#321 – A.E.G.I.S.: Combining Robot Strategy Game

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Base price: $50.
2 – 4 players.
Play time: ??? minutes. Pretty much as long as you want???
BGG Link

Buy directly!
Logged plays: 3 

Full disclosure: A review copy of A.E.G.I.S. was provided by Zephyr Workshop.

Alright, we’re getting close to the end of the Gen Con releases. Along the way, I learned a lot about myself and how long it takes to review 20+ games and how to spend most of my time writing reviews; all stories for another time. Anyways, let’s start winding down by winding back up with A.E.G.I.S., a light wargame of robots and swords and giant combinations from Zephyr Workshop.

The war’s been raging for a while and it’s time to get down to the battlefield! You’ve got five robots each only powerful in proximity to each other, but with the mysterious ability to combine into a bigger, more awesome robot (which is really the only reason to have robots, if we’re all being honest). Use your abilities and your tactics to lead your squad to victory, or maybe just combine all your robots into a giant robot and use an infinity laser to devastate the battlefield. The latter option seems like more fun, but will you be able to defeat your robot opponents?

Contents

Setup

Alright, so, first thing’s first, set out the board:

Board

There’s another side, as well, but that’s for another mode (there are many modes):

Board Back

On the main side, you can also put up terrain that will block movement, if you want:

Terrain

Now, have each player choose a character:

Characters

Each comes with their own robots:

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If, uh, you’d prefer, there are other characters:

All Characters

Lots more. Lots more robots, too. You’ll pick five from each (and the relevant combined forms, but keep those aside). Put them on stands and put them in the starting area (the grey parts on each corner of the board). It’s polite to let your opponents see your cards before the game starts; each robot is pretty unique so that can be a lot.

In the top right corner of each robot is an energy symbol. Add up the total for your five robots and place your Max Energy Marker on that number on your player board. That’s how much power you have on your turns for various actions, and as you imagine, if you lose the robot, you lose the energy.

Set out the various damage / Energy Drain tokens:

Damage and Energy Drain Tokens

There are also many other symbols on other tokens:

Tokens

And you’re basically ready to start! Pick a player and have them go first.

Setup

Gameplay

Gameplay 1

I’m mostly going to be covering the 1v1 here, as there are enough additional modes and player counts and etc. to make my head spin. Some games are hard to review in this format, and I’m starting to get the vibe that this is one such game. Oh well, here we go!

In A.E.G.I.S., your goal is to defeat your opponent! You can do this by destroying all their robots, sapping the energy their robots need to function, or forcing their opponents to retreat. Let’s talk about how each of your turns is going to work.

Recharge Phase

Gameplay 2

At the beginning of the turn, reset your energy to 0 and then add up all the Energy Output symbols in the top-right of your active robots. Set your Energy Marker to that value; that’s how much energy to have on your turn. Note that you only do this at the start of your turn, so any energy you have leftover after your turn only resets when your next turn starts.

Oh, also, if you can’t produce at least 5 energy on your turn, you lose. Try to avoid that.

Action Phase

Gameplay 3Alright, time to get your robot fight on. Probably. You’ll do the following actions in order:

  1. Choose a Robot. There’s not much to say here, just activate a Robot. You can only activate a Robot once on your turn.
  2. Move that Robot. You can move it as many hexes as its movement value (top center of the card).
  3. Take one action. More on this in a second.

Then you choose another Robot. Keep doing that until you’re out of energy or you’ve activated all the robots on your team. Then it’s your opponent’s turn.

Actions

So, let’s talk actions. You can use one of a Robot’s actions, and unless otherwise stated, they cannot move after using that action (some cannot move before using certain actions, either; tough break). The two major types of actions are using an ability or combining.

