Friday, November 27, 2015

Quick Review - AFL: Andromeda Fight League - Kickstarter Preview

Andromeda Fight League
Designer: Noah Massaro
Publisher: Mars Hill Studio Games / Daedalus Games
Quick Review - AFL: Andromeda Fight League - Kickstarter Preview

AFL: Andromeda Fight League is a light, tactical skirmish game for two or four players that combines tactical battle elements of games like Chess with elements of collectible card games, like Magic the Gathering.  The game was designed by a 14 year old homeschool student (and then further developed by him and his dad) and is now available for $35 on Kickstarter.  Noah and Tony Massaro put a lot of time into designing Andromeda Fight League and I was pretty excited about getting a chance to review this game since we also homeschool our sons and I thought this would be a great inspiration to them.


There is a backstory to Andromeda Fight League, which is actually available in a graphic novel written by Noah Massaro.  The idea is that the Millennial Wars in the universe has ended.  There are fighters scattered all over the universe that now have nothing to do since fighting is all they know.  Instead of rekindling the war they decide to form a fight league that meets on an abandoned planet within the Andromeda galaxy and have organized skirmishes and battles.  In Andromeda Fight League each player has a team of fighters that they pit against their opponent's fighters in a series of quick skirmishes.  Best two of three wins.

Each skirmish is divided into three phases: Draft (where fight teams are created), Setup (where players position five of their fighters on the battlefield), and Battle (when the actual skirmish takes place).

Draft Phase:

Fighters are represented by both a card and an avatar.  The card contains details about the fighter and is kept to the side of the board for reference; the avatar moves around the board and contains just basic stats.  There are several ways to form a team of fighters.  The recommended way is by drafting fighters, but the game also includes fighter rosters for four preconstructed decks and two basic demo decks.  Either way, each player will have a deck of ten fighters (the demo decks only have five fighters each for super fast startup).

Also drafted at the beginning (or assigned in the preconstructed and demo decks) are magic cards (five in the demo deck, eight in drafted or preconstructed) and two terrain tiles (which each 16 spaces with several different types of terrain).  This ensures that every game, and even most skirmishes, even between the same decks, will be different.  With 40 different fighters, 32 magic cards, and eight double-sided terrain boards there are nearly infinite different possible combinations.  And one of the ideas of this game is future expandability through new fighter and magic card packs.  This is definitely not a game that will lack for variability.

I mentioned magic cards.  There are three types of magic cards, Basic, Equip, and Fast.  Basic magic cards can be cast on a player's turn and provide various one-time effects.  Equip magic cards can also be cast on a player's turn and get attached to a fighter and stay in play to enhance the fighter's abilities.  Fast magic cards can be cast on either player's turn and can be used to interrupt and change the outcome of attacks and other events.  Each player will have five to use during each skirmish.
Each player will end up with a final fighting team
that consists of five fighters and five magic cards.

Setup Phase:

Once all the fighters, magic, and terrain have been drafted, the initial setup is begun.  From the ten fighters in each player's deck, six will be randomly selected.  And from those six the player will choose five to participate in the skirmish.  Each fighter has a level assigned and the total sum of all the fighters must be between 22 and 26, ensuring balanced teams at the start.  Each player also takes the avatars for the chosen fighters and five random magic cards from their pool of eight.

Players place their chosen terrain to create a battlefield consisting of 64 spaces.  Then, alternating turns, players place the avatars of their fighters face-down on their side of the battlefield.  Once all fighters are placed they are then revealed and their cards are laid out face-up along the sides of the battlefield so each player can see their abilities.  The final step of the Setup phase allows each player to reposition one fighter by moving the fighter up to its allowed movement amount.  Now the main battle is ready to begin.
Each player gets five fighters, five avatars, two terrain
boards, and five magic cards for a unique skirmish each time.

Battle Phase:

Throughout the Battle phase players will take turns activating one fighter.  They'll be able to move and then attack with their chosen fighter in an attempt to eliminate their opponent's fighters.  The first to eliminate all opponent fighters wins the skirmish.

Each fighter has several traits that are used during the Battle phase.  Each will have both an Attack and Defense strength.  They will also have Life, Movement, and Magic values.  Some fighters will also have special attack powers and latent abilities.
Fighter avatars have basic stats indicated on them.

