This past weekend I got to spend time with a miniature skirmish game that I have been keeping an eye on for some time now, Relic Knights. This project popped up on my radar during its Kickstarter campaign, but I haven’t had a chance to sit down and find out what it was all about until now. This week we take a look at the game and models of Relic Knights.
What is Relic Knights?
Relic Knights Darkspace Calamity is a 30mm Tabletop Strategy battle game that emphasizes fast paced anime style combat. The game is from Soda Pop Miniatures, the minds behind Super Dungeon Explore. Players take on the role of a skirmish force in what could easily be an episode of your favorite anime. Battle takes place in a universe that is slowly being eaten alive by what is known as the Darkspace Calamity. Destroying entire systems and snuffing out all life within them. Force creation and the story really revolves around the Knights. These come in two flavors, Questing Knights who are still searching the remains of the universes as they are for relics of their own, and full Relic Knights who have already found their relics. Relics are extremely powerful devices, which manifest as something not unlike a giant mecha. Relic Knights are said to have the power to overcome the Darkspace Calamity. Each knights is bonded so a Cypher, a creature of pure Esper that finds knights that align with their goals. They grant the knights access to powers outside of normal mortals through the manipulation of Esper energy. The story takes these knights and their cadres to the Last Galaxy, the only known remaining space untouched by the Dark Calamity.
The game boasts a diceless combat system, with players using Esper Decks to power abilities, make special attacks or complete defensive maneuvers. This is a Specialized deck of cards unique to Relic Knights, and each card contains a primary and secondary Esper. Primary Espers count as two points of Esper while secondary counts as one point of esper. Only one type of esper can be chosen from each card face, unused esper does nothing in terms of game play. There are Six colors of Esper and each is accompanied by a symbol. There are also Void Cards, giant black hole faced cards that supply no esper, and are only there to take up space. Wild cards are ones with every color of esper on the face, and can be played for a single point of any color esper. Some abilities and units can store esper for later turns, such as Knight, which helps to maintain further control over what abilities you can do at a time.
The Miniatures and Factions
The miniatures are all made of a high quality plastic that is very similar to the same plastics used in games like Malifaux and Warhammer. They come as multipart kits that do require assembly and painting. The models are extremely detailed and construction is easy for the most part. There are some more complicated kits that require a bit of research to assemble correctly as instructions are not included with the models. Proportionately, the kits fit all of the basic Anime tropes, for all the good and bad that comes with it. Buxom women warriors, men of ridiculous muscle proportion, monsters of alien birth and of course giant mechs and giant guns. Each faction also carries with it a visual flare that is unique to itself, but reinforces the very anime feel. An interesting thing of note, is that the models do not come on sprues like other miniature games, the models are already cut from the sprues and are sealed in bags inside of the boxes that they are shipped in. From the ones that I have seen, there has been almost no mold lines or flashing to clear, which is rather impressive.
The rule book is an incredibly colorful hardcover volume that contains not only the rules on how to play the game with a very nice depth and clarity, but also all of the story for the game setting and each faction. This is an important distinction as most games of this nature have separate faction or army books in order to get the background story and all the pertinent game information for a factions units. Everything you need to know about the game, and the factions is contained inside one easy to read and vibrant volume.
The Cerci Speed Circuit is a group of futuristic high speed and high stake racers. The speed circuit isn’t just a race track though, it’s an entire planet devoted to the race. The faction is predominantly female and ranges from mechanics, to bike gang style racers and incorporates a hefty dose of roadside mecha. The faction is bright and vibrant, and made for neon colors. Every mech, every biker just screams speed. This is also reflected in the gameplay style of the faction, where almost every model’s movement stat is the highest value on their cards. This is the faction for the players that want to bounce around the battlefield as super sonic speed causing all sorts of havoc
The Doctorine are the equivalent of space mages. They are a group that studies esper and how to manipulate the energy. Their Academies train the greatest sages, scholars and mystics of the universe. Their models look like nothing short of a fantasy wizards and magical creatures. Magical constructs, Werewolves and space wizards are all present. Flowing robes, magic staves and wisened scholars are all present. This faction has some of the most powerful spells and esper effects, and you can see that represented in the models. This is the faction for you if you want to have a little fantasy in your science fiction.
The Noh Empire are, for all intents and purposes, space daemons. They travel through space in their Dragon Fleet sacrificing bodies to their Hydra God and capturing slaves. They are led by warlords and priestesses and command terrible esper fueled magics and alien born monstrosities. They also have a very Japanese kappa motif, with their creatures, armor and weapons all bearing resemblance to to spirit masks and classic Japanese cultural items. It is incredibly fitting for an anime based game.
The Shattered Swords are space knights. Peacekeepers and the law and order, in a manner of speaking, in the game universe. Utilizing mecha that look like giant suits of battle ready armor, and holding the classic sword and shields you would find on any knights. Their elite forces are reminiscent of mechs out of the Gundam series, which is another great nod to the classic animes. Their forces tend to be a little bit slower, but they have a serious ability to defend against attack.
The Star Nebula Corsairs are space pirates, completely with bomb throwing maniacs and giant skull faced laser cannons. Eye patches, cutlass sabres and pistols abound, these models scream that they are ready for a boarding party like something right out of a Captain Harlock anime, and even the model of Captain Harker looks incredibly similar to one Captain Harlock. Their Relic Knight, Calico Kate even throws comically large bombs that look like cannon balls at her opponents.
