My first and only Legacy game experience before playing Aeon’s End: Legacy was Pandemic Legacy Season 1. That was a disappointment. I found that the story wasn’t strong enough to keep the rather simple and streamlined gameplay of Pandemic interesting over multiple sessions. It felt repetitive. The system, however, intrigued me. I didn’t dismiss Legacy games altogether.
I got into Aeon’s End through the stand-alone expansion The New Age, which I’ve reviewed favorably. The New Age introduces the Expedition mode, a way of using your Aeon’s End content to play campaigns, and this system is presented to the player in a way reminiscent of the Legacy system. Since I found this introductory Expedition very intriguing and enjoyable, I had a hunch that Aeon’s End would lend itself well to the Legacy treatment, and despite my previous disappointment with a Legacy game I was eager to play this game. I approached Aeon’s End: Legacy with with the hope that the game mechanisms alone would keep me engaged throughout several sessions.
Since this is a review of a game with a narrative that gradually unfolds as you play, I’ve taken care to avoid spoilers. I’ve chosen to include a picture of the set-up for the first game. In this picture the first Nemesis is visible. A close-up of this Nemesis board is used in the rule book as an example, anyway.
Background and First Impressions
In the cooperative deck-building game Aeon’s End the players are breach mages, powerful magicians who try to save the last bastion of civilization, Gravehold, from the Nemeses, evil beings from another dimension.
One of the interesting things about this game is that you never shuffle your deck, you just flip over your discard pile when your deck runs out of cards. Furthermore, you don’t discard your hand at the end of your turn. This unique approach to deck-building makes the game a challenging puzzle. By deliberately stacking your deck and carefully adding cards from the nine piles in the market place, you construct what I like to call a spell casting engine. This engine has to be adapted to the Nemesis you’re facing and to the special powers of the character you’re playing.
While you’re in control of your own abilities and your non-randomized deck offers no surprises apart from interesting tactical revelations, the environment in which you operate is unpredictable: the turn order is randomized and you have limited knowledge about what the Nemesis you’re up against will do.
In Aeon’s End: Legacy (AE:L) you take on the role of a magician apprentice. You are about to undergo an ordeal to prove that you’re worthy of joining the ranks of the breach mages. But there is a bigger threat than the embarrassment of failure…
The different big-box iterations of Aeon’s End have always been presented to the player in a way that is somewhat reminiscent of a legacy game, with sealed decks where the top and bottom card says “STOP” and clear instructions on what to do if it’s your first time playing. In this respect Aeon’s End: Legacy doesn’t look very different from previous releases.
What’s new is the sealed envelopes, boxes and sticker sheets. There’s a lot of stuff in the box and knowing that you’ll eventually get to open it all if you’re just patient is very exciting.
The game is for one to four players and comes with four two-sided player boards, female characters on one side and male on the other. The character boards are blank slates at the outset; the decisions you make throughout the game will determine what your character learns and how it develops.
Since you’re far from a full-fledged breach mage when you embark on this adventure, the game starts with a somewhat simplified ruleset. Just like stickers are added to your character board as you progress through the story and develop new skills, stickers with new rules are added to the rule book as you gradually learn to wield the power of the breaches.
Since the rules are slightly different and more rudimentary than in ordinary Aeon’s End, you should make sure to read the rule book before you start your adventure whether you’re new to the game or a seasoned player.
Getting started is a breeze. Everything in the box is clearly labelled and as long as you make sure to read whatever you’re instructed to read the game is very approachable. The publisher has made one goof, though; enclosed in the box is a printed note that corrects a few errors in the cross-references between cards and other game components, and this note itself has an error on it. Where it says 2a it should say 2b.
I decided to play “true solo” with only one mage. I named her Ardra. I prefer playing one character if that’s possible. In my opinion it makes for a more immersive experience. Since I had already played Aeon’s End: The New Age I was aware of how the default solitaire rules make the game a little too easy. I adjusted this by using three player cards instead of four in the turn order deck. This deck always has two Nemesis cards in it. At the beginning of each turn the top card is drawn to determine who’s turn it is. With this modification you get to play three turns out of five instead of four turns out of six.
