Astro Knights' New Spin on Deck Building Makes a Big Impression
Astro Knights has blown past its funding goal of $20,000 on Kickstarter, and it's easy to see why. The new title from Indie Boards & Cards captures the essential elements of deck building and cooperative play with a superhero style and enough twists to the core mechanics to keep you immersed in the turn-by-turn tactics, and it's an experience that I readily recommend for fans of the genre. ComicBook.com had the chance to check out the game ahead of its final version, and if you're still on the fence about adding it to your collection, hopefully I can give you some insight to help in your final decision.
First, the basics. Astro Knights is a fully cooperative deck-building game where you play as one of eight heroes, each with their own unique ability that requires power to activate. Your goal is to defeat one of several powerful bosses and their minions before they can destroy the chosen homeworld, and you'll amass Tech, Fuel, and Weapon cards in order to make that happen.
At that point, it's all about teamwork, though each character does have their specialty. Some characters are able to heal the team while others have more slots for weapons at the start of the game. Others (like Toli) let you heal the homeward and power up its ability (which can be a godsend), while Christina allows any ally to gain the top weapon from any supply deck and place it on top of their deck. Again, this is amazing, even if it costs 5 power to activate.
That ability ties into the most unique and welcome mechanic in the game. In most deck-building games, you purchase cards and place them in your discard pile, and then once your deck runs out, you shuffle those cards together, randomizing the cards you pull next. That's not the way it works in Astro Knights.
In Astro Knights, you purchase Tech, Fuel, and Weapon cards and then place them in your Discard pile like normal. Once your turn is over, though, you are able to choose in what order you place the Fuel cards you used this turn in your Discard pile. As you purchase more Fuel cards with more powerful abilities, this starts to make a huge difference, because after your current deck runs out, you don't shuffle. Instead, you flip your Discard pile over and that becomes your current deck.
The effect this has on the game is substantial. Because you are putting your more powerful Fuel cards further back in the Discard pile, that means you also draw them sooner when you flip it over, and those who can really pay attention will have a pretty sound idea of what cards are coming next. This informs what decisions you make on any given turn, and that matters, too, as every turn a Wild token is passed from player to player, giving the person who holds it an extra turn when that card comes up in the Turn Order (which is shuffled each round).
The character designs fit within the science-fiction/superhero combo aesthetic the game is going for, and the bosses follow suit, with bold, colorful designs that couple nicely with the overall challenge level of each one. The bosses level up as you make your way through their Boss Card Decks, though even at their standard levels, they are far from pushovers. I enjoyed the challenge quite a bit, and I found it encourages the player to really learn how to utilize their abilities in connection with the rest of their team and to experiment a bit with how they approach the situation.
Sure, you can go all out and just start dealing damage to the boss, but perhaps it's better to amass some power early on or upgrade your Slots to accommodate more weapons on a given turn. Early on you won't get as much use out of this, but as the game progresses, having multiple slots is a lifesaver, especially if you utilize other players' unique abilities.
Defending the Homeworld also throws another wrinkle into the mix, as most of these have significantly less health than the bosses (a boss is typically 60 and a homeworld tends to be in the 25 to 30 range), so you've got to constantly be paying attention or the game can quickly get out of hand.
Most of my quibbles have to do with the prototype components, specifically the Character Cards for the Knights. They are just cardboard in the prototype so they move around at the slightest touch sometimes, but in the final version of the game, these have been upgraded to actual mats, so that should not be an issue. Other than that, a larger reservoir of cards wouldn't have been a bad thing, as it doesn't take long to start seeing the same cards on each play-through. Still, there's plenty here to keep you entertained for a while, as the randomization in the game and the variety of characters should keep you hooked.
Astro Knights introduces some welcome tweaks to the deck-building formula and quickly became a game that I look forward to diving into again in the future. With all the upgrades and milestones added to the core experience from the campaign, the final version should be even better, making Astro Knights more than worth your time and support.
You can check out Astro Knights' Kickstarter campaign right here.
Will you be backing Astro Knights? Let us know in the comments or as always you can talk all things tabletop with me on Twitter @MattAguilarCB!