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Aerion (solo board game) Review: A game I initially didn’t like, but progressively learned to appreciate

After my first game session of Aerion, as I closed the lid of the game, my one happy thought was: “well at least I didn’t pay too much for the game”.

I had known from quite some time that Aerion was not for me: I didn’t particularly like the art and/or theme, and the apparent simplicity of the game (as close as it gets to being the “solitaire” card game without being it) just didn’t appeal to me.

But Aerion was part of the people’s choice top 200 Boardgamegeek solo games in 2021, I had an opportunity to get it for cheap as part of a bulk purchase, and I was looking to expand my library of solo games, so I took the plunge.

TL,DR: Aerion has grown progressively on me. As a matter of fact, when I was pondering whether I should sell it or not, and gave it “one last chance” to convince me with a last session, a few things clicked for me, and I saw how the game was more than just luck of the dice (and the draw). Aerion won’t make it to my top 10 list any time soon, but I’m definitely enjoying it now as part of a rotation of shorter games with my morning coffee.

Aerion – Gameplay

In Aerion, you’re tasked with building 6 flying machines to traverse the Oniverse. in order to do so, you’ll roll dice that will let you pick specific cards from a “market” zone, and move them to one of your 2 workshop “zones”. Each Flying machine needs a specific blueprint, material, and pilot in order to be complete.

Initial game setup. The six flying machines you have to build are represented on the left. The “market” are the piles of cards on the top-right

Each turn, you’ll roll 6 dice. The results will dictate which faceup card you can pick from the market, to put into your workshop. Once you start building a specific machine in your workshop though, your options for which cards to pick next time become limited as you need to proceed with cards that are compatible for the machine you intend to build.

In order to help (and that’s where a lot of the strategy comes from), the game offers multiple ways to mitigate the dice rolls. You can discard cards from the market to re-roll any dice, but this means depleting the market, which could make it harder to complete the next flying machines. Additionally, some special Book cards let you “stock” materials in a reserve, that you can use later for free. The book cards alternatively allow for some re-rolls, which can be helpful as well. Last but not least, the game gives you three “pixie” tokens at the beginning of the game which can each be used once to change one die to any number you want.

Each turn, you roll dice, mitigate the results and/or re-roll, acquire a card from the market and into the workshop if possible (and, if one of your workshop has a complete flying machine built, discard those cards and flip the matching flying machine token), and replenish the market from the draw piles. Turns continue like this until either market is entirely depleted (you lose), or you’ve managed to build the 6 flying machines.

Aerion – Opinion

Aerion – Components, art and theme

A quick note on the components and the box first: they’re of really good quality for a small game. the box feels like it has the right size balance (easy to fit all components back after a session), and if you like the “Oniverse” series of games, you’re in for a treat, as all the boxes have the same format and art direction, which means they’ll make a nice little collection on your shelves.

Onto the art of the game: it’s really not my thing. The box cover in itself is ok, and I like the idea when you open the box that you are looking through the clouds to reveal the game, it’s clever and cute. But the art itself reminds me of an old school French TV show from the 60’s (The Shadoks, which, incidentally, were also trying to build a flying machine), and I really don’t like it.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so it might be super appealing to you, personally I don’t like that the materials for my flying machines look like potatoes and sweet potatoes respectively. What are they supposed to be? I get that the purple ones are like butterfly cocoons of some sort (even though they’ll always be sweet potatoes in my mind), but I still can’t figure out what the other one is supposed to be.

Can you unsee it?

This also means that the theme doesn’t really work for me. Building flying machines, sure, why not, but I think a more serious background might have worked for me. Like, maybe, being Leonardo Da vinci in middle age Europe? I don’t know, simply, the Oniverse and its cute (?) creatures is just not for me.

Aerion – gameplay opinion

Because of my dislike for the art, and general indifference to the theme, it was initially difficult for me to see Aerion as much more than an abstract game which felt like a variation on solitaire, with dice added to the mix.

After my first gameplay I felt it was way too much luck based, and I didn’t have much fun. I did win that first game, and I wasn’t sure what I did to actually win.

It actually helped that I badly lost my second game. I think that’s the point at which I realized that the back of the cards give you (not so subtle) ideas of what you’re going to draw next. Duh. The blueprints for example are all split across the 6 different dice combinations, meaning that it’s pretty important to acquire them whenever possible.

I had also initially dismissed how much the “pixies” (which allow you to pick any value for a single dice) are critical and should be used wisely (probably better late game than in the first few rounds), and similarly, how the “book” cards, which help with re-rolls, reserving cards or other mitigations, can really help.

“More than meets the eye” strategy thanks to cards such as the books

After a few games, I was able to win more consistently, and move the difficulty up a notch. And it was also time to look into…

The included expansions

The game includes 6 mini expansions that can be mixed and matched. They can add new objectives, additional rules, even enemies you have to destroy (the hellkite, represented by a cute plastic miniature). The won’t dramatically change your perception of the game (if you don’t like the base game, I doubt any of these expansions will change your mind), and initially I dismissed them as being a gimmick, but they actually help keep the game fresh.

Aerion Review – Conclusion

Aerion will not be in my top 10 games because I’m still having a hard time with the art, and the gameplay isn’t “awesome/deep enough” for me to want to play it all the time (I prefer mid-weight games, it seems).

However, I’ve learned to appreciate it as a lightweight, peaceful little game whenever I have 15 minutes available. It’s now part of my rotation of short games I enjoy with my morning coffee.

Things I liked about Aerion

  • The gameplay has more strategy than meet the eyes, while not being overly punishing. After a few sessions I was able to get to a consistent winrate while still getting challenged
  • The game plays short (15 minutes), is what I would call “relaxing”, and goes well with a nice cup of coffee, doesn’t take too much space on the table either.
  • The expansions aren’t just a gimmick, they help keep the game fresh

Things I didn’t like about Aerion

  • The art of this game, and its “children book” atmosphere, is really not for me

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