The Aeon’s End Legacy Experience
Playing through AE:L to completion took ten games for me. Counting setting the game up, making decisions in-between games and so on, the whole adventure took about twelve hours. The adventure isn’t replayable without investing in a Reset Pack, but I now have a unique character board representing a breach mage that I feel very attached to, a big stack of cards and several Nemeses, all compatible with the rest of the content released for Aeon’s End.
I’m happy with the difficulty adjustment I made, and although I definitely won more than I lost and my mage emerged victorious, I had to play slowly and carefully and enjoyed the constant thrill of a tight game.
The strength of this game does not lie in it’s narrative, if by narrative we mean the written story that unfolds as you read the cards in the Legacy deck between games. It’s akin to a Choose Your Own Adventure book. It’s rather confined – since you get to see most of the Legacy cards even in a game where you seldom lose, it’s evident that there’s not a huge amount of potential variation. If by narrative we mean the development of your breach mage, however, the sense of progression, growth, discovery and learning is very strong. If we look at it this way the story told by the Legacy deck becomes a backdrop that makes the theme and the setting come alive. To me the written story functioned like very elaborate flavor text; the world became more elaborate and more plausible.
The real drama lies in the game mechanisms. Apart from the character development, the ramping up of difficulty and complexity as you make progress through the chapters contributes to make AE:L an intensely involving experience.
Throughout the game you’ll replace cards in the market making old ones unavailable to purchase to your deck and you’ll focus on learning certain skills making others unavailable. For every skill added to your character board you dismiss between three and seven others. My character could have ended up completely different yet powerful. With a Reset Pack I could create another equally unique breach mage.
When fighting the last Nemesis I felt that my choices and my planning had payed off: Ardra’s skills and the cards available in the market were in perfect sync. Finally the spell casting engine worked just the way I wanted it to. This was extremely satisfying, especially since the challenge was really hard.
- The power level of the player cards ranges from lower than the rest of Aeon’s End to higher. Although the cards are compatible with the rest of the game, some people have expressed concern over potential balancing issues.
- The Legacy experience isn’t replayable unless you buy a rather costly Reset Pack, but the game can be played in ordinary fashion after finishing the campaign. If you plan to do this, however, be aware that if this is the only iteration of Aeon’s End that you own, you’ll be confined to the mage or mages you’ve created during the Legacy campaign. The blank slate mages you start the game with are useless outside of the legacy context. They have to develop significantly before they reach the power level of the rest of the game.
- AE:L is probably a good place to start if you’re new to Aeon’s End, but not if you plan to buy only one big box. The Legacy campaign will ease you into the rules. It starts out as a simplified version of the game. This is great if you’re learning. What you’re left with after the campaign, however, isn’t quite as exciting on it’s own as what you get in another big box, especially since you’ll only have the breach mages that were created during your campaign. The base game and War Eternal come with eight breach mages each. After a solo run AE:L left me with one.
Aeon’s End: Legacy is a great solo gaming experience. If you’re playing with just one character you might want to increase the difficulty a notch by using three player cards in the turn order deck instead of four.
The written narrative in itself isn’t the strength of this game. Rather, it works like a backdrop. The real story is the story of your character and how she develops from an apprentice into a full-fledged breach mage.
By choosing what skills to learn and what cards to add to and remove from the market, you’re able to approach the challenge in your own way. It’s very rewarding to see your spell casting engine grow more and more refined as cards are added or removed and as you learn the ins and outs of the skills and actions available to you.
When the game is over you have a unique breach mage, several Nemeses and lots of cards, all playable with other legacy content.
If you’re a fan of Aeon’s End I highly recommend the Legacy experience. It’s great as a solitaire game; very involving and full of interesting decisions. If you’re new to the game AE:L would be a good starting point, but you’ll probably need to invest in another big box to make the game enjoyable in the long run.
Other People’s Opinions
If you’re new to Aeons End and think about starting with Legacy you should read this article by Arrienne H.
This review by Razoupaf puts Aeon’s End: Legacy into the bigger context of the game and is well worth reading.
Thanks for reading! Meow!