and that is a bit of a learning curve. This will be made easier if the final version has a cheat sheet, which I suspect it will.
Bringing it all together
Infinity: Defiance is a a worthy entry into the dungeoncrawler genre. It immediately jumps to the top of the Sci-fi crawler rankings. The components promise to be top notch, and quite expensive, though if you are a painter these are dream components. Defiance utilizes the switches system from Aristeia! which works very well in a dungeoncrawler, though it does feel a bit more fiddly in this case because you are creating dice pools for both the attacker and defender on your turn, rather than only half the work in the skirmish game. The game has an unique feeling, well implemented, system for bringing more troops into the fight, and never giving you too many turns where you can pause to catch your breath. The AI system works very well, though there are a bunch of icons that you will have to learn before it second nature to operate the enemies.
Aren’t things supposed to get faster in more efficient in the future?
* Implements the Aristeia! dice system exceedingly well
* Not a fast crawler, as the above system is almost its own mini game, lots of strategy as the game progresses can be implemented here
* Stunning components, especially if you are a miniatures painter
* Good lore to the world
* Strong AI system, though there is a bit of a learning curve to the iconography
* Awesome system for reenforcing the enemies to keep you on your toes
* A very cool “alert” system that keeps the game continually getting harder as you play, again keeping you from ever relaxing
* Very expensive