Review of Aeon’s End and Aeon’s End: War Eternal

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Original First Edition Kickstarter Edition of Aeon’s End

So, about a year ago (November 2016), I received the Kickstarter edition of Aeon’s End. And it sat the unopened.  For almost a year.  *Cough*

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Kickstarter Edition of Aeon’s End: War Eternal

 

In Mark 2017, the sequel/follow on to Aeon’s End came up on Kickstarter: Aeon’s End: War Eternal. I went ahead and backed that as well.   I am a bit of a completionist, so I figured I get this as well.  Even though I haven’t played  the original. *Cough*

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Kickstarter Edition of Aeon’s End and Aeon’s End: War Eternal (with update since I was an original Kickstarter)

Since I was a Kickstarter on the original game, I received an Update Pack for the original game.  What’s in it?  I didn’t know.  I hadn’t been following too closely, but I will reveal its contents below!

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Well, not directly below.  We’ll reveal its contents below HERE …

Aeon’s End

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The inside of Aeon’s End (Original Kickstarter Edition) Box

 

I finally, just a few weeks ago, busted out Aeon’s End (first) and played it (by myself and with some friends)And you know what?  It was good!  I like it as a solo game, and my friends really enjoyed it as a cooperative game.

Why did I wait so long to pull this out?

Aeon’s End: War Eternal

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Inside the Kickstarter’s Edition of Aeon’s End: War Eternal

 

So, after enjoying the original game, I broke out the second game (War Eternal).  Better everything.  Wow!

Intro Games

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Intro Game Sheet for Aeon’s End

One of the things both games get right is the very first game you play.  There is a sheet that shows you how to play your introductory game!  The cards are even all divided up into A, B, and C piles.

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First game: All the packs are set-up for you

The game is all prepared for you and very easy to set-up for the first game.  Given how many cards there are in this box (see pictures above and below), this is a very good step.  In fact, I will stand up and applaud this!  I was up and playing within 30 minutes.

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I picked this character for a solo game (War Eternal) because she could heal herself
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The initial resource set-up from the first game of War Eternal

Deckbuilding

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This is a deckbuilder: Every Character has a hand of cards (below Gex) and a draw deck (left of Gex) and a place to discard (to the right of the Gex).  The place to buy new things is just above (not all resources pictured).

Aeon’s End and War Eternal are cooperative deckbuilding games.  All players in the game are mages working together (casting spells, using relics and gems) to defeat a big bad.   It is definitely a deck-builder: it feels a lot like Dominion (the granddad of all deckbuilders) in a lot of ways: you buy gems (money) to get more to buy better spells (houses).  So, if you’ve played Dominion before, you will get this game quickly.  My group of friends (fairly experienced gamers) jumped right in quickly.

But the hook here: NO SHUFFLING!  When you discard cards into your discard, you can (within a small set of rules) discard the cards in any order you want.  So, when your main deck runs out of cards, you simply move your discard deck to the deck AND DON’T SHUFFLE!  I have to admit, this was probably one of the best things about this game!  I liked Dominion, but the constant shuffling really detracted from liking the game: I remember waiting and waiting for other players because they had to shuffle on their turn to get their cards (especially once you got an engine going).  In Aeon’s End/War Eternal, you just flip your deck and keep drawing!  Much less slowdown!   And you can “choose the order” of your discard (mostly) at the end of your turn so usually you can do that at the end of your turn and not hold up the next player.  It really felt like much less slowdown!

Components

The components for Aeon’s End: War Eternal are first rate.  There is a counter for the bad guys, the boards for the bad guy and the player characters are very readable and usable.   Everything really pops.

The interesting thing is that the components for the original Aeon’s End aren’t as good!  That’s what’s in the Update Pack: better cards.

Update Pack: What’s in the Box?

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Update Box to update the cards from the original Aeon’s End to better cards!

When  I got the War Eternal in the mail, I also got the update box.  It basically updates all the cards from the original game.  I guess some people complained about the original art design from Aeon’s End, and the manufacturer responded and updated the art.

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Left: Card from the original edition of Aeon’s End.  Right: Card from the Update Pack.

