Aeon’s End: Review of the Fourth Wave Small-Box Expansions

This is an expansion review focusing on solitaire play. I assume that the reader is familiar with Aeon’s End and the stand-alone expansion The New Age. The publisher, Indie Boards & Cards, has provided me with review copies of the expansions I review in this article.

My entry into Aeon’s End was The New Age, the fourth wave big-box that introduced the expedition mode, a way to play short campaigns. After playing and reviewing Aeon’s End: The New Age, I immediately ordered the other three big boxes and the five small-box expansions that were available, and since then Aeon’s End has been my most played game. At the moment it’s my second favorite solitaire game, and it’s fantastic cooperatively as well. Now it’s time to look at the latest small-box expansions.

How I Played (!)

The three small-box expansions in the fourth wave of Aeon’s End are called Into The Wild, Shattered Dreams and The Ancients.

It was hard to decide how to approach the new content. In the end I mixed both shattered Dreams and The Ancients with The New Age, opened Into The Wild and, using only fourth wave content, I played through the new narrative expedition that comes in that expansion. After that I added all the content I discovered while playing through Into The Wild, and played two ordinary, non-narrative expeditions. I interfered with the randomization process a little to make sure that I got to play with many of the new cards. After that I played through two more expeditions, one with first wave content and one with second wave content, using only the expedition cards – treasures and upgraded basic nemesis cards – from the fourth wave. Although my focus has been on the expedition mode and what the new expansions do for that way of playing, I also played some stand-alone games to make sure that I got to defeat all of the new nemeses and play all of the new breach mages.

My preferred way of playing Aeon’s End, as you’ve probably realized by now, is expedition mode. I play with one mage only, the same one throughout the entire campaign. For this reason I never add more than one mage to the barracks. To make the game more challenging I use three player cards in the turn order deck instead of four. If I lose against a nemesis on my second attempt I keep grinding with the same player cards until I win. Apart from these tweaks, I follow the expedition rules from The New Age.

Into The Wild

Into The Wild is a new narrative expedition, a continuation of the story that started in The New Age. Aeon’s End has not become one of my favorite games because of the stories it tells – to me its strength lies in the tense gameplay, the fantastic depth-to-complexity ratio, the great variability and the interesting puzzle of adding cards to a deck that you never shuffle, but rather stack and re-stack, as you gradually build it into a spell-casting engine. Although narrative isn’t the prime strength of Aeon’s End, both Aeon’s End: Legacy and The New Age have a strong sense of discovery and reward. They are full of hidden content in sealed boxes and envelopes, and this, rather that the written narrative, is what makes it exciting. Don’t expect the same level of excitement from Into The Wild.

Into The Wild comes with an expedition deck. Besides narrative cards, this deck contains treasures and player cards that you discover as you play. However, the expansion comes with one nemesis only, and you’ll have to use the randomizer cards from The New Age to figure out what other nemeses to fight. Unless you’ve recently added a bunch of other expansions to your Aeon’s End collection, this means that three out of four nemeses in this narrative expedition will be ones you’ve already faced. If you only own The New Age and have played through the introductory expedition, the story will continue by pitting you against the same nemeses once more. Not very fresh.

But don’t fret; that deck hides quite a few interesting player cards between the red stop signs, and Necroswarm, with its siege mechanism that continuously sends little minions against Gravehold, is an interesting nemesis to fight. More treasure cards is also a welcome addition. Just keep in mind that a significant part of the cards are just narrative cards, and the amount of reusable cards is smaller than in the other two expansions.

I found the breach mages, Razra and Inco, to be rather innovative but also rather dull to play. Since their special starting cards are hidden in the expedition deck I’ll avoid spoilers by not going into further detail here. For the same reason, I’ll refrain from going into further detail about the new gems, relics, spells and treasures.

There’s nothing wrong with Razra, really, it’s just that the mechanisms of her special ability and cards are extremely similar to those of her sister, Mazra, a breach mage that I find more rewarding to play. We’ll have closer a look at Mazra in the part about the Shattered Dreams expansion.

As a solo player I wasn’t particularly impressed with Inco. I assume that playing him in a cooperative situation would be more interesting (this is what I tend to feel about mages with straightforward abilities).

The bottom line: If you play Aeon’s End as often as I do, you’ll probably want Into The Wild. If you like playing with the expedition rules, the additional treasures will be a great addition to your collection. If you look at the reusable content in this package it’s all good stuff – most of the player cards are interesting – but you’ll also pay for the narrative fluff, which means that the value for money is on the low side. As a narrative campaign ITW falls short; the writing is uninspired, you’ll most likely be pitted against nemeses you’ve already fought, and the kind of hidden content that made Legacy and The New Age so exciting is missing.

Shattered Dreams

Shattered Dreams comes with a particularly nasty nemesis called The Wailing, and a breach mage that’s very challenging to play named Nook. Incidentally, I got the pleasure of beating The Wailing playing Nook. Prior to The Wailing I’d managed to beat every nemesis by my third try at the worst. It took eight attempts before I finally managed to get the most out of the cards in the market and Nook’s peculiar abilities and put an end to the misery. Frustration of the very best kind!

