Attack on Titan — The Last Stand
by Antoine Bauza & Ludovic Maublanc
Publisher: Cryptozoic Entertainment (2017)
Cooperative Style: Overlord
Play Style: Combat, Dice
One player takes on the role of a titanic titan, who wants to eat people. The other players take on the roles of heroes, who want to kill him. They attack the titan by rolling dice that allow them to move and fight, and eventually by using a tactic to kill the titan when he’s sufficiently wounded.
The challenge system in Attack on Titan is very limited; in fact, the mechanics are mostly superseded by the overlord-titan, who takes an asymmetrical role from the rest of the players. He does this by enacting two different systems each round.
First, the titan chooses two action cards, which will either cause problems for the players or give benefits to the titan. The interesting thing about this is that one of the cards is previewable: the titan decides which card the players get to see and which they don’t. This is important, because it’s also offsetable: if the players turn in the right dice icons, the action doesn’t happen at all. This is quite similar to contemporary release, The Captain is Dead (2017), which also featured a card trigger system that can be previewed and offset under certain circumstances.
Second, the titan watches the players roll their dice and takes any dice that show titan symbols, to use them as resources to activate additional powers. This provides a clever link between the player and titan actions, but ultimately has some issues due to the dice-rolling system.
Challenge Threats: Round Activation; Arbitrary & Random Triggers; Overlord; Tug-of-War Threat.
Unfortunately, these two systems are somewhat limited. The titan only gets to make one real choice each round, which he selects cards to play from his hand. The dice-resource usage is even more deterministic, depending on how many points of resources the titan has. The result is that the titan tends to have much less fun than the other players. This sort of imbalance is always an issue in overlord-led games, though more often it trends in the opposite direction: the overlord often has more enjoyable strategic choices, but that comes at the cost of not having enjoyable cooperation, which sort of balances out. Here, instead, the overlord gets fewer choices and no fun cooperation.
The other issue with the Attack on Titan challenge system is its almost total lack of decay. Oh, there are some things that can be destroyed: the loss of cannons, the cannibalization of citizens, and the wounding of heroes will eventually allow the titan to win the game. That doesn’t result in decay, however, because these losses don’t make it harder for the heroes. More problematic is the fact that much of the game is a tug-of-war: players wound the titan, but it heals; or players try to get to certain locations, and the titan knocks them down. This type of back-and-forth, paired with a lack of decay not only replaces tension with frustration, but also creates a game that can literally go on forever.
Attack on Titan has a nicely tactical cooperation system, where all the players are working on the same problem. Or rather the same problems, because they’re all trying to struggle upward, to hurt the titan, to change the tactics, and to ward off the titan’s actions.
The most innovative element of the game is its tactic system. These are cards that depict a special “move” that the players can make, resulting in some nice benefit (including killing the titan). Each one requires certain players to be in certain places and to expend certain dice results. The Thunderbirds (2015) co-op used a very similar system, but it feels more powerful here, because the characters are all arranged about a single titanic opponent.
A lot of the adventure system in Attack on Titan comes through evocative theming. The best element is probably the huge stand-up titan, with platforms that allow you to place characters upon the titan himself. There’s also a cannon tower, which has a few other levels that characters can stand upon. It’s all very 3-D and very cool.
There are also different characters that players can play and different titans the overlord can play, all with different powers. The titans are particularly well differentiated, because they each come with their own deck of cards and their own way to use titan results. Mind you, for this level of differentiation to work, the characters all need to be well-developed and balanced, and that’s not necessarily the case here. There’s at least one character that makes play less fun for the titan (by taking his dice away); while some of the titans are worse at creating back and forth than others.
Finally, Attack on Titan has an icon-based dice action system. It’s very similar to the contemporary Masmorra: Dungeons of Arcadia (2017), but the system in Attack on Titan has one major issue: you can reroll your dice as many times as you want. This often results in a group needing a very specific icon and rolling a die again and again until it either comes up either the icon they need or a titan. It turns out, that sort of infinitely repeatable dice roll isn’t a lot of fun.
Attack on Titan is a problematic game because of the high level of back and forth, which can make the game go on forever. It’s also just not enough fun for the overlord. With that said, it’s full of interesting systems, such as previewable and offsetable triggers; a very tactical cooperation system; and a very evocative set of components.
Antoine Bauza & Ludovic Maublanc
Experienced French designers Antoine Bauza and Ludovic Maublanc. Bauza is the very successful designer behind Ghost Stories (2008) and Hanabi (2010), the latter the 2013 SdJ winner, while Maublanc was the co-designer of SOS Titanic (2013).