There are few things in this world as cool as giant robots, especially those that can combine to make even bigger robots. Zephyr Workshop released the original AEGIS – Combining Robot Strategy Game back in 2018, and today, the studio will be coming to Kickstarter for the second edition of the title, AEGIS- 2nd Ignition! I had a chance to take a look at a prototype of this updated edition and get a number of games in and came away excited to play more, and while it offers an excellent strategy tabletop experience, it isn’t without its blemishes.
AEGIS -2nd Ignition drops 1-6 players on a hex-grid battlefield with small forces of anime-inspired mecha. Your goal? Be the last pilot standing. You start by composing your team from either pre-made armies, each with a commander mech with special abilities, or by selecting individual units from a pool of 120 different mechs (or more if you have the original edition, which is fully backward compatible!) and pitting custom teams against one another for more strategic gameplay. Once you have your teams set up, you can take advantage of the returning team or free for all skirmish modes or try out the new capture-and-hold Starpoint mode. For the solo boardgame player, there is also a new solo Boss mode that will pit your team against a superpowered game-controlled boss bot too!
A typical game of AEGIS takes course over rounds where the players each take turns activating their mechs, attacking their opponents, and trying to the last pilot standing. Games begin with each player positioning the five basic mech units they’ve selected (either from premade teams or individually selected) around their starting area. AEGIS gets its name from the five classes of mechs that compose your forces, and choosing a good balance will be key to succeeding. The classes include A for Assault types, E for the Evasive types, G for Guard, I for Intel, and S for Support, with each geared for specific situations; E-types tend to fly, allowing them to get around the arena quickly and bypass barriers, but they can’t take many hits before going down while Guard types hunker down in place and can provide cover fight, as examples. On your turn, you generate energy by counting the number of charges each active mech contributes, with this energy pool being pulled from any time a unit of yours moves or attacks.
A mech’s available actions, from movement to combat options, are all presented on their individual card. Attacks come in a wide variety of types, letting you heal friendly units or debuff enemies to all sorts of offense options. Each option will have unique properties that dictate the range the attack can hit, the damage it does, what you have to roll to succeed, and any special effects it may impart. The player whose turn it is goes one-by-one through their units, moving and attacking with them until all units have acted or that player no longer has enough energy left in their pool to act before the turn passes to the next player. This cadence is slightly different in 2nd Ignition’s new Starpoint mode, where control changes after each individual unit is used, but more of the new mode later.
The added bit of randomness and chance, thanks to the dice rolls, maybe a put-off to some, as it can be frustrating when a well-thought-out strategy can be destroyed thanks to a poor dice roll, but I find it to be on the contrary. I lived for the moments I was sure I was going to lose a unit only to be saved by the grace of the dice, and there were times when those roles reversed, and I got screwed out of a win, but what I appreciate is that added feeling of there always being a chance. And if good mecha anime has taught me anything, there is always a chance.
Skirmish matches conclude when either a player no longer has any units left on the field, they no longer have a unit that can deal damage, or they don’t have units that can produce a minimum of five energy at the start of a round.
Perhaps the biggest and coolest selling point of AEGIS comes from taking those smaller mechs and mashing them together to form even more powerful super robots! By expending a large amount of energy in one go, you can take two smaller units that are adjacent to one another and create a stronger one that can utilize the strengths of the mechs that it resulted from. This combining aspect not only gives you tougher bots with all new abilities but combining mechs will remove any damage any of them had received previously and allows your new super-mech to do a free action that will auto-succeed right away. This can turn the tide of a game, but as a trade-off, you will be generating less energy on each of your turns, which is required to do everything from moving to attacking. And that is to say nothing of the fact that you’d have one less body of the field.
