Publisher: Corvus Belli
Release Date: November 2017
Price: €59.99 (about $70)
Game Designer: Alberto Abal, Jesus Fuster, and David Rosillo
Illustrations: Kenny Ruiz
Format: Board Game
Number of Players: 2
Playing Time: 60-90 minutes
Product #: CBAR100
Age Rating: 14and up
ICv2 Rating: 3 Stars out of 5

Sometimes, the definition of "sport" can be a bit fluid.  At what point is "bloodsport" just a fancy word for "combat"?  Aristeia! from Corvus Belli, set in the dystopian ultra-high-tech Infinity universe, straddles the line with “players" wielding sniper rifles, sub-machine guns, and razor-sharp swords.  But even slaughtering the opposition won’t score points, so the question is, does the violence mask a deeper strategic experience?

Summary:  In a far-distant future with unlimited medical technology, an ultra-violent team sport has developed, called Aristeia.  Two teams try to score points by simply surviving long enough in the right area of the "HexaDome" arena.  In between scoring moments, they bash, batter, and try to kill one another, which seems worse than it is since miraculous medicine brings them back to life a few moments later.

In the game, each player builds a team of four characters and creates a custom deck of Tactics cards.  The characters "spawn" in the arena, then race towards the scoring zone for that round of play.  At the end of the round, the team with the most characters in the scoring zone scores points, then a new scoring zone appears. After five rounds, the team with the most points wins (though it is worth pointing out that the game includes four different scenarios that offer different ways to score and win).  Each round, players must pre-plan the order that they will use their four characters, then take turns spending actions with one character at a time.  Actions can be used to move, attack other characters, or use special abilities.  Tactics cards offer signature moves for the characters, dirty tricks, and subtle advantages that can influence the action when played.

OriginalityAristeia! pulls together a number of concepts into a well-functioning whole.  It has a little bit of pre-programmed actions, as players have to plan the turn order for their characters at the start of each round.  An action point system gives each character a lot of flexibility about what they can do on their turn.  Actions are resolved using custom dice, with a head-to-head dice-off required for most actions that affect an opponent’s character.  Much of the game’s strategy revolves around the balance between moving into scoring position and the desire to knock out the opposing characters.

Presentation:  The box art is very bright and colorful, depicting the eight characters in the core set, illustrated in a manga style that reveals their personalities very effectively.  The title is easy to read (but I’m still not entirely sure what it means).  The box back has a nice large component shot and a good description of the game and theme.  But, the box feels a little light for its size.  Inside, the components maintain the excellent art quality and bright colors, though everything is oddly clean considering the bloody theme of the game.

Quality:  The game boards, tokens, dice, and cards are all of excellent quality.  The eight plastic miniatures are nicely detailed, as one would expect considering Corvus Belli’s heritage as a miniatures company.  The material feels a little "soft," which is fine for a boardgame as they’ll resist breakage better, but some of the castings aren’t quite as clean as I would like if I were going to paint them as models.  The core game rules are presented in the lavishly illustrated "How to Play" booklet, which is quite good but sadly not complete.  The "real" rules are found in the "Reference Guide," presented in an alphabetical order which makes it very difficult to learn by reading.  You’re forced to play with the "How to Play" instructions then go through the "Reference Guide" and re-learn the rules. Even after going through them multiple times, I still have questions, but at least nothing serious enough to stop us from having a good time.

Marketability:  Corvus Belli has a pretty solid reputation with its Infinity miniatures game, and they have done a good job of linking Aristeia!  to that IP (even including a clever "Access Guide to the Human Sphere" fluff pamphlet, written like a transcript of a sports talk show).  The artwork is compelling, and game play is pretty solid, and the company is planning some kind of OP to support the game—which is advertised in the box—that may help build a following.  On the down side, the price tag is hefty, which may discourage players from picking it up without playing it first.

Overall:  Aristeia!  definitely delivers what it promises:  a violent and bloody arena contest combined with what is essentially a race for points.  But it feels more like a tactical combat game than a sports game.  The team/deck building mechanic promises to make things more strategic, but with only the core set and a single team expansion revealed so far, there’s not a lot of customizing possible at this stage, and it’s pretty likely that both teams will include the same characters (assuming that each player ponies up for their own starter set, of course).  There is a lot of dice rolling, with all but the most basic actions requiring a test, so gameplay feels very luck-dependent.  On the other hand, the broad selection of character abilities does offer a lot of ways to build combos and influence the luck factor, and dice rolling can be exciting.

There is potential here, as the pool of characters matures and the team-building element comes into its own, particularly within a "league" style format where metagame competition between players can develop from game to game.  But as it is now, with only the core game, it’s good… just not great.  And at $70, maybe great was what I was hoping for.  That’s why I’m giving this game 3 out of 5.

-- William Niebling