Andrew: Today, we look at Regnum Angelica, the first major release from Black Locust Games. Designed specifically for two players, one of us will herald the noble Arch, while the other takes command of the terrifying Fallen, as each of these two mighty factions seek to overwhelm and ultimately conquer the other’s domain. How do the hosts of the heavens stack up against the legions of the inferno? Must a 2-player symmetrical strategy game with binary color options inevitably endure comparisons to chess? Will I ever manage to actually beat Jess at a 2-player game? Come on in and find out as we take a look as we check out Regnum Angelica!
I sit across the table, the battlefield, from her and I watch her take her turn. She is looking over her forces, and for a moment the only sound comes from the click-click-click of her rolling the shiny red movement cubes between her fingers as she contemplates her troop deployment.
At the center sits her general, the Archangel Gabriel, a Goliath monstrosity whose power level is literally infinity. Nothing can stand up to that beast, save for my own general, tragically buried somewhere in my draw pile and unable to help, or perhaps a handful of Angelic Scripts, none of which I have been fortunate enough to draw. The only saving grace is that Gabriel is ponderously slow; I have three turns, at least, to come up with some sort of counter to his crushing advance, even more if she decides to spend turns brutalizing my troop formation rather than just push straight to the goal. I’m not worried. I have time.
Then she does something for which I am unprepared. Smoothly, she places her movement cubes on one of her lesser angels and streaks past my front line – no matter, such a weak angel is hardly worth any points – but then she stops just shy of scoring. Why would she do that?
That seraphic smile of hers goes wicked as she ticks down the stone of her Power meter, indicating the activation of a Script. My nerves skitter.
And so, suddenly, the Archangel is at the gates of my domain, without even a minor Fallen to slow him down.
The click of a movement cube being placed is as loud as thunder, and her champion moves into scoring position. That ten-point swing is as decisive an end as any swiftly-descending sword.
Let’s just get this out of the way – Regnum Angelica is not a friendly game. That isn’t saying it’s uninviting or difficult or unengaging – quite the contrary, actually. What I mean is that it is not a game which gives you any room to play nice with one another.
Regnum Angelica is a war. It’s a brawl. Actually, at its core, Regnum Angelica is a meat grinder.
There is a lot more elegance to the game, both in theme, presentation, nuance, and experience, but functionally, what that beautiful, glossy board really represents is a tight, befanged maw of death and destruction, into which both players pour their armies. I promise, I don’t mean that in a bad way, but it’s something which you should probably know going in.
Each turn, as laid out in the handy summary cards provided, players will add angels to the field and then march them forward, evading or crushing opposition along the way, all with the goal of reaching the far end of the board in order to score victory points. When angels meet, battle is joined, ending in the inevitable destruction of one or both combatants.
Battle is elegant in its simplicity – each angel has nine symbols, the ‘Attack Orientation Compass’, featuring elemental symbols for Earth, Fire, and Water (with the exception of the nigh-unstoppable generals and their ‘infinity’ signs). When an angel attempts to move through an enemy, one simply compares the relative symbols for the direction of attack, and apply the classic rock/paper/scissors formula.
Adding spice to the mix are the Angelic Scripts and Pillars, letting you manipulate the board and add defensive augmentations to your angels, as well as a Power pool which acts both as your per-turn movement allowance as well as the fuel for your Scripts. It all hangs together very neatly, making board position, movement, and orientation all critical parts of your strategy.
Jess: That’s one of the things I liked about the game – since a low-ranking angel can take out a high-ranking angel by attacking from the right direction, none of them ever felt useless or disposable.
The two angel decks in Regnum Angelica are identical in every way (except for the angel names and artwork), meaning that players are working from the same pool of potential warriors and abilities. Angels are brought into the battlefield face-down and are only activated the following turn. Every angel also has special effects which either trigger immediately upon that angel’s activation or persist as long as the angel is in the field, and smart activation timing can let you set up some really fun combos.
The artwork is really nice and all the components are well-made. The board is huge and beautiful, with plenty of space for all the cards and tokens, including score-trackers. Pillars, the angelic equivalent of elemental shields, are represented by very nice wooden bits. It is clear that tremendous care went into the design and manufacture of Regnum Angelica – even the foam insert has custom cutouts to accommodate each of the unique physical elements of the game. The rulebook continues this theme of care and design, featuring a detailed story to frame the events of the game and working to enrich the experience by giving it detail and gravity.
However, my major criticism of Regnum Angelica (aside from the fact that Jess beats me at it with terrifying consistency) is actually highlighted by how much care went into the crafting of the game.
The otherwise-gorgeous production quality highlights some minor missteps – font that is a little too small to read (especially on the Fallen cards) and the foam inserts can be as fussy to unpack as they are functional once packed. Also, the box is rather big so as to accommodate the board, though the rest of the components could occupy a standard tuck-box.
But those are true nit-picks. The real issue is theme penetration.
Andrew: Oh hey, hi Rob. Obligatory, yes, thanks again. But yeah, there is practically none. None of the mechanics, however well-balanced they may be, speak to the theme of the game – there is nothing particularly ‘Angelic’ about the way the Arch play, nor ‘Demonic’ about the Fallen, outside of their names, illustrations, and card background colors.
The reason for this, obviously, is out of the choice to have both armies be mechanically identical, the way white and black chess pieces are perfect mirrors of each other (damn, almost made it all the way without a chess reference). However, it means that the theme, of a divine conflict with world-shattering consequences, does not come through at all in the game itself and so must be relegated to the instruction manual. This struck me as a lost opportunity for storytelling, which was unfortunate, given how engaging the story could have been. This game could have been skinned a million different ways and play exactly the same, and that’s a shame.
Andrew: Fair enough, and yes, clever combos were where the game came alive for me, too. But for two people who do enjoy a good head-to-head strategy game, Regnum Angelica could certainly fit the bill quite nicely. Interestingly, gameplay felt somewhere between chess and Magic the Gathering, harnessing some of the strengths of both while still being its own entity.
The game has top-quality production levels and a quickly-grasped mechanics, providing a satisfying 2-player experience. It’s engaging without being complicated and it’s really pretty to look at, too. It also comes with tournament rules (something I’ve never seen in a 2-player game, but which makes great sense) and nearly a dozen gameplay variants, many of which looked really interesting.
For the right pair, Regnum Angelica is a great game. Despite clear efforts to the contrary, it’s mechanically light on theme, but it’s still a solid experience. If Regnum Angelica‘s celestial war sounds like a good time, you can pick up a copy right here!