The second release also adds the point capture Starpoint mode. Instead of destroying the enemy team, your goal is to take various points spread across the map and hold them for a turn, which will reduce every opponent’s stock of 10 Star points. When the first person drops to zero points, it will trigger the final round, giving each player, including the person whose points are zero, one final turn to try and capture as many points as possible while keeping your total as high as possible you can. Besides the focus on points, the biggest change with Starpoint is that when a mech is destroyed, it will respawn at the start of the next round in your home base. If a mech is destroyed in any other mode, it’s gone for the rest of the game.
I took the game to my local barcade’s tabletop night, and playing with four players made for a great and tense time. It took some time for everyone to grasp all the modifiers (there are A LOT of modifiers) on their unit’s attacks and what they did, but after a few turns, things began running smoother, and turns took less and less time leading to a better overall experience. There were numerous tense moments as we all held our breaths to see the result of a dice roll or times when a bunch of us would grimace after a well place area of effect attack hit all of us.
I remember vividly how I made a critical mistake in one match by utilizing one of my unit’s attacks that would shove a couple of my opponent’s units off the board. I got to eager with my plan, so I skipped the movement phase, and without adjusting my unit’s position first, my own attack caused my unit to be pushed off the board and into oblivion as well. It would go on to cost me the game a few rounds later, but damn if it didn’t feel good in the moment.
Most of my time with the prototype was spent between playing free for all skirmishes and the brand-new Starpoint mode, and I came away preferring the skirmish option. I enjoyed the added risk of the permadeath and how it added an elevated sense of risk to every encounter and made dice rolls feel more important. I couldn’t just fall back on the peace of mind knowing that my favorite mech would be back up with full health at the start of the next round. It made each unit on the field feel more valuable.
The biggest turn-off for me with the Starpoint mode was the end game, specifically the “final round” trigger that happens the moment someone reaches zero points. Instead of either ending the game completely and awarding victory to whoever has the most points at that moment or playing until someone is the last one standing, all players have a full extra round in which to act. More often than not, it turned into a game where whoever had triggered the final round could simply decide who they wanted to win the game, targeting or hindering the other players. I felt like it gave too much power to the player who had triggered the end game, turning them almost into an agent of chaos, letting them, in some cases, decide with their actions who would go on to win the game. It would turn a three-person game quickly into a 2v1 situation or even a 3v1 in a four-person match if you were on top.
My biggest overall gripe with AEGIS – 2nd Ignition has nothing to do with the gameplay itself but with how the box is organized, specifically the standees. With 120 unique mechs, each with their own cardboard standee representation, digging through and finding the specific mechs for the premade teams can take quite a while, especially with more than two players, as you have to pick out the mechs’ cards in addition to their figure. The standees themselves lack an indication of what class the mech is, leading you to scour through the pile to try and find the specific unit whose card you have to match them to for your arm. Even adding a colored border to the standee the coordinates to that class would greatly help speed up the process. The whole process makes me want to just keep every piece of a pre-made team together in a ziplock and never hassle with drafting or creating a custom team, just to make bringing this game to the table easier. As it stands, until I come up with a better organization system, I know that the time it takes to set up will reduce how often I want to play the game, which is a shame.
I thoroughly enjoyed my short time with AEGIS – 2nd Ignition, with its focus on super robots and strategy mixed with elements of chance. With games that can easily take less than an hour to complete (especially once you have a solid grasp on the attack modifiers and abilities), I could easily see myself getting a match in during my lunch period (if I have the teams all sorted out ahead of time that is). Sending units that were on death’s door together to combine to a fresh new super robot and turn the tide of an encounter always left me with the feeling that I was playing a scene from some epic mecha anime that I would have grown up with. It left me wanting to play more.
AEGIS – 2nd Ignition launches today on Kickstarter, with tiers that include this latest release and the much-requested reprint of the original version, optimized and streamlined for easier readability and clarity, similar to the new 2nd Ignition units! Fans of strategy tabletop games and super robots should give this a look, and if you are still unsure, you can try out digital versions of AEGIS on both Tabletop Simulator and coming soon on Screentop.gg!