Antihero is Dickensian. It is the game that the Artful Dodger would have made if he cut loose that Twist mark and got into digital media. But it is suggestively, rather than explicitly, Dickensian. It’s got all the pickpockets and gas lamps and ‘orrible murder, but it happens remotely. You look upon the city, laid out like a board game, and you marshal your gang of ne’er do wells from a distance. Like how the bits you remember from the musical Oliver! are all the grubby, impoverished kids happily singing, and not so much the bits where people are actually killed.
That’s fine, because Antihero isn’t setting out to teach you a lesson about society. You can become the head of a thieves guild without any qualms. So, then: You’ve already got a couple of urchins in the church, so if you sent one more in then you’d win a blackmail point. But, on the other hand, you’re pretty sure that your opponent has an assassin skulking around, so maybe you should beef up your gangs instead.
Antihero is, fortunately, turn based, so you can agonise over your choice a bit. It’s not a full release yet, but it’s planned to get cross platform, asynchronous multiplayer. This means you will have the ability to ruin friendships across many weeks, as in the submarines-and-strategy game Subterfuge.
I have, upon occasion, leveraged my job to make this website a soapbox for complaining about my friend Dean. I met Dean through playing Dungeons & Dragons. Dean, I will reiterate, is an asshole player who plays asshole rogues (or, on one occasion, three small rogues in an overcoat that he insisted was a warlock). Anyone who has encountered rogues in RPGs will know the feeling. And, having played the pre-release build of Antihero, my feeling is that this is an asshole game for asshole rogues. Or, potentially, an asshole game that makes everyone asshole rogues. This isn’t meant as an insult (at least, not one directed at Antihero, though I would argue that one Dean in the world is already a surfeit of Deans, and the creation of more Deans should be discouraged).
Antihero is a strategy game where the only strategy is to be bad. It’s very imaginative, and communicates its intent very clearly. The three skill trees to unlock are called Skullduggery, Sneakery, and Stabbery, for example. You know what sort of game you’re playing with headings like those. The mechanics of the game start off simply, and then gradually layer on top of one another into a frothing petticoat of lies and bribery. There are two currencies, Lanterns and Coins, which are earned in different ways and spent on various things. There are several unit types, some used specifically for countering others. There are several building types, which afford you different opportunities.
Victory is achieved by accumulating victory points. These present themselves in the form of bribes, blackmail, assassinations, and so on, so you can choose what criminal undertakings serve you best. But you have no choice in whether or not you’re criminal. You’re a bad person in Antihero. It’s called Antihero. So prove that you, you alone, are the sneakiest, most conniving master thief. Of everyone out there, your hand is the underiest. Sometimes you win more by luck than judgement, but you’d never tell anyone else that.
I think, though, that the greatest potential for Antihero lies in people playing it together. Specifically people who know one another too, because therein is the opportunity for clandestine deals, negotiations, and real life double crossing. The threat of ruining actual friendships is a heady thrill that playing against AI, or strangers online, just can’t replicate. Not that I would ever betray any of my friends. You can trust me when I say I’ll let you safely occupy that bank on my turf, honestly. Consider yourself one of the family.