What It Is
Skytear is a MOBA inspired area control miniatures board game. It played in 45 minutes and is for 2-8 players as the core set. It contains eight hero miniatures from four factions, with each faction having four minions. The game also contains a plethora of action cards and a double sided map. So the question then is...
What's a MOBA?
MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) is a popular genre of video game that comes in a multitude of flavours. During these games, players work in teams to control lanes, destroy towers, defeat enemies and take out an enemies main structure, often in the heart of their base. There is no permanent death and players respawn after defeat. Each team also have minions (non-player characters that appear periodically) to aid them take down structures and control lanes. Controlling a lane is down to a team's ability to push opposing players and minions back towards their base and take out towers along the way. A fully controlled lane will be pushed quickly and result in a team's minions making great progress.
Each player plays as a unique character who has specific abilities making them stronger in a particular situation. Some will be more defensive, other offensive, others balanced. Terms like gank, jungler and tank are thrown around and used to describe actions or traits within the games. These are down to specific elements of the game but the depth of terminology shows the games' popularity across the gaming community. As time goes on in a MOBA, characters and minions become stronger based on what they've done thus far. It then comes down to a player's ability to manipulate these abilities to gain the advantage. Generally speaking, taking out enemies or structures will enable them to use more abilities later on in the game. Once a team destroys the enemy’s nexus (main structure) they win! Common examples of popular MOBAs would be Paragon, League of Legends, or SMITE.
How It Differs?
Skytear is a game based on the ideas of a MOBA; you have heroes, minions, lanes to push, towers to destroy, and a nexus (main enemy structure) to take out. The main difference? The game is turn based and runs within hero activations. From an immediate look this may make you believe that the heart of a MOBA is lost as there is no active movement or decision making. However, Skytear enables players to use abilities in response to enemy actions and it also allows players to act accordingly to these actions. If anything, it adds a layer of tactics that actually makes it more accessible.
MOBAs can be inaccessible as some players have pumped so many hours into perfecting the art of play that they can manipulate a match however necessary. Skytear's allowance to let players react calmly and with thoughts means there is no panic when "ganked". When a hero gets eliminated, they respawn after their next exhaust phase, so they always miss an activation. It works like a respawn counter and works like a punishment for dying.
What You'll Do
Like in a MOBA, Skytear will require you to control a lane to destroy towers and, eventually, the enemy nexus. You'll have control of four heroes with specific innate abilities. These enable them to make use of their own faction's skill and orient around a particular play-style. The game will run on a basis of players taking turns to activate one hero and then exhaust them, and then resolving the main phase to determine who is controlling and pushing a lane. Then a new round begins.
The more you control a lane, the further you'll push it and the more damage you'll do to a tower or to the nexus. Players each have a deck of action cards that they can use mana to activate. The amount of mana a character has is dependent on the round: round one allows one mana, round two allows two mana etc. The action cards themselves can be activated by heroes with the associated faction symbol on them.
Each round of Skytear consists of the hero and the minion phases. The hero phase is where heroes activate once and then exhaust, meaning they have been used. During this phase a hero can use up to three actions; move, attack, skirmish, worship, or lead. Move allows them to move three hexes. Attack let's them attack using their base attack value plus the bonus of an action card from the top of their deck. Skirmish lets a character do these things in any order: move one hex, move one hex, make a zero base attack + one bonus modifier from an action card. Lead allows them to add a bonus value to a lane, allowing them to have more control. Worship is the unique one and is dependent on the faction.
Each faction's worship action relates directly to their play-style and also allows them to utilise their innate abilities. Some worship abilities require certain conditions, others enable these from the off. It depends entirely on the faction in question, however these are designed to be used for their interested purposes and enable a player to turn the tides when needed.
There is also the addition of the Outside in Skytear, a unique element that encourages players to control The Dome. The Outsider is a massive beast that can be controlled by the player who controls The Dome. This huge beastie activates after the minion phase and enables a player to take three extra actions specific to the Outsider. The big question you'll ask is do you use a hero to help control the lane? Or risk controlling the Outsider to control the battlefield? The board hosts two different maps. One has a two lanes and one dome, and the other has three lanes and two domes so each will demand different things, but player setup is still the same: two towers, a nexus and four heroes.
