As I write this, we're in middle of our second game of Arena: The Contest. That's more than enough plays for a write up. While I respect the review process of playing multiple games, I'm not a reviewer...I'm just a gamer sharing my thoughts, and it only takes one game to do that. If I ever say a game isn't balanced...feel free to hang me by my toenails. But if I say we had concerns about balance...well that's just my opinion man.
Well that was a weird and unnecessary tangent, especially considering that I'm not complaining about balance here. In fact, Arena The Contest so far has just been a blast. Arena is simple to get to the table...so simple in fact, that despite 40 pages of rules before you even touch the campaign book...you can genuinely get started with the 6 page starter pamphlet they include. The 40 pages are there for reference, and you will use them, but you can get moving with just those 6 pages.
I haven't played the PVP, and have no pending plans to do so, but the Co-op is fun. You and however many players, grab 4 heroes and a scenario, and then try to win. The gameplay is incredibly simply...all heroes take turns, moving and attacking or attacking and moving, then the enemies take their turns. Combine that with some scenario objectives that mix things up, and that's the entire game.
I read the rules and thought I would have no interest....but somehow it's a ton of fun. I think it's because they did a pretty amazing job making each hero feel like a powerhouse in their own right. And the did a great job setting up heroes and their abilities such that they work together really well...and working together well is essential if you don't want to lose. There's something straight up empowering about having your warrior attack an orc, dealing damage and shoving him one space into lava, have your wizard then shove another 2 orcs into that lava lining them up in a straight line, and then having your archer shoot their ultimate, dealing a chunk of damage to all enemies in a straight line. It just feels badass.
That's really Arena in a nutshell...take your turn, tactically plan around the board state, and see what awesome abilities you can combine do deal the most amount of damage/protection as you're able to, and rinse and repeat until you win or lose. It's less beer and pretzels than Cthulhu: Death May Die, due to the sheer amount of looking at the board, then your abilities, back at the board and planning again and again. Yet right behind that tactical planning stage, comes the fun. And with somewhere around 30 heroes in the game (and an expansion on the way), the combinations are extensive.
Arena: The Contest manages to be fairly simple to pick up, while being tactically engaging on a high level. I love that in a game, and I look forward to game three.