Each turn of the Battle phase consists of four steps: Start, Move, Attack, Counter Attack.  To start a turn a player can cast any Magic cards they want and are able to.  In order to case a Magic card they must be able to pay it's mana cost.  Any fighters that have not been eliminated can pay to cast any Magic card, if their Magic (MA) strength is sufficient.  Once they cast the spell you put damage markers on that fighter's card to indicate how much MA has been spent (damage tokens are also used on fighter avatars to indicate battle damage during attacks).  This MA is no longer available to spend on future Magic cards, and once used a Magic card is out of the game.  The Start step also lets the active player state which fighter they will be activating for the remaining steps.
Fighters can spend magical energy (mana) to equip other
fighters with weapons and abilities.

Next is the Move step.  To move the player looks at the movement capability (MV) for the activated fighter.  Then he rolls a D6 die.  The active fighter can then move the lesser of the die roll or its MV value.  Some terrain affects movement, however.  Holes and mountains cannot be crossed, roads add +1 movement (if the full standard movement takes place completely on roads), and portals instantly transport fighters from one location to another.

As soon as a fighter finishes moving combat may be declared.  Usually combat must be between adjacent fighters, but some fighters have special powers that let them attack from a distance.  As soon as the attack is declared, however, players have an opportunity to play Fast magic cards.  These may change the outcome of an attack, or prevent the attack from happening at all.
Fast magic can be played on an opponent's turn in response to an
attack attempt.  Basic and Equip spells can only be used on a
player's turn.

Once any Fast magic cards are used combat takes place, if still possible.  Combat is pretty simple and straightforward in AFL.  Each card has three values that come into play during combat.  Attack (AT) indicates the offensive strength of the fighter.  Defense (DF) is the defensive strength of the fighter.  And Life (LF) indicates the amount of damage the fighter can take before being eliminated.  During an attack, if the attacker's AT is greater than the defender's DF damage will be dealt in the amount that the AT exceeds the DF.  If the total damage exceeds the defender's LF then the defender is eliminated.  If the damage does not exceed the defender's LF then damage counters are placed on the defender.  In subsequent fights an attack only has to exceed the fighter's remaining LF (total LF minus damage) to be eliminated.

Some fighters also have special Power Attacks that can be used if the conditions are correct.  Usually these are ranged attacks (which can't be countered) and sometimes they're special attacks against specific opponents.  The combat system is pretty easy to resolve and the outcome of most battles is known going into it, however there is some chance brought into the combat system through the use of a D6 die.  Before resolving combat the attacker must roll a D6 to see if the attack proceeds as normal, is a critical hit, or a miss.  On a 1 the attack is a miss and no damage happens.  On a 6 the attack is a critical hit and the strength of the attack is doubled.  This means 1/3 of all attacks are going to be affected by die rolls.
Shining Dragon has a ranged attack and can attack two spaces away.

The final step of the Battle phase is the Counterattack.  If the defending fighter was not destroyed in the initial Attack, it can Counterattack.  In general the rules for a Counterattack are the same as in a standard Attack (i.e. dice rolls determine if there is a miss or critical hit), however Counterattacks can only be done if the original attacker is adjacent to the defender.  This means ranged attacks cannot be countered.  Counterattacks also cannot use special powers; they must only use a fighter's base AT.

Once any Counterattack has been resolved the player's turn ends and the next player may take a turn.  This process repeats until all of one player's fighters are eliminated, or one player is reduced to fighters that have AT less than half of an opponent's fighter's DF.  When that happens the player with fighters remaining wins the skirmish.  A game is typically played to the best of three skirmishes.

Final Thoughts:

AFL: Andromeda Fight League is an interesting idea.  I like the idea of a lightweight tactical combat game that combines the traits of a Collectible Card Game (or better yet a Living Card Game - selling precompiled deck expansions seems a better route than random boosters).  New fighters and magic cards can really provide a wealth of material for future expansions.  It provides a long term business model that can keep a game like this feeling fresh and interesting for an extended period of time.  And if MtG, Netrunner, Pathfinder, and the likes are any indication, there is a huge market for this type of game.
The game is easily expandable by offering new fighters and magic cards.
That said, I think the game is lacking a bit in the gameplay.  It's core mechanics work well and I think it has the potential to be a really great game, but there are a few areas where I felt it fell flat.  I played the game with both people who like the combat aspects of games like Magic the Gathering and people who generally like tactical combat games with lots of dice rolling.  We all felt AFL is a solid concept, but it fell flat for myself and the others I played with.  Primarily it was the "swinginess" that the die created.  Too many times the die was the deciding factor in the outcome of combat, and generally it was an insurmountable swing.  Either a strong fighter had a miss, allowing it to be completely eliminated in a counterattack, or a fighter rolled a critical hit, taking out another fighter that normally would have only been damaged minimally.  Die rolling also came into play when determining movement and even if some spells were cast successfully or not.  Counterattacks also seemed to be overpowered, particularly when a counterattack resulted in a critical hit.

