As a teenager in the 90s, comic books were my jam. I spent countless hours at the comic shop (every Wednesday) grabbing the new issues of X-men, Spawn, Batman, and Sin City. I was primarily a super hero fanboy, but occasionally browsed other themes like scifi or horror.
So it should come as no surprise that I was super excited to check out the newest comic book themed board game, Age of Comics: The Golden Years from Lirius Games. This worker placement game puts you in the shoes of a comic-book publisher during the golden era of comics.
Age of Comics takes place over 5 rounds, with the goal of becoming the best publishing house in the city. In each round, players will be able to take 4 actions using a standard worker placement mechanic. Different options are:
- Hire: Draft an artist and a writer card.
- Develop: Draft a comic book card.
- Ideas: Collect idea tokens from among the 6 different colors.
- Royalties: Collect money.
- Print: One of the bigger actions. You take an artist, illustrator, and comic book card from your hand to play. You then pay money equal to the creators’ skill level, and two idea tokens of the comic’s genre. These go into your set board and earn fans based on how specialized the creators are (among other things). It will also earn you a small, immediate bonus.
- Sales: You can move your marker around the city and collect order tokens. These are fulfilled by having a comic book that matches its demand color and quality. Once fulfilled, it awards you immediate fans. If unfilled at the end of the game, it costs you negative fans.
Once all players have taken their 4 actions, the round ends. VPs are awarded based to the most popular publisher, comic books earn their publisher money, and then each comic book loses a fan.
After 5 rounds, the game ends and points are totaled up from fans, vp tokens, money, and a few other bonuses. The player with the most points is the winner.
The thing that first attracted me to Age of Comics was the theme. While there are plenty of games where you can be a superhero there actually aren’t too many about collecting (or making) comic books. Which is surprising since there is clearly a lot of overlap between the two hobbies. And in no small part due to artist Laura Guglielmo work, Age of Comics does a really great job of embracing its theme.
The art is spot on to the time period and even the board layout evokes that golden age vibe. Mechanically, Age of Comics embraces the publishing house theme as well. To print a comic, you need a writer, illustrator, and ideas. If the writer and illustrator are specialized in that genre, you earn more fans (because they are better at it). Comics losing fans over time is also on point with the fan attrition that an ongoing series tyoically experiences. Even the rip-off mechanic was a great idea. While it won’t earn you many fans, you can still get bonuses from using rip-offs to fufill orders.
Overall, Age of Comics is a good, solid worker-placement game that falls short of being a really great game. The designers tried to pack a little too much in the game; it might have been better off with some streamlining. For example, you flip over one genre of order tokens each round, but your sales rep also moves around the city flipping them over. By mid-game, most order tokens are already flipped, so it feels like these two mechanics compete with each other needlessly.
The idea tokens also feel a little tacked on. To print a comic, you need 2 creator cards and the comic book card. But you also need money (to pay the creatives) and then 2 idea tokens of the matching color. However, getting the right color idea tokens is fairly trivial. Even the worst worker placement spot at the higher player count gets you 2 idea tokens of any color you want. And comics always cost 2 idea tokens. Perhaps if there was a variable cost to the comics, or if the resource were more limited, players would have more reason to think/worry about them. But right now, it feels mostly like a busywork tax.
But I also don’t want you to think all is bad. There are some great ideas here too. I like how, as you publish more comics, you start unlocking bonus actions. Each of the worker placement spots has a bonus action that can be unlocked when you publish your 2nd, 3rd, and 4th comic. These are add-ons or sub-actions that improve the base actions. Examples include converting ideas directly into fans, or printing comics with better ink to get more victory points. And the fact that you can only ever use 3 out of 6 of these bonuses adds some nice decision points to the game.
I think Age of Comics is at its best when it focuses on the biggest draw of the game: creating comic books and earning fans. We had a blast printing the newest issue of “Freedom Comics” or “Gang Wars” and trying to drive up their fan ratings. In contrast the actions to collect a cards or tokens definitely took the excitement back down a notch. Without some expansions, I do worry that Age of Comics might start to feel a bit samey after a few games.
Age of Comics: The Golden Years is a good euro game, but not a great one. I think the theme is doing a lot of heavy lifting on this one. If this were a game about creating artisan goods during the renaissance, I probably wouldn’t give it a second look. While there were some clever ideas here, I also think some more streamlining would have made it an overall better game. As it runs now, there is a bit too much busy work, which takes away from the fun parts of the game. Still for fans of comic books, this can be fun play, even if it doesn’t really break new ground in the worker placement genre.
Final Score: 3 Stars – A solid worker placement game that’s propped up a bit by its theme.
• Could have used some streamlining
• Might feel a bit samey after a few plays