Antihero is a 1v1 digital board game in which players take on the role of a thief that is trying to expand their empire while stopping their opponent from expanding theirs.
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Developer: Tim Conkling
Publisher: Versus Evil
Genre: Digital board game
Release Date: July 10th, 2017
Platforms: Windows, Mac
Antihero is a 1v1 digital board game in which players take on the role of a thief that is trying to expand their empire by burgling, forming gangs, and occupying buildings. As they try to expand their empire, they must also stop their opponent from expanding theirs by killing rival gangs, blocking paths with thugs, and evicting their followers from buildings. The game offers players multiple paths to victory, including taking out targets, occupying Churches to obtain blackmail, bribing officials, and more. The game features asynchronous and live multiplayer modes, each with their own leaderboards, as well as a story-driven campaign that follows the exploits of a thief named Lightfinger as he tries to take down the city’s corrupt elites.
- A story-driven campaign – follow the story of Master Thief Lightfinger and his guild as they take down rivals and expand their empire.
- Asynchronous and live multiplayer – play multiplayer matches locally via the hotseat mode or online in either asynchronous or live multiplayer matches.
- Multiple paths to victory – win through any of a number of viable strategies, including both brute force and subterfuge.
By Matt Chelen
As video games continue to rise in popularity, more and more board games are moving towards digital formats. Some of these so-called digital board games use their computer-based nature to track rules that would otherwise be so complex as to be aggravating in a physical format. Others take advantage of the fact that sounds, animations, and special effects can be added to the formula in order to provide a much more charming experience than would otherwise be possible. The roguish 1v1 digital board game Antihero, being a game with fairly simple rules, falls into the latter category.
Antihero sees players take on the role of a thief named Lightfinger, who is on a mission to take down his rivals and expand his thieving empire. It exudes charm, featuring an inviting art style, characters that have amusing, fully voiced catchphrases, and more. It largely revolves around its online multiplayer component, but it has an offline, story-driven campaign, as well.
Basic gameplay is almost deceptively simple. You start with naught but your Master Thief and a map covered in the fog of war. Each map is static, but what is located in each group of buildings is randomized. From there, you must scout around and burgle various buildings, looking for gold to put towards units and lanterns to put towards research. Only your Master Thief can scout and each scouting action takes a single action point, with attempts to scout uncovering up to three tiles of road or a full set of connected buildings. Certain buildings can be occupied by urchins, providing different benefits for being partially or fully occupied. For example, a Bank will provide gold each turn, whereas a Trading House will provide lanterns each turn. The amount of gold or lanterns provided by the building is dependent upon whether it is partially or fully occupied.
As you advance through the game, you will be able to research more units, such as the upgradeable gangs that can move about the map, attack other units, and evict urchins; the stalwart thugs that guard a specific tile; the assassins, which deal six damage to one target before being permanently removed from play; and truant officers, which can evict all urchins occupying a single building. You can also research upgrades that allow you to obtain an attack ability for your master thief, obtain upgrades that give you additional gold when burgling buildings or additional lanterns each turn, and so on. You can build a small army of urchins, rely entirely on your gang or gangs, depending on whether you have obtained the Second Gang upgrade, rely on cordoning off where your opponent can go with a small army of thugs, or even go the subterfuge route, stifling your opponent’s progress by consistently evicting their urchins from key buildings.
Each map also has several objectives. Primarily, these are progressively more difficult assassination targets, but some maps also have their own twists. For example, the Wharf map has a ship that docks at its port. The player that can occupy it with two urchins and hold it for two turns will earn a victory point.
Each of these elements of gameplay are fairly simple on their own, but, once you begin to concern yourself with several of them at the same time, the game shows its true nature as a far more complex game than it seems. You may only have two or three units that can be moved about at any one time, but, once you are a few turns into a match, you soon realize that there are tons of moving parts. Do you worry about killing your opponent’s currently active gang or do you save your attacks for the current assassination target? Do you fully occupy the Church now, thus earning yourself a victory point, or wait until later in the game?
As you unlock or unveil more moving parts, the order of your actions also begins to matter. You may not be able to evict urchins from a building this turn if you attack the guard with your gang, but if you attack the guard with your thief, your gang can then evict the urchins without needing to wait until next turn, by which time your opponent may have countered your move. It’s a rather welcome level of nuance that isn’t present in all turn-based games. I only wish that the game had an undo button, for I often found myself completely botching the order of certain operations, not noticing my mistake until I had naught but a single move left.
