This game is a give-and-take balancing act of attacking, defending, and investing (in your characters, in resource gathering, in spell casting, etc.). Play as a group of heroes, each which his or her own special abilities, bent on defeating your opponents as you earn prosperity points for the victory. And then come the monsters! You may need to team up with your enemies for a time to defeat these vile creatures from the underworld or they will quickly take over the land.
Start with a single peasant focused on collecting enough resources to hire specialty characters (Soldiers, Archers, Mages, and Explorers). Work together as a team of up to five characters to earn prosperity points by hoarding resources, casting spells, exploring tiles, and destroying monsters or other players’ characters!
This game is really fun with three or four players, but it may be even more fun as a two-player game with just the two game boards. Playing with more than two players forces you to take a somewhat defensive stance because there are so many potential enemies out there. You gravitate towards front-line soldiers defending your Peasants in your corner of the realm. Playing with just two players allows some freedom to be aggressive and go on the offensive because you have one target, one foe…plus the monsters of course. =-)
I’m not a big fan of heavy RPG games. They’re just not my cup of tea. However, I like lighter RPG-style games like Stratos or Machina Arcana which allow for some character enhancements. You can upgrade each character to remove chance and reap big rewards, but you don’t have to keep track of complex combinations of weapons, armor, mana, core abilities, secondary abilities, conditional effects, etc. etc.
The re-hiring feature is awesome. Your characters will die. That’s an absolute inevitability. But you can quickly hone in on or shift your strategic focus by hiring the same or different characters. Did you invest heavily in spells but lose your upgraded Mage? Hire another. Or, do you need to back off of exploring so much to better defend your characters? Replace a killed Explorer with a Soldier or Archer. This ability allows for a fluid, flexible approach that changes as the game progresses.
Stratos: Light in the Darkness comes with a free scenario atlas with some truly epic settings and storylines for different game modes, starting set-ups, and win conditions. Treasures and Treachery, A Star-crossed Gambit, and A Mage’s Dilemma are a few of our favorites. These really ramp up the fun factor by enhancing the base, free-for-all mode to some really exciting mission modes.
Tips & Tricks
- Don’t go all-in with character types! A balanced approach would include at least 2 fighters (Soldiers and/or Archers), two peasants (especially early on), and a Mage or Explorer. But don’t get too locked into this “safe” set-up either!
- Don’t ignore the obvious. Meaning, if you know the other player is prepping an army to send at you, get ready to defend. Don’t rely on luck to pull you through this one. This sounds obvious, but it’s easy to live in a little bubble hoping things work out okay. They won’t! =-)
Scoring & Wrap-up
Overall, as a medium-weight RPG game, I give Stratos: Light in the Darkness a high 8 out of 10 (“enjoy playing and would suggest it” on BGG’s scale) for the following reasons:
- The continuous flexing of defending, attacking, or investing is a ton of fun and changes throughout the game.
- Being forced to work together to defeat the monsters creates some great truce moments between enemies.
- Replay value is very high due to the many different strategic approaches, game modes, and random factors.
- The five monsters are just cool. Their tiles are ginormous, and they’re really tough to defeat.
- You can play with two players with two boards or buy a second copy of the game to expand to four players with four boards (or even more!).
- The special scenarios (posted online) add a ton of variety and excitement to the base game.
- The Academy and Quarry add a really fun tile ownership component.
- It would be helpful to have an indication that a tile has been explored. If there is no exploration benefit on the tile, it looks identical to the other side.
- Trying to squeeze the health, spirit, promo, defend, or equipment chits into the character slots can tear up the pieces pretty easily if you’re not careful.
I would recommend this game as a reprieve for heavy RPG/D&D gamers or as a solid strategy game for mid-level gamers of all types. It’s interactive, it’s intense, and it always keeps you on your toes.
Buy Stratos: Light in the Darkness here!
Disclaimer: I received this game for free in exchange for my review, but believe me, I post authentic reviews every time and will be brazenly blunt if needs be.