Thievery has had many representations within gaming, but it rarely takes centre stage in strategy games. Tim Conkling’s and Versus Evil’s Antihero has come along though to steal a place within that niche and offer something a little different, in what may be one of the most entertaining turn based strategy titles of recent times.
War has been the mainstay of a lot of strategy games and in Antihero that trope isn’t completely dismissed, just represented in a different way. Instead of nations warring for land, you instead have thieves guilds competing for territory in a Victorian era city, with different units being used in different ways to obtain various win conditions.
These units include the Master Thief who is the leader of your force of rapscallions, Urchins that infiltrate buildings, Gangs that get rid of opposition, Thugs that guard areas, Bombers that lay traps, Truant Officers that can empty a building for you, and Assassins that can get rid of particularly difficult targets. Every single of these units has their place and their uses, but their help isn’t cheap. You need gold and lanterns to get them on your side, used respectively to hire them and to unlock units and abilities.
In that regard, Urchins are your most important asset. Across each game map there are a number of buildings, some of which generate gold and lanters, while others offer discounts. Once your Master Thief has scouted them you, to discover houses, banks, churches, orphanages, estates, and strongfellow clubs, your Urchins can then move in to start reaping the rewards. Getting the buildings early is key to victory, especially because some count towards winning.
In each game you need to obtain a certain number of victory points. Having three urchins in a church, for example, gets you one point, but this isn’t permanent should the opposition target it and take it from you. Gangs and Truant Officers can evict the Urchins from any building, so the map is in a constant state of flux until it comes to a point where one side is dominating the other.
All of the above makes it sound like you’d need to invest a lot of time in to working out which character does what, but one of the best things about Antihero is how easy it is to pick up and play. Sure, the first couple of matches are about learning what the rules and units are, but once this is out of the way you can play the game with ease.
Antihero does have a campaign that lasts around seven hours with each stage introducing different conditions. In one there may be certain targets that must be killed, or certain buildings that have to be burgled. Some games are harder than others as you adjust to the rules changing on the fly, with one level experiencing a huge difficulty spike, but all of it prepares you for the multiplayer.
Anithero has both asynchronous and live multiplayer as well as local play. At time of writing prior to release, finding a live multiplayer match within the Early Access crowd was impossible, but aynchronous play was a lot of fun and easy to set up with emails notifying you when it’s your turn. While games were obviously slower, it was great trying to work out a strategy while trying to anticipate what moves the opposing player would make.
Antihero’s art style also has to be praised. It’s character types are all very distinct allowing you to see at a glance who is on the board. The maps have different styles to them representing various regions of a city too like The Wharf or The Palace. Furthermore the maps aren’t always laid out in the same way, making each game a different experience. What little voice acting there is gels very well with the characters they represent, with the Truant Officer being especially creepy.
Anyone who is a turn based strategy game fan should be checking out Antihero, which deserves to find an audience so that its multiplayer base can flourish. This is a game that is easy to learn with a campaign that teaches you all the basics, but it can then throw a number of challenging scenarios at you. Antihero is a game that offers something a little different in the strategy genre, that’s easy to learn before throwing some challenging scenarios at you, and is genuinely fun to play.