The world is ending, and here we are, arguing about a bunch of dirt. Eschaton is about armageddon, and the cultists bringing it about. Each player controls one faction of the cult, seeking to earn points with the Dark Lord before the end of it all. Mechanically, it’s a deck builder mixed with an area control game for 2-6 players.
Each turn, players will take a turn by drawing 5 or more cards from their deck and playing those cards. Each card has 4 stats: zeal, which allows players to draw another card, divination, which lets players take powerful cards from the divination deck, influence, which lets players shop from the Conclave (the card market) and aggression, which allows players to reinforce, move, and fight with the cubes on the map. In between rounds, an event is drawn, which will either impact the map, or give players an objective to pursue, and when the Armageddon event is drawn, the game ends.
All of these mechanics are adequately explored, but nothing feels well polished. The cards that get put into your deck don’t really have a lot of uniqueness or charm to them, since they all boil down to the aforementioned 4 stats (with the exception of the overpowered Scour ability, and the underpowered Inspire ability), and the influence shop cards in particular feel underwhelming compared to the stuff in the divination deck.
The events are really where the game goes from “alright” to “feels bad man”. There are 23 events, 8 of which might come to light in a single game. These events are nightmarishly swingy, from adding huge stat bonuses to players or cards, randomly destroying armies on the field, randomly destroying cards in player’s decks, or drawing another event, making the game shorter. In one game, we each gained a curse on the second turn that reduced the ability for each of us to buy cards, slowing the game to a crawl. In another case, one player gained a top-tier card from an event for free. There are also “omen” cards, 3 of which are interspersed in the other events. These are objectives that are worth a whopping 7 points each, and while most incentivize attacking specific regions, some feel outside of most player’s control, such as having the smallest or largest cult. They often feel less like objectives, and more like a single player getting a handout for no reason.
Even something as simple as a rotating first turn token is weirdly messed up here. The game proceeds in clockwise order (so to the left), which is pretty standard. Once everyone had a turn, the event happens, then the first turn marker passes to the left. This means that if you went first in a round, the next round will see you go last. In some games, this isn’t a big deal, as turns are multi-stage affairs, with many alternating actions before the first player marker gets passed. In Eschaton, it just means that someone at the table has to wait nearly 2 full rounds before they can go again. In a six player game, the max player count, its 11 full length turns between actions from when you take your “first player marker” turn, to when you can go again. The consolation is that it’s otherwise only 5 turns between every other turn, instead of 6.
I think a game with simplistic mechanics and goals could be great for people starting into the hobby. Eschaton’s gameplay is simplistic in such a way that it’s very easy to teach and describe how each part works in very short order, and the random elements means that experienced players don’t hold an overwhelming advantage over newer players. Players are also not held to mistakes in taking cards, something other deck builders are quick to punish. Players are free to remove cards from their deck at will, so long as they choose to not use it that turn.
However, the good does not excuse the atrocious. Eschaton is ugly. I’m a huge fan of gothic and horror art. I love me some Satanic imagery. Eschaton is not horror ugly, or gothic edgy. It’s just drab. I actually hate the art of Eschaton. The board is dark gray on darker gray, almost impossible to read and painful on the eyes to distinguish between territories. The events are similarly lacking in contrast between text and background. They could have gone with pure black, with light gray or white text, but no, it’s dark gray with black text, which is very hard to read. The monsters and cultists you add to your deck are similarly drab. Interesting designs are artistically left languishing with dark, low contrast color palettes. There’s flavor text on each card, but who knows what any of it says, as it’s written in a nigh-unreadable font, that they thankfully did not use for the rest of the game. The symbols on the cards are also hard to read, blurry even. They did, at least, put the same 4 symbols on each card, and in the order in which they are used during a turn.
I don’t even feel like it nails the theme all that well. The only thing that players fight is each other, and they’re all supposedly cultists of the same dark god. It really could have used a situation where the players are fighting off the warriors of light while stabbing each other in the back, or at least some sort of resistance to their cubes inevitably spreading across the realm. And if the theme weren’t so bent on being edgy, it might have made the game more friendly to players new to area control or deck building mechanics.
I am not mad at Eschaton, I’m just disappointed. If it had a bit more done to balance it, if the events weren’t so gamebreaking, if the game just looked nice, I could give other parts of it a pass. But it all sorta just blends together into a dark-gray, mediocre blob.
Unpublished game designer, programmer, DM and progressive activist. Always willing to see what cool ideas people have in the board game industry. I love a good gimmick, but strong mechanics are still important.
A drab, depressing attempt at a deck builder with area control mechanics. Game breaking events and terrible art and graphic design take a passable game and turn it into a painful slog.