One of the game’s most unique aspects is that movement itself doesn’t cost anything, only actions do. At any one point during your turn, your position doesn’t mean much, but the final position of gangs can block your opponent in a similar manner to that of thugs and they cannot move after they attack, so choosing who to attack and when is important.
The goal of each match is to get a certain number of victory points. The “normal” number of victory points is five, but certain levels in the campaign change that number depending on the rules of the match. The game gives you a number of ways to earn victory points, some of which are mentioned above, and thereby gives you a number of viable strategies at any one time.
Whereas multiplayer matches follow a fairly strict formula, many of the campaign’s levels take the formula and add additional win conditions, sometimes even changing them altogether. One level gives you the option of stealing masquerade masks and infiltrating a party using them to steal heirlooms. Another requires you to kill three gangs in addition to earning two other victory points. These twists give their respective campaign levels their own unique challenges that need to be approached differently than the average match, making them stand out not only from each other, but from multiplayer matches.
It should also be noted that some of the campaign levels are fairly challenging. Of the game’s eleven campaign levels, I ended up playing two of them on Easy, as I found the Normal difficulty for those levels to be fairly difficult. I imagine that the Hard difficulty will keep even master thieves entertained for some time.
Despite the fact that I enjoyed the campaign and its set of challenges, I did find the story to be lacking. Every so many levels, you are provided with a brief story cinematic made up of comic book-like depictions of what’s going on and several lines of text. Other than that, you are left to sort of guess what’s going on based on each level’s tasks. Part of the problem with this is that you don’t ever really get a chance to know or get attached to the characters. You don’t really know much about your allies, much less your rivals, and, as a result, the big reveal halfway through the campaign wasn’t particularly striking.
I am also finding myself torn when it comes to multiplayer. You are given several options when it comes to playing against other players: you can play the game locally using the hotseat mode, you can play live online matches that have a turn timer, and you can play asynchronous online matches that you can leave and come back to. In the case of the asynchronous online matches, the game will even email you when it’s your turn.
Despite the game’s fast-paced nature and relative simplicity, online matches generally last between 30 and 45 minutes. This creates an odd issue where you’re doing a lot during each turn, but much of it can feel like it’s getting you nowhere. Unlike campaign matches, you and your opponent are exactly evenly matched, give or take small advantages provided by the random location of buildings. Because of this, chances are that you will burgle everything that there is to burgle in “normal” buildings, leaving you with only two ways to obtain resources: occupy a relevant building or wait for an Estate’s supply of resources to be replenished. The game offers a way around this by allowing you to sacrifice your ability to research anything that turn in exchange for either four gold or two lanterns, but, towards the end of a match, this ultimately doesn’t feel like it is enough, leaving the match to drag on until one player makes just the right move that affords them enough resources to finish off their opponent. One match I played left me and my opponent with hardly any resources, constantly evicting each other’s sole urchin in various buildings until I ran out of resources entirely and simply couldn’t fight back.
I’m also a bit less than enthused about the game’s support for 21:9 monitors. I was fairly surprised that the game booted up fullscreen at 2560×1080 in the first place, but there are a few issues. The UI seems to scale relative to the width of your display, but doesn’t take height into account. The end result is that many UI elements can end up taking over a large portion of your screen or scaling to the point that they blur on wider monitors. The online play menu is perhaps the best example of this issue, as it scales to the point of being largely unusable while the game is running in 21:9, with the buttons for the leaderboards and live matches completely obscured by your asynchronous games list. Frustratingly, you can’t just temporarily window the game to start an online multiplayer match and then switch it back to fullscreen mid-match, as graphics options aren’t available once you’re in-game.
Antihero is one of the best turn-based games I’ve played in recent times. Its art style and characters exude charm and it has seemingly mastered the “easy to learn, hard to master” ideal. Furthermore, unlike many games of its kind, it truly offers a number of ways to victory, rather than confining players to one or two viable strategies. Multiplayer matches can drag on at times and there are some technical issues when playing the game in non-standard resolutions, but I don’t believe that these harm the overall experience much. If you’re a fan of board games or 1v1 competitive turn-based games in general, I can’t recommend Antihero highly enough.