Straight from the mind of Tim Conkling, Antihero is a fun and frustratingly delightful game about thievery and resource management. But don’t be fooled by its charming looks; underneath the surface lurks a complex layer of strategy that sure will put your thievery machinations to work. Do you have what it takes to become the ultimate Master Thief?
What is it?
A fast, turn-based digital board game with approachable mechanics where you have to upgrade and defend your Guild from opponents by blackmailing, bribing and taking assassination contracts. You can play the campaign, skirmish against the computer or defend your title online in a ranked PvP multiplayer.
“THE GOAL IS SIMPLE: EARN A SPECIFIC AMOUNT OF VICTORY POINTS BY BLACKMAILING, BRIBING AND ASSASSINATING TARGETS, OR DIFFERENT METHODS DEPENDING ON THE ACTIVE QUEST”
Set in a gas-lit city that never sleeps
Antihero is set in a small town ruled by violence, corruption and greed. A master thief, Lightfinger named, runs his guild in a dark corner of this dystopian setting. Only the big fish, simply called elites, live in lavish luxury and bathe in wealth like kings. The intro cinematic makes it clear that in this town, no-one is better than another. Lygrave, the first rival thief you encounter, has set up shop on your territory and you must drive him back at all costs. Lygrave is just one of the many opponents you will battle during your journey to become the one and only greatest Thief Guild of all times.
The goal is simple: earn a specific amount of victory points by blackmailing, bribing and assassinating targets, or different methods depending on the active quest. The first 3 levels of the short campaign serve as tutorials as it guides you through the different mechanics of the game. It’s very easy to pick up and it’s well explained. I really enjoyed playing the tutorial levels; they’re buttery smooth and perfectly balanced. It’s so well done it didn’t feel like tutorials at all.
Of course, you get the standard “what to do’s”, but the game gives you room for experimentation. I can only praise this. It doesn’t play as a linear level, yet it is straightforward with the rules. You learn as you play, and are using your previous knowledge in addition to the new mechanics you learn later on. The scenarios take advantage of this and it really makes you think about the core concept of the game. That’s what I call good game design.
The grimy city is rendered in a gorgeous isometric style, full of little details. At the moment of writing this review, the game sadly doesn’t support 1080p as the highest resolution is 1024 × 768. Unless a future patch fixes this, it does limit me in enjoying the game’s beautiful art. The buttons are all big, which could be for convenience purposes, or it’s a phone port. Either way, it lends itself to the beauty of the game and I don’t mind it at all. I’d rather have large obvious buttons than small ones half the size of your cursor anyway.
You start out with only your Master Thief at your disposition, as you scout the city for valuable resources. More units and upgrades are progressively unlocked per turn. Once you’re able to control a Trading House or Bank, recourses will come automatically, that is if you can hold a grip on said building. As far as the turn based system goes, you have a lot of possibilities. Each unit has a certain amount of actions they can do and once used up, you can either purchase new ones or submit your turn. Which brings us to the next part of this review: money and upgrades.
The game has 2 currencies; Lanterns and Gold. Lanterns are used for technology upgrades or buying bribes. They can be obtained by infiltrating Trading Houses or passively earned with the ‘Lamp Lighters’ upgrade, which gives you 1 lantern per turn. You can randomly get them by burgling. Gold is primarily for buying units, and can be obtained by burgling areas or infiltrating certain Businesses like Churches and Banks. Every time you spend either currency on a unit or upgrade, the price of that purchase goes up.
Spend your resources well and be sure to balance your purchases. No more currency? There’s an answer to that; charity. It grants you +4 Gold or +2 Lanterns for free, no downside. You either take charity or buy an upgrade, not both.
Meet the Guild
in Antihero you play as a Master Thief, running his Guild by recruiting people on the street. The different units you can hire are Urchins, Thugs, Gangs, Saboteurs, Truant Officers and Assassins. Each unit has its specialty that you can use to your advantage.
