Inspired by the imagery of street urchins scampering around Victorian London, Antihero is a quirky turn-based strategy that gives board games a bit of a twist. Oliver's Twist, to be precise.
Launched on Steam last week, Antihero is a digital board game starring master thieves, urchins, gangs and other rascals as they scrap and steal their way throughout the streets of Victorian London. It's a turn-based affair, with a singleplayer campaign spanning around six hours and an online multiplayer mode. There's AI skirmishes as well, although the campaign is where most people will spend their time.
The basic premise is simple: you're a master thief trying to make a living by banding together gangs, thugs, urchins and other rag tag members of the streets. Each player (or you and the AI) has a main character that moves around the map. That character can't be killed, and you can upgrade their abilities through three sets of skill trees that unlock more movement options, damage, and better loot from buildings.
Every turn plays out largely the same: you use your main character to clear the fog of war, without which you can't scout buildings or burgle loot. Once buildings have been scouted, you can ransack them for gold and infiltrate them.
Different buildings garner different resources. Churches grant a small amount of gold, and when fully staffed by urchins, a victory point. Trading houses offer lanterns for upgrades, banks offer gold (and more gold), pubs give your thugs more health, and estates provide bonus gold provided your main character has the requisite upgrade. You can purchase one upgrade every turn, but you can also take "charity", which lets you choose between 4 gold or two lanterns.
Because you can't eliminate your opposing character directly, victory comes through amassing a set of points. I've mentioned the church before, but the predominant method of victory comes through the assassination of random NPC characters, bribes (an unlockable, but expensive upgrade), and staffing churches. And it's here where the crux of the strategy lies, either rushing for upgrades or perhaps amassing as much gold to expand your army of thugs and gangs to control the map.
The artstyle is a little reminiscent of Don't Starve, albeit not as creepy. When a match starts out, it takes two separate actions to scout and explore the resource generating buildings nearby. Different buildings will have a vastly different impact on your play, but the game always has a natural lean towards upgrades simply because your main character is the only one capable of clearing the fog of war.
But it's not a dealbreaker. The same goes for the game's perspective - occasionally you'll want to click a building that's just behind two other characters, but since units don't have a movement restriction you usually won't burgle the wrong house by accident.
Beyond that, winning usually comes down to minimising the amount of wasted moves you make. Your gangs and hero unit can only attack once per turn, and the quicker you can scout the less you'll be flailing around the map.
Antihero is a charming enough board game, although not all the elements fit. Each player's master thief returns to their main building at the end of every turn. They're invulnerable there, and you can't interfere with the enemy hero except to block their movement. It encourages playstyles that favour the sneaking tech tree, since your other units aren't effective if the master thief hasn't explored first.
The real kicker for Antihero is the lack of content: with a small multiplayer community, you're mostly dropping $US15 for a ten stage campaign and skirmish games against the AI. That's a decidedly less appetising proposition, but the campaign mixes up the gameplay nicely, the artstyle is easy on the eye and there's enough tools to cope with the random and unseen elements that each level throws at you.
Antihero reminds me of those board games you pull out of a cupboard or shelf, play for a hours and put it back satisfied. You won't play it every weekend, and it's not the first game you'd recommend to a friend. But it's fun, the soundtrack is great, and it's entertaining to run around Victorian London looting every building in sight.
Antihero is out on Steam now.