Robots are pretty dope, and robots that combine into bigger robots a la Voltron or Power Rangers are even more dope. Surprisingly, despite the genre’s popularity in other media (such as anime and video games), there is very little representation in tabletop gaming.
Enter A.E.G.I.S : Combining Robot Strategy Game, Zephyr Workshop‘s flagship game title, heading soon to Kickstarter through publishing company Greenbrier Games, Inc. Zephyr Workshop has been working on A.E.G.I.S since 2013 and has brought the game to many conventions, such as the recent Gen Con 2016.
A.E.G.I.S is a resource managing tactics game where players construct teams of five robots from five distinct Classes to do battle against each other. Each Class (Assault, Evasive, Guard, Intel, Support) have different actions and abilities, and within each Class there are specific Makes; you can have robots from the same Class on your team, but you can’t have two of the same Make. Additionally, there are factions within the units, which places further restrictions on how players can build their teams. Players begin the game with five Level One robots, which can be combined into stronger, higher-level robots when the conditions for combining are met.
The first impression that A.E.G.I.S leaves is very excellent. The artwork is very well-realized, with each Class having a detailed, distinctive feel, which is carried over into the higher-level combined robots. A.E.G.I.S‘s second impression is just as solid, with intriguing game play that not even the (self-admitted) ancient rule book hampers. While it does take a little time for new players to familiarize themselves with game play and mechanics, one playthrough is enough to have a solid grasp on the majority of interactions found in a typical game of A.E.G.I.S.
Setting up A.E.G.I.S doesn’t require much in the way of preparation. Players can either use the Starter Sets’ pre-constructed robot teams, or construct their own, with the final version of the game planning to feature rules for drafting teams. In constructing their team, players have to be aware of of the terrain, making sure that they can effectively manage their energy resources with their chosen robots, as well as consider whether they want to combine their Level One robots into higher-level units. Gameplay consists of players using Energy Points from their robots’ shared EP Pool to move their units across the board and take actions such as attacks, status buffs/debuffs, and unit combination.
In addition to the “Standard” style of gameplay found in the rule book, there are two variant styles of play. The Advanced settings allows players to discard the game board and play A.E.G.I.S on a large table, measuring distances with rulers, similar to many tabletop miniatures wargames. Movement and action distances carry over very naturally to this style of gameplay, and I enjoy playing this way as it not only allows for a free-flowing style of play unconfined by the hexagonal game board, but also allows players to incorporate their own types of terrain hazards in order fully customize their game sessions.
Zephyr Workshop also includes instructions for a Machine Chess variant, with players taking turns moving their robots one at a time, with play passing back and forth, similar to chess. Unique to this variant is a change in when the EP Pool Recharge Phase occurs. In Standard games, the players EP Pool is only refilled during their turns Recharge Phase. In this Machine Chess variant, both players have a simultaneous Recharge Phase that occurs once all robots have been moved. This allows for a more “real time” game play experience.
A game of A.E.G.I.S is won in one of three ways. Either all of an opponents robots are destroyed, they are unable to produce any Energy Points for movements or actions, or any robots on the board are unable to deal damage or energy damage. I found in the many games that I played that the most common way to win was to simply destroy your opponents robots through the use of an aggressive or mid-range playstyle. As the other win conditions involve robots that have at most one damaging attack (if at all), and rely on status debuffs, I found that most new players tended to only feel comfortable pursing these strategies after becoming experienced with unit positioning and resource management, as both are key to those strategies.
A.E.G.I.S‘s combat system utilizes dice, and is engaging and very satisfying. There are a variety of attacks and buffs/debuffs ranging from close-quarters sabre strikes, to long-range cannon blasts, to EMP-styled shock waves. In addition, some robots are capable of repairing allies, allowing them to survive another round of combat. All actions, movement, and combinations require Energy Points, and many robots have passive abilities allowing them to make use of multiple actions in one turn, or use actions during the opponents turn. I happily enjoyed this variety in combat actions and found that it really helped to further define the Classes.
There is one drawback to A.E.G.I.S‘s combat system: there is a moderate learning curve, requiring multiple sessions to be fully competent in playing. While a single game session is enough to grasp the majority of interactions and mechanics, I found that new players required on average three or more game sessions in order not to miss out on passive abilities such as Retaliation (which allows a robot to attack immediately after it has been attacked by an opponent robot) and Magnificence (which provides buffs based on the number of destroyed ally robots).
The same goes for A.E.G.I.S’s standout mechanic, robot combinations. It’s surprisingly quite complex and has a fluidity to it that I wasn’t expecting but requires proper planning and strict resource management. In many games I played with new players, their first instinct was to combine their robots into the very strong Level Three units, hoping to use them to sweep through opposing robots. This unfortunately limited their EP Pool and left them open to group assaults from opponents. Knowing when to combine robots is a big part of the learning curve, but learning properly has massive payoffs as status debuffs and accumulated damage don’t carry over to the combined robot.
Which brings me back to my initial impressions of A.E.G.I.S: the game play is very intriguing, even more so once the learning curve has been crested. There were some game sessions I played where games would have very close victories, and the board was immediately set-up for another round. The combat draws you in and doesn’t let you go, and there’s enough variety in team building to prevent gameplay from ever becoming stale. It’ll be a while before A.E.G.I.S: Combining Robot Strategy Game is out on the shelves, but I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing it.
Notes on player count: A.E.G.I.S: Combining Robot Strategy Game supports two-player and four-player games and plays well across both player counts. Obviously, with more players involved, there is an opportunity for politics, with players teaming up to take out individual teams and protect their partners in combat.
Notes on play time: A.E.G.I.S claims to have a fifteen-to-twenty minute two-player playtime, but I found with new players that the playtime was considerably longer. With more experienced players it was closer to the advertised playtime, but even with inexperienced players it was much faster than similar wargames. Four-player games have a similar quick playtime, in the twenty-five-to-forty minute window, with the Advanced variants requiring a much longer preparation period.
Bottom line: A.E.G.I.S: Combining Robot Strategy Game is a fun, quick-playing game that requires little set-up and can be customized for complexity as needed. It takes a few plays to be able to understand and appreciate the learning curve, but once that’s done, A.E.G.I.S is a blast to play and very rewarding. If you enjoy tactic-based board games that involve resource management, you’ll enjoy A.E.G.I.S.
The Sky Guard Starter Set used for this A.E.G.I.S: Combining Robot Strategy Game Preview was loaned to the author by Zephyr Workshop.