  • Using an ability: When using an ability, you’ll have to pay the cost (shown on the left) and then roll that many dice. Some abilities require you to have at least one die with the value next to the die, others require that all dice show that value. These generally do things like inflict damage (which can destroy robots), inflict Energy Drain (which lowers energy production), or inflict buffs / debuffs on robots. Some can even hit robots within a certain radius, at range, or over terrain! There are many, many different types of abilities; make sure to read yours thoroughly.
  • Combine!: It’s a combining robot game. If you’d like, you can skip the rainbow transformation sequence or the union of manly souls or the fusion dance or whew I’m behind on the animes and just go for it. The problem is, you have to spend energy equal to the Energy Output of the robot you want to become, and you have to use the robots named in the output robot’s name. If it’s the OVAH 9000, you have to combine the OVAH 101 with another robot. Plus, you have to combine the right classes; an A-class and an E-class cannot combine into an ES-class robot. Similarly, an AE and an ES can combine into an AES, but an A and an ES cannot combine into an ES — robots have to get bigger! That’s the point! Good news and bad news. Bad news; it cannot move or attack this turn. Good news, it heals completely and can use a Combine ability, if it has one! Because this is super exciting, you also cannot de-combine. Why would you want to?

End of Game

Gameplay 4

So, play continues until one of three cases occurs:

  • Annihilation: All of your opponent’s robots are destroyed.
  • Energy Depletion: Your opponent cannot produce 5 or more energy at the start of their turn.
  • Forced Retreat: Your opponent (at the end of any turn) has no robots on the field that can cause Damage, Energy Drain, Push, or Pull. Basically, they cannot progress the game.

If any of these happen simultaneously (Energy Depletion cannot), then the game is a draw. You can play best two of three, if you’d like, but it takes a bit longer.

Player Count Differences

Um, not sure, honestly. I’ve only played it at two, but I think at higher player counts there will be … a lot more reading. I haven’t tried, but it’s doable.

Strategy

  • Know your opponent. You really need to read the cards your opponent is playing and understand the implications of them. If you know what they can do, you know how to respond. The last thing you want is to be surprised by an attack you didn’t know how to predict. Sometimes it means avoiding clustering your robots, because your opponent can hit all the ones adjacent to a hex. Sometimes you’ll want to move them out of a straight line, because they can pierce through your defenses with a laser. You’ve gotta be tactical, and a lot of that comes down to knowing what robots your opponent has on the field.
  • If you can, wait until you’re a bit damaged before you combine. Combining will completely heal the new robot, so, why not? Just make sure that you don’t risk getting that robot destroyed, especially if it’s critical to your combination; that can be a bummer.
  • Play to your strengths. Each of the robots has a specialty that’s consistent with their class; make sure you’re using that! Don’t send your snipers to the front lines, and don’t keep your melee bots at the back.
  • Understand the abilities. One thing worth noting is things like Evade. It raises the number you have to hit to a maximum of 6. That’s not a problem if you only need one of those numbers to hit to work, but it totally wrecks your game if you need all of the numbers you roll to be 6s. This should inform which robots this robot goes after and which robots it will have trouble defending against, both of which are important.
  • Take risks. It’s not necessarily the most strategic advice, but it’s going to look super cool if it pays off. If not, well, then you die. And that’s life, sometimes.
  • Find creative solutions. I won one game because I was at the end of my rope and managed to hold off my opponent by inflicting MASSIVE amounts of Energy Drain until I ultimately pushed him below 5 per turn. It was incredible. Never going to work again, but incredible.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • I do really love the theme. Robots are the best. Every single robot is my best friend.
  • The art is solid. It really does a good job of presenting a vibrant, colorful world that’s evocative of all the different shows and comics and games it takes inspiration from. The tokens are a bit generic, but everything else absolutely sings.
  • It’s definitely a smaller-scale wargame. Great introduction to the genre for inexperienced players. There are even instructions on how to turn it into a proper wargame, if you’re into that sort of aggressive robot combining bonanzas.
  • It’s everything you love about a Kickstarter game. There’s an almost limitless well of content that’s available in infinite combinations and it’s probably more game than you could play in multiple weeks of constant play. If you’re looking for just one game, this is one game you could play for a long time, similar to The Legend of Korra: Pro-Bending Arena, another game I’ve had some trouble getting reviewed (but I will eventually! Probably. Maybe.).
  • Once you get familiar with the game, it plays pretty quickly. Again, the light wargame part helps and the robots don’t have a ton of health.
  • Honestly, it’s pretty cool. You’re combining robots to shoot lasers, guns, and bombs, or you’re fighting with swords, or you’re just giant robot punching. It’s … very good.