The Black Diamond is a mercenary group that originally started as a private security group in the galaxy. Since the Dark Calamity they have become more centralized and organized, banding together into a cohesive military force. Utilizing experimental weapons and power suits their feel is akin to that of an anime military force with large guns and tanks. They look like something straight out of the grim dark future of 40k, only far more exaggerated in appearance. They look like they’ll be at home in an invasion force or defending against the encroaching chaos of the Dark Calamity.
Gameplay and Learning Curve
Relic Knights is a unique game in that once the game has begun, gameplay continues in an ongoing fashion between players, with alternating model activations between players. This is again an attempt to capture the high speed feel of anime combat in the game, and after half a dozen games I can say firsthand that it does so successfully. All stats and abilities are present on a units tracker card. Unit card stats are broken down into a few key numbers. Speed has two numbers associated with it. The first shows how far the unit can initially move and take an action. The second number is the maximum distance a unit can move after making an action, or the follow up move. This double movement allows for the fast in and out combat that is a characteristic of animes. The cards will also display how many wounds a unit can take before being removed from the table, if the unit has the ability to store esper there will be a section for that on the card as well, and any combat skills or abilities will be detailed on the card with the associated Esper cost. Any additional special rules or unit abilities will be detailed on the card. Some attacks will cause you to draw additional esper from the deck.This card actually plays more of a role in the gameplay than simple information.
Players utilize something called a Dashboard. This is a section of the board in front of them that contains all of your unit tracker cards, your Esper Deck and anything else you are using for the game. At the beginning of the turn, the leftmost unit in the ready queue moves into the active slot. This unit becomes the active unit and then takes all of their actions. This generally consists of movement, action, and then follow up move. Alternatively a unit can choose to forfeit all of their actions and choose to refocus. Refocusing is an action that allows players to tailor their hand and gain a held esper. The player draws five esper cards from the deck, and the unit gains a held esper for later use. The unit, after completing it’s actions or refocusing, the unit then goes back into the inactive pool and the next card unit slides left into the next ready slot, and the active player can discard as many of their cards as they want, and then draw back up to the hand size of five esper cards.
During a unit’s activation, some abilities will allow the active player to draw additional esper cards for further actions, but the player may only have a maximum of five cards at the start of the next turn. Some units have an ability to press an attack by spending additional esper, which increases the damage of the abilities done, which is the primary use for these additional cards. Players choose which units they are going to activate by placing them in the ready section of the dashboard from the idle pool. This allows you to choose the order in which you can respond to your opponents, and you can move the same unit into the ready slot multiple times for reaction. Some abilities will allow players to directly affect the opponents line up, removing units from the active queue and placing them back into the inactive queue, forcing opponents to alter their strategies.
During setup, players decide who is the hero and the villain of the scenario. To determine this, players shuffle and flip three esper cards. Each player adds up the total esper that lines up with their leader’s affinity. Whoever has the most, chooses if they want to be the hero of the villain. Villains perform the next flip to determine scenario conditions, and will deploy units first and wil take second activation. The Hero will deploy second and take first activation. Winning the game comes in terms of Scenario Conditions, which act as the victory conditions unique to a player’s faction. To determine the scenario conditions, the villain shuffles their deck and allows the hero to cut it. Then two cards are flipped. The first card flipped sets the villains win condition and the second the heroes. The primary esper determines the primary condition and the secondary the second condition. There are special conditions if a void or wild card is drawn, everything is detailed in the rules that come with the miniatures and on the cards from the esper decks themselves.
This is the quickest, roughest description I can offer about the game, but I assure you it sounds far more complicated than it actually is. At this point I’ve played almost a dozen games with friends in my local area, and at first I thought the system was rather daunting. After a few games, it became clear that this is one of those systems that will take you a game or two for things to start clicking into place and as you play more, things will become more apparent. Interactions between units and abilities will become easier to identify and esper manipulation and the general flow will become easier much quicker than you would think. It is not any big surprise that I’m a big fan of diceless systems like in Malifaux, but this one is very well done and very easy to pick up. The pace of the game is one of the most refreshing things about it, and after you get the basics of the mechanics and start to go a bit quicker you can see how truly fast paced the game can be. The additional movement and followup movement are great for setting up tactical strikes, and the ability to choose which units activate in what order works very well. One of the most interesting things about the game is that unlike others once the play starts it just keeps going. There is no reset after every unit has gone like other games, everything keeps going until one side claims victory. This makes gameplay continually engaging throughout the entire match. Combine this with defensive actions and even when you aren’t the active player you are still playing.
The game is a lot of fun, and the over the top anime action and abilities and spells feel fantastic to use. It is a well constructed, fantastic game that hits every mark that it has set out to, and that is something that I wish I could say about more games. The game can scale from skirmishes up to massive battles and does so with easy. The mechanics make it fairly easy to go from one to another. The visuals on the models are fantastic and don’t carry with it the grime and dirty feeling that most futuristic style games carry with it, and overall I find myself very impressed with the game. It is well worth your time if you’re a fan of miniature wargaming, and I highly recommend seeking out demos at your local shop or if you are a convention find the Soda Pop Miniatures booth and ask some questions. Entry into the game is fairly reasonable compared to other miniature games, with a starter set running you about $50 USD. The full color hardbound rulebook will run you an additional $50 USD, or you can find the basic rules included in any starter set or for Free Online . Expect to be seeing more about this game in the future.