You can see above the changes.  They seem all in the name of making the cards easier to read and use in the game.  The original cards are physically “darker” than the new update cards.  The font on the update cards is bigger  (except for the theme text on the bottom is MUCH smaller, but that doesn’t effect normal gameplay: it just adds theme if you want to read the cards).  And the picture is bigger because they got rid of the black borders.

I thought the original cards were fine (in fact, we played with them a few times).  But, I do admit: the new update cards look nicer and are easier to play with.

Learn From Mistakes

They really did up their game for the components in War Eternal. It really looks like the manufacturer listened to their customers and fixed up a lot of things in the game.  They learned from their mistakes.

First: the inside of the box (see above).  In the original game (left), the player board and monster boards didn’t fit very well in the box: they sit sideways kinda fitting in the box.  In the new game (right), they made a section for the boards (upper right corner of the box). Everything feels like it fits in the box better.

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Top: character card from Aeon’s End. Bottom: character card from War Eternal.

Second: the boards aren’t shiny!  The character boards and the monsters were shiny in the original edition, and it made them harder to read.  The newer version also seems a lot easier to read: the graphic design just feels better.  I feel like I can read Indira’s card (bottom: War Eternal) better than Malastar (top: Aeon’s End).

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Left: Bad Guy from Original Edition of Aeon’s End.  Right: Bad guy from War Eternal.

Similarly, the character boards for the bad guy monsters.  Rageborn is shiny and a little harder to read.

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Turn Order Cards from War Eternal

Third: the Turn Order cards are significantly improved!

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All cards were updated from the update pack!

Fourth: And probably the most important, *ALL* the cards were updated.  A lot of cards!

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There are a lot of cards in the update pack!

In general, the War Eternal seems to have better components and cards. At the time of this writing, a second edition of Aeon’s End is  coming, which is supposed to update the quality of the game to the same level as War Eternal.

Solo Game

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Solo Player Set-up

The solo play game works well.  You can play with just one character and learn the game.  My only complaint was that the solo rules were relegated to the back page (both the Aeon’s End and War Eternal rulebooks).   Since my first play of most games is almost always a solo play, I wish those would be addressed up front.  But it’s a minor quibble.

The game works really well as a solo game: I had fun and only had to play one character.  There is a lot going on, and I imagine playing with multiple characters would have made my first playthrough much less enjoyable.

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A finished solo game, I won!

Theme and Cooperation

Theme and COOPERATION

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This game is a great cooperative game.  It moves quickly, and everyone was helping each other out.  In the beginning of the game, most people built their decks separately without consulting each other too much (and in fact, we ran out of diamonds because too many people tried to get that Gem).  But, but the middle of the game, we were making decisions together!

  1. “Do I kill the minion first or take out the power?”
  2. “Can I use my special spell?”
  3. “Can you help charge me for my special spell?”
  4. “Can you heal me?”
  5. “Who should take the damage from the event?”

And in the end game, the game slowed quite a bit as every decision became important to winning the game.  But not in a bad way!  We were all so invested in the game, we talked!  We discussed!  It kind of reminded me of a basketball game … stay with me here … the last minutes of a basketball game takes forever, but it’s the most exciting part of the game!  The same can be said of Aeon’s End/War Eternal!  That last few turns because very exciting as we make choices.

Everyone I played with enjoyed the game.  They all want to play a game.  This is probably the biggest hit at the game table in some time.

Deckbuilder But Not a Deckbuilder!

So, if you’ve played Dominion, you’ll get the basics of this quickly.  But there is a lot more to the game.  There’s a notion spells, a notion of breaches to be focused so you can cast multiple spells, each character has a special power that has to be charged up, and there’s a big bad that has events and does bad stuff to everyone!  It’s a cooperative deck builder, but it’s much more than that.  And yet, it didn’t feel too overwhelming.

The one thing that was very overwhelming was building the big bad’s event deck at the start of the game.  It’s quite involved with three levels of danger (1,2,3) and you to mix and match basic cards with specialty cards.   It’s the one part of the game that seemed to drag: everyone had to wait for me to build the bad guy’s deck.  Other than that, the game flowed well.

Conclusion

I shouldn’t have waited so long to open and play these games!   They were fun!  I even ordered an expansion (The Depths) on CoolStuffInc before I realized I already had it in the original edition of the Kickstarter!  (It was hidden in the box … that I didn’t open for a year).   Luckily, CoolStuffInc let me cancel that particular piece.

