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GenCon Report: Archon Games Embraces The Darkness

Full disclosure: I’ve been a devoted fan of Archon Games since before they even were Archon Games, back in the days when they were still known as  Travesty. Between the four or five people in my home gaming group, we own every game that they’ve released under that name (and after this GenCon, we own every game they’ve ever released). I even remember when we came to GenCon and spent three days trying to find Travesty, only to discover that the newly christened Archon games, which had a new and exciting identity that appealed to us even more than Travesty’s had. A visit to Archon’s booth this year was going to happen no matter what. But I had to fight my way through a crowd first, because Archon’s booth was one of the most consistently busy in the whole hall.

Archon’s booth sticks out from the surrounding booths thanks to its dark fantasy trappings and the grim visage of Eschaton’s Dark One looming over the demo tables, the empty sockets of his skull burning with an endless hatred for the living. The copies of Eschaton evoke a great stone ruin, decaying before our very eyes as Archon’s stock reduced day by day. Words like blasphemy, demons, and apocalypse drift to your ears as you pass by. It’s hard not to get sucked in.

The curb appeal wasn’t the only thing that drew the people into Booth 460. Archon has developed a fanatically loyal following: they don’t say “Join the Archon Cult” for nothing. Since their debut in 2016, they continue to bring some of the coolest and most exciting games to the convention floor. These “purveyors of dark aesthetics and fine games” put their money where their mouth is, creating environments and gameplay that puts them head-and-shoulders above competition twice their size. Despite being a minuscule company, the entire team was present at GenCon working the booth; their games represent a labor of love on the part of the designers.

I was eventually able to stop by Archon to take a look at their work, and I was lucky enough to speak with the staff and even do a demo. Here’s a rundown of Archon’s white-hot stable of games, including an in-depth look at their upcoming game: Nexus Infernum.

Eschaton

Eschaton was Archon’s big explosion into the world, and boy did it feel like an explosion: it made $28,000 during its Kickstarter. The goal was $5,000. Eschaton mixes deck-building with on-board strategy, all beneath the grime and shadow of pitch black medieval fantasy. Not only is it one of the only cult games to NOT feature our favorite Big Green Tentacle Boy, but it has all the grotesque beauty, and grotesque ugliness, of a truly apocalyptic medieval age. I won’t go too far into Eschaton, as Archon was kind enough to let me review the game, but suffice to say its a game that fully deserves the devotion of its fans. Stay tuned for the review to get a look at things like the game board, art style, and in-depth gameplay.

Eschaton: Sigils of Ruin

With the success of Eschaton, an expansion to the game was no surprise to anyone. But Sigils of Ruin isn’t your everyday, run of the mill expansion. There’s no cheap map-packs or barely developed new factions to be found here. It doesn’t just add to its parent game, it radically changes the entire direction of Eschaton’s gameplay.

The biggest addition to the game are the six special champions selected by players at the start of the game: the wretched filth of the Plaguebearer, the corrupting Accursed, the wild and chaotic Maelstrom, the avaricious Forge, the savage Bloodborne, and finally the Tidebreakers, scourge of the darkened seas and masters of mythic monsters.

These champions also have powerful avatars that can be added to a player’s cult as well. But just as we are but tools for the Dark One, so too is an Avatar only worth having when it is useful. When it has run its course, it can be sacrificed on your pyre to channel the powerful sigils that permanently alter the game from then on.

The Plaguebearers spread filth and decay throughout the realm. Each body added to the fly-infested pile is a mark of favor in the Dark One’s eyes.

Sigils has also added fortresses to the cult leader’s toolbox. Any cult that wishes to fortify its holdings may build a fortress there. These intimidating structures tighten a cult’s iron grip on the land while also earning favor from the Dark One. But their dominance of the landscape invites attacks from rival cults, and these fortresses can be stolen and converted to work for another master.

The final addition to Eschaton is that of the white-clad Inquisition (which nobody expected). These “holy” warriors aim to cut a bloody swath through any cult that gets in their way, marching inexorably towards The Citadel. Not only do they threaten your hold on the land, but the blessed certainty of Armageddon itself. Should twelve of them convene in the Citadel, your work will come to naught and the game will end.

