Create your own Victorian criminal gang and fight for dominance in this unusual new multiplayer strategy game.
Never would we have imagined that Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle might become one of our most keenly anticipated games of the year. Not just for the game itself, but the idea that it might finally make turn-based strategy games a draw for ordinary gamers. That’s still probably a forlorn hope, but being such big fans of games like XCOM and SteamWorld Heist we hate to see such great titles get ignored simply because the perception is that the genre is slow and boring.
In some ways Antihero is an even harder sell, since it’s closer to being a board game than anything else. But that shouldn’t matter either, because the game itself remains impressively fast-paced and engaging. It even has a pleasingly unusual premise, as you take up running a Victorian street gang where you have to bribe, blackmail, and bludgeon your way to underworld dominance.
All of this is portrayed very much tongue in cheek, but despite the Dickensian setting there’s really not much effort to engage in any traditional storytelling. Instead, everything proceeds organically from the gameplay, as you try to ensure your thieves guild is top dog. There is a campaign mode, but it’s more an elongated tutorial. Which is not necessarily needed at all, given how surprisingly accessible the game is.
In order to have your wicked way with the city, you have to employ the full range of rapscallions at your command. The master thief is the leader and most versatile character, but there’s also street urchins that can be used to infiltrate buildings unseen, thugs to guard specific areas, gangs to fight rival guilds, bombers that can lay traps, and assassins that, well… you’ve probably played that game already.
Nobody works for free though, and you need a steady supply of gold and lanterns in order to both hire new people and unlock additional abilities. Occupying buildings that auto-generate resources is therefore vital, and most matches start with a land rush to get your urchins set up in banks, churches, and other strategically important locations.
To win a match you have to acquire a set number of victory points, by occupying particular buildings, carrying out assassinations, successful blackmails, and the like. Many of the points can be lost as quickly as they are gained though, so most matches can continue right up until the end without any guaranteed winner. That helps with the tension, but it can also see some matches drag out a bit too long as you struggle to declare a winner.
Despite what it may sound like the rules of Antihero are not at all difficult to pick up, and just half an hour or so of fiddling around will leave you with an understanding of the fundamentals. As you can see it’s not necessarily the most exciting game to look at, but the cartoonish designs of the characters is fun and, more importantly, the map design is clear and unambiguous.
But what also makes Antihero easy to recommend to non-strategy fans is that it makes for a hugely enjoyable multiplayer game. It can be played either in real-time or via an asynchronous mode where you take turns at your leisure, and get an email informing you of when your opponent’s ready. Which is one of the most perfect ways of avoiding doing any work ever devised.
Video games are such a visual medium it can seem perverse to some when a specific title doesn’t emphasise that fact. But Antihero works perfectly well as it is, and adding extra graphical flourishes would not add to the experience at all.
And while you could possibly create a physical board game version of it, it’d be an enormous faff to set-up and get working. So instead we’d just recommend playing the game as it is, with the assurance it’s not like any other multiplayer game you’ll play this year.