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AEON'S END OUTCASTS is a deck-building game based loosely on the computer game 'AEON'S END'

It is rich with fantastic fantasy artwork and blessed with great quality pieces that are strong enough to withstand enormous regular use. Our game has been used numerous times and all the pieces, mostly cards, have remained uncreased, uncurled, and fit neatly into the designer box insert.

AEON'S END: OUTCASTS has a lot more components than the majority of Deck Builders. There are seven sealed envelopes which are opened when the time is right - when the previous adventure/encounter has been completed - I have only opened two of these, 1b Blue and 2a Red, just to see what I might find. This was naughty of me because having played several times already as a solo player (once), 2 players (3 times) and twice with 4 players, we have yet to get even close to winning.

 

I didn't enjoy playing solo so I'll skip over that. With two players it is fun and very much like with four players except the 1/2 and 3/4 Turn Order cards come into play and with the extra people in the party there is enough chatter to create fun as our ship sinks without a trace (no there isn't a ship in the game, but if there was and we were on it, it would undoubtedly sink).

Each player character has Four Breaches (portals) through which they can cast spells. One of these portals begins the game Open and the other three in various set positions of Focus - you can spend aether (aether is the game's "energy, mana, coinage" etc) to Focus a Breach so that it may be used when closed and you can spend aether to Open the Breaches, but it costs more than we have found it possible to make to get more than one other open. Aether is needed for so many things that you never have enough to spare.

Your starting hand is 5 cards and unless you have an item that allows it you may only ever have 5 cards in your hand. With most cards producing only one or two aether a turn, and needing to use aether to buy new cards from the central pool to build your deck, having aether to focus Breaches or buy Charge Tokens to Power your character's Special Ability, is almost impossible - the best way to gain Charge Tokens is by Z'hana using the Power of her Glyph Tokens.

All the players are Mages of different types and they have to work together on each adventure (or in our case on the first adventure); Experiment 153.

Experiment 153 is a massive creature with four tentacles, each with a bone-snapping, shark-toothed maw on its end. As the game progresses Experiment 153 gets stronger as maw tokens move along the tentacles doing serious damage at one juncture on each until reacing the end of the line which is a character killer. These Maw tokens move at such a fast speed, especially when the 153 monster uses its Unleash power, it is impossible for play

The Turn Order cards determine which player takes their turn - the 1/2 and 3/4 cards allow players to discuss whose turn it is - and mixed in with the Turn Order character cards are 2 Nemesis cards which activate the creature. The Nemesis (in game one this is Experiment 153) has 80 life points (20 per Maw) plus it has a deck of cards that can be spells against the PCs, Curses, Actions or Wandering Monsters. Once these start building up - it is often impossible to defeat them as they have to be killed in one blow, you cannot damage them and have other characters do damage in their turn - the play goes downhill very fast and the land of Gravehold is soon overtaken. 

Gravehold has 30 life points and with one of the Maws doing hits to Gravehold or the Characters (or both) nearly every turn, it has proven impossible for us to win, the closest we have been is destroying 2 Maws. When Mage spells do 1-5 damage at most and need to be prepped one turn before used the next turn, it happens that Characters lose their 10 life points and Gravehold its 30 life points extremely fast. 

There are some good changes to the somewhat regular/best known Deck Builder rules, such as you never shuffle your deck or your discards. You cannot change the order the discards are in but you can do your best to discard them in an order that could be to your advantage. When all your cards are discarded you simply flip over the discard pile and start again. This gives you a little control on what cards you will have in hand. Unfortunately Experiment 153 has blocker cards that go into your hand and apart from giving you one aether a turn they are immediately placed on top of your draw pile, thus they will always be in your hand.

This makes utilising the spells you have bought extremely difficult. There are cards that allow you to discard cards from your hand and then there is the rules question of whether they can be used to discard the Nemesis cards/the aforementioned blockers as these cards say they give 1 aether and are then immediately placed on top of the player's deck; we play that immediately means immediately after those cards are used.

IF there was only one Nemesis turn per Round there would be something like a 40-60 chance of the characters winning.
IF the Nemesis monster cards could be damaged and not have to be killed outright by one player - some of these monsters have over 10 life points - then the characters would have a chance at eating away at them. Players may then have a 50% chance of winning. Player characters life points can be whittled down, monsters don't have to do 10 points in one hit so it should be the same for characters hitting monsters.
IF Experiment 153 had only 5 points per maw instead of 20 (possibly too easy as the total would be 20 life points) or perhaps 10 points, making the monster 40 life instead of 20; it's been tough enough to get near to knocking 40 life points off, no chance with the 80 it has.

