Gather a group of mages to protect Gravehold from evil nemesis.
Android/iOS Tablets & Steam
# of Players
Indie Boards and Cards
Aeon’s End is a cooperative deck building game from Indie Boards and Cards, brought to the digital world by Handelabra Games. Players control up to four mages attempting to defeat the Nameless nemesis while protecting themselves and their town; Gravehold. The game features unique twists on deck building, and it ends when the nemesis is defeated, when all of the heroes or Gravehold have fallen. A game typically takes about 30 minutes.
A co-operative card based game where you are fighting against a massive, overpowered enemy, brought to you by Handelabra? That sounds
familiar. Yes, Aeon’s End fits right in Handelabra’s wheelhouse and the digital version is that much better off because of this. Gameplay wise, it isn’t a perfect match to either, but definitely feels more like Sentinels than One Deck Dungeon, let’s see why.
Players choose their mages, each with their own starting hands, decks, and special abilities. One mage helps to heal other heroes, another lets you heal Gravehold, others provide advanced attack abilities, and so on. Players also choose the nemesis which they will face and which cards will fill the supply, which is the purchase row in the game, cards come in three types; gems, relics, and spells. The very basics of the game are similar to countless other deck builders; you start with ten cards, drawing five each turn, playing them, and then drawing back to five again. Aeon’s End turns a few of the standard tropes on their head, however. The biggest change is that there is no shuffling in this game. You must be deliberate about discarding as the cards will come out in the same order they go in as, if you do it properly, and combo with the cards you purchase as well, you can unleash some big turns.
A seemingly lesser change is that turn order is determined by a deck of cards rather than going in a set order. A full turn in a four mage game has each mage taking one turn while the nemesis takes two. The order is vital as you will need to be well prepared to withstand two nemesis turns in a row, and you can take advantage of certain turn order combinations of your mages.
The nemesis has a deck which will generally wreak havoc on the players and Gravehold. These come in the form of direct or delayed attacks, or through minions which will live in the game until dealt with by the mages. The nemesis is also constantly building up their fury to unleash on you, and it’s never pleasant when it does so.
Players can mostly do typical deck builder things; buy new cards, heal, trash, or attack. There is a lot going on here, but the highlights start with each mage having a set of four breaches which are used to stage and then cast spells. Opened breaches allow you to prep a spell there each turn, these can be cast on the start of that mage’s next turn. Mages need to coordinate and work together to be successful, and staging spells is a major component to this.
The game ends when all mages are out of life, or exhausted (in another fun twist, exhausted mages can still participate, although Gravehold will suffer more damage), Gravehold hits zero life, the nemesis hits zero life, or the nemesis has no cards left in its deck or in play.
The variety comes in with the four unique nemesis you can use and the eight mages you can combine to go against those nemesis. Each nemesis gets its own set of rules and abilities to challenge you. The game really starts to shine as you explore what the four nemeses offer. Rageborne is the most straightforward, I imagine the physical rulebook suggests you fight it on your first game. Prince of Gluttons goes wild in devouring cards from the supply, cheapest first, which initially doesn’t sound as bad as, say, attacking you, but when you can’t afford any new cards because all of the cheap ones are gone and your deck ends up a mess, well it sounds less appealing at that point. Crooked Mask and Carapace Queen round out the set, both adding their own unique twist on things. They are all tough in their own right and, just as importantly, they all give you wildly different games to play against.
If you are familiar with Sentinels of the Multiverse, much of that overview should sound familiar. Like Sentinels, Aeon’s End is tough which is what provides so much of the staying power in the game.
I’m a big fan of deck builders, but I typically like those which stick to the basics rather than providing a bunch of twists. Dominion, Quest for El Dorado, and Star Realms? Yes please! I shy away from some of the more adventurous deck builders because they tend to muddy the waters a bit in ways that don’t excite me. However, Aeon’s End’s tricks are balanced out by a clean, clear objective: destroy the nemesis. Yes, you will need to heal yourself and Gravehold, while worrying about breaches, charging special abilities, and wiping out minions and power cards. BUT, and I know before I even type it that I am going to do a poor job of explaining it, everything just feels connected. The amount of different things is a bit overwhelming for about half of your first game, then you might need the second half to remember your mage can charge their special ability, then you’re off and running. I don’t know whether to credit the tutorial/rulebook or the game designers, but this game defies logic in how quickly you can catch on to how to play given how much is going on. It will certainly take numerous plays to fine tune some strategies for the higher difficulties, but by the end of my first game I was firing off spells, opening breaches, using special abilities, and slaying minions with ease. To be clear, I lost, but I at least had a good feeling for what I could be doing.
There is also the cooperative aspect in play. It is very much a true co-op game where cards and mage abilities can allow you to positively affect other mages. This isn’t one to four separate mages carrying out their own battles against an enemy, which is a very good thing. Being digital, most players will likely take on multiple mages solo, which makes the teamwork aspect an easier sell than trying to convince your selfish friend across the table to heal you rather than themselves.
Aeon’s End really benefits from a digital port because there is a ton of stuff going on at all times. Tracking hit points for all mages, Gravehold, the nemesis, minions, and powers is more than enough bookkeeping for me. Then you add in fury points, ability charges, and others. Phew, I’m exhausted just thinking about all of the bits and counters. This is, of course, completely washed away in the digital version and you can focus on the underlying game.
