Aeon's End: Legacy is the third core set offering in the Aeon's End series developed by Kevin Riley and Nick Little. You are Breach Mages, humanity's last hope for survival, aiming to protect the city of Gravehold against the marauding nameless scourge whose sole objective is the eradication of all human life.
To do this, you adopt the power of the very breaches from which these extraplanar monstrosities appear, charging up powerful abilities and unleashing spells with unmatched potency. At least, that's your goal at the beginning of the campaign. You begin as apprentices, far from the power level of master mages that seek to teach you. Through multiple chapters, players co-operate to defeat each new nemesis, harnessing new abilities and upgrading your equipment and supply cards to combat each new threat as it appears.
In this review I will be including information up until the end of chapter one of the campaign. My intention is to provide an overview without spoiling as much as possible, but there will be imagery of some of the box contents, as well as some of the cards and other materials present in the first chapter of the campaign. Please proceed at your own discretion.
Set-up & Gameplay
Gameplay for Aeon's End: Legacy remains consistent with other Aeon's End products and as such, I would like to point you to Nick Welford's article reviewing the original game for a more in-depth description for those of you who are new to the series of games. I will be highlighting the variations from Nick's article below, but for those new to the series Nick's article will give you a basis to work off for the later discussion of Legacy in this article.
In the first major change to the Aeon's End system, the player mats are devoid of many of the characteristics synonymous with the breach mages from the first two games, ready to adorn with various ability stickers as you proceed through the campaign. Each mat starts the same way with both a male and female representation of the respective characters, ready to be customised to your liking. For now, name your character as well as your respective turn order cards.
Aeon's End: Legacy also uses the Stop Deck system of its predecessors, but now each stop deck is related to a particular chapter rather than just the introductory scenario of previous base games. The first stop decks include everything you need for your first game: Starter cards, the first supply cards you'll meet, the Nemesis cards, etc.
Finally, the Legacy deck is also included within these stop decks. This is your main story hub for the campaign, giving you information on your mentor breach mages, the movements of the nameless, and other important information such as directions on when to open the various packs of content.
Thoughts and Analysis on Aeon's End Legacy
Given that this is my second-most played game series of 2018, you can forgive me for being excited about this. As the first Legacy deck builder to hit the market, this game sits in a unique space. It not only provides a unique design space to explore, but also an interesting conundrum: In a world in which blockbuster titles such as Gloomhaven and Pandemic dominate the legacy aspect of the gaming industry, does the first legacy deck-builder have enough to carve its own niche?
Right off the bat, I believe that Aeon's End: Legacy is the best method for teaching the system to a new player. The boiling down of your mages to their sum parts makes the clarification of terms and analogy minimal. It was effortless to teach the new player for our campaign how things worked as instructions came up, giving them the room to get used to the way in which the mechanics work, before linking in a new mechanic to add to their knowledge.
The first chapter is relatively short and on the rails by design, and veterans to the series may feel aggrieved at not being challenged right out of the gates, but new players will appreciate this milder entry into the rapacious world of Aeon's End. There are plenty of new cards to add to an existing collection as well, with about 80% of the game's content being compatible with regular sets, and while many have been scaled back to fit the theme and function of the game, there are still a few I'd be eager to test in a larger-scale environment.
The rulebook, as with previous offerings, remains succinct, able to clarify key points simply while providing relevant examples. The separate first game sheet is also a welcome inclusion to lay out exactly how the game should look and feel before the first encounter. Components also remain much the same from previous outings: Both the tokens and life dials retain the tried-and-true formula of their brethren, and the cards remain consistent in quality and uniformity. I have encountered some minor problems such as slight miscuts here and there, but my past dealings with Indie Boards & Cards make me think that it won't be an issue getting replacements should people have outliers in this area.
Unfortunately, there are some caveats to my immense joy at playing Aeon's End: Legacy for the first time. The Legacy deck, I find, is far from pragmatic in a gameplay sense. Most times I will read the story portions for my group, and having to stop every 20 seconds to flip a card for another 20-second tidbit felt clumsy. There is nothing wrong with the cards in principle, and though perhaps I've been spoiled by Gloomhaven, the lack of a scenario book really hurt the feel of the game for me. I felt like the pauses while divulging the storyline to the players made the experience feel staggered and disjointed rather than flowing and organic.
This is admittedly nitpicky, given that one of the things I most enjoy in games is absorbing the storyline and thematic ties of a game. I also feel like this would have given a chance to show off more of the immense art that the game has gone out of their way to develop and improve, giving a lasting feeling of each nemesis and giving faces to the names that newer players have little concept of.
Speaking of throw-away concepts, another annoyance I have is the insert. Yes, it is functional to a point: If you bought Legacy you would have plenty of room for the cards, as well as the Buried Secrets expansion for Kickstarter backers. However, the multitude of awkwardly-sized indents means that storing anything from the original sets is impossible. There's minimal room for growth beyond the base game despite the box size, so anyone looking for a storage solution for all of their Aeon's End content, or even just one extra set will be sorely disappointed.
The insert is so lacking that there isn't even a proper position for your player mats or nemesis mats to go, either sitting idly on top or discarded below the insert being the only two options short of using a separate box entirely, which given the size of Legacy seems wasteful at best. Although there have been talks about an addition to the Broken Token insert to suit all of the released content, nothing has yet materialised of this solution since the Kickstarter in February last year, so fans of the series will have to make do with their own solutions for now. The same insert with just one extra card row and a smaller indentation to hold tokens, life dials, etc would have presented a much better solution in my opinion, though the saving grace is that the insert is of a much higher quality than the flimsy cardboard inserts of its two predecessors, and for that I am thankful.
I find myself at an awkward impasse with ending this review, so I'm going to summarise as best I can;
- If you are a fan of Aeon's End as a series, or even deck-builders in general, I stand by my opinion that Legacy is the best method of introduction to this series. The methodology is sound, terms are introduced at a good rate, and you'll rarely find yourself lost in the shuffle. At the end you'll only have half as many mages as the other core sets (unless you use the spare components at the end and the reverse side of each board), but you will have a more bespoke experience, and that can be a game changer for some groups.
- For established Aeon's End fanatics, there is a decent amount of content to keep you entertained. Terminology and difficulty are both turned down so it feels less exciting at first, but for the kind of value it offers I can't begrudge it. The most exciting part for me has been the new Nemeses more than the cards, but there are some cards I would love to test further. The prospect of building your own mage to play with in other Aeon's End games post-campaign excites me, and I relish the opportunity to try them in active combat once I've reached the end of the campaign.
- As a Legacy experience, I hesitate to recommend it just yet. As of this review I've played four chapters of the campaign, and I've loved the experience of building my own character to my preferences. All of the generic expectations of a legacy game are present, but the execution is lacking in places. I can't blame the designers as this is their first outing with the system as a Legacy product, but when compared to the methodology of other Legacy games I found this product a bit underwhelming. The Legacy deck feels faffy and could have had a much better presence with a full scenario book instead, and some of the stickers are mis-sized, with some hanging off of player boards. As a first attempt it isn't bad, but I feel like some extra tweaking of the Legacy elements could have pushed this to a near-perfect experience.
Aeon's End: Legacy - Closing Comments
All in all I would recommend Aeon's End: Legacy. It offers enough to ease a new player into the game system without dropping them in at the deep end, while established players will enjoy forming their own vision of a character within the universe. Whether it is ultimately a better experience than the other Aeon's End core sets it is hard to say right now, but if you have even a passing interest in the system or enjoy multiple-session campaign-based games, Aeon's End Legacy might be worth a look.