Thursday, September 10, 2015

Are You Not Entertained? - Arena Rex review

So, Arena Rex has been around for a bit now, is finally available post-kickstarter and, in short, I'm quite pleased with what Red Republic Games has come up with.


Most of my original review and analysis on the Beta holds true for the final rules, so I'm going to start with the materials.


Materials

Sculpts
First, the miniatures themselves. For anyone who's been following Arena Rex, that the models are very nicely sculpted shouldn't come as a surprise. The detail on both anatomy and gear is realistic, going slightly in the super-hero direction regarding proportions, and generally the poses are exceptionally dynamic. The best word I can think of for these minis is fluid. These were clearly sculpted by pros.

The two exceptions in my experience:
Hermes may have been missing a
bone or two...
Hermes had one arm which was notably shorter than the other, that required re-sculpting. It isn't something immediately noticeable, but it was still impossible for me not to see, once I did notice it, so I needed to fix the model.

Urbicus was notably shorter than the other models. He mostly seemed in proportion (he didn't look like he was done in the wrong scale), but it was still a bit unusual, as even a small guy should be around the size of a larger woman, and there wasn't anything notable in his background about his size.

Casting
The minis are very nicely cast. They aren't the highest standard I've ever seen (Kingdom Death and Studio McVey resins hold that honor), but they're still very nice (probably about the same QC and casting as Forge World, which is hardly poor).

They're made of a flexible resin, again close to Forge World's line, and this is a good thing, because some of the models have extremely fine details- particularly some feathers have individual barbs (those would be the bits sticking out from the shaft).

The bases were made out of a hard plastic (from its opacity and texture, it may have been PVC, however, I'm not sure). Either way, they seemed sufficiently durable, and had a nice, personalized design compared to the generic lips I'm used to seeing on bases.

The models came on some fairly thick sprues, however, the resin was soft enough that a sharp hobby knife and some hobby clippers were fine for everything. Most of the models needed some minimal flash cleaning, with only one exceptionally misaligned (to the point that regular cleaning wouldn't have allowed salvageable details), however...

Customer Support Interruption!
...When I wrote to Red Republic Games (on a Saturday) about this defect, they responded within the hour, and had my tracking number to me within another. RRG gets a lot of points for how prompt they were, especially considering that I'm sure they're handling a high volume for their company right now, as they're completing the deliveries.

Cards
These have a nice finish (not that it particularly matters, considering you'll sleeve them), and the cards have square, rather than rounded, corners, which look nice/fit the aesthetic, though I highly prefer rounded corners' durability.

Other than that, they're the same minimalist design previewed images in the previous review.

Each model also comes with a larger art card featuring the same illustrations and a bio on the backs, which are pretty nice, though I've never really known what to do with such kinda' collectibles. They're a nice reference if you're painting to match.


Rulebook
As mix of rules and materials, this bridges the two sections...

The rulebook is an unusual, small, and nearly square design, featuring the same, light, minimalist aesthetic, and a heavy matte stock, much better than the typically magazine-weight material I've often seen for Kickstarted projects.

The first half of the book is a background section, including an elaborate alternate history and backgrounds for each of the four starting factions. While I consider myself a bit of a history buff, I don't know much about classical history, so have no idea how clever and/or faithful these events are to our history, however, it was clearly written with a lot of thought, and I enjoyed the tone, which gave a sense of inclusion in the world.

The second half of the book is rules. As with their aesthetic, the rules are written with a pretty minimalist approach, with some language cleaned up since the Beta.

Notably absent, compared to what I've come to expect in a skirmish system, is any sort of set of individual backgrounds or stats within the core book. While these aren't necessary, I greatly prefer the ability to scout out your options before buying the minis, and think that it's a good marketing choice (allowing players to consider rules and character behind their purchases) that they missed out on.

Correction: Having stats and background on their store goes a long way towards alleviating this to a degree, though, since you can still get a feel for the minis even if it's a little less convenient.

Rules
Again, most of the rules can be found in the review of the beta linked at the top of this article, so this will be covering changes and additions- if you want an in-depth review of the mechanics because you're interested in the game or need a refresher to the game, here's a link to that post again- I'd suggest you read it so the below makes sense.

Changes
The majority of core rules remain unchanged since the later beta release, however, there were
numerous smaller changes (such as how larger pieces act, and now all Ludi have a passive benefit).

The largest cosmetic change was the name change of Blood Brothers to Zephyri, though there were several similar changes, fitting the setting as it developed.

The designers clearly took some feedback to heart, and just seeing that adaptability makes me confident in the future of the game.


Major Change: Accuracy
I thought this was worth noting in its own section. While most of the changes are small or superficial, I noticed one change that was uniform across my entire set of gladiator cards: All models' Attack stat (accuracy and by extension damage) increased by 1. (Unless I'm mistaken), this change will make the game faster and encourage taking the initiative, which was an interesting choice to see made at the last minute (relatively speaking).

Specifically, I expect this will dramatically affect how useful Attack-based actions (such as Power Attack and Counterattack) will be, likely pushing them dramatically past defensive actions' utility.

Additions: Scenarios
I have kind of mixed feelings about this. I like the variation in play: The new scenarios include gladiators vs. beasts (currently just large, though new art implies small ones will be available); a mini-campaign (3 linked scenarios), and two variations on assassination scenarios.

The problem with these is, none of them are based on the introductory (6-gladiator) Kickstarter entry set nor the new introductory (3-gladiator) sets: This means that I and roughly half of the backers for this Kickstarter (people who bought in at the 2 minimum sets, or the one minimum set, levels) now don't have access to any scenario play (except the default last man standing one), nor do newcomers, despite buying in to the core game: It takes at least 7 gladiators or at least one large model (Titan/Beast) to be able to play any of the additional scenarios, and often more, unless ignoring rules, and the randomization aspect of some scenarios really requires a moderate collection to get much mileage out of it, which is limiting when most of the game's models are priced at $20-30.

I'm fine with most scenario play requiring additional pieces, but the complete lack of scenario play outside of that was a disappointing choice.


Conclusion
Out of the (shipping) box, Arena Rex has been the best experience I've had on Kickstarter. They've done a good job communicating, which has gotten them a good product to go with their nice line of minis. I don't think it's perfect, but it's a very solid release/first edition, and has been the only KS that, immediately after it was delivered, has had me wanting more.

Time will tell how seriously I get into this game since I've only gotten a few games in so far, but even if I just keep my collection small, I'm quite happy with how this line came out.