 

It should be noted that these monster cards are often in two parts, the first part being activated when the card first comes into play and the second part once the power tokens on it have been removed; once removed the action takes place every Nemesis turn - twice per Round.  Many of these monsters have the Unleash x 2 ability which moves 2 maw tokens along the tentacles and towards the ends which then power up every time a maw token is to be moved and cannot go any further along.

AEON'S END: OUTCASTS is very unlike the majority of other Deck Builders in many ways. One way is that player decks build a lot slower. In most cases a deck can be built by purchasing low cost cards without suffering any real character damage or damaging effect. In Aeon's End the cards against the player characters are all so powerful.

Our games have usually taken one or two paths. Either we the players do well to begin with and then the Nemesis turn cards come up one after the other twice in a row - poor shuffling or unlucky but this means the Nemesis gets 4 turns on the trot - and our health or Gravehold's health dramatically drops. Characters don't die on losing all life points; they can still play on but they cannot regain any LPs and anymore damage to them is passed on Double to Gravehold.

The next time we play, and we are enjoying it enough to want to keep playing, we have decided to do one or more of the 'IF's' I mention above and see if that works. We are not looking for an easy win but we are looking for a chance to win. I think we may also remove the Nemesis card that declares one player to be the 'any' player. The player who has this card takes the damage whenever a Nemesis cards states that any player takes damage. At first having an 'any' player seemed amusing, but that player's game has been wrecked every time.

Hopefully after a couple more attempts we can move onto the next adventure.

The four player characters begin each game with the same Starting hand and Starting deck as is printed on their character cards.

Kel: Starting Hand. 2 x Crystal. 1 x Entwined Amethyst. 1 x Trulite of Energy.  1 x Spark.
Kel: Starting Deck. 2 x Crystal. 1 x Entwined Amethyst. 1 x Trulite of Energy.  1 x Spark.
Ilya: Starting Hand. 1 x Crystal. 1 x Entwined Amethyst. 1 x Trulite of Force.   2 x Spark.
Ilya: Starting Deck. 1 x Crystal. 1 x Entwined Amethyst. 1 x Trulite of Force.   2 x Spark.
Taqren: Starting Hand.  3 x Crystal. 1 x Esoteric Amplifier. 1 x Spark.
Taqren: Starting Deck.  3 x Crystal. 2 x Spark.
Z'hana: Starting Hand. 4 x Crystal. 1 x Glyph Carver.
Z'hana: Starting Deck. 3 x Crystal. 1 x Glyph Carver. 1 x Spark.

There are cards that allow you to discard cards from your hand and then there is the rules question of whether they can be used to discard the Nemesis cards/the aforementioned blockers/curses as these cards say they give 1 aether and are then immediately placed on top of the player's deck; we play that immediately means immediately after those cards are used.

Replies (below) have criticised our using curses in this manner but I don't think it has truly affected our overall ability to win that much, it is mostly the 'Any' player card, the Unleash x 2 and damage to an exhausted character being doubled and applied to Gravehold that so quickly kills the town and our chances of success.

The Power cards need one-hit full aether cost of up to 7 or 8, and the Minions can have up to 16 damage tokens on them, especially the Vein Worms that while alive also move a Maw token 3 spaces forward each turn. With each character, particularly early on, only doing 1-5 damage it can take a complete Round, or longer, of all character turns to just kill that one Minion - meanwhile Nemesis has probably had 2 turns.

From listening to what people have been saying it appears that we are the only ones having a problem with this module. But even after trying different approaches we still haven't managed to kill off more than two of the 4 Maws and once they hit the top of their path, unless we have misunderstood this, every time the maw has to move again the instruction at the top of the path activates again.

This isn't a complaint, we actually enjoy most aspects of play. I am simply trying to reiterate how difficult Experiment 153 is to defeat and that as yet we have never completely killed more than two Maw tokens. We actually enjoy the challenge, it's just when Nemesis creates a rush of damage to either the Town or the Characters, twice in a row, that the euphoric high of being close to a breakthrough dissipates and the adventure crumbles.

My copy of the game had a minor error with these components: There were 2 extra Crystals and 2 less Sparks. Rather than contact the game publisher and request an exchange I simply used a Marker Pen on the additional Crystals.

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015