Relic Knights: First Impressions, according to Valrus

valrusavatarRelic Knights is a new game from Soda Pop Miniatures and Ninja Division. Soda Pop actually put out a number of miniatures related to the game back when they got started and they looked really neat. However, I’m not much of a collector for collecting sake so I passed them over. Now, after a very successful Kickstarter, there is a game to go with them and I finally have an excuse to pick some of these beauties up, so I’m going to natter on about what Relic Knights is, and what sets it apart from other games asking for your attention.

First off, very much anime inspired sculpts and themes. That fun category of anime with animal characters and crazy heroes and cliche villains. Robots and knights and pirates and a bunch of other stuff all collide in the universe of Relic Knights. It is a sci-fi world on the brink of destruction and the universe is seemingly coming to an end. The Knights, those bonded to a companion called a cypher are out there trying to do something about this.

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The mini’s themselves are quite good. All the new ones are plastic and the sculpts offer a wide variety of characters. They use the seemingly now standard round lipped bases ranging from 30mm to 80mm in size. This first round of sculpts need a few tweaks I feel, but it’s a good start. Again, we’re talking outrageous style anime characters, so we have Egyptian cat girls riding robotic tigers (my fav!),  knights in power armour, all the way to a monstrous Oni/ogre/demon like race. Melee weapons abound as well as psychic powers and laser guns. Each faction has a unique style all its own and a play style to go with it. You generally will only have a half dozen units on the field at a time, so its great that each one has some good character. I think one of the most unique knights is Jeanne Romee, who has exactly zero offensive abilities. In fact her only way of dealing damage is to reflect it back at attackers. Thankfully, she’s very good at this.

Speaking of factions, Relic Knights: Darkspace Calamity gives us six to choose from. I picked up the Doctrine myself, an order of scholars whose primary goal is to find the cause of the whole universe ending phenomenon thing that everyone is so curious about. Other factions are:

  • The Star Nebula Corsairs, a large gang of space pirates.
  • The Shattered Sword, an order of knights who serve as the galaxy’s police force.
  • The Noh Empire, A race of nomadic conquerors and destroyers following the orders of a god of destruction.
  • The Cerci Speed Circuit, A faction of extreme racers and speed junkies.
  • The Black Diamond Corporation which is a group of galactic mercenaries for hire.

Its kind of neat that the creators managed to give a bit of a human face to each of the factions in the fluff, even the most ‘evil’ factions Black Diamond and The Noh have a bit of a friendly face to them. Overall, still pretty evil, but not rotten to the core pure evil. There are also what Relic Knights calls Prismatics which are basically what other games would call mercenaries who will work with several factions.

What are Prismatics? Relic Knights uses the idea that the universe if made up of six kinds of Esper as its core idea. Essence, Creation, Law, Corruption, Entropy and Chaos. Each Faction corresponds to one of these ideals and you’ll see these pop up everywhere in the game, including in its deck of special cards called the Esper Deck that you use in place of dice. This looks like a deck of playing cards, but each card has different kinds of Esper on it which you’ll use to pay for your abilities in the game. Each card is worth two points of one type or a single point of another related type. There is also a few cards that are worth one of any type, these are those prismatic cards, or are void, and not worth anything. This deck is the driving force of the game. Models can also collect and hold esper which can be used in conjunction with the cards to pay for abilities.

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Together this makes a very neat and different set of mechanics for a game. You are constantly fishing for cards and managing your hand and held esper to keep your units doing stuff. And with a limited amount of each type in the deck you run into dry spells during the game where you just won’t have the cards to do what you want, forcing you to manage your hand as much as your army. I can definitely see people building a force and trying to diversify what cards they need to help keep the momentum going. With all this going on planning ahead three or four moves becomes a necessity which the game also nicely emphasizes with its action queue system.

When playing Relic Knights you have in front of you a queue of models, basically you have to plan ahead which of your units will activate. Queuing up two or three of them at a time depending on the size of the game. Some abilities allow you to affect the order of your queued units or your opponents, but for the most part you have to activate in the order you set out. Its a good twist on the usual you-go-I-go setup and it means there is no “end of round” type step and as a result  there’s no artificial break and reset phase, its just a good pace of go go go that you don’t get in other games.

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Movement is also a big part of this game, each unit has an initial and follow up move. You also can’t get locked into melee with another unit so you’re more free to move about then in other games. You don’t get into one on one fights to the death or anything. Movement also shows up in a lot of abilities that let you push, pull, and make extra moves with your units. With all these you have units zipping all over the battlefield bringing in some of that anime feel again as things rush toward one another for a clash, knock someone across the battlefield and then back away, presumably to taunt one another and power up some more.

Which brings up another great point, there really isn’t any way to miss an attack. As long as you can pay for it, an attack hits unless your opponent can counter it somehow. There is no way to ‘dice fail’ in Relic Knights. If an attack fails its because your opponent actually countered you, not because lady luck decided to mess with you. You’ll go through periods where you just can’t get an attack off, or use the defense you wanted to because you don’t have the cards, so there is some luck there, but its a different kind and there are tools in the game to mitigate it. Plus it will happen to both you and your opponent which makes things pretty fair.

Deployment is also a brain bender. There is no traditional deployment zone, instead you and your opponent take turns dropping objectives and then units anywhere on the board, but must remain a certain distance from each other. This creates one of the most tactical deployment phases I’ve ever seen. You probably want to drop your objectives further back to keep your opponent away from them, but if you put them forward more you can lock your opponent out of large sections of the board. Its really clever and makes even the setup of the game a strategic exercise. Scenarios are set up with asymmetrical objectives and each side is usually out for different goals. normally involving interacting with your opponents objectives and only a few require direct destruction of your enemies.

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The game does have a few rough edges. I didn’t get involved in the fluff of the game as much as I do in other games. It felt a little disjointed and didn’t engage me, it felt like one long prologue. There’s plenty of time to improve on this in later books and I hope they do. The individual units and faction intros are great though and even the abilities have lots of fun names like Elementary Strike, Cat and Mouse, Hard Learning and Meet The Maker.

Overall Relic Knights is looking like a really great alternative in the table top miniature game arena. If you like the artistic style of the models I urge you to give the game a try. A starter comes with a ridiculous amount of stuff including a mini rulebook, deck and tokens for a low intro price. The game has a lot of really good ideas going on, doesn’t require a ton of models and is a great style change up both visually and in game mechanics from a lot of the mainstream offerings out there.