The Hungry Gamer Reviews Aristeia!
Before I begin, I was provided with a review copy of the game in exchange for an honest review. This is NOT a paid review.
If you would prefer to watch a video of this this review, check it out below.
When I was in Middle School I was a big fan of wargames. However, and one who has every played a table top miniature game knows that they are very costly in both time and money. Luckily for me mommy and daddy spotted me the money and as a thirteen year old I had much more time than I do now. As I got into high school, time became scarcer, and it was always challenging to find someone to play against.
As I have mentioned in other reviews I stopped playing those kinds of games and had never really looked back. Recently, however, the smaller scale skirmish games have come into fashion-particularly in games that I find myself reviewing.
Aristeia! is interesting to me for two reasons. The first is that it is an existing game, that is relatively popular overseas, and the publisher, Corvus Belli, is hoping to increase sales here in America. This is a game that has gone through its playtesting and has developed a following already. This is not a “proof of concept” it has already proven itself. The second thing is that the game is not a “war” game. Rather it is a sporting match…one that you can shoot and stab each other in, but a sporting match none the less. You can actually win by doing zero damage to the other team. That is fascinating.
Aristeia! is the second game set in the universe created by Corvus Belli with their table top miniatures game Infinity. However, while that is a pure war game, Aristeia represents the most popular sporting event in the universe. In it, teams of four compete to control zones in the brutal Hexadrome…which is a great name because it is a hexagon shape…and the map is covered in hexagons.
The game takes place over 5 rounds (a round consists of each character activating once), or until a team scores 8 points. Points are scored by controlling the various, and moving scoring zones on the map, with more points awarded for having the more dominant presence in the zone at the end of the round.
Now this review will assume that you have a basic understanding of how skirmish miniature games work, and I am only going to spend time talking about things that really stick out to me with this particular game.
There are a few things that really stick out in my mind when I think about this game. The first is that it has an amazing cast of characters. The base game comes with 8, and I also utilized two expansions, which gave me access to 6 others. Now I am not a mathematician, but that means there are 1,001 different team combinations, and that does not even include the various other expansions that already exist. Really I am terrible at math. I asked a math teacher how to do it. Now clearly I have not played all of them, but I have found that each of the characters seems to be very balanced. They just require different play-styles to make proper use of them.
The second thing that really pops for me is the initiative system. Part of the strategy each round is determining the order of activation of your four characters. Each character has a different initiative printed on their initiative card, and as each player activates their first, second, third, or fourth character, they compare character initiative accordingly. Whoever has the higher initiative gets to decide which of those two characters activates first. This adds a lot of strategy to any given game round. Then at the end of the round both players get to reset their order.
The last thing I want to point out as seeming unique to me is the heads up roll offs. On an attack both players will roll dice, representing their attack and defense, these dice may also be effected by the carious tactic cards that can be played. In a nutshell: stars are hits, shields block stars, and exclamation marks activate special abilities (called switches). Though sometimes combinations of shields and exclamations activate switches. Or just shields. It all depends on the character.
The result here is that it almost becomes a mini game as you are both comparing what the other player has rolled, then comparing it to your character card and trying to figure out just what you can do with what you have rolled. It is almost as if you are playing a tiny resource management game to resolve combat.
So what do I think?
I like almost everything about this game. I love the character art, though a few are a little “boobier” than I think is necessary, on both the character cards, and tactic cards. The minis are well sculpted and have good detail to them. There is also quite a bit of lore and backstory behind the game, that if you want to dive into you can, and much of it is tongue in cheek. I like that.
The mechanics are good. Yes, there is a learning curve, but once you get past that the game is actually not all that complicated, nor is game play itself. I love the initiative system, and, despite it being a little slow, I really like the opposed dice roll and switches system. It feels unique to me. I am also a fan of how death is not permanent, nor is it without consequence. You do not die, and you will get to respawn pretty much anywhere you want when your turn comes around again, but you do so at less energy for two rounds. It makes death a bummer, but not game ending. I also love the way you get to build your own deck of tactics cards, which will be different every single time you play.
Let’s talk about the characters for a bit. They all feel unique to me, and the core characters feel just as strong as the expansions. However, this is what really shines for me. Because the victory condition is scoring points in the game within the game, some of the best characters are those that do not attack at all. The last game I played I lost an almost insurmountable lead the last two rounds because one character that does not have a single attack ability ran circles around me all game.
To me, that is the real beauty of the game. You can absolutely slaughter your opponent, kill wise, but still lose the game. It is a strategic game first and a war game second. That makes me happy, and it makes me want to play again. To be honest if this was a fantasy setting…I would probably never stop playing, it is that well crafted.
The game has a big learning curve. There is just no way around it. I read the rules, watched a couple video playthroughs, and played a set game against myself just to work out the flow and gameplay, all before I even tried to play with someone. I think it is worth it, and it is not particularly hard, there is just quite a bit to learn.
I will also say that the wound tokens in the base game are so incredibly tiny, though bigger ones do come with the expansions which fix that problem. They work, they are just itty bitty.
My biggest quibble is that the game does not come with enough victory point counters. The last game I played, when I though I had an insurmountable lead, we had to use a stand in for the victory point counters. I think it is rare that you run out of them, but we did. Just pop a few more in the box and it would be all good.
The other thing that I will put in my “bad” section is the expansion variety. Now I know this seems odd because I just said how much I love the characters. Here is the thing though, I want more variety in the expansions. I could not help but think how unbelieveably awesome it would be to have an expansion that adds one or two more player boards that only hold 2 or 3 characters, and maybe a royal rumble mode. Would it be chaotic? Certainly. Would it be amazing? Absolutely. Or maybe some kind of big boss, that counts as multiple characters, or some kind of team up mode…I have no idea. The characters are great give me more. This is not really a “bad” thing, but I really want it far more than I want new characters.
Bringing it all together
Aristeia! is an extremely well done two player miniature skirmish game. Full stop. However, it is more than that, unlike so many skirmish games it is much more of a strategic game than a war game. Some of the characters, some of the best characters in fact, have no offensive capability whatsoever. It has fascinating mechanics for initiative and for dice rolling, as well as a plethora of balanced, colorful, and unique characters. There is an incredible amount of lore to go with top notch artwork, and miniature sculpts, though a few, not all, of the female characters are still stuck in a bygone era when it comes to bust size-though kudos for all of them being clothed in an intelligent-ish way. Be warned. There is a large learning curve to this game, but it is certainly worth it. Some of the tokens could be more plentiful, or larger, and I only wish that there were expansions to increase player count, or add some completely new ways to play. If ever a game could have a large beast-y to be killed gladiator style it is this game! This is a highly tactical, highly enjoyable game.
You are worse than a color analyst…get to the point!
*Great theme, good art
*Highly strategic, awesome dice rolling and initiative mechanics
*Big learning curve, but simple enough once you get it
*Much more than just a war game…most kills does not translate to a win necessarily
*Expansions are good, but this game screams for expansions that change the play style rather than new characters alone
*Best skirmish miniatures game that is currently out on the market in my opinion