Designed by Alberto Abal, Jesus Fuster and David Rosillo, Aristeia! is an arena combat area control game from publishers Corvus Belli.
From the box, cards and minis, Aristeia! has the initial look and feel of a beat-em-up video game like Mortal Kombat. The premise is that, 175 years into the future, Aristeia! is a blood sport (as in the 1975 movie Rollerball). It's a two-player game where each player drafts a team of combatants and creates a corresponding deck of 'tactics' cards. Each of the combatants has their own unique stats and special abilities. Each character also has an initiative value, and these are compared to determine activation order. The core game comes with eight characters and their accompanying minis but more can be added with the Soldiers of Fortune and Chemical Brothers expansion packs.
When activated in each of the game's five rounds, each of the four combatants in your team has action points to spend on movement and attacks. Individual characters differs in how they can attack, if at all, and whether their attack is ranged or can only be from an adjacent hex. Players roll various combinations of custom six-sided dice for attack and defence. The attacker is hoping to roll hits and the defender shields but, as with combos in Mortal Kombat, characters are also looking to activate special skills from the roll of other icons. This, and the use of tactics cards, makes for some very entertaining 'combat' that is invariably more satisfying than a regular dice chucker.
But Aristeia! isn't a beat-em-up. Combat is fun but it is only a means to an end. Aristeia! is actually an area control game. Satisfying as it may be, you don't score any points for knocking out other characters. Players are each round competing to have the most characters in the designated scoring zone. That means that 'displacing' your own and your opponent's characters can ultimately be more important than knocking them out.
All this makes for a tense and surprisingly strategic game. There's tactics in how players draft and deploy their characters (including their use of turn order initiative) and in the way they utilise their cards. There's luck, of course, in the roll of the dice and the cards that come out from your deck, but the use of non-hit icons to trigger special abilities goes a long way to ameliorating what might otherwise have been a random luckfest. Ultimately, Aristeia! is much more a game of strategy and tactics than of luck: the dice just add to the fun!
The art by Kenny Ruiz adds to this game's appeal. There's a double-sided board, so the layout differs a little between games. The tokens to track wounds are a tad too fiddly in the core game, and the publishers have acknowledged this by supplying larger versions in the Chemical Brothers expansion. There are little stickers that can be used to identify the minis in each team but we'd have much preferred to have had clip-on coloured bases to more clearly identify them. We'd hoped to cannibalise the coloured bases from CMON's Zombicide but they weren't quite the right size. Perhaps this is something Corvus Belli will consider for inclusion in a future expansion.