Astro Knights is a cooperative deckbuilder for 1-4 Players, Ages 14+, at about 60 minutes. This was originally on Kickstarter back in February 2022, and it promised delivery in October 22, 2022. I got it mid Febraury, so it’s about 5 months late.
Somebody (Stronghold? The Fulfillment company?) chose to pack my Astro Knights Kickstarter with my Ares Expedition Kickstarter: so, I may have gotten Ares Expedition early (and we reviewed it last week here), but I think I got Astro Knights late!? It’s not THAT late, because I am seeing people on the Astro Knights Kickstarter saying they are just getting their copies.
Let’s take a look at this! Will it shift into our Top 10 Cooperative Deckbuilders?
I backed at the Kickstarter level that includes the supplement and the Game Mat.
The Game Mat is a little busy, but I found it very useful for helping set-up the game: everything is well-labelled! (Contrast this to the Game Mat for Deep Rock Galactic which added little value). You don’t need the Game Mat for Astro Knights, but it does help.
The game is a little smaller than most game boxes: see the Coke Can above and below for scale.
The rulebook come with the top of the box.
And below the rulebook are a bunch of “bad guy” boards.
The components are all nice.
The rulebook was great. It immediately tells you the object of the game, and then jumps into a nice annotated list of components (with an immediate discussion of what the components are and do).
It’s always an interesting discussion: do you discuss the “anatomy of a component” before or after set-up? There are arguments both ways (“Why discuss something you haven’t touched yet” vs “Why set-up something you don’t know what is first?), but it seems to work for Astro Knights to do discussion before set-up.
So, it’s not until after 8 pages we get to set-up! See below!
Generally, I was very pleased with this rulebook. The sections were well-labelled/colored for distinction and there were enough pictures.
They even used the last page for something useful:
Oh yes, Astro Knights gets a A on The Chair Test: the rulebook sets open very well on the chair next to me, being easy to consult.
Astro Knights is a cooperative deckbuilder in the same family as Aeon’s End. We really like Aeon’s End: we’ve reviewed it here and here, and it also made the #1 spot on our Top 10 Cooperative Deckbuilding Games.
In Astro Knights, the players are galactic warriors working together to take out some big bad guys! See the 5 that come with the base game above (well, 4: Fission Parasite is an expansion but came with the Kickstarter version). To win the game, that big bad needs to be reduced to 0 hit points!
Each player takes the role of an Astro Knight. Each Astro Knight is slightly different, mostly in the main power on their board.
For example, Gavril (above) has his main (Blue) Power (if it has enough energy) to Deal 3 damage and some extra effects: each power is different per player.
The main tool of the Astro Knight is their deck of cards. There are three type of cards: Weapons (orange), Power (purple) and Tech (green). The Weapons must be equipped before they can be used, and then they go off next turn. The Power cards are used for currency to buy upgrades and new cards (this is the deck-building part). The Tech cards just give some cool abilities when you play.
What cards are available to buy? The supply has 6 different types of decks: Tech, cheap/expensive Power, cheap/medium, and expensive Weapons. You can only buy the card on the top of the deck.
The main hook of Astro Knights (and indeed, Aeon’s End) is that you DO NOT HAVE TO SHUFFLE YOUR DECK! You have some choice as you discard cards and can form (some) of the order as you put cards in the discard. When your deck runs out, you just flip the discard over! No shuffling! I freely admit that the shuffling of many deck-builders has turned me off a little—I always liked this innovation in the deck-building world.
Like many cooperative deck-builders, you are defending a home base! If the bad guy causes the home base to drop to 0 hit points, the good guys lose! (The base’s Hit Points are in the upper left corner). Each home base also has a special power that allows it to defend itself.
The game alternates between good guy and then bad guy playing: it’s self-balancing (for the most part) since the bad guy and the good guys always get the same number of turns.
Gameplay is very much like Aeon’s End.
Astro Knights vs Aeon’s End
Astro Knights is very derivative of Aeon’s End: if it were a different company making it, you might think it was copying! Essentially, Astro Knights is a simplification/streamlining of Aeon’s End.
Prepping Spells vs Equipping Weapons: These are essentially the same ides: the spells/weapons are the “big guns” and interesting things you use to do damage the bad guy(s). The more expensive the spell/weapon, the more it does! And you still have to set it up so it goes off next turn. It’s the same idea, it’s just called something different. But…
Breaches: However, Aeon’s End had a notion of “opening your breaches”: you couldn’t cast spells out of some breaches until you had opened them completely. As a simplification, the idea of opening breaches is just gone from Astro Knights! Instead, you only need to spend 3 energy to increase your number of weapons slots (see Gavril above with 4 (yellow) weapons slots). The whole notion of breaches is gone, in favor of the simpler slots ideas.
The Supply: The Supply that you buy cards from has a very different nature. In Aeon’s End, you have 9 decks, each with the same cards per deck (above left)—when you buy, you choose one of these to buy from, and you you know exactly what you get. In Astro Knights, (above right) you only have 6 decks in the supply, and most of the cards in each deck are completely different. Each deck has a “theme”: cheap power, expensive power, cheap weapons, etc. But once you buy a card, you reveal something new from that deck which could be very different.
