Justified and Ancient – Relic review

 

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The splendid Chris O’Regan returns, this time to take a look at Fantasy Flight’s latest release purloined from the Games Workshop universe. Relic takes Talisman and drags it kicking and screaming into the 41st Century. It certainly looks pretty enough but… it is any cop?

RELIC! There is only one way to say the name of this game and it is with a gruff English voice and to be cried out in true Warhammer 40,000 like manner. Relic is the 40K take on Talisman, a now 30 year old board game. Like its predecessor, Relic requires players to move around the play board until they reach the centre. At which point the end game stage is initiated and varies depending on what end condition has been chosen. But I’m getting ahead of myself, and the emperor doesn’t like those who possess the power of prescience now does he?

Relic is set in the world of the 41st Century where the Human race somehow manages to hold onto vast tracts of the Milky Way, despite the myriad of threats both externally and from within. The players take on the roles of various people who are seeking to serve the Imperium. During their duties they have found themselves in the Antian Sector. Up until recently this inconsequential corner of the galaxy was of little interest to the Imperium, that is until an Eldar Craftworld drifted into it thanks to the appearance of a Warp Rift. As the force of Chaos spew from it, the enigmatic Eldar attempt to investigate the origin of the rift. All the while rampaging Orks and Tyranids are causing terror throughout the region and it is up the agents of the Imperium to put a stop to all xenos threats.

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With the setting out of the way, Relic essentially a highly modified version of Snakes and Ladders. Hey where are you going? Come back! Oh come on! Don’t be like that! OK I get the ‘disengage brain’ when playing Talisman and there is an element of that in Relic but that being said there is an element of depth to the game that is a teensy bit more than your average puddle. Just a bit mind, but it’s there. Really it is!

Relic is a race to the centre of the playing area, just as Snakes and Ladders is a race to the top…oh please come back. Look I promise not to mention the ‘S&L’ game ever again. No really, I won’t. Probably.

Anyway the sequence of play is split into four phases: Movement, Exploration, Engagement and Experience. Movement entails players rolling a six sided dice and moving their playing piece that number of spaces in either direction around the board and where ever they land they carry out the instructions on the board. Yes that’s right, this game is a roll and move game. Players who are familiar with a game that features vertical access steps and scale covered creatures with no legs may have encountered this form of movement before. I KNOW I PROMISED! I didn’t name it did I? DID I?

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Moving swiftly on, the next phase is Exploration. This is where players either encounter what is written on the playing board itself or take card(s) from one of three coloured threat decks. It is at this point Engagement occurs. Typically this consists of combating a creature that has been drawn from a threat deck. These are coloured red, blue and yellow and typically contain creatures with attributes that match that colour. Red is strength, blue is will power and yellow is cunning. These attributes are compared against the player’s and dice are rolled whose total is added to the base attribute. In Relic the concept of exploding dice is added, with a result of ‘6’ being added to the combat result and additional rolls made. If subsequent exploding dice rolls occur, these are added to the total. This little mechanic can result in the loss of a battle that would from the outset seem to be a cake-walk.

Relic_04 Once the combat is over the aftermath takes place in the form of Exploration. If the player won the combat they collect the creature as a trophy. For every creature with an attribute of 6 or more the player can trade these trophies in for a level. Gaining levels are a key component of Relic as it’s the primary means of increasing attributes and thus improve their chances of facing mightier foes and challenges in the middle and central tiers of the play board.

In addition to trophies, items and other random bonuses can be used during this phase. This is dependent on what either drawn from the threat card decks or what is present on the board prior to the player landed on that space. The final check is to see if the player completed a mission at the conclusion of their turn. All players have one and only one, active mission. At their completion they earn a reward and potentially gain access to, wait for it, a RELIC!

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Relics or ‘RELICS!!!’ are extremely powerful items that can only be collected once 3 missions have been completed and traded in. Missions vary from a simple ‘kill an Ork’ type to entering a space containing a certain player. The boons gained by relics are unmatched by any other item as they are from the Dark Age of Technology and hence infused with powers beyond the wit of even the most knowledgeable of the Adeptus Mechanicus.