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In the original Kickstarter Edition, I ordered the expansions! They came stuffed inside the box

Aeon’s End was a great game, and so was War Eternal.  They are both stand-alone games, but can be combined into one.  If you find yourself interested in the game, either version will do to give you the full experience.  I liked it as a solo game and my friends liked it as a cooperative deckbuilding game.

In the end, I think this is probably an 8/10 on BoardGameGeek.

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The Aeon’s End
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Rules That Micromanage: Please Don’t!

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Recently, we played through London Dread.  Pretty good rulebook, decent game.  One thing struck me when I was reading the rulebook in the Gaining Resources section on page 11:

Whenever you gain resources, they must be distributed as evenly as possible among the Characters present in the location responsible for the gain.  For example: … It’s not legal to give all 3 items to one of the characters …

This is a very minor point in the game, but it really bothered me.  What if my character has been rolling bad and needed for all 3 items for the endgame?  The other characters may be doing fine, but I may need all the items so I can go further!  It’s clear, that in order to win the game, all characters need to do well in the final challenges! Or we will lose.  So, why was the game micromanaging such a small decision?

It bothers me because the rule doesn’t seem in-line with the overall structure of the  game: this is a cooperative game where we are making decisions together to decide our fate, and this rule micromanages how we can share.  I suspect the rule is there to mitigate Alpha Player Syndrome.  But, I don’t think it will: if you have an Alpha Player at the table, this little rule won’t do much.  Or maybe it’s there for balance?

All it does it make me mad (not real mad, but irate).  Why take away a decision in the game?  If we lose because of this rule, I will be more than mad.  I will be … a lot more mad.

Rules That Micromanage the Cooperative Experience

I have seen rules like this in other games:

  • Arkham Horror: You can only buy 1 item at the store when you go shopping.  Um .. what?   You already get a “random selection” of items anyways.  And it seems very unthematic that the store wouldn’t let you buy as much as you want!
  • Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game:  You can’t pass using stunts. In my review of the Dresden files, I was surprised how much space  in the rulebook was spent on this minor clarification.  Usually you never want to waste a stunt, but if it means the difference between a winning strategy or not, why limit us?  It seems arbitrary and limits choice.
  • London Dread: You are forced to share your items as fairly as possible.
  • Uno: This isn’t a co-op, but this rule always struck me as the prototypical micromanaging rule: You have to play Draw 4 if you can’t play another card.  Really?  We have always house ruled that you can play the Draw 4 whenever you want (I don’t really play Uno anymore, but it’s one of those strict rules that always seemed stupid.  You have so little choice in the game anyways, why restrict choice even more?)

Can you think of any other games with micromanaging rules like this?

House Rules

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In our games, we house rule these.  You can buy as much at the store as you want, you can pass using your stunt, you can share your items as you which.  And you can play Draw 4 whenever you want.

I don’t feel like we are cheating.  I feel like we are overcoming a micromanaging rule.  We get more choice, and the game becomes more fun.

Or, a better way (for the manufacturers to look at this), is that we want to play their game more!  So, let’s not make rules that micromanage!

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Secrets of CO-OP: the co-op game and Final Thoughts

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In this episode, We reveal some of the secrets of CO-OP: the co-op game!  But GASP!  What could they be?  Read on …

CO-OP Runs Its Course

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Today I went to Isle of Games (a game store in Tucson) to buy the very last copy of CO-OP in distribution. In the irony of ironies, I was buying my own game from the game store! Why? Interestingly enough, I had two people email me this week to ask for a copy of the CO-OP. Two people I couldn’t say no to.

Clint has previously and ever so graciously given me copies of his books:

  1. Writing Virtual Environments for Software Visualization
  2. Program Monitoring and Visualization

… and I wanted to return the generosity. Clint had told me his son took his copy of CO-OP off to college, and that he himself didn’t have a copy at home. So, he asked me for one. I have just a few copies left for myself, partly because I *like* playing my own game, and partly because it’s fun to remember, and partly it’s a potential resume for game companies in the future. So, I went down to Heroes and Villains and bought a copy. Their last copy.

“Wait, I thought you said you bought your last copy at Isle of Games,
not Heroes and Villains?”

