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The Best Deckbuilder Just Got More Stuff- Aeon’s End: Outcasts Review

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MB Updated January 14, 2021
 
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The Best Deckbuilder Just Got More Stuff- Aeon’s End: Outcasts Review
There Will Be Games

"Used to do a little but a little wouldn't do it so the little got more and more"

I all but ignored Aeon’s End, which came out years ago back when I was EIC of a gang of reviewers working on content for an online retailer. The reviewer we had on it, Byron Campbell, did a really good review but the description and concept (co-op Final Fantasy-ish deckbuilder) just washed over me. Flash forward to November of 2019 – as is often the case, I found myself suddenly, out of nowhere, wondering about a game that I previously ignored. I wanted a “next generation” deckbuilder, and something CCG-ish and Aeon’s End seemed to fit the bill. By this point, there were multiple releases off a few Kickstarter campaigns and I would have bounced off it again by default but I happened to find a criminally inexpensive copy of the War Eternal set. Now, it’s my favorite deckbuilder of all time and I own almost everything for it.

Indie Board and Cards was kind enough to support this fanatic (and the production of this review) by sending over a review copy of Aeon’s End: Outcasts and well, what do you want me say, it’s more Aeon’s End and it’s going to get high marks because the game is as great as it is across all of its releases. From the first game to this one, it has the same complex, volatile, challenging, gameplay. The deckbuilding is as hot and dynamic as ever. The highwire act of balancing purchases with building up charges against opening breaches or managing threats is as exciting as ever. It has a whole host of new market cards (the stuff you buy) and 8 new Breach Mage characters to play around with. The commitment to diversity and inclusion continues, with an admirable range of characters of all ages, shapes, skin tones, and identities. 

What’s more, it follows on from New Age and presents its material progressively as a sort of mini-campaign with sealed envelopes, which I prefer over both the straight legacy format of Aeon’s End Legacy as well as the less structured formats of past editions as it allows you to encounter the new material gradually. So there are some fun surprises to encounter as you work through the storyline, which is presented for the first time in a booklet that you may or may not be all that interested in. The game can be reset easily if you are worried about that.

There are, of course some new twists – the first Nemesis (one of the game’s big boss monsters) blew my mind because it does something so different to any other that has come before it. Shortly after dispatching this thing, my mind was blown again because it completely changes – via the rather detailed storyline that follows on from the narrative established in the previous games – the “defend Gravehold” element of the game. Without completely blowing the surprise, the imperiled city is replaced by a more active ward that will be familiar to players of previous installments.

Now, the running theme here is clearly that Outcasts a) maintains the high standard of the Aeon’s End line and b) it does some new stuff that veteran players will especially appreciate.  That second item is significant because this edition is very much an “advanced” or “expert” addition to the series. I felt this way with New Age as well, but even more so with this outing. The card interactions and effects are more nuanced, detailed, and complex. More of them lean into the co-operative elements of the game and there are more off-turn options to consider. The Nemeses in this game are especially difficult, and players just establishing their Breach Mage footing might find themselves stymied or even frustrated even though the campaign gently pushes you forward even if you lose. I did not mix this set with my collection, but I can imagine that all kinds of intricacies and unexpected synergies might emerge between the new cards, mages, and bosses so it is possible that with more options the difficulty and complexity might shift up and down and that makes it a bit tricky to pin down if the balance is correct. 

I’ve also been playing this game for a while and feel comfortable navigating the now-overwhelming range of options available. At least kind of. With Outcasts, I am almost at the point where I feel like I have too much Aeon’s End. In fact, my decision to not mix the sets stems from not wanting to overburden this specific release, which is in fact the first Aeon’s End game I’ve written about, with the myriad other options available. I wanted to present just Outcasts. To that end, this is a great set if you are already playing Aeon’s End and if you feel like you want more complex content and, well, more of everything.

I would not recommend that newcomers to Aeon’s End start with Outcasts at all. It’s not because I don’t think the average player couldn’t handle it or because there is some kind of super secret elitist cache that comes along with getting to The Hard Stuff right away. Rather, it’s because I think this release is more meaningful and impactful if you are coming to it with some time with earlier releases. You’ll simply get more out of it. If you’re new to this game, then War Eternal remains the ideal starting point, offering some evolutionary steps ahead of the original release but leaving features such as Expedition mode and some of the more complicated content to be discovered in either Outcasts or New Age. 

But there again, this set almost has me at a tipping point where I feel like the game has become unwieldy and overstuffed with content, and that worries me. Past releases have followed a pattern of core set plus a couple of expansions, and I find myself wondering if I’ll collect anything futher. I’d hate to leave the expansions for this cycle flapping in the wind, but when I open up my Aeon’s End boxes I’m starting to feel more stressed out than excited. It’s a lot of cards and given the volatility of so many modular parts it’s become wildly inconsistent in terms of the quality of an individual session. Some market setups just don’t work for certain combinations of Nemesis and Breach Mages. Some cards that are game winners in one setup are next to useless in others. Sometimes you just don’t even have a chance because of what you are playing with.

