Review: Attack on Titan: Deck-Building Game

aotbanner

Length

Release Date
attackontitanboxDesigner: Matt Hyra
Publisher: Cryptozoic Entertainment
Category: Deck-building, Cooperative
Player Count: 1-5
BoardGameGeek Rating: 7.0 (2 votes)
Price: $39.99
Let’s start with the most important thing that’s happened to me in the past few weeks: After I knew I would be reviewing this game, I decided it would be a little disingenuous to do so without, you know, watching Attack on Titan. So I did. I watched all of season one in a week. Oh man! Such a gut-wrenching show. My first anime, too. I’m sold, and it sounds like I don’t have to wait as long as everyone else did for season two. Hurrah! 
So, if nothing else, the mere existence of this game created another fan of Attack on Titan. But really, its main purpose here is to service the established fans of the show. There are plenty of other deck-building games out there, but only one designed to emulate the terror of a titan attack. So there are two questions here: is it a good game in and of itself, and is true to its source material? Let’s find out!

Content Guide

Although Attack on Titan is an intense, violent show, there is little-to-no gore in the game. The stills of the titans are certainly frightening, but I think more-so because I have watched the show. The game is still centered around a fair amount of violence and hopelessness as players try to ward off the titans. 

Review

attackontitancardsandboxCryptozoic has a long line of themed deck-builders based on their “Cerberus” engine. Attack on Titan continues this trend, but brings its own twists. For starters, the game is cooperative, with players working together to increase in strength and fight the titans. Second, the game has two currencies, much like Star Realms, Ascension, and other deck-builders. But here the resources are not money and attack, but rather power (which encompasses the first two) and move. Players move along the wall, buying cards and fighting titans in different areas. Mechanism-wise, it doesn’t feel particularly fresh, but it’s incredibly on-theme and works very well in that regard. (I might just be worn out on deck-builders, though.)
That’s just one of the ways in which Attack on Titan masterfully integrates its theme. Each player is a unique hero from the show, and players recruit allies, perform maneuvers, and use equipment pulled straight from the show. They also do this with a complete lack of spoilers, with maybe one exception. (One of the important titans later in season one is one of the possible titans to fight against in this game, and I suppose that could be a bit of a spoiler.) The characters have special abilities that are very fitting for their character. The archenemy titans have terrifying bonus abilities that make them extremely hard to kill and unpredictable.
I played the game with two students who are obsessed with the show, and they really got into the theme and how it was applied to the game. It made it a little easier to learn for them as well, as one had not played a deck-building game before. The mechanisms beyond deck-building are nicely tied to the show, so both students easily picked up the rules. The difficulties we had were from card text and interactions, which were admittedly messy at times. There’s a list of clarifications in the rulebook, but not every card has an entry. Since the game is cooperative, though, we could usually agree on an interpretation and move from there. And the game really does force cooperation by being so difficult. To beat the archenemy titans, you really need everyone to power up the player with the best hand. Even when  we did that, I could see their enthusiasm deflate when they missed a huge attack on the final titan. In a weird way, even though it was a disappointing moment, it was totally on-theme. The game also has a lot of replayability, with a random deck to buy cards from and a variety of archenemy titans to face each game. 
However, the central deck is my main complaint with the game. I’m not opposed to the mechanism, and in fact I really like how it works with the walls, but it needs some tweaks. In a competitive game, if the available cards suck, it’s even for everyone. But in a cooperative game, the players are screwed if the deck is unkind. It’s possible that you’ll only get expensive cards early, or that you won’t find any cards that let you “destroy” your starter cards (i.e. remove them from the game). This can make the game vary wildly in difficulty, and it’s already fairly hard. It would make more sense for the deck to be cut into “phases” with numbers on the back, instead of being purely random. 
The other problem with the main deck is that the game is too long. Explanation and playing to victory can take nearly 2 hours, and I’m not sure the mechanisms support that, though the theme definitely does. I’d honestly prefer the game clock in at 60 minutes. Granted, there are several variants in the rulebook, one of which adjusts for game length. Some also adjust for difficulty, and there’s a solitaire variant as well. I have to say, though, that the solitaire variant is far too slow and not very exciting. The game is at its best when several players are working together. Three players is probably ideal. 
I wouldn’t suggest this one to somebody looking for new deck-building mechanisms, but that’s probably a good thing. It means that new players who are fans of Attack on Titan can experience fresh gameplay, and veterans can focus on the strong integration of theme instead. And theme is where this game delivers. In fact, I don’t know of another deck-builder I’ve played with such a well-integrated theme. Attack on Titan has finally landed on tabletops, and the experience is definitely worth it for fans of the show.  
 
Thank you to Cryptozoic Entertainment for providing a review copy of Attack on Titan: Deck-Building Game.

The Bottom Line

 

StrategistThompson_E_aPapantoniou-600x502
Author: Derek Thompson


I’ve been a board game reviewer on Geeks Under Grace since 2011. I love card-driven games and party games. I have a Ph.D. in Mathematics and teach the subject at Taylor University in Upland, IN. My wife and kids are my favorite gaming partners.