Another modifier card that is introduced in Relic is the Power Card. These are cards that serve two purposes. They can be used to modify a player’s action or those of their opponents. They also sport a number at the top, which can be used instead of a die roll. This means that if a player wants to land on a certain space, they can use a power card to roll that number instead of rolling a dice.

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Another card type is the Equipment Card. These can be bought in exchange for Influence, the currency of Relic from a seller on the player board or picked up at random from the threat deck. Some of these cards have a certain number of charges and they are placed on the card as they are used. Once all the charges are gone, the item is lost and the card discarded.

The final card type is the most interesting of the bunch: the Corruption Card. These cards represent the corrupting influence of Chaos that is seeping into the Antian Sector. These cards modify the player’s abilities, for good or ill. They are acquired in a variety of methods, typically they are in exchange for attribute gains. For example an event card from the threat deck will allow all players to gain some points in a certain attribute in exchange for taking a Corruption Card. This acts as a risk-reward element of Relic as if a player exceeds a certain number of Corruption cards, typically six but it can be higher depending on the character, the player’s character is eliminated from the game and they must create a brand new one. This is far more devastating than simply losing all of a character’s life points, as they simply reappear in the hospital minus trophies, influence and power cards.

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Relic comes with a 10 characters, all with unique abilities that are balanced to suit a player’s style. The usual selection of Space Marines and their supporting military units are present as well as some of the more unusual and lesser known members of the Imperium. There are however no alien races present, which I found to be a little disappointing, but no doubt they will appear in an expansion. Each come with an accompanying highly detailed bust figurine that is crying out to be painted.

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They are fixed to coloured pegs, which correspond to the attribute dial card for each player. All characters have varying limits on the number of power cards they can carry and have special abilities that are unique to them. These can significantly alter the base set of rules of play and in the hands of an experienced gamer can enhance their chances of success exponentially.

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Relic also comes with five end game scenario cards, which are placed in the middle of the playing board. These vary from a simple ‘oooh look, you made it to the middle! Get you! YOU’VE WON!’ to ‘You’ve found an ancient ship. Proceed to bombard with its vast array of weapons the rest of the players until they are very dead.’. They do add a great deal to the variety of the game and are clearly an avenue for future expansions of the game.

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Relic is an extremely well constructed game. The level of quality is beyond what I have encountered in most other titles, including those made by Fantasy Flight Games. It would appear both they and Games Workshop have put a significant amount of effort in making this game a beauty to behold. Everything from the artwork on the character sheets to the board itself is something to be marvelled at. But is this is a case of smoke and mirrors? Are Fantasy Flight Games actually trying to deflect our attention from the fact that there really isn’t very much to Relic? Well that would be a cynical viewpoint, but it is an accurate one.

The major gripe I had with Relic is that it is a long game with poor pacing. Once players become familiar with the phases of their turn, they start to rattle through them to the point where people can and do become impatient as they wait for their next turn. It can become so bad that players start to take their turn over other player’s just to pick up the pace of the game. This inevitably results in players missing key elements of their turn as they are forced to make quick decisions at the urging of the proceeding player. The only way to counter this is the enforce the right of the player to take their turn and give them space to do so. As the game reaches its end phase the sense of urgency to complete it becomes ever more apparent and once again players are urged to complete their turns ever more rapidly.

The pacing and apparent simplicity of Relic are its failings and there is little that can be done about them. If you enforce a players right to take their full turn in an appropriate amount of time, the game will eventually grind to a trudge and in a four player game last in the region of 3-4 hours. This can be maddening as the downtime between each turn can be interminable, to the point where the phrase ‘is it my go yet?’ is the most commonly used while playing Relic.

Ultimately Relic suffers for its approachability and as such should be played with 3 people rather than 4. This reduces the down time and doesn’t result in marginalising one of the players, which can happen if a player is struggling to master the special abilities of their chosen character.

On the plus side, it’s a great deal more entertaining than Snakes and Ladders. DAMMIT!

Relic is a Fantasy Flight release and was designed by John Goodenough. Between two and four can play with games taking a good two or three hours. Copies are available from all good stores including the excellent Gameslore who will sort you out a copy for a mere £40.99. Thanks to Chris for his write-up – you can follow him on That Twitter where he’s surprisingly known as @chrisoregan!

 

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