I love volatility, unpredictability, and surprise in games and I love that these things happen in Aeon’s End. But with each subsequent release, it feels as if some control is ceded to “variety” and an overload of content. I’m not sure if I’ll ever mix Outcasts with the remainder of my sets for fear that playing the game will become more burdensome than fun. It plays great without any other content from any other release, but there again it’s best suited for veterans who have experienced the past titles- and may not be looking for more Aeon’s End content at this point.


Editor reviews

1 reviews

Rating 
 
4.0
Aeon’s End: Outcasts
Great for established players, an iffy intro into a massive amount of potentially bewildering content for newcomers.
MB
Top 10 Reviewer 137 reviews
Michael Barnes (He/Him)
Senior Board Game Reviews Editor

Sometime in the early 1980s, MichaelBarnes’ parents thought it would be a good idea to buy him a board game to keep him busy with some friends during one of those high-pressure, “free” timeshare vacations. It turned out to be a terrible idea, because the game was TSR’s Dungeon! - and the rest, as they say, is history. Michael has been involved with writing professionally about games since 2002, when he busked for store credit writing for Boulder Games’ newsletter. He has written for a number of international hobby gaming periodicals and popular Web sites. From 2004-2008, he was the co-owner of Atlanta Game Factory, a brick-and-mortar retail store. He is currently the co-founder of FortressAT.com and Nohighscores.com as well as the Editor-in-Chief of Miniature Market’s Review Corner feature. He is married with two childen and when he’s not playing some kind of game he enjoys stockpiling trivial information about music, comics and film.

Articles by Michael

Michael Barnes
Senior Board Game Reviews Editor

Articles by Michael

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evilgit's Avatar
evilgit replied the topic: #318026 14 Jan 2021 15:43
I started up Legacy with a friend before the plague hit and it seemed to be a great entry point for new players.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #318027 14 Jan 2021 15:47
Yes I think Legacy is great for new players IF you want that bespoke breach mage and the legacy format. Not super into that format, so I prefer War Eternal as a starter option. Same game, really. Just different presentation.
Ah_Pook's Avatar
Ah_Pook replied the topic: #318028 14 Jan 2021 16:15
I love me some AE, it's tied for my favorite solo game with Marvel Champions these days. Totally agree on Outcasts being a great second or third box, so you get the biggest impact from the stuff it does. I do mix all my sets though, I think it gives you the most fun and the most variability as long as you set things up according to a couple guidelines. 1) set up the nemesis deck with roughly equal amounts of each type of card and 2) make sure you have at least one cheap spell and one cheap gem. I'll pick a random 2 or 3 cost gem and spell then use a d8 to pick costs for the other cards and pick random cards of the rolled costs.

I also am not sure if I want more AE after this, but I already felt that way before I got excited about Outcasts and late pledged for the Kickstarter. I'm guessing I'll get another wave of content at this point just out of inertia, and having enough room to store another wave in my current storage solution :laugh:
Ah_Pook's Avatar
Ah_Pook replied the topic: #318041 15 Jan 2021 11:53
Timely, this thread just popped up on bgg where the designers if AE recently talked about the next wave Kickstarter on a podcast.

boardgamegeek.com/thread/2579572/ae6-leg...ckstarter-date-deta#

- Legacy of Gravehold is the most complex AE product yet - intended for the core fandom they've built up and not intended as much as an "entry point" product.
- Future AE products post LoG are also going to be that way. With so many Mages and Nems, necessarily you have to find more and more interesting things for them to do with twists, mechanics, and components.

- KS launching "near the end of Feb"

- This is going to be the most expensive AE product yet (around ~$100 MSRP quoted but no specific price given), but it has more than double the content of another big box.

- "It's a CRAZY legacy implementation. Pitch: What if we brought back like 25+ characters and you could fight as them all and some Nemesis you might NEVER see in your branching story paths?!?" - they took an approach of throwing in every single possible thing they thought they could squeeze in.
-21 mages, 11 nems. Normal big box is ~12 mages. Double the number of player cards as a normal box.

- Rationale for the insane pitch: For people that have played AE content and love the story, it's the climax of this story arc. People love the stories and characters, everyone has their own favorite mage. The story is built on the characters they love. The devs felt they had to keep throwing in more and more playable mages, not just mentioning them in the fiction, so that everyone's favorite could be represented.


I'll say here what I said there, which is as an owner of all the stuff so far I'm not sure that a double sized hardcore Legacy edition speaks to what I want from more AE. I might be tempted if it's like a big crazy replayable branching Expedition mode, but if it's straight up AE:L style stickering and half the stuff doesn't work outside the campaign at the end... Yea not sure about that. Just have to wait and see at this point.

Edit: also I don't know anyone that cares that much about the AE fiction :laugh:
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #318042 15 Jan 2021 13:50
I can’t say that I’ve paid more than about five minutes of attention to the story.
I don’t think I can even name a character other than Xaxos and then only because he is in like 3 times but even then I just call him vampire dude.

I’m not sure the new one sounds like something I’ll pursue...after this cycle, I think I’m good. I would really like to see the designers try something new at this point.

Of note- longtime TWBG supporter and excellent designer Geoff Engelstein’s daughter Sydney is now one of the credited designers!
engelstein's Avatar
engelstein replied the topic: #318216 20 Jan 2021 14:55
Thanks for giving her a shout-out! I'm really proud of the work she's done on AE (both design and writing), as well as her design on the new Terraforming Mars spinoff game.