Thursday, 25 September 2014

Apocalypse: Galactic Arena (p)review - on Kickstarter right now!

Apocalypse: Galactic Arena is a 2-6 player battle game by Storyception Games that is currently on Kickstarter.

I was contacted by one of the designers, Christos Chrysou, and provided a prototype copy of the game to (p)review and as of writing this there are 13 days left in that kickstarter.

The game has already funded so it will be be made. Right now they are working towards some great looking stretch goals like a bigger board and new heroes. 

I've played the game a handful of times. Trying it with both one character each side and with teams of three facing off against each other and I feel pretty confident in recommending it. The buy in price for a full copy of the game is only $47 and that includes worldwide shipping.

What is Apocalypse: Galactic Arena all about?

Galactic Arena is a straight up battle game. Characters are built and then placed into a hex grid based arena and you battle until the last man is standing. While there's a ton of background information, the game itself is just a fight to the death in the arena. 

Based on information on the Kickstarter, Storyception's website and what the designer has shared with me, this is only the first game in a full universe that Christos and his friends have been gaming in for years now. They call this world The Apocalypse Universe and, assuming things go well with Galactic Arena we can expect to see more games in this world including an RPG.

Based on the background I've read the universe is a Sci-Fi one with a lot of cyberpunk influence. It also reminds me of a more sane version of Rifts and also seems to have a bit of Mutant Chronicles in there.

What I do know based on this game is that the art if awesome. I really dig the look of each of the characters on their player cards. On the pack is a large amount of flavour text with the character's background and why they find themselves in The Arena. This fluff is very well written and evocative even though at this point it's really nothing but fluff.

How do you play?

First you decide if you want to play one character vs. another, two on two or three on three. No matter which choice you make it will always be two sides and each side will have the same number of characters. Each side can us played by a player or players can team up for a max of 6 players per game.

Once you've picked your sides you each pick characters. There are currently 10 included in the game with the possibility of more depending on how well the kickstarter does. Once characters are picked you then put up a screen in the middle of the board so that the other team can't see what you are doing. I found this a bit awkward and only actually used the screen the first game. Every game after we just made sure not to peek.

Once you have your characters you then build them. This, to me, is the coolest part of the game. Each character has a ton of special abilities listed at the bottom of their character sheet. They also have a stat that determines how many slots they have to spend on these abilities. 

The special abilities are broken into two categories: offensive and defensive. They also have a variable cost. Some are free to use, others cost 1 action point to use and some can only ever be used once and cost an action point. They include a whole bunch of ways to break the basic rules and are all named in thematic ways that make sense for the characters. For example: "Ice Wall - Your opponent misses when he executes a range attack" or "Absorb Essence - when you successfully deal damage, restore 1 health point"

With 10 different characters and 12 different abilities for each and each player taking between 3 and 5 of these abilities you end up with.... um... a lot of possible combinations. Actually a crazy amount of possible combinations.

If that wasn't enough, the other thing you have to decide before you start is which weapon your character will use. Each character has a choice of three. Weapons again break the basic rules again, by doing things such as extra damage, ignoring armor, lighting their target on fire, etc. 

Once you have your characters ready you build the arena. There are three types of 'scenery' that you and your opponents take turns putting on the map. Barriers block movement, Explosives damage people who move into them and Stasis Fields stop movement. The board also has a bunch of trap spots pre-printed on it. Next you place 6 crates out on the map randomly in the 'corners' of the board. If someone passes through these spots they get a free upgrade (like any good First Person Shooter). The final set up step is to put your characters on the board.

In my copy the characters were just represented by hex tiles with names on them. This has already been upgraded to standees for the final game. There is also the possibility of miniatures being unlocked through kickstarter.

Now you are ready to battle. 

Battle is done using an action point system. This is reminiscent of FASA Star Trek or X-Com. You spend one action point to move based on your move speed. You spend another to attack. You can spend more to activate your special abilities. Most characters have 6 of these points, but some have one more or less. What is very interesting is that dodging an attack takes an action point, so if you spend too much time defending you won't have many points left to attack and the opposite, if you are too aggressive you won't have any points left to defend. Actual turns happen in initiative order (which varies by character).

Attacks are made using a D10 plus your character's Attack stat. This is an opposed roll vs. the opponent's D10 plus their Defense stat. Weapons and special abilities modify these rolls quite a bit. Base damage is only 1 per hit but this can be modified as well. Characters have health in the 4-6 range which makes games quick and deadly.

A huge part of combat is players activating their characters special abilities. This is done using a LIFO or stack system, with the last power activated happening first and potentially cancelling out previous abilities. When a player attacks the defender gets the first option to activate an ability, then the attacker and back and forth until both players pass. Only then are the dice rolled. Then players have another chance to use abilities to modify damage.

Once every character is out of action points a new round starts. Everyone gets their points back, their special abilities refresh and the battle continues at the start of the initiative order. Rinse and repeat until there's only one team standing.

So what did I think?

I've really enjoyed every game I've played of Apocalypse: Galactic Arena. It didn't read very well but actually playing has been a lot of fun. It's the character building through special ability selection that really makes this game, with the actual interaction of those abilities being the icing on the cake.

I love the artwork and based on all of the fluff on the back of the character cards, the Appocalypse universe looks really cool. That leads me to my biggest disappointment with this game: it doesn't feel like a full game. To me it comes off as part of a game. A really great combat system with a really cool character building system. Having that and only being able to use it to beat the crap out of the other players just isn't quite satisfying enough. I want more. I want the RPG that goes with this system, or I want a tournament system that lets me level my characters. Something more, than just a battle game.

That said Galactic Arena is a really good battle game. It reminds me of something Games Workshop would have put out back in the Talisman/Bloodbowl days and that's a good thing.

I think the kickstarter is worth backing. The full product looks even better than the preview copy I received and I think the price is right for a game like this. If you would like a nice quick battle game with an insane amount of customization and possible combinations, I think you owe it to yourself to check out Apocalypse: Galactic Arena. Back it now on Kickstarter!

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