The Wailing pollutes your deck with worthless gems called Shattered Onyx. These are like Crystals, but you can choose to play them without getting any aether to instead remove them from your deck. The Wailing’s unleash ability is to give two of these gems to the player who currently has the “target token”. That player then passes the token to the next player. Playing true solo means that you’re always the target. On top of this, The Wailing regularly deals lots of damage to Gravehold unless you spend significant amounts of aether to avoid this. The crux of the problem is that focusing on lowering the damage means that you won’t be able to get rid of the Shattered Onyx cards – you’ll have to use them for aether, since with a swamped deck the more powerful gems won’t come up as often.

Nook has only one breach and he wants a very slim deck. His ability, Condense Aether, in effect allows you to exchange what you don’t need in your deck for what you need. His unique card, the Mystic Orb, makes it possible to cast spells during your main phase by replacing them with cheaper ones from the market. Using the orb in tandem with Condense Aether makes for a powerful turn, but I certainly had a hard time keeping up with The Wailing and the influx of worthless gems. Nook is a very interesting breach mage, but probably the hardest one to play in the fourth wave, at least when playing true solo.

Shattered Dreams comes with two new gems, two new relics and six new spells. Many of these cards have somewhat convoluted effects, which makes exploring their use in different combinations and with different mages very interesting. A few of the cards have straightforward, powerful effects. The relic Will Weaver, for example, gives you two charges and lets you deal three damage the next time you activate your mage’s ability.

Like Into The Wild, Shattered Dreams comes with new treasure cards. As a fan of the expedition mode of playing I really appreciate the variety of a larger selection of treasure cards.

The bottom line: You get a nasty nemesis, a breach mage that’s particularly tricky to play, new player cards that are none too straight forward, and some more treasure cards. I’d say the value for money is higher here than with Into The Wild.

The Ancients

The Ancients is probably my favorite of the three fourth wave small-box expansions. It comes with a breach mage, Mazra, that really suits my playing style. I had a blast playing through an expedition with her; creating a very focused, thin deck, usually smaller than what I started with, was an interesting challenge.

Mazra is a strong breach mage. I’ve seen and heard some comments about power creep in Aeon’s End, and Mazra, together with several player cards in The Ancients, could likely be used as examples to make a case for this. From what I’ve seen there’s probably been a gradual escalation, but I’d say this expansion stands out as far as power level is concerned. This is a minor issue, though; there’s a lot of joy in this box!

There’s a particularly powerful relic, Breach Extractor, that allows the player to destroy up to two cards in hand or to destroy the Breach Extractor itself to give Gravehold 3 life. Shining Flourite, a gem that costs 7 aether, is also a powerhouse, giving you 3 aether and sending the next spell gained straight to your hand.

The Ancients also comes with the intriguing breach mage Qu. With Qu, dissociative personality disorder becomes a game mechanism.

Qu moves between destructive and constructive personality states, which makes for a unique experience and an interesting tactical challenge.

The Ancients comes with a rather pedestrian nemesis, The Wanderer. I’ve been up against it a few times and it’s been a tactically direct experience.

Like in the other two expansions, there’s a few new treasures. Playing almost exclusively in expedition mode I can’t get enough of those. You also get a few upgraded basic nemesis cards, something I wish there was more of.

The bottom line: Two very interesting breach mages, powerful but not unbalanced player cards, more treasures, a few (too few) much needed upgraded basic nemesis cards and a nemesis that is pretty bland… I’d say this expansion’s worth getting just for Qu, Mazra and the wonderful Breach Extractor, but I actually like everything in the box except for The Wanderer.

Conclusions & Comparisons

To me the biggest appeal of these expansions is what they add to expedition play. If you sum it up there’s 33 new treasure cards. At the same time I’m surprised that only a handful of upgraded basic nemesis cards were included in The Ancients, and none at all in the other two expansions. It’s a little disappointing. Adding the four cards from The Ancients doesn’t do much to combat the predictability and repetition of using the same small selection of upgraded nemesis cards available in expedition after expedition.

The Ancients is where some of the alleged power creep shows, but there’s also a lot of excitement in the player cards and mages. Into The Wild has a big stack of narrative cards that won’t serve you in the long run. Shattered Dreams is perhaps the most well-rounded of the three, but that doesn’t mean it’s bland; Nook and The Wailing are certainly not, and most of the player cards are somewhat on the tricky side (which is good).

To anybody who plays the game regularly and already has and enjoys The New Age, I’d recommend adding one or more of these expansions to your collection, especially if you like expedition play. If you’re getting just one or two, start with The Ancients or Shattered Dreams. If you don’t have The New Age, however, this is not where you should look for more content for Aeon’s End, since these expansions are all strongly tied to what’s introduced in that box.

To sum it up: Shattered Dreams and The Ancients are top notch with only a few downers, mainly the lackluster Wanderer in The Ancients and the complete lack of upgraded basic nemesis cards in Shattered Dreams. Into The Wild certainly gets a pass, but you might not need it if you’re not a completist or a huge fan of the narrative expedition in The New Age.


Meow!

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