Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

Get in touch by emailing thegameshelfblog@gmail.com

Wednesday 29 November 2017

The Game Shelf Previews:- AOX

Game: AOX

Publisher: Half Wing Games

Designer: Chris 'Shep' Shepperson

Year: 2017

AOX is a new game, coming to Kickstarter from UK designer, Chris Shepperson, creator of Package?! - a microgame which funded at the end of 2016. AOX is a traditional abstract game for two players, much like classic games like Chess and Go, but it is a neat package and brings some new twists in the rules that are quite intriguing.

AOX will be Shep's second game and we were lucky enough to receive an early preview copy that we've been playing over the last couple of weeks.

AOX is played on a 6x6 grid with each player setting up their pieces on opposite ends. In the basic game you have 2 each of 3 kinds of pieces; triangles, circles and crosses, each with their own movement patterns. To win a game of AOX you must either take 3 of your opponents pieces, or manage to get one of your triangles into the 2x1 shaded area on your opponent's side of the board.

Circles are the simplest piece, able to move 1 space forwards, backwards, left or right. If they land on an enemy piece then they take it and it is removed from the game. Crosses are very similar functionally, except that they can only move diagonally, this makes them move across the board faster, but they lack the ability to enter every square on the board. Triangles can move 1 space in any direction they want, but they aren't able to take enemy pieces. Instead triangles can jump over a single piece during their turn, allowing them to quickly move across the board if you can prepare a route for them.

The game setup - there is no set starting location for tiles, you can each choose your set-up.
Unlike most abstract games AOX has an added element of luck. At the start of each turn you draw 3 of the circular tokens from your bag. These tokens have symbols matching your pieces on the board and you start the game with 3 of each. How you can move on your turn depends on what you draw, if you draw 3 of a kind you can move all your pieces of that type or bring a taken piece of that type back onto the board. If you draw 1 of each then you can choose any piece on the board to move once. If you draw two of a kind and one of another then you can move 1 piece of both types once. On top of this the player with the first player marker has a choice to make, they can play first and hand the first player marker to their opponent. Alternatively they can permanently swap one of their circular tokens with one of their opponents at the cost of letting their opponent go first, should they do this then they can retain the first player marker.
Amy’s Final Thoughts
At first glance the idea of luck in an abstract strategy game like this seems like a bad idea, but in practice it actually adds a lot to the game. You can never guarantee that you can move a certain piece, but if you are first player and your opponent draws what you want you can trade a token for it. The odds of not being able to move a set token in a turn are actually pretty low. And that's just at the start of the game, as the game progresses the circular tiles in your bag are being swapped with your opponent's, you might decide that you don't want to go for a triangle victory, so you swap out your triangle tokens with your opponents circles and crosses, giving yourself a guarantee to be able to move what you want.

The copy of AOX we received is a pre-production copy and as such I can't guarantee that it is representative of the final product quality. The board and pieces are all made from laser engraved wood which gives it an attractive and unique look. I would have appreciated the game in general being made of a slightly heavier wood, but that's a pretty minor complaint. While the base game of AOX only comes with 3 types of pieces, we were given the square/spiral/star expansion to try too. All of these add a new dynamic to the game, but I think my personal favourite is the spiral which can copy the move patterns of it's surrounding pieces.

AOX is a very portable game, the jigsaw-style board splits into 4 and together with the other components it all fits neatly into one of the two bags that are used to draw tokens from during the game. It doesn't deliver the same grand strategy of a game of chess, but what it does, it does very well and it's certainly easier to carry around with you for a quick game on the go. Keep an eye out for AOX when it comes to Kickstarter!

The current portable packaging for AOX
Fi’s Final Thoughts
I am not a fan of two-player abstract games, so I went into AOX with a lot of skepticism. My issue with this style of games is simply that I'm very bad at them and Amy is considerably better than me - she wins every time and it's not that interesting to play a game when you already know the outcome. The amazing thing about AOX is that I've won 50% of the time! My hypothesis for why this might be is that AOX is a lot more tactical than strategic. I only really see the benefit of planning one move ahead because I don't know what pieces my opponent or I am going to draw and be able to move on the next turn.

This more tactical game that suits me well, might be something that puts off more seasoned abstract game players. Each time the game reaches it's end we've found ourselves crossing our fingers and hoping to draw the right tile to give us the win, which might not suit players who are more strategically minded.

The preview copy we received also included 3 expansion elements which add some different tiles with different abilities. All of these expansions work well, although with a classic style abstract game, I don't know if I need to be given variability in the setup, or if I'd rather just practice playing one version of the game well.

I'm hoping that AOX manages to grab some attention when it launches on Kickstarter, since an abstract game probably isn't the most likely to take off. However, games like Onitama have shown that high production quality and modern mechanisms can be a recipe for success for an abstract game.

The Good
  • If the production version has a similar aesthetic style then we really enjoyed the wooden look of the game.
  • There is luck in the game, but not too much, and actually the game is more about tactically thinking on your feet. 
  • Easy to learn and teach.

The Bad
  • There is some luck of the draw which may be off-putting for very serious players.
  • There is currently no setting or theme in the game to draw players in.

The Verdict
       7/10 - One of the best two-player abstract games we've played and a modern take on the genre.

AOX was a review copy provided to the Board Game Exposure reviewer collective.

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