Having received word here at TVGB headquarters of a new digital board game waiting in the wings to hit shelves in July, I was somewhat excited. In fact I was so excited (and utterly impatient,) I thought I’d see if I could get a sneaky peek at what was going on behind the scenes of Tim Conkling’s Antihero. As it’s never any real fun playing a board game by yourself I thought I’d bring my partner in crime Will Georgiadis along for the ride. It was kindness, honestly, nothing to do with being obsessed with winning.
Crime is the operative word in Antihero. You take the role of a master thief and go out into the dimly lit streets of Victorian London to prove that your guild is the best in the city. Of course, you aren’t the only criminal out there and everyone wants to be top dog. So how do you prove your abilities are better than everyone else’s? By committing as much crime as physically possible of course!
Winning comes by various different means and depending on your strategy, you choose your own path to victory. You might, for instance, see how many people you can bribe and blackmail. Choosing to be slightly less sneaky and under-handed, murder is an excellent strategy and there’s always someone out there needing to be assassinated. You can also take and hold various areas on some of the maps to earn victory points. Get enough of these points before your opponent does and you win. I’ve just made this sound far more simple than it actually is. With your opponent doing exactly the same thing completing some of these tasks is definitely easier said than done.
I have to say that I’m loving what I’m seeing from this game so far. The art style is is really nicely done and there’s something very tongue-in-cheek about the whole game without it becoming silly. Antihero isn’t completely finished yet but there is still plenty to do and the finished modes make the whole game look very promising. At present the tutorial is up and ready, (and very much needed with there being a lot to learn for the new player,) as is the AI mode. The computer isn’t the most intelligent opponent you can go up against but still managed to beat me a few times.
Also complete is the co-operative casual mode which sees you competing in a non-timed almost play by mail style game. You take your turn, wait for your opponent to take theirs and so on. This isn’t done in a live environment so you can go away for a bit and come back later. The other co-operative mode is the live mode which requires both players to be present and times the turns. This is only currently available to play with friends for now, the random player function isn’t quite ready yet. Lastly on the coming soon list is the single player campaign which, based on what I’ve already seen is something I’m rather looking forward to.
All in all I’m very pleased by what I’ve seen so far and will definitely be wanting to get my hands on the finished article. Oh, you’re probably wondering which of us is the better crime lord aren’t you? Now Will may recall being beaten a little differently, but it’s me. Right I’m off to see whether he fancies another Victorian style trouncing.
Ever fancied sticking it to the law and indulging your wildest, most socially-abhorrent fantasies? Well, I have good news. Provided those fantasies are strictly Victorian in nature, Antihero might be just the outlet you’re looking for; so long as you’re only really interested in starting a street gang and clawing your way to the top of the underworld, Antihero will provide.
A labour of love from independent developer and underwear model Tim Conkling, in partnership with Versus Evil studios, Antihero is a turn based strategy game set in the unsanitary, extra-legal mire of Victorian London. The premise, in reductive terms, is a simple one: using deceit, skulduggery, bribery and violence, you’ll need to dominate the board, picking up enough significant items to beat your opponent.
Actually, I lied – that isn’t particularly simple at all. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?
Antihero offers 8 unique characters – let’s call them ‘pieces,’ like a chess set – each of which brings an equally unique skill to the table. You’ll play as the Master Thief, a piece made for robbing the various buildings scattered across the board and clearing the fog-of-war that impedes your movement. He/she is untouchable, and the core of your criminal enterprise.
On the first rung of the ‘optional’ piece list you’ll find the Urchin, the Thug, and the Gang. The Urchin infiltrates previously burgled buildings, essentially asserting your control wherever they are placed. The Thug guards the streets along which your characters will move, blocking the way for opposition pieces until they’re beaten to death; the Gang acts as an enforcer, an offensive piece really only made to give your opponent grief (Alex was particularly fond of this one).
The top of the ‘optional’ ladder holds some more interesting pieces. The Truant Officer captures enemy Urchins, an invaluable tool for removing pesky Urchins from enemy buildings with minimal bloodshed. The Saboteur is another piece made for ruining your opponent’s day: use him to reveal any area of the map, or to booby trap your buildings for when the enemy comes a-knocking. And finally, my personal favourite – The Sisters. Like Syndicate’s Evie Frye, these pieces are assassins, designed to be a single, terrifying blade to the throat for any visible enemy characters, or one of the assassination targets that spawn randomly.
It should be apparent that Antihero caters to a few different play styles – get brutishly violent with the Gang and Thugs, or stick to the shadows with the Sisters and the Saboteur. In any case, you’ll be driving at one preliminary goal: to gain as many coins and lanterns (the two forms of in-game currency) as possible. They’ll fund any purchases you make – coins for characters (the better they are, the more expensive they become) and lanterns for the variety of upgrades you can make to your crime syndicate.
‘Upgrades?’ I hear you query. Let me explain. In your quest to dominate the Victorian Underworld, you’ll be helped along by a variety of optional improvements, operating in a chain-of-purchase manner. Travel down the Skulduggery route, for example, and you’ll unlock the Urchins, the Sisters, and the Saboteur, alongside a host of other improvements too numerous to mention (alright, fine: I’ve forgotten). The two other pathways offer similar bonuses, which include improvements to your Master Thief, the strength and damage of your offensive pieces, and the efficacy of your thievery.
To officially ‘win’ the game, however, you’ll need more than just tons of coin and a gang the size and shape of an entire London pub full of disgruntled patrons. You’ll need to collect very specific items, and a very specific number of them at that: these items can be marks of a successful assassination, bribes bought with lanterns, or papers acquired by upgrading certain buildings to maximum (three Urchins infiltrating at any one time ought to do the trick). Collect enough of these, and you’re king of the rat-way.
Anyway. That about sums up the most important Antihero bits: I suppose you’d all like to know what we actually thought of the damn game. I’m not an avid strategy game player, so for me this was a lurch into uncharted territory. I have to say, however, Antihero managed to strike that fine balance required for a turn based game in spite of a significant roster of characters and gameplay aspects; the speed with which you pick the game up is waylaid by the effort required to really sink your teeth into the more complex strategies that’ll win you the round. I’m also fond of the slightly exaggerated, macabre-cartoon art style, and particularly enjoyed some of the less noticeable animations (Alex’s Master Thief kept wiggling his meat cleavers threateningly).
If I’m looking for complaints, I supposed I’d mention the slightly surplus-to-requirements nature of certain characters – the Saboteur’s traps rarely had much impact, and not once did either of us make use of the Truant Officer. But if I’m honest, these are probably just strategic preferences more than actual issues; Alex has mentioned the moronic AI, and current lack of proper matchmaking, both of which are symptoms of an early-stage game. Otherwise, I had a remarkable amount of fun sneaking around the fog-saturated cobblestones of 19th Century London, regardless of how many times I suffered defeat at the hands of my fellow TVGB writer.
This review is based on an early access version of the game provided by the publisher.