Last year I reviewed Monolith Arena, the newest version of, essentially, Neuroshima Hex (which has been in my top 10 games ever list). Since then, I’ve decided I probably don’t need both of those games in my collection, and I chose to hang onto Monolith Arena as the base armies are way more interesting and the overall look is a big improvement. The only downside was the lack of expansion armies. But we’ve got our grubby little hands on the first new faction, Academics, so let’s take a look at how it stacks up and if it’s worth your time and money.
If you are familiar at all with the army packs for Neuroshima Hex, the faction expansions here take the same format. That is, it’s a single new faction to add to your base game with a few additional tokens. One noticeable change here is the packaging is a bit larger, allowing the faction summary sheet to be the same size and shape as the base game factions, not the folded sheets of paper you’d find in Neuroshima Hex expansions.
The Academics themselves are focused around a new mana ability. All of the faction’s order tiles are multi-use. They have standard abilities you might find with other factions—move, battle, etc… — but can also be used to add a mana-charged symbol to an existing unit on the battlefield.
The units for the Academics, unsurprisingly, become more powerful once they are mana-charged. Some of the abilities on the hex are outlined in blue, indicating that it is only in effect once it gets mana. These abilities may add additional activations, more directions of fire, or just stronger attacks. In general, the champions for the Academics are a bit underpowered without mana, but once you charge up a few of them you can really take advantage of their magical prowess.
Game Experience with the Expansion:
The Academics continues what the base game started—providing interesting and fun factions that all feel a little different. The mana-charged abilities of the Academics give you a real feeling of having to build up over a few battles that work out differently than the all-out attacking you’ll do with most of the factions.
Of course, it’s never that simple. Every time you use an order tile to mana-charge a unit you are foregoing some other ability. You have to decide if you’d rather use that order tile to move, battle, or blow up a bunch of enemies. There is an opportunity cost to every mana-charged unit on the board.
That said, they are powerful enough to make it worth it. Especially the units that have mobility and can get out of harm’s way when needed. Academics never felt overpowered, but if you let them hang onto a significant number of mana-charged units you are going to die. Quickly.
There are also a couple of neat abilities that are new to Monolith Arena with the Academics. There is a healer unit that can remove damage from another champion. Obviously another great option to keep units who you’ve invested mana in alive for just a bit longer. There is also a rune of mesmerization that allows you to take control of enemy units, effectively making them part of your team.
If you’ve been enjoying Monolith Arena, you’ll enjoy Academics. It gives you a new experience and just additional combinations in the battles you can wage on your tabletop. There isn’t anything revolutionary here—so if you are lukewarm on Monolith Arena, Academics isn’t different enough to make you change your mind. But the mana system is a great addition to the overall system. And I’ll take all the factions I can get because the more factions the better, and this one is a good start.