Calvin’s Commentaries: Aetherium

It was just a couple of months ago Front Line No Komrades was reviewed in this space. The game was light, albeit fun, filler-style card game from Anvil 8 Games.

This week the game is Aetherium from the same publisher.

Aetherium is about as different from No Komrades as one can imagine. This one is a 32 MM skirmish level strategy game complete with nicely detailed miniatures to move around a nicely done board.

So, this is no filler game. There is tons of detail in every aspect of Aetherium starting with a highly illustrated rulebook that exceeds 100-pages. While a fair chunk of the book is rule details, it also includes a ton of ‘fluff’ explaining the history of the futuristic world in which Aetherium is played. That sort of detail is appreciated by those wanting to fully immerse themselves in a game world, but if you just want to play you can skip over the fiction.

From the rulebook; “Aetherium is a tabletop miniatures board game played in beautifully realized and customizable battle map and tile system. Players control one of several factions and battle across a profound virtual landscape. Aetherium unfolds with a dynamic, intuitive d12 mechanism. The game’s turnless interaction evolves within a completely unique modular tile system – one that responds directly to the will of the players during the game. We have compiled a sequence of scenarios to take you through the game itself, but the structure ensures that no two experiences, no two games, can ever be the same.”

In the Aetherium, players will;

*Control a skirmish-level selection of highly detailed, beautifully sculpted miniatures to represent your unique cadre of hackers and affiliated programs.

*Engage in a daring struggle for control of an ever-shifting landscape, set against a backdrop of mind-crushing white noise. Be careful where you tread.

*Strategically program your activation deck cards in order to anticipate your opponent’s movement, and to sequence your software as you lead your team on a bold run into the Aetherium.

*Struggle for control of the psychological reality itself, while utilizing your free remaining RAM to stay in the fight to the bitter end.

*Revel in unmitigated glory.

Players have a skirmish ‘team’ led by the Avatar, which gives some flavour for what the miniatures represent.

“The Avatar is the most important program that a user controls and, generally speaking, represents the digital persona of the player in the game. Avatars are the most powerful programs in the game and, as such, will often have excellent offensive and defensive capabilities, as well as generate RAM and influence other programs. These are dangerous, powerful manifestations and should be treated with the utmost attention and respect,” details the rules.

Every program in Aetherium has a Data Card that describes its specific attributes, software, and talent. These statistics allow players to keep track of various relevant aspects of the program’s potential: from offensive and defensive capabilities to how much damage a program can absorb before it is deleted.

The game basically works on the premise of battling computer programs.

“During this step, players will determine which and when programs can activate. Beginning with the starting player, that player will draw and reveal the top card from their PAD and immediately resolve that program’s activation. During a program’s activation, it will have the opportunity to move, attack, and run.EXE abilities. Once a program has finished its activation, then the next player draws the top card from their PAD and resolves that program’s activation. Play continues this way, with players alternating draws from the top card of their PAD until one side has achieved victory, the game ends, or a players draws the last card of their PAD,” notes the rules.

While there are alternate goals that can be the focus of a ‘battle’, you will end up attacking and defending in Aetherium.

“During its activation, a program with an attack profile may attempt to attack an enemy program. Unlike other actions, an attack does not cost CS to perform. Unless otherwise stated, programs cannot make more than one attack per activation. A program’s attack profile will be described on its Data Card. Attack profiles include details about the attack such as the target symbols, type of attack, range, damage thresholds, and disruption effects,” explains the rules.

In general, I enjoy miniature skirmish games, MERCs and Blackwater Gulch among my favourites. Both of those games are a tad more free form, played without a board so miniatures move freely via measurement.

Aetherium has a board, but it does some neat things with those boards. To start, small symbols on the grid signify a piece in undercover, or in an area that requires extra movement to traverse. Those little symbols are very effective, but you do need to keep an eye on things to remember to play with their effects.

Players can also move segments of the board ‘within the program’. I’ll admit that is a cool idea, but perhaps less impactful in terms of gameplay. I say that, although it may just be that we got too focused on that ability that we overplayed its actual usefulness.

Another generalization in a game like this, players need to fully understand the range of abilities the limited number of units you have. I was playing the ‘praetorian’ unit in my first game and missed a key ability that had me both frustrated by the unit’s frailty and questioning is game value. Realizing the rule I missed after had me doing a 180 on the unit’s potential.

The bottom line for Aetherium is that if you like miniature skirmish games you should quickly fall in love with this one. It might not be MERCs in my mind but is easily better than many games out there.

Check it out at

Thanks to fellow gamer Adam Daniels for his help in running through this game for review.

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