What to Expect
Skytear is a heavier game, but isn't as heavy as you might anticipate. It says it plays in around 45 minutes and, in honesty, it can. Our best time is 55 minutes in our fastest game, however even our first game only lasted an hour and ten once we'd learned it. It picks up easily for the depth it provides, but can still entice an element of overthinking. The reason for a game to last too long will be down to a player's inability to make decisions, and it's a risk here. Again, the level of depth provided makes this a heavier game and analysis paralysis is always a risk! Luckily, because you only activate one character at a time there's scope to plan your next move whilst your opposition activates. We strongly advise you do. Nothing kills a flow like analysis paralysis. Know your cards and plan!
The action cards are going to allow for a lot of superior tactics and more "on the fly" decisions. Some are actions, others are reactions, but all use mana to spend. Whether it's planned or panic played, it all comes down to the round number. As said, the round number is the amount of mana each character has and each action card requires mana. The more powerful stuff costs three mana with other action cards needing less, but it depends on what needs to be done at the time!
Reaction cards can be played whenever and do what they say: react! There are some crazy awesome cards available to players, but characters can only use the ones of their own faction and one other. It's ridiculously important to know which cards are applicable to which heroes. You don't want to save an escape plan for a hero who can't use it! Every round the mana resets and increases meaning that the cards you have may become more utilisable within a plan.
A character doesn't have to take pain if you have a reaction card, and the opposition can react to a reaction card and so on and so forth. This makes a "stack", of which arguably the most complicated and the simplest thing in the game. Explained simply... It's the sequence things occur when ever anything is done.
When a player declares an action, it begins a stack. Normally, no one will challenge it and it just happens without fault, however a reaction can add to that and add to the sequence. Cards are played on top of others in reaction and change the previous card's outcome - you get attacked, you choose to dodge. Now, what makes it complex is remembering that you can react after the resolution of any card in the stack, so long as you have the mana. Sometimes it can be worth letting some actions resolve before reacting again, particularly if you're being given negative traits, as you may be able to undo what's been done.
There's a lot to think about at anyone time in Skytear - the game gives you lots of options all at once and it can be quite intimidating. You've got to break your plans down and ensure you know your overall objective, control the lanes. Saving your heroes is going to be high on the priority list, but it's not the be all and end all! Saving a minion isn't a major priority, but they count as an extra point towards controlling a lane. What will determine their durability are heroes' innate abilities and the action cards played. If you can save two minions and control a lane well, then that's probably fare more important than saving a low health hero. But that's all contextual!
Choosing where to send heroes is what's going to clinch a game. The Outsider is always a superb call, but he won't control a lane and it removes heroes from lanes. Lanes are calculated by the number of heroes/minions within range of them plus any lead or buff cards. Being ahead allows you to remove enemy minions, damage a structure, and move the control token. The further it is from your structures the better, as damage is applied to all minions and structures in range.
We have controlled lanes with just minions, but heroes are the real, well, heroes of control. Lead cards apply to lanes within range of the hero who played them, so playing them out of range won't count in the minion phase. You've got to strategise whether you'll attack them move accordingly, or bunker down and lead and buff. Again, it's contextual, but it's important to keep options open.
How to Prepare for The First Experience
Learn the rules and basics. It's simple enough to say but I know full well how tempting it is to setup a game first. Don't. Read about lanes, control, stacks, action cards.. Learn the phases, the faction specialisations, The Outsider's rules. Make sure you've got a grounding knowledge so that when you have a game, referring to the rules will be a quick endeavour for reassurance over a recap. If someone already knows the game, you'll learn it quicker, but you still need to know the basics. This isn't a ridiculously complicated game, it just has lots of different elements within it. You'll enjoy it, maybe even love it, but you need to know it too.