Set within the dreary pathways of Victorian London, Antihero is a fiercely competitive digital board game where you must loot, ransack and defraud your way to victory. As the head of a thieves guild, you'll work to gain the upperhand on your opponent across a range of match types, eliminating enemy gangs, infiltrating buildings and completing heinous objectives. Developed by Tim Conkley, Antihero, much like Stardew Valley and Axiom Verge, is the product of one creative mind, which is a stunning feat considering how masterfully crafted and addictive its turn-based gameplay is.
Matches are turn-based affairs and see you and your opponent battle it out across randomly generated maps to secure victory points. Victory points, as you may have guessed, are the key to victory and can be earnt by assassinating targets, delivering bribes and holding control of churches. Different match types in the campaign spice things up by throwing in their own specific objectives such as infiltrating a masquerade ball, occupying guard towers and looting ship cargo. These subtle variations help to keep you on your toes, as you'll have to keep adjusting your strategy to contend with the fresh new challenges.
Each turn you're given a set amount of actions that you can perform with your master thief; allowing you to scout out fog-filled streets, burgle buildings for extra coins, or attack thugs that stand in your path. During your opponent's turn, you are given all but a rough indication of their actions and because the map is barely visible, you must plan for the unexpected. Much of the fun and mystery from Antihero stem from these aspects, as your information is restricted and it's never clear just how you are doing compared to your opponent.
Coins and lanterns are your main forms of currency and are accumulated at the end of each turn by holding control of buildings such as churches, breweries and orphanages. Managing your resources is a must as they're required for purchasing new recruits and upgrading your guild via the skill tree. Holding onto these resources feels like a huge game of cat and mouse as your opponent will always try and flush out your urchins that are occupying buildings. Tactically, you must rig up traps, place thugs to obstruct pathways and evict opposing urchins in order to quash your enemy's supplies and improve your own.
During each round, you're given the chance to exchange lanterns to upgrade your thieves guild via a branching skill tree. The tree is split into three skill categories which are humorously titled; skullduggery, sneakery and stabbery. Understandably, only having the choice of one unlockable skill per turn leads to plenty of tough decision making, especially when put under the heat of the timer during online play. Unlockable skills include the ability to hire new classes of characters, improving the efficiency of looting and extending the duration of the master thieves turns. You can also accept the charity option, where instead of upgrading your skills, you can accept additional coins or lanterns.
Gangs, urchins, thugs and assassins can all be hired by spending coins and serve their own purpose in leading you to victory. Gangs can attack any enemies on the map and can be used to evict enemy urchins. Thugs can be used to block enemy pathways, protect occupied buildings and join gangs to increase their overall health. Urchins can be used to secure control of buildings and assassins can deliver a devastating blow to foes, ridding them of six health points, likely ending in fatality.
The main campaign is admittedly rather lacking in duration and unfolds over 11 different chapters; it does, however, provide a solid introduction, easing players into the fundamental mechanics. The story-driven mode is presented in a sleek comic book style during cutscenes and tells the story of a band of thieves leading the fight for power. While it's short-lived, it stands a solid single player experience, as the AI always poses a threat and there's enough variety scattered throughout to keeps things engaging. There's even the option to adjust the difficulty, which is a much appreciated touch, especially for newcomers to the genre.
Multiplayer can either be played in real-time, where both players are given a set amount of time to enact their turn, or can be played in a more relaxed manor, where you can place your turn whenever you please and you'll receive an email update when your opponent has responded. The latter mode is perfect for playing with friends in different time zones who may be unable to play simultaneously. As matches can also be fairly lengthy, it's great that an option has been devised to cater for more casual play. Also included is Skirmish mode, where you can customise your own matches against AI competitors. While we played this mode the least, we can appreciate that it's a great way to be able to play your favourite match types without the story focus of the campaign.
Antihero sports a sketch art style is similar to that of Don't Starve, only with a more dynamic splash of colour. It's quirky animated look compliments its gameplay beautifully, feeling almost like a board game that has completely come to life. Its score has taken a somewhat ambient approach looming in the background to evoke an added sense of mystery to its murky fog-covered streets. While the music doesn't exactly leap to the forefront, it's not exactly to its discredit, as the maniacal cackle of goons and the crashes and thuds of street brawls often permeate.
Fans of turn-based strategy titles who are looking for an individualistic take on the genre should look no further than Antihero. Its Victorian setting and sketch art visual style hold plenty of charm and its gameplay remains bracing and addictive, as you're always forced to rethink your strategy during the various match types. If we could fault the title at all it would be that its single player can be breezed through in just short of three hours, but the fact we are left craving for more content is testament to its excellence.