Review: Antihero

(Copy obtained from publisher)

Mathilde can’t keep up. For every street urchin she sends to the Bastard’s Bath or Millstone to desperately scrape together some cash, my gang will find them and beat them back into hiding. Any thugs she uses to block the streets or gangs to route out my urchin children will be murdered and left for the rats. I’ve bribed politicians, assassinated those who couldn’t be bought, pulled strings with the church for the purpose of blackmail, and if I have to I’ll hire a Truant Officer to evict those urchins.

But that’s not necessary, because I can throw in another bribe and win the match.

Antihero is a turn based strategy game of wits set in Victorian London where you take the role of a master thief and utilize the city’s underside to expand your empire and drive others out. You do this by playing dirty, hiring street urchins to infiltrate places for the purpose of extortion, bribery, and blackmail, killing your enemies, and generally being a lethal pain in the rear. Antihero was developed by Tim Conkling and at the time this is published, will be available on Steam.

Artistically speaking, Antihero showcases a pleasant style with characters whose heads are disproportionately larger than the rest of their bodies. Animations are quick and exaggerated, and overall the aesthetic of the game feels like it’s been directly pulled from a children’s book. Characters are well stylized caricatures of what you’d expect from a Victorian London game, and while the campaign mode’s bosses are effectively one-dimensional stereotypes, they go as far as needed to convey what they are and how they will generally act.

Each turn your master thief has a limited number of moves which can be used to infiltrate buildings, burgle them, assassinate opponents, and generally thieve around. As you progress through each turn, you’ll gradually accumulate more of the game’s two currencies: Gold and lanterns, which in turn can be used to buy minions and upgrades which make it easier to obtain gold and lanterns. Your thief him/herself is also reliant on upgrades to provide more actions and better damage, and over the course of the match becomes more useful and powerful.

What makes Antihero a thinking man’s game is that it really requires you to have a plan and be willing to act on it with the limited resources at your disposal. Using your gang to clear a building of urchins means not using him to strike your opponent’s gang, or take out an assassination target, but it does starve your opponent of much needed coins/lanterns to inhibit his next turn. Likewise, thugs can be placed around the map to block passages and force your opponent to waste a turn killing them, but they can’t be moved once placed and only last a few rounds. Your thief, while able to do more per turn, is still reliant on the law of opportunity cost. Should you scout the map early, revealing buildings held by enemy urchins, scout your own buildings to allow your urchins to infiltrate and start generating money, or burgle buildings to generate short term cash, or all of the above at the cost of efficient short term growth?

While it can be easy to get ahead in Antihero, staying ahead is a delicate balance of resources that can just as easily be knocked over at the drop of a hat. Your gang gets more powerful as you beat up urchins and murder, but they never become so powerful that a master thief and their own gang can’t take him down in a turn, if they’re willing to dedicate the resources to it. Urchins can be evicted, meaning you can lose that church bribe at any given moment, and assassin targets regularly walk the streets allowing for some late game changing victory points if you can get to them fast enough.

One aspect that I really like about Antihero is the return of the long forgotten casual online mode. Back in the days of crappy dial-up connections, playing a game like Antihero wasn’t viable if you had to be connected at all times, and developers understood that, for what is essentially a board game, people want a more casual style. Antihero lets you have your cake and eat it too, with an online mode with both players present, as well as a casual mode where you can make your move and shut the game off, and take your turn when you get around to it.

Ultimately, Antihero is a pretty great game that is easy to learn and difficult to master. Check out the launch trailer below for gameplay footage.

Recommendation: Two thumbs up.

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