I like the game quite a bit. The gameplay outshines Handelabra’s other offerings by a fairly large margin in my book, your mileage will vary of course. It’s more similar to Sentinels, but does more interesting things mechanically while playing in less time. One Deck Dungeon is somewhat similar if you back up far enough; team up fantasy themed heroes, fight a big bad boss. Did Handelabra just make their other titles obsolete? Doubtful, but I imagine I will be spending a lot more time with Aeon’s End than the other titles going forward, especially if those expansions hit (so everybody buy the base app now so they will make them, okay?!)
Barrier to Entry
The app contains a detailed text rulebook and a tutorial. The text rulebook is incredibly thorough, you could learn the full game by reading through it. The tutorial is one of the more hands off tutorials I have seen. It shows you how to play your cards then tells you to buy something. Then prep some spells and on your next turn you can cast them, or not, the tutorial doesn’t care. I read the rulebook first so I had a decent base going into the tutorial, but I was very comfortable with the mechanics by the end of my first game, as noted earlier. If you are experienced in deck builders, there are a lot of twists here, but learning those shouldn’t take too long and the app does a good job of helping you learn.
Look and Feel
Visually, Handelabra has always been a company that has done two things: stayed true to the source material and put function over flash. One of the most widely seen complaints of the physical game is the generic theme/artwork. That hasn’t changed in the digital version, so if that is a major turnoff for you, look elsewhere. The menus and in game carry over a similar feel, giving the game a nice consistent look throughout.
Functionally, Aeon’s End shines. Everything is where you would want it to be on the screen and the large amount of information you need access to is available instantly, or through a click, at any given time. The game does a great job of presenting so much information at a glance. There is an undo button in cases where new information is not revealed. Actions are taken using drag-and-drop or clicking in most cases. It all works quite well and the game has the small added touches of knowing when you are out of options on a turn and automating when possible.
One nitpick here is that many items on screen require a click-and-hold to see the details on. This is generally fine, but I’ve found myself having trouble with a few where my finger would frequently find itself in the way. This might be another fun quirk of being left handed as most of these items are on the right side of the screen.
The game features some very good music, something I admittedly tend to not pay too much attention to in most games. It’s a few steps above the typical, bland background music most games feature. More upbeat and urgent, it provides a fun backdrop to the tense game.
Currently, Aeon’s End is local play only. This allows for a great pass-and-play situation on tablets or slightly less great, but still workable, situation on a PC. There isn’t a dedicated mode for pass-and-play, but there doesn’t need to be one in a cooperative game with no hidden information. The developers have stated that online play might be considered down the line, but there are no firm plans for it at this point. Note that Sentinels originally launched without multiplayer but it was later added, that doesn’t mean it will show up in Aeon’s End, but there is some history there.
Special campaign rules
The game is single player only unless you want to pass the tablet or switch chairs at a PC. This is fine because of the variety and difficulty in the game. The game really emphasizes teamwork so getting to play all of the mages yourself is a big advantage, but it does miss out on some of the collaborative fun.
The app offers four different difficulty levels which scales the mage, gravehold, and nemesis life points and, in the case of Expert and Extinction difficulties, trigger the increased difficulty rules listed on the nemesis cards. When starting a game you choose the nemesis, mages, and supply. There are random options for each of these, the supply getting a few different types of random you can apply.
There are a slew of achievements to chase along with a whole bunch of stats. I’m a big fan of seeing stat keeping like this in games, even though I probably won’t ever pay too much attention to exactly how many spells I cast over the course of the life of this game, it’s nice to know it’s there if I’m ever curious.
Aeon’s End, like almost every other deck builder, has seen a lot of expansion content released after the base game. Unlike many of those others, however, Aeon’s End is a game that doesn’t feel at all incomplete in its base form. There are four nemesis and eight mages, and every game is tough. There are currently no expansions for the digital version, but this is a typical case where if the game does well, you can bet the expansions will follow.
The other big question is a phone version. Like Sentinels and One Deck Dungeon, Aeon’s End was released only on Steam and tablets initially. Both of those previous games eventually got phone ports, but neither were guaranteed, and that is the same case for Aeon’s End. Handelabra totally redesigns their UI for smaller screens when they make phone versions, so it is not at all a simple task to release the same game for phones. Let’s hope we can install Aeon’s End in our pocket devices at some point.
The Wrap Up
I like Aeon’s End quite a bit, and the more I play it, the more I appreciate the choices you have to balance and how they affect your game. I really want to charge that special ability so I can quickly fire off a spell twice in a row, but I also really need to purchase the spell which allows me to heal because one of my other mages really isn’t carrying their weight! The usually constant choice between taking out minions and attacking the nemesis is always a fun firefighting exercise where the only certainty is that I’m going to make the wrong choice.
The implementation by Handelabra is typically strong all around. The only downsides are missing multiplayer and lack of a phone version. Maybe the game doesn’t jump off the screen visually, but we’re stretching here.
Who is Aeon’s End for? Anybody looking for a fun, tough cooperative game is a good place to start. Playing the various combinations of mages and nemesis will provide a lot of replay value, having four different difficulty levels only extends that. Fans of deck builders looking for some interesting twists will also find a lot to love here. I’m honestly not 100% sure these twists haven’t been done elsewhere (chances are they have), but this is the first time I’ve crossed paths with many of them, and even some that are small on the surface end up adding a lot of depth. I’m a big fan, I look forward to spending a lot of time defending Gravehold.