*I received this product for free in order to review it*
Animus is a game that drew my attention due to two things: eye-catching artwork, and the word “draft” in its description. Ever since my days playing Magic: The Gathering, drafting has been one of my favourite ways to game. Given that 7 Wonders: Duel is among my favourite games, it makes sense that Animus might also interest me, given that the former was an inspiration for the latter. The morning it arrived on my doorstep, I cracked it open, had a peek at all of the cards (including some fancy promos), and got ready to play.
Animus is a game that’s broken into two main parts: the draft, and the core game. That’s not to say that the draft is not an essential part of the game, but unlike 7 Wonders: Duel, it is not the whole game. Instead, the draft feels like an extended setup, where the strategic decision making begins. Initially, a pyramid of fighters (approximately half of the cards in the game) is set up, with some rows concealed and other visible. Both players are dealt two Entity cards, which provide a unique player power for the game. After determining a first player and revealing the selected leaders, the first player will select one of the available fighters, followed by the second player making two picks in a row. From there, players will alternate selecting one at a time, revealing any fighters that are no longer covered by earlier cards.
Fighters have a few statistics on them: an element, level, melee and ranged strength, and an ability. When these warriors eventually come to blows, they’ll be comparing their melee or ranged strengths (plus a d6 roll) in order to determine a winner. The elements have a rock-paper-scissors style relationship; if your element is the foil for your opponent’s, you’ll roll an extra d6 and keep the best result during resolution. The losing player takes a wound (ties wound both players, meaning that the game always progresses when an attack is made). Once a character has been wounded 3 times, they’re out of the fight and into the trash (discard pile). If you KO 10 levels worth of your opponent’s characters, you win!
The core gameplay is rather simple; on your turn, you can play a card, change your formation (which affects who they can attack and possibly what statistic they use to attack with), use abilities, and finally place a card from your hand on the bottom of your deck. You then draw back to three cards in hand. It’s quick and easy to get into, and you’ll be throwing dice and punches at each other (in the game, of course) in no time at all!
Animus has a few things going for it. First off, the drafting phase is VERY relevant, and it has a large impact on the overall winner of the fight. However, one of the downsides of the draft is definitely that, sometimes, certain picks can feel like you’re choosing between two seemingly equal options. Even though every card in the game is unique, there are times when the choice between two came down to which one I liked better rather than a strategic choice. This, in part, is a reflection of how balanced the cards feel. With the exception of one or two characters, most of the characters in the game feel around the same power level. Synergies between your Entity and your characters can be the deciding factor.
The combat in the game being dice based is both a gift and a curse. Many people will roll their eyes at what seems to be a rather lazy combat system. However, rather than make combat purely deterministic, the die roll keeps a good level of uncertainty in the game, and makes leveraging every advantage you can extremely important. Of course, sometimes the dice are just against you, and you’re in for a rough time, but given how often dice are rolled, this should even out over the course of the game. Additionally, given how short the game is (you can be done with both parts of it in around 20-30 minutes), and that the stakes don’t change based on how well/poorly you roll, it’s more acceptable here than in other games.
Animus’s greatest strength by far is its replayability. With 36 characters in the core game and only 18 of them seeing play in any given game, you’re sure to have a wide variety of colourful heroes battling it out each time you play. I’ve also been informed that there’s more to come, including a solo & cooperative expansions as well as a “dark fairy tale” themed set. More characters are sure to bring even more fun to what is already a fairly solid little game.
One minor quibble I have with the game is that, rules as written at the moment, it’s possible to NEVER lose the game if you draft a deck full of Level 1 characters (You need to defeat 10 levels to win, meaning that your opponent can only ever have 9 levels). I’m sure this was a minor oversight, as it’s pretty clear that you’re out of the game if all of your characters are defeated.
Overall, I liked Animus. I can tell a lot of love has gone into the game, and it’s definitely one of the better indie board games that I’ve played. I’d happily play it again, and although there’s nothing here that blows me away, it does its job of being a short, casual card game quite well, certainly better than others I’ve played recently.
Official Animus Website – https://www.thegamecrafter.com/games/animus