Mehs

  • It’s thematic, but robots healing themselves on combine is a bit irritating. It’s not the worst, but I’ve had a few players complain about it when it happens. Personally, I think it’s more irritating that combinations require certain robots (so you can destroy players’ ability to combine with some well-organized sniping). But that’s me complaining.
  • It would be nice if everything were a bit bigger. Bigger tokens, larger font, just, bump up the size of the whole thing.
  • It would also be nice if it were easier to get the AEGIS-class robots. I know you can do it in the Combine Rondo mode, but, beyond that, it would still be nice.

Cons

  • Got lots to say about the rulebook. I understand the desire to make a thematic rulebook, but even calling it a “Field Guide” is kind of an issue, for me, as it means you might mistake it for a book on game tactics rather than an instruction manual. It would be hard to blame you, since it begins with lore about the world rather than the instructions for the game, and then the rules are spread out in, in my opinion, a less-intuitive format than I would like. I’d prefer a rulebook that explains the basic, core concepts first and then explains how those concepts change and are played with in different modes. Instead, it goes a bit breadth-first and explains all the different parts of the game without clearly telling you how to play. This makes it hard to trace the overall narrative of play during a play session, which often causes rules to be missed. A few quick play / quick start guides would go a long way, but I think reorganizing the rulebook to be more of a rulebook and including a lorebook or something in the second printing would be ideal.
  • Speaking of reading, there’s a bit too much, here. This is mostly a problem for me, a person who learns and teaches new games all the time, but you’re going to need to know a lot to play your first game, since you need to know what basically every robot on your team’s side (and your opponent’s side) can do at any given point. There’s a lot of information (probably too much), and it will overwhelm some new players if you’re busting it out as a casual thing every now and then. If you’re committing to the long haul, well, you’ll eventually get over it.
  • It’s also everything you hate about a Kickstarter game. This is basically a board game reviewer’s nightmare. There’s so much content that I basically got anxious just reading the rulebook and then didn’t play it for two months because I got overwhelmed. That’s okay. It just took me longer to get around to it. If it were me, I would have recommended the Korra or Fireball Island strategies — package them up as bonus expansions and sell them separately as their own SKU after the fact (or not at all, if you’re into that sort of thing). It makes it easier to take each piece as it comes and you don’t risk overwhelming your players. Plus, as a minor “marketing manipulation” bonus, your players get the excitement of opening several boxes instead of just one with all the bits already in it. It just means that there’s a bit too much going on out of the gate and it kind of muddies the core gameplay. Another way a few games have addressed this is by hiding content under / inside the insert, which may have worked here. It also leads to some kind of power creep, where there are like, 16 unique abilities or 18 powers or something — it’s a lot to hold in your head if you’re also playing other games outside of this one. I think a more streamlined core set would have been a really good way to start.

Overall: 7.25 / 10

In Progress

So, there’s a lot to say about A.E.G.I.S., I think. On one hand, it’s a pretty solid game on its own, and I think that’s the best thing to lead with. It’s clear that it was made by people who both understand how to make a compelling game experience, love the genre they’re working in, and are willing to put in the time to produce an exceptional product. On the other hand, I think it’s got some issues that obviously complicate my overall sunny impression of it. Some parts of the rulebook are pretty clunky, and the sheer amount of reading required is going to alienate a lot of new players who aren’t willing to devote themselves to this game 100%. To that point, though I think there’s something to be said here that I often don’t acknowledge about Dominion, and that’s that this is actually all totally okay for certain players. Strangely, I’m not representative of every player in the hobby (a wild conclusion, I know) and that means that some players may not actually own a preposterous number of board games. For Dominion, that means that this might legitimately be your only 6-player game, and even though I poo-poo playing it at higher player counts, any port in a board game storm, you know? For some, A.E.G.I.S. will be one of the few games in their collection, and it’s got the same thing that Millennium Blades has — enough content to last you a very long time. While that makes my life hell (and means that I haven’t gotten to plenty of it), it means that if you’re looking for bang for your buck, it’s definitely here. Overall, I’m leaning positive on A.E.G.I.S.; it’s ambitious for certain, and isn’t a perfect game, but it’s definitely a good one and I think if you’re even remotely interested in wargames or the idea of smushing some robots together to make a bigger one, you should check it out!


If you enjoyed this review and would like to support What’s Eric Playing? in the future, please check out my Patreon. Thanks for reading!

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