The Master Thief is your main character. Scouts fogged tiles and burgles houses. Equipped with the Scout upgrade, they get more Action Points. Urchins are small and swift, and can quickly infiltrate any Business. Thugs can’t attack, but can block your way and have a good amount of health if properly upgraded. They can join Gangs or guard places for 2 turns. Gangs are great for eliminating foes quickly; lots of health and lots of damage. A great bang for your buck. Upgrade to make ’em stronger. Saboteurs are sneaky little devils. They can trap buildings or reveal parts of the map, bypassing fogged up areas. Truant Officers aka pain-in-the-ass evicts Urchins from buildings. They’re very effective at emptying a whole building in one swoop like a SWAT team receiving Code Red. And finally Assassins. They are expensive but can straight up murder someone in one strike. Perfect for pesky threats or raking in assassination contracts. Good staff doesn’t come cheap, so use them wisely.
Strategise your approach
The levels are varied and each one has a different way to obtain Victory Points. Each map has its unique layout and thus creating new ways of strategies for you to ponder about. There are techniques to counter the strategy of the opponent, but you’ll need to look for weaknesses. Sometimes it’s plainly obvious and sometimes it’s harder to notice. The devil is in the details, and here is where the games truly shines. It presents you all these mechanics and it’s up to you, and you alone, to come up with a strategic battle plan.
It isn’t going to get easier advancing stages, but it sure as hell is fun once you figured out the ideal approach. The best way to win is to outsource your opponent by controlling all major buildings on the map.
“THERE ARE TECHNIQUES TO COUNTER THE STRATEGY OF THE OPPONENT, BUT YOU’LL NEED TO LOOK FOR WEAKNESSES”
There are certain perquisites to win the match, depending on the map. For example: kill 3 Gangs and earn 2 additional Victory Points to win the game. Your opponent, however, only has to earn his 5 Victory Points through bribing, assassination or blackmailing. In this case, the CPU has a big advantage over the player, which is unfair. Coupled to the fact that the AI is smart, I spent hours retrying this level and figuring out how to beat this scenario. I was getting increasingly frustrated about this, as my opponent was always able to upgrade before me. I hired Gangs only to have them 1-hit killed by his, Truant Officers were evicting my Urchins faster than I could say ‘Hey Macarena!’ and even going as far as spending money on Assassins just to kill my Thugs. It’s pretty brutal if you come unprepared.
Businesses are randomized each time you restart, either increasing or decreasing your chances of winning. This aspect of the game potentially makes the difference between winning or losing. It does throw you a solid challenge every time, making the levels longer and tougher to beat.
That is if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Even if you are the Paul Revere of strategy, the game won’t go down without a fight. I find this extremely entertaining, trying to find out the best way to win the game. Every time my rival would screw me over, it filled me with determination to screw him over even more. It almost plays out like a Tom and Jerry episode, where both archenemies find ways to pester each other and ultimately claiming victory over the other one’s defeat.
Antihero really drew me in the world as I began to think and act like a thief, as much as the game lets me be one. There are no sneaking mechanics, no backstabbing, none of that good stuff. Instead, you get a very simple and basic concept that doesn’t explore the thief route to the fullest. This is a board game after all, and shouldn’t be played as an RPG. Ultimately, I would’ve liked a bit more depth to the game, as the lovely comic book-esque cutscenes are a bit meager in storytelling. There is narration along these game breaks, and I would love if the narrator could tell the story during gameplay, commentating my moves.
Overall, the game is a bit light in tone but has a solid mechanic that could be expanded in a future game or perhaps DLC.
“ANTIHERO IS A CHARMING GAME THAT BREATHES FRESH AIR INTO THE GENRE”
I never liked digital board games, but Antihero made me reconsider my opinion. Now I never thought I would like digital board games. If an indie game can change my mind, then it must be a damn great one. And that’s exactly what Antihero is; a great game. It offers a good amount of game, albeit on the short side, for your money. I hope to see more stuff like this from Tim Conkling, as he nails the feeling of a traditional board game, but in a trendy digital jacket. TL;DR It’s stupid fun and it’s an interesting twist on the genre. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a Guild to run.
- Fun and addictive game; interesting twist on the genre
- Easy to pick-up but throws you challenges
- Charming and full of personality
- Online mode
- Great value
- No microtransactions
- No 1080p option
- Sometimes unfair scenarios; CPU has greater advantage
- Short game