Stay one move ahead with this free-to-play digital board game

Aerena screen (13)

Imagine a game that mashes up the best of a classic strategy game like speed chess and a modern hit like League of Legends. If you do, you’ll probably come up with something like Aerena: Clash of Champions, a steampunk-themed turn-based strategy game that uses the hero mechanics of other massively online battle arena games like Dota 2 in a painstakingly created digital board game arena.

The game will go free-to-play this Wednesday on Steam (it’s already out for Android tablets — iOS versions to come soon), and is a great new gaming experience — we’ve been playing it all morning. It takes only a short while for the casual gamer to learn how to play, but there is enough strategy and balanced mechanics to give core players a ton of depth.

If you’re super savvy, though, you’ll grab the early access copy today for $10, which nets you a full $30 worth of downloadable content, extra heroes and more. Either way, Aerena is a brilliant game and deserves your attention.

Aerena screen (4)

The basic gameplay is fairly simple. You’ll start each match with your own airship, which has its own quantity of hit points and aether, an electric charge that can be used (by both heroes and airship) for various damaging attacks. The ships use shells, the heroes have special attacks: all cost aether.

Each speedy match consists of you and one other opponent on a map that changes regularly. You’ll each choose a set of three heroes, some of them free, some of them purchasable via the game store. You can purchase and use new ships and special “shells” that let your airship attack the other player’s ship or heroes once you’ve built up enough aether.

The match begins with a placement round – you’ll put your chosen heroes down on the game board to best take advantage of their own movement patterns and special skills. Then, you’ll take turns moving and attacking with your heroes and ship, trying to take down the other airship before they blast yours out of the sky. There’s a lot of thinking to be done, figuring out how to best use your own heroes strengths while minimizing the other player’s advantages.

We played through a couple of matches with Cliffhanger Productions‘ product manager Jonathan Riedler and creative director Jan Wagner this morning (it was afternoon in Austria where they were, but who’s counting), and the need for strategy quickly became apparent. Each lovingly-crafted hero has fully-animated special attacks. There are male and female heroes with equal abilities, and none of the women characters are scantily clad; their armor looks every bit as functional as the armor on the male characters. This is a great thing.

We also learned that if you happen to get into a match with “Loquee” in the game, be sure to bring your A-game: it’s Riedler’s Steam alter ego. If you beat him in a match, you’ll get a special in-game acheivement. Woot!

Ultimately, whether you get the game now to get the early access bonus, or wait till the morning for free-to-play goodness, you’ll want to give Aerena a download. It’s definitely a worthwhile way to spend a few hours.

Aerena on Google Play
Aerena on Steam

About the author

Rob LeFebvreAnchorage, Alaska-based freelance writer and editor Rob LeFebvre has contributed to various tech, gaming and iOS sites, including 148Apps, Creative Screenwriting, Shelf-Awareness, VentureBeat, and Paste Magazine. Feel free to find Rob on Twitter @roblef, and send him a cookie once in a while; he'll really appreciate it.

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