Armageddon Empires

Review

posted 10/15/2007 by Tyler Sager
other articles by Tyler Sager
Platforms: PC
Customizable decks of cards, hex maps, and oodles of dice. To some, this may be a complete turn-off, while others are already salivating. Cryptic Comet’s Armageddon Empires is a boardgame on the computer screen, and a decent one at that. All the joys (and drawbacks) of a tabletop game are here, without the need to chase errant dice when they roll off the table. Setting a tabletop-style game on the computer is often tricky, but Armageddon Empires manages to get more things right than not, leading to an enjoyable little strategy game.

Players begin by tailoring their decks from one of four post-apocalyptically-themed factions. Thankfully, this is a “customizable” card game, not a “collectable” one, so every card in the game is available without purchasing extra random packs or boosters. Players can determine the overall power of a given game by selecting the point value allowed for each of the decks in the battle. After determining the number of opponents, the swedge begins.

The main battlefield is simply a randomly-generated map of hexes, one of which is chosen as the stronghold. Here, players plant their main base card, and the action starts. Armageddon Empires uses a dice system for randomization, and each and every roll is displayed. I have mixed feelings about this, as I really like the feel of rolling all those dice, but after a while the dice mechanic just feels a bit fiddly as I wade through yet another handful of rolls and re-rolls. Regardless, each turn begins with a die roll to determine play order and, more importantly, the amount of all-important Action Points (APs) awarded for that particular turn. Players can spend resources to purchase more dice and weight the odds in their favor, or they can choose to hang on to those resources to bring cards into play. The faction with the most success rolls gets to go first, with the added bonus of being awarded the most APs.

The cards themselves are a mix of Hero and Regular units (which roam around the board looking for trouble), buildings or facilities (which are fixed to a particular hex and generate resources or abilities), direct attack cards (airstrikes), and various booster cards that attach to other cards in play. Each card has a cost in both resources and APs and many have special circumstances under which they can come into play. In addition to needing APs to buy many cards, the Action Points are also used for moving units around the board and for firing up various special abilities.

The early part of the game consists of getting some low-cost scouts out and running around the board, looking for resource-generating hexes on which to plant outposts, old caches of resources rich for the plundering, or enemy facilities ripe (or not so ripe) for the conquering. Once the neighborhood was been checked out, and with a few more troops at the ready, it’s time to start a bit of fighting. When two enemy groups (or Armies) meet in a particular hex, battle begins. Play shifts to a battle map, a very simplistic layout upon which players strategically place the units and/or hero. Initiative is determined, after which the factions take turns attacking with a unit or using a special ability. While there are a great many factors and special abilities to change the course of battle, in general the attacking unit gets to roll its Attack Value in dice, and the defending target rolls its Defense Value. If the attacker wins, damage is applied to the target, and the next card gets to act. Battles continue until one side is wiped out or runs away.

Play continues with all factions building up resources, purchasing bigger and better units, perhaps even researching some very powerful late-game cards, and eventually attempting to wipe out the opponent’s strongholds and outposts. I am glossing over much of the delicious complexity here, as there are many different strategies and paths to victory, depending on play style, deck construction, and faction. Depending on the size of the decks and map, games can range from a few to several hours each. The AI is decent and gives a pretty good challenge, and the game itself is constantly getting tweaks to play as Cryptic Comet gets feedback from its fanbase.

While the game layout is not terribly impressive, the artwork on the cards is decent. Being a boardgame at heart, though, Armageddon Empires just doesn’t need a lot of flashy graphics to move things along. Boardgamers who are used to pushing little cardboard chits around black-and-white hex paper know that hours of enjoyment can be had if the mechanics are solid. While the mechanics of the game were good, I was a bit disappointed in the interface, which isn’t very intuitive and even seems clunky in places. I felt that there were just too many mouse-clicks to get some things done, and menus were sometimes hard to decipher.

Since each card in Armageddon Empires is jam-packed with various stats and abilities, this is a game with a slightly steep learning curve. Grizzled CCG veterans and boardgamers will likely rise to the challenge and relish the crunchiness of the game, but more casual gamers would be well advised to check out the demo before making a purchase decision.

I enjoyed Armageddon Empires, even with its quirks and interface issues, and although it won’t maintain prime real estate on my computer, I will likely be going back from time to time to try a new deck combo or strategy. I was overwhelmed at first, but the game grew on me as I began to understand the subtleties involved. This does come from a die-hard boardgamer, though, so non-tabletop fans’ mileage may vary. Overall, I thought Armageddon Empires was a very solid entry into the turn-based market, and I look forward to additional titles from Cryptic Comet.
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