The board gaming hobby has seen meteoric growth in the last 15 years, with a growing number of players finding excitement and camaraderie in the possibilities of gathering around the table with friends for some action and strategy. That growth has enabled the sort of projects that might have been unheard of only a decade ago, with price points and complexity of play that can seem astounding to newcomers. Nonetheless, the dedicated audience for board games continues to clamor for ever higher-end projects with deep systems that enable truly epic adventures. That unique landscape paves the way for remarkable games like Aeon Trespass: Odyssey.
Publisher Into the Unknown has been at work on Aeon Trespass: Odyssey for a long time, and the game was released last year to largely enthusiastic reviews from critics and players. I’m circling back to talk about the game now for one excellent reason; a new Kickstarter for a second printing is in its final days, representing a second chance to snag the game after it’s been hard to come by since its launch. If you’re interested, you have just a few days left. But given that every pledge level to acquire the game is some variation of hundreds of dollars of investment, is it worth your money and time?
As you pull the lid off and begin to sift through the hundreds of cards, minis, tiles, and other accessories that come with the game, it’s hard to take issue with the production values. From the rich and imaginative art to the incredible detail on each meticulously crafted miniature, this game looks beautiful laid out on the table. Equally important, the components help sell the game’s unique premise and fictional backdrop.
That setting is an unusual twist on Greek mythology, in which the gods have been murdered, and mortal heroes must control massive Titans to fight back against the even more massive monsters that are now left to wreak havoc across the ancient world. Players control the crew of a gigantic city-sized ship called the Argo as it journeys across the map, acquiring the capabilities it needs to confront and destroy the Primordials.
While the core fiction is rooted in familiar names and ideas from Greek mythology, it feels as if the developers at Into the Unknown used that framework simply as a springboard to explore their own dramatic twists. Aeon Trespass: Odyssey is first and foremost a storytelling game with a considerable investment in escorting players through a nuanced choice-driven narrative. The included books include novels worth of branching choices, character development, and discoveries.
The lengthy cooperative campaign may be played solo or with up to four players. Still, it’s the sort of thing that should definitively be tackled by an existing and dedicated gaming group that is looking for something new to try over the next many months. The hundreds of hours of story in front of a group of players make it a better fit for a long-running role-playing game group rather than a selection of players who occasionally like to get together and try out a new board game.
If you do take the dive, have no illusions about what you’re getting into. Like a new tabletop RPG, expect a hefty rulebook with dozens of rules to pick up on gradually, and a complexity that rewards attention to detail and a focused approach to play. If that’s a plus for you and your group, I suspect you’ll be thrilled by the interlocking systems of upgrades, the focus on discovery and exploration, and the intricate and challenging approach to combat. And while there’s a lot to learn, Into the Unknown has done an admirable job of introducing the core concepts through an in-game opening tutorial, which helps start the story and familiarize the group with the main concepts.
While hundreds of hours of written storytelling make up the focus of play, that story (and the surrounding choices and gameplay) are all meant to lead toward combat. You’re gradually developing connections, meeting characters, and forging relationships with others in the world that each marginally increase your chances against the formidable primordials. Players chart their voyage timeline on a sheet as they make decisions and move across a growing modular board of card tiles, eventually forming a map of your team’s journey. You choose to invest in technologies that might lead to new tools or weapons to use against the overwhelming force you face.
In battle, your Argonaut characters possess and embody massive Titans – the only creatures who stand a chance against monsters of this scale. While tactical choices and abilities play a big part, dice rolls ultimately determine whether you hit or miss, so luck can be a significant factor in success or failure. The creatures you fight are so large that the main goal is usually around dismemberment or damage to individual body parts on the creature. It’s an exciting and gruesome approach to combat that matches the backdrop of classic Greek mythology.
My favorite aspect of combat is the slow escalation that unfolds on both sides. An A.I. card deck dictates your enemy’s actions, and as you damage the Primordial, new tactics and abilities go into that A.I. deck, making them more powerful. Likewise, the Titan you control grows stronger as its rage increases. The combined effect is a battle that grows ever more destructive and vicious as it wears on, often leading to exciting and climactic conclusions.
While it’s possible to win, there are many ways to lose, from failing to halt the villains’ plans to having your ship destroyed, among many others. The choices you make in the story aren’t window dressing. Instead, they profoundly impact whether you win or lose, and often come with wrenching trade-offs. New complexities are frequently introduced, like managing the politics of competing factions, or building up your base. Hanging behind everything while you play is a sense of desperation; even when I win a scenario, it feels like I’m doing so by the skin of my teeth, barely scraping by to fight another day.
That tension might not be for everybody. Likewise, many might balk at the complexity and time investment necessary to truly uncover and embrace what Aeon Trespass: Odyssey offers. But if you and your group are looking for a vibrant game that is effectively an entire gaming system in its own right, and you feel you might be up for the hundreds of hours of gameplay it can offer, I suspect you’ll be very pleased. The gorgeous minis, evocative writing, and smartly balanced game mechanics make for an unforgettable adventure.
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