So, in general terms, an antihero is a bad person who’s really a good person. It turns out, an Antihero is also a video game. Who knew?!
Me. I knew. Man, I rule. And now you do too, because I’m telling you about it!
So, Antihero is a turn-based strategy game in which you run a thieves guild. In said guild, you manage a team of units to help you yank, gank, and shank, all in the name of robbing the rich to give to… yourself. You’re like half of Robin Hood, here. To be honest, the ‘hero’ part of Antihero doesn’t really show up in the game.
Antihero is one of those games that’s simple in concept but really solid in execution. It plays a lot like a board game, honestly. Except it’s a video game. It’s a video board game. Yes. You play in a semi-randomized section of one of the three types of Englands that show up in fiction (it’s the Sherlock Holmes-type, for reference) and they have you and a CPU or other player facing off against each other, racing to collect enough victory points to win the game before your opponent does.
One of the things that I really like about Antihero is the way that your strategy has to evolve as you go along with the game. Each game moves really quickly, and is over in about 15-20 minutes at most, yet there’s a really clear progression in strategy there. In the early game, you might be able to make a really strong showing of it by denying your opponent access to resources and blocking them from scouting into your side of the board, while you snatch up and burglarize as much as you can. If you just stick with that, though, you won’t be able to keep up as they start being able to move units through more territory and the places you’re stealing from run out of stuff to steal, so you’d better have built up a solid base of resource generation to keep you going by the mid-game. And then in the end game, it becomes very difficult to keep units on the board but both sides should usually have enough to keep pumping more out, so it turns into a very aggressive war of attrition, and the guessing game of where to hit them hardest and where to place your own traps ends up ruling the day.
There’s two major resources to secure; lanterns, which buy you upgrades, and coins, which buy you units. Upgrades give you access to more units, improve on their capabilities, and boost your resource generation. You’re not typically limited as far as how much you can get per turn, but every upgrade makes additional upgrades that turn more expenses, and buying units increases the price of other units of the same type. Another layer of strategy there, sometimes you’re going to be best served by spending your wealth on a number of units, while other times you should spread them out between turns.
I particularly like the way units are designed to deal with the way strategies change throughout the course of the game. To start with, you’ve got your master thief, who’s basically the queen of the chess board. This guy/gal is the lynchpin of everything you’ve got going on. They’re in charge of scouting, stabbing, and stealing. One of the big strategic keys of the game is working out just when to upgrade their capabilities over the capabilities of the guild as a whole. Your units can only operate in the locations you’ve scouted, burglarizing is your man source of resources in the early/mid game, and your attack capabilities without the master thief’s contributions has a strict application limit, so a lot of your momentum swings on how you use your master thief. This unit gets the most upgrades, as well, and you’re able to increase the amount of moves you can make in a turn, the damage they do, the amount of coins you get activities, the types of places you can steal from, etc. They’ll get progressively more powerful as the game goes on. And, they retreat back to your hideout at the end of every turn, making it impossible for the opponent to attack them directly.
Then you’ve got your urchins. Urchins are pretty much the worker units of other strategy games. Have them invade businesses, and they’ll get you benefits for it. Usually that’ll be resources you get every turn, but sometimes it can be upgrades to your units, reduced costs, or even victory points. They’ve usually only got one application, but it’s one that’s useful the whole game through.
Your gangs are another one of your backbones. These are the things that make people hurt. Got some goons blocking your way? Give them a good drubbing. An assassination target? Send the gangs after them. They can kick urchins out of buildings, too, paving the way for you to take hold of it yourself. You get to upgrade them every time they succeed at doing something, building up the damage they do, the amount of urchins they can remove at once, or the amount of money they make when they succeed at something. These guys are kind of funny, so absolutely vital in the early game, but they end up dying by the droves in the late game, so it’s hard to build them up much then. Even so, the ability to remove urchins from locations is vital to managing your opponent, and even when they can only do one before dying, it’s still the most cost-effective way of doing so.
Thugs can block off areas. Neutral thugs will pop up randomly or around assassination targets over the course of the game, but if you want to keep your opponent from scouting out a certain area or reaching a certain resource, you can send a thug of your own to block it off. They don’t have any offensive capabilities of their own, but you can make your opponent waste some moves in dealing with them, which is crazy effective in the early game. As your opponent scouts more and more territory, their usefulness starts to wane, but you can always also add them to a gang to boost its health.
Saboteurs are one time use units that are pretty cheap. They’re the only other unit other than the master thief that can scout, so if you need to extend your reach but the head honcho is busy, they can at least reveal some more street for your other units to prowl. Their true utility, however, comes in the traps they lay. Got a business where you just need to make sure your urchins are unmolested? This guy can plant a bomb there. It’ll last for a couple turns, and the first unit that tries to mess with that building will be stunned. It makes the master thief lose all their remaining moves, and it leaves gangs and truant officers helpless in the streets, waiting to be picked off, all while your happy urchins are still there, unfettered.
And then you have truant officers and assassins. Both one time use units, the best at what they do. Both the most expensive units available. Truant officers will roll up, and in the creepiest way possible, remove all the urchins from a building. Assassins will strike for a whopping six damage, more than any other unit in the game and enough to slay almost anything except for the later assassination targets, before vanishing. Both are only available by the time you reach the late game, and the economy on them isn’t great, as given enough time you could have a gang do the same work for much less cost, but smart use of them can really turn the tide for you.
To win the game, you usually need to secure six victory points. There’s a bunch of ways to do that, but there’s three that’s available on every map. You can spend lanterns on bribing someone to get a victory point, although the cost of doing so increases each time you do. You can fulfill contracts for assassination, taking out random targets with more health than you typically have available at that point, although again, the amount of health they have will increase every time one of them falls. And you can fill a church with urchins, learning enough from confessions to secure blackmail, but this is the only type of victory point you can lose, so you’ll have to defend those urchins until the game is won. Scenarios may also present you with other means of scoring victory points, such as by stealing a ship’s cargo, sneaking into a masquerade, or overcoming a palaces security and burglarizing its jewels.
The game has a campaign mode that’ll take you through all of these, as it tells the story of master thief Lightfinger as he ousts all the other thieves guilds from NOT LONDON and establishes his control over the city. It also has an exhibition mode that I spent a fair bit of time in, and a multiplayer mode that might mean something to me if I ever played these things with anyone else.
All in all, I want to call back to what I said earlier. It’s a really simple concept with a very solid execution. I had a lot of fun with it. There’s not a whole lot of meat there, though. The campaign mode will take you maybe 3 hours, and when you’re done with that, you’ve seen pretty much all the game has. Short games don’t bother me at all, and it’s really good for a quick bit of fun, but if you’re expecting something with staying power, this is not it. It is really satisfying to get a good strategy going, and although you will probably use the same basic model throughout, the different scenarios and actions of your enemies will require a fair bit of variation to that. It’s good for my thinking cap, is what I’m saying.