Sunday, 26 April 2015

Regnum Angelica; card battle in the Angelic Realm


A little while back I was contacted by Casey Willett of Black Locust Game Co. about a game called Regnum Angelica. Casey noted that he was looking for more Canadian exposure for their game and asked if I would be willing to review it. 

I did a bit of research and found out that Regnum Angelica was originally kickstarted under the name Kingdom and was a two player card battle game fought between the arch angels led by Gabriel and the fallen angels under Beelzebub. The game appeared to have some chess like elements and an interesting combat mechanic so I agreed to check it out.

I've now played quite a few games of Regnum Angelica and I have to say that Black Locust has a rather solid interesting game here. It's a lot more deep than it first appears on the surface. The seemingly simple combat system actually adds a lot of tactical depth to the game. Added to the gameplay is a beautiful looking game with some really cool bits.

So what do you get?

The first thing you notice when you crack open Regnum Angelica is how cool the bits you get with the game are. There's a set of rule and really evocative and striking board. Under that though is a rather specialized foam insert to hold all the cool bits. Something about this just said "this is a kickstarter game to me." It's the kind of neat bit that we are starting to see regularly as part of kickstarters often as a stretch goals. In this foam are two decks of cards (one for each side in the battle) a bunch of really nice plastic cubes, a white and a black glass bead and a set of really neat wooden tokens. These tokens really stuck out to me. There are white and black wings and then three different colourful symbols to represent the three elemental pillars in the game: Earth, Water and Fire. I especially love the 'Fire Meeple'

The rules include a ton of background. Some of the most I've ever seen in a board game rulebook. It describes the history of the angels and how the angelic war represented in the game came about. The game rules are all fairly clear with lots of examples. There is an entire section on running Regnum Angelica organized play events and a small set of variant rules.

How this angelic battle plays out

Set up for Regnum Angelica is very quick. Each player picks a deck of cards, either the arch angel deck or the fallen angel deck. Both of these decks appear to be identical mechanically but each has a very different look with completely different angels. This means that as far as gameplay goes each deck is balanced against the other. The board is set up between the players and represents the battleground with "heaven" at the arch angel end, "hell" at the fallen angel end and earth in the middle. The board is represented by a grid of circles which represent the various positions your angels can be on the battlefield.

Each turn a player goes through these simple steps:
1) get movement points based on your power level.
2) play a new angel face down on the board (to a max of 5 on the board at once).
3) activate an angel (flip over a face down angel).
4) spend movement points to move angels.
5) burn cards to generate more power.

The actual goal of the game is to get your angels on the board, move them across the board and then move them into the opponents scoring area. Each time you do this you score points equal to the rank of the scoring angel and the first player to 35 points wins. 

Each player has a power track on their side of the board that ranges from 0 to 5. This determines how many moves the player can make with their angels each turn. In order to remember this number as the turn plays out players take red movement cubes at the start of each turn.

After generating movement a player can play an angel face down. Each player's deck is a mix of three different card types. In addition to the angels already mentioned the decks also contain Scripts and Pillars. The Scripts are like Interrupts in Magic the Gathering (sorry it's pretty much impossible to look at a two player card game without comparing it to Magic) and let you break the rules in various ways. There are a huge variety of these that do things like generate extra movement, move angels around the board, swap angels, cause instant scoring, and a whole lot more. The last type of card are the elemental Pillar cards. These represent the three elements in the game Earth, Fire and Water and are used to 'equip' an angel with that element. These pillars increase the rank of the angel they are put on and provide an elemental shield during combat (more about that in a bit).

The angels themselves are all beautifully illustrated. Each angel card has a rank, a movement allowance and a combat grid. Many of the angel cards also have an ability that occurs when you first activate (flip over) the angel. The combat grid is one of the most unique things in Regnum Angelica and comes into play when you try to move your angel into a spot occupied by another angel and a combat occurs.

Movement is pretty straight forward. Each angel has a movement value under it's rank and that sets the maximum amount of movement points you can assign to that angel each turn. Movement can be in all 8 directions including diagonally. Other cards block movement and moving onto an opponents card instigates an attack. The five 'earth' spots on the board give a bonus for ending your movement on them.

The way combat works combined with this tactical movement is one of the highlights of Regnum Angelica. When one angel moves onto another angel's square you compare the combat grid of the two cards. You look at which direction the attack is coming from and compare the two alternate symbols on the cards. These symbols represent either Earth, Fire or Water. For example (using the card pictured above): if Azriel attacks to the top right, he attacks using the Water Element. If he is attacked from the left side he would defend using the Earth Element.

Comparing the elements reminds me so much of Battle Beasts except Wood is replaced by Earth. Fire defeats Earth which defeats Water which defeats Fire. When elements are tied, then the angel's rank comes into play with the higher ranked angel eliminating the lower ranked one. It's really that simple.

Elemental Pillars come into play during combat as well. When an angel has a pillar equipped (represented with the cool elemental icon meeples, elemeeples?) it not only gets +1 rank, it also gets a shield of the appropriate element. The shield means that the angel has that element's icon over it's entire combat matrix and that the shield has to be defeated before the angel can be defeated in combat.

Really messing with all of this are the script cards. The potential moves and combos you can pull off with script cards is the other cool aspect of Regnum Angelica. Attacking a weak angel only to have it swapped out for a tougher one is par for the course. Having one of your angels in scoring position suddenly returned to your hand happens pretty often. Having to defeat elemental pillar after pillar on a strong defender can happen. Watching your opponent flip an angel only to have it move all the way across the board and score in the same turn while you sit mouth agape can happen, all due to scripts.

Scripts and Pillars are good for one more thing as well. At the end of each turn a player can 'burn' them to get power. Burning just means tossing the cards in your discard pile. Your power level not only determines how much movement you get each turn, but all scripts and pillars require power to play. It's the "mana" of Regnum Angelica. Managing your power level is a huge part of the game and something that took me a few plays to really realize the importance of.

So that's about it. Play angels, flip angels and then move them around the battlefield trying to get to the opponent's scoring zone. Along the way battle using the three elements of Fire, Earth and Water while using scripts to both support your moves and to hinder the opponent.

My thoughts on this "Angelic Realm"

I fully admit I was a bit skeptical at first. Something about Regnum Angelica said "overproduced Kickstarter" to me and that's often not a good thing. There are far too many great look but sub par playing games that have come out of Kickstarter and I'm very happy to say that Regnum Angelica is not one of them. There is a really great looking solid to play game here. 

While I think that Black Locust may have been dreaming a bit with how well they thought the game will do (the whole organized play and tournament rules section of the rulebook seemed a bit pretentious to me), they did produce a very solid game. While I don't know of the RA tournament scene will ever really be a thing, I can see many gamers playing and enjoying it.

Personally I'm not a big two player card game player. Most of the time I would rather be playing something with four or more players. I'm all about getting big groups together, so I'm not really the target audience for this game. While I did find it interesting and fun, it's not something I expect to play all that often. The gameplay takes a bit longer than I would like. While not long, it's also not a quick filler game (which are the types of two player games I do tend to play, while waiting for other games to finish). 

If you aren't like me though and really dig two player games, especially games that add a nice level of tactical movement to the traditional card based battle game, I strongly recommend checking out Regnum Angelica. Even if you are like me, I do recommend trying the game at least once, you may just find something you really enjoy here.

As an added bonus to Canadians, you can get Regnum Angelica at Amazon.ca for 37% off right now:

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