Sigils of Ruin, like its parent game, was a Kickstarter success: it raised $8,625, hitting most of its stretch goals and over doubling the initial goal of $3,500. It was first available for purchase at this year’s GenCon, and can now be purchased on Archon’s shop for $30.00.

Nexus Infernum

Newly announced at GenCon 2018, Nexus Infernum is a brand new game set within the same universe as Eschaton. Described by Archon as a “Necromantic Resource Management Brawler,” Nexus takes place in, where else, the Nexus Infernum, a dark temple far beneath The Citadel where the veil is thin and unholy energy swirls through the darkness. Players take on the role of a power-hungry Necromancer working to master the Nexus, through which all dark power flows. But he is not the only one who covets the portals.

A player must compete with their fellow Necromancers to channel the energy of the cosmic crucible and invoke powerful demons through the six portals of the Nexus. Despite their mastery of the dark flame, even these Necromancers cannot enter the portal chamber itself without being torn to shreds by the torrents of energy. To do their dirty work they summon skeletons to control, fight, and channel the power of the portals. The winner is the Necromancer who earns enough blasphemy points to become the true “shepherd of the breach.”

Make love not skeleton war

I was lucky enough to demo the game at GenCon, and it was an absolute blast. Each turn follows the same structure: Summon (where one gets skeletons), Command (where one sends their undead minions where they are needed), Aggression (where our bony boys get to duke it out), and Channeling (where the skeletons gather the differently colored arcana used as currency). The game relies on dice rolling to decide how much energy will be generated and where, as well as the success or failure of the players’ actions.

As you gather your arcane power (colored disks), you can invoke demons from the portals. Each one corresponds with a color and a phase of the game. When two of the same color are invoked, they make a pact with their summoner that unlocks special powers to improve their respective part of play. For example, if one makes a pact with two Aggression demons, then that player can take off one of the black tiles on their board to reveal a special bonus, i.e., adding an extra die to their rolls.

The big hitters of the game are the demonic patrons, the most powerful demons a Necromancer can summon. Rather than being destroyed to form a pact, patrons instead join your side and award bonuses that affect your playstyle as well as your blasphemy points. And, of course, they can easily be replaced should a more appealing patron appear.

The otherworldly beauty and strangeness of the demons is rendered in gorgeous, Art Nouveau-inspired card illustrations.

Even with a full game, like my demo was, Nexus runs pretty damn quickly. The energy on the portals regenerates frequently, though the randomized nature of it means you may not always get the colors you want. The brawling is fun, but entirely optional, leaving plenty of room for Necromancers to try different strategies. It’s really hard, however, to resist the urge to bash some literal skulls once you’ve got your undead mob on the board. The game looks and feels great to boot, with a level of craftsmanship that belies the small staff at Archon. It’s a welcome addition to their stable, as its quick pace makes it easier to whip out for parties or game nights when you don’t have time for the more Risk-length playtime of Eschaton.

The Kickstarter for Nexus Infernum kicked off at the start of this month and is already three-quarters of the way towards its goal with forty-seven days left in the campaign. Rewards from old campaigns will show that Archon takes care of their backers, and the rewards for Nexus are no exceptions. With rewards ranging from enamel pins and stickers, to woodcut pieces and a cloth game board, all the way up to the monstrous, extra-limited (there’s only 12 left of 20) “Unholy Edition,” which packs all of the rewards (and the game itself) into a beautiful engraved birch and leather chest. (They like their chests, does Archon.) Nexus itself is available for backers starting at $55 and is set to ship in the Summer of 2019, and trust me, the wait WILL be worth it.

Big thanks to Archon for talking to me and giving me the skinny on their games and for letting me check out Nexus. For more info and to stay up to date, you can check out Archon’s website here and their official shop here. Keep an eye on the Fandomentals for news and reviews on Archon Games, and stay tuned for my full review of Eschaton to be posted very, very soon.


Images Courtesy of Archon Games

Dan Arndt
Written By

Fiction writer, board game fanatic, DM Currently working towards an MFA. If you have a dog, I'd very much like to pet it. Operating out of Wichita and Indianapolis.

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