Cards and Startup Choices: When you set-up either Aeon’s End or Astro Knights, you get to choose which good guys and bad guys you use. But, in Astro Knights, when you just set-up the supply, there’s no choice. In Aeon’s End, you have to choose the start-up cards. This is a big deal! Astro Knights sets up so much quicker, but it has lesser variability. Aeon’s End takes longer to set-up, but it has much more choice/variability. What keeps Astro Knights fresh is that each deck has a variable cards.
Basically, in set-up and play, there have been some simplifications. For Astro Knights, the set-up is faster, the game is generally a little easier to play, and the games are a little bit shorter. The cost of these simplifications is some extra variability.
Art and Graphic Design
I adore the art in this game. The art and color choices remind me of a comic book! All choices made in graphic design and art just embrace the comic book vibe wholeheartedly.
I do agree that the Game Mat can appear busy, but when you are playing the game, that “busyness” (is that a word?) doesn’t get in the way too much. (It could be less busy: I do think the Aeon’s End Game Mat is better).
Of course, art is a very subjective thing: decide what’s best for you. I personally really like the look-and-feel of Astro Knights much more than Aeon’s End: I love the bright colors and comic book vibe here!
Solo Play: Single Knight
Solo Play is very well defined! Thank you for following Saunders’ Law and giving us multiple ways to this solo!
The simplest way to get into the game and learn it is to play it solo with one single Knight! See the solo game/single Knight set-up above. The rule changes for a single Astro Knight are very simple: you are your own ally, you don’t lose when exhausted, and you only use three player Turn Order cards in the deck. Other than that, you can jump right in!
I think I missed a few rules in my first play, but my second play, I think I had the game down. It was really easy to get a single Knight to the table and play.
Solo Play: Multiple Knights
From a perspective of fewest rule changes, the easiest way to play solo is to take the role of two Astro Knights and play as if a 2-Player game (alternating between them).
It’s when playing two-handed solo that the “no shuffling” mechanism really stands out a great thing! My two-handed solo game could have easily bogged down if I had to shuffle, as I became acutely aware how many times my discard deck became my main deck! I kept thinking every time I turned the discard over: “I am so glad I don’t have to reshuffle my deck!”
I had a nice time batting back and forth between the two knights as I played. There wasn’t too much of a context switch cost, and the knights are generally simple enough: like I said earlier, the main distinguishing thing is that each Knight has a different power. That’s both boon and bane: simpler characters means easy context switching, but less interesting characters.
In general, operating two Knights worked well. Some of the cards you play help your allies instead of you directly, so it sets-up some interesting combos helping out your allies.
I think I prefer the single Knight solo, but I miss the interesting combos/interplay between the characters when playing multiple Knights.
Cooperative play … didn’t go that well. We had a perfectly fine time, but for some reason, my group just didn’t resonate with this game. Andrew felt he could never get a “groove” going like he could in other deck-building games: he tends to be a frequent culler of cards, and it was much harder to cull in Astro Knights. Basically, you could only cull cards if you find the right Power on top when it’s your turn. I think Andrew would have preferred more ways to cull cards.
The turns didn’t seem that cooperative either? For some reason, our turns felt more solitary than other games, even with the abilities that help our allies.
Not sure what happened: everyone said they’d be willing to give it another try, but Astro Knights didn’t seem to go over as well as I had hoped. The general consensus was that the simplified supply deck (with only 6 decks) was too random, so it was harder to strategize to get a good deck going (as you were at the mercy of what cards were on top when you bought).
The final result was positive in the sense that everyone liked it decently, but only half of us liked the game: the other half thought it was just okay.
Issue with the Turn Order Deck
There are two main issues you should aware of with the Turn Order Deck! First, make sure you sleeve all the cards in the Turn Order Deck! Arguably, you should probably sleeve all cards in your deck-builder, but you should absolutely sleeve the Turn Order deck. Why? You touch these cards many more times than any other cards in the game! Your Turn Order deck will start to get grody if you don’t (believe me, I know from one of my Aeon’s End games where I didn’t sleeve them). Just some advice!
The second issue is more personal preference: I have a house rule that states “If the Bad Guy ever gets to act three times in a row, instead reshuffle the third time card and let the players go.” I have seen far too many Aeon’s End games end in horror as the natural randomness of the Turn Order Deck gives the the Bag Guy 3 turns in a row!!! In late game, you can’t come back from that! You just watch in horror as the bad guy wins without you being able to do anything.
We discussed this house rule (which we call “Curb Excessive Randomness“) in greater detail in the Top 7 House Rules For Cooperative Games! It’s the #1 rule! That’s how passionate we feel about this house rule! We also use this same house rule in Adventure Tactics (see review here).
Astro Knights is a streamlining of Aeon’s End that works really well (well for some of us). The set-up is quicker, the gameplay is simpler, and the game length is a shorter. Despite having fewer cards and simplified rules, Astro Knights really retains the feel of Aeon’s End while making a simpler game.
Unfortunately, although I liked Astro Knights (both solo and cooperatively), my game group did not like it as much. Here’s our scores:
- Rich: 7/10 for both solo and cooperative
- Teresa: 7/10 for cooperative
- Sara: 5.5/10, but could be persuaded to try it again and give it another try
- Andrew: 5 or 5.5/10, would try again, but couldn’t get a groove going.
My group did seem to like Aeon’s End better (as we’ve had some fantastic plays) than Astro Knights, but I personally appreciate both. I feel like I could teach Astro Knights to newer players easier than Aeon’s End. Astro Knights is also better when I just want a lighter cooperative game.
Astro Knights is lighter than Aeon’s End in most senses.
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