I did. The second-to-last copy was at Heroes and Villains. The last
copy is (or at least was) at Heroes and Villains.

Well, as I said, two people this week emailed me asking for a copy. Scott and Jen, who had missed the original Kickstarter (because they have little ones) asked for a copy. Of course, I was happy to oblige my good friends.

Wishful Thinking

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I had always hoped CO-OP would do better. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy for the success I had with CO-OP! I had great backers and great play-testers and just a great experience making the game. I just had hoped I would do a little better.

I am just happy now that people (like Clint and Scott and Jen) want to play it. I get enormous happiness just knowing some people are playing my game.

But, it’s clear now CO-OP has run it’s course:

  • I am sold out, and I have only gotten the two emails (the two above) asking for a reprint/new copy.
  • I sent a copy to the Dice Tower and they didn’t review it. (To be fair, Tom was very upfront with me saying they have a huge queue and it may not get reviewed). I think I had always hoped a good review from the Dice Tower would spur the game on for a second reprint.
  • I did get a very good review from George Jaros on GJJGames, but he didn’t like it very much. (But it was a very well done review: see here).

What Did I Learn?

The GJJGame review had some real good stuff in it.  Here are some reflections on some of his points.

  1. Art Matters. Probably the biggest ding CO-OP had from the review was the art. I am very happy with the artists who helped me out (as a personal favor: Bob Diven and Derek Jones: thank you!), but a lot of my art was clip art that I bought (and it wasn’t cheap either!).  But, at the end of day, my art should have been better.  (It was quite a journey looking for art, maybe someday I will write about it here …)
  2. Price. I went out of my way to make the cheapest game I could with my limited resources. From the Games Crafter, the cheapest I could get my game was $28 per game–I had to print at least 100 for that price (Without that volume discount, they game would have been about $50 per copy!) Also, at the very end, I went ahead and upgraded all the cards to Linen and UV coating for an extra $6 per game. So my cost per game (at the volume 100 mark) was $28 + $6 = $34. That’s my cost to make the game.
  3. Shipping Is Expensive! I tried to find the best shippping, but Naked Shipping couldn’t help me out unless I had more than 100 to ship (maybe more)? So, for the small print run I had, the cheapest/secure/protected way to ship was the USPS Priority Mail envelope, at $7.15 per game. (I was able to shave a few dollars if someone ordered two copies). So, when I charged $28 (+ $6 for shipping) in my Kickstarter, I was making absolutely no money. I was just doing it because I wanted to get my game made. At the very end, I was able to consolidate some shipping to New Mexico, California, and Arizona (where the majority of my supporters were), so I was able to pay the extra $6 per game for upgraded cards.
  4. Outrageous price. I guess when the GJJ review said the game cost was outrageous, he’s comparing it to other mass-marker games: If I had the game printed in China, it would have been about $12,000 for 1000 games (plus shipping). Then maybe I could have charged less. But, my Kickstarter only made about $3000, so I had to go with something that would work with my meager budget.

At the end of the day, I did the best I could for my customers on the price and art without losing my shirt.

At the end of the day, it was a wash for me. But I didn’t do it for the
profit. I did it because I love games.

Wall of Text

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An interesting passage from the review called the CO-OP rulebook a wall of text. And you know what? He’s right!

In my job, I read a lot of technical reports, journals, and articles which are typically mostly text. I personally have no trouble with lots of text. I think this also stems from my background as an RPG player from Dungeons and Dragons growing up (and Pathfinder more recently). RPGs tend to be very text heavy and that doesn’t bother me.

Most everyone I playtested with had no problem with the wall of text. English majors, Electrical Engineers, Computer Scientists, Physicists, Ph.D.s in Family Sciences, Game Store Owners.  But, maybe I didn’t quite have enough people to blind playtest the rules,
so I never heard that the text was a problem.

But, the review was right. There should have been more pictures, more set-ups, more examples showing the cards in action, more pictures. Okay. Lesson learned!

I am happy that the review noted the rules were complete.

Sentinels of The Multiverse

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A final thought about the GJJGames Review:

As quick note, I give Sentinels of the Multiverse (SOTM) a 10/10 on BoardGameGeek. It is one of my favorite games of all time. I give myself a 9/10 for CO-OP (but I am biased).

The GJJGames review gives Sentinels of the Multiverse a 6/10 and CO-OP a 5.3/10.