Most individual confrontations between fighters lasted only a single fight, occasionally two.  This resulted in fast skirmishes (generally 10-15 minutes per skirmish, but occasionally a skirmish could be decided in as little as 5 minutes).  The combination of quick fighter elimination and random chance being a deciding factor left players feeling frustrated and unfulfilled.  Even a ranged attack that can't be countered directly is risky for a weaker fighter to undertake on a more powerful fighter because most ranged attacks are two spaces away, which means even if an attack can't be countered, all it takes is a single move and then the defender becomes the attacker.  So it's virtually impossible for a weaker fighter to ever slowly take out a stronger fighter through strategic planning and tactical maneuvering without getting a lucky critical hit, even with a ranged attack.

Some chance in a game like this is good, but I personally don't enjoy when chance plays as large a factor as it does in AFL.  For me, it takes away from the tactical strategy.  I would rather see something like a single D20 rolled by the attacker.  A one could still be a miss and anything else could add to the AT the value of the fighter.  This would allow even a weaker fighter to have a chance at a good attack occasionally, while reducing the possibility of a stronger fighter being virtually indestructible.  There would still be chance, but not necessarily resulting in complete swings of a fighter's fate; a variable approach rather than an all-or-nothing approach.  I'd also like to see counterattacks be tempered a bit.  Maybe eliminate the possibility of a critical hit on a roll of 6 for counterattacks.  Or give the attacker the option of retreating one space on a missed initial attack.

The game is supposed to be a series of quick skirmishes, and for that it works well.  But I think a single, slightly longer battle would be more fulfilling.  It would allow time for strategies to develop, allow for wearing down opponent fighters rather than quick eliminations, and provide opportunity for comebacks.  These are issues that would be very simple to fix with a few house rules, but it would be nice if they were ironed out by the designer.

Another minor issue I have with the game, although it doesn't affect the gameplay, is the theme and artwork.  The story behind the game's premise just doesn't quite fit with the characters and artwork in the game.  The characters are mostly fantasy genre characters, but then there are a few zombies and ninjas thrown in.  But the backstory is a science fiction tale of a universe-wide war between inhabitants of many different star systems in many different galaxies.  When I originally got the game I was expecting starfighters, aliens, spaceships, plasma weapons, and other typical scifi stuff, not dragons, wizards, ninjas, zombies, etc.  And the artwork, while unique and interesting, seems very amateur.  The graphic design on the cards shown on Kickstarter will help with that a bit (it's a lot better than the prototype designs I received), but the character art still lacks that professional pop.
The artwork is nice, but nothing special.

Anyway, I think AFL: Andromeda Fight League is a solid concept and has a lot of potential.  Overall I really liked the game's core premise and mechanics.  It's a great first design, but I just felt that it could be so much more than what it is.  If you are looking for a very light, tactical combat game that plays quickly, AFL works well.  It makes a good filler for those that enjoy fast paced fighting games.  It is easy to learn and set up (particularly with the well balanced predefined decks), plays quickly, and can easily be paused and returned to later due to the nature of having separate skirmishes.  It's also great for adjusting the overall length, just by playing more skirmishes, or keeping it simple with just a single skirmish.  However, if you want something a little meatier with more long term depth to the strategy, the team drafting and combat in AFL will leave you with a taste, but wanting more.  There seems to be a depth of strategy in the preparation for the game through drafting or constructing decks that should appeal to MtG players and others who like deck construction, but the battle phase felt like it was much less strategic and a lot more casual and light.

I really, really wanted to like AFL, and on one hand I do, but on the other hand I'm seeing how much more it could be.  I wish Noah and Tony luck with their Kickstarter, but really want to see this game developed more.  It has the potential to be great, but right now I felt is was just mediocre.

If AFL: Andromeda Fight League sounds like something you'd enjoy, be sure to check out the Kickstarter campaign.  You can help support Noah's dream and get yourself a copy of the game for $35.

Preliminary Rating: 5/10
This review is of a prototype game.  Components and rules are not final and are subject to change.

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  Quick Reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first few times playing.  Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

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