What I take away from that: if you like SOTM , you may like CO-OP. If you don’t like SOTM, you probably won’t like CO-OP.

Isle of Games

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Isle of Games was very supportive as a game store during this whole process: the were backers on my kickstarter, they helped me refine and playtest the game at the store during open play, and were generally very supportive. Heroes and Villains was supportive as well, which I am thankful for.

So, at the end of the day, when I have to buy my own game back from Heroes and Villains and Isle of Games, there’s something poetic about that. They helped me and I was able to help them sell some games and do business.

Celebrate CO-OP!

At this point, I think CO-OP has run its course. It’s now sold out everywhere. Unless something big happens, I don’t plan to reprint the game.

Today, to celebrate CO-OP: the co-op game running its course, I played a few solo games with 3 CO-OP characters: Henry Hall, CherryPit Jones, and CP Junior with the “Live Life to the Fullest!” Scenario. I do think this is my favorite scenario in the game.

It was quite humorous that my first celebratory play was THE WORST GAME OF CO-OP I EVER HAVE PLAYED! I lost, and I lost hard! This was demonstrating some of the randomness GJJGames was worried about. But then, I thought about it some more, and  I remember many games of Pandemic, Ghost Stories, Sentinels of the Multiverse, and Arkham Horror where we just lost quickly because of bad card draws. There was randomness, but it didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the game! I think it’s okay if sometime the randomness beats you down (as long as it doesn’t happen all the time). It just makes me want to play again right away.

So, I played CO-OP again right away! I played again and barely won in the last round. This is my usual experience with CO-OP: on the last round, I usually just barely win or barely lose. (“If only I had one more action!!! Wait, if he goes first, ah-ha! We can win!”)

I am very proud of CO-OP. I think it’s a fun game.

CO-OP Secrets!

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Secrets Inside the Box!

Here are some secrets about CO-OP you may not know.

  1. The “CP” in “CP Junior” stands for “CherryPit” because CP Junior is CherryPit Jones’ son.
  2. A bigger secret: Leigh Galbreif is CP Junior’s Mom! (Gasp!) That’s why CP is BOTH a Hippie and Bizzie.
  3. I have a script for “CO-OP: the movie” somewhere. The premise: CP Junior has just graduated with an MBA and is coming back to the store to say hi to this Dad. While helping his Dad with some paperwork, CP finds the legal notice in the mail that the city will sell the store’s assets to pay back-taxes if they don’t come up with the money soon. CP enlists people in the community to help him, including his Mom. The cards in the Groove deck tell the story of the movie as CP does Random Acts of Kindness (which help him) and some old lawyer he used to play guitar with. In some last crazy scheme at the end of the movie, CP saves the CO-OP and reunites his Dad and Mom. Yay! I even have some songs picked out. (Yes, mostly Hippie songs).
  4. CO-OP: the co-op game started life as an entry into the Greater Than Games: Meta game contest. It didn’t win or even place. I think that’s because the game wasn’t quite as mature back then. (The Goods cards weren’t added yet, see below).
  5. The Goods cards were a later edition to the game, and they all came from a mammoth brain-storm session down in Las Cruces, NM. 90% of those silly goods were thought up by Chris C., Joe G., Kurt D., Mike H., and John M..  The GJJ Games review said the Goods cards were one of his favorite parts of the game! Thanks guys!

And the biggest secret of all: the premise of CO-OP: the co-op game is very loosely based on a King of the Hill episode called “Raise the Steaks!”

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Hank waits outside the CO-OP

In this episode, Hank has terrible steak from MegaLoMart and finds the CO-OP in town has amazing meat for steaks. Hank (reluctantly) has to join the CO-OP to get the steaks, but finds out he’s the only one who really understands how to run a business. The CO-OP members keep the VIBE up, and Hank keeps the place running. In the meantime, MegaLoMart has designs on taking over the CO-OP …

That King of the Hill episode is one of my favorite of all time: It shows two groups, typically in conflict, working together: the Hippies and the Business-minded people (from which I coined the term Bizzie for the CO-OP game). They find common ground. And it seemed like the perfect premise for a cooperative game.

Play a game of CO-OP then watch the “Raise the Steaks!” episode. I think you will laugh and find common ground.