Not All Card Driven War Games Are Created Equal

November 8, 2010

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that not all Card Driven War Games are created equal, that they are endowed by their Designer with certain unalienable Mechanics, that among these are Operations, Events and the pursuit of Victory Points. — That to secure these mechanics, Games are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the players, — That whenever any Form of Game becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the Players to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Games , laying their foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Hand Management and Victory.

Whew! Working board games into the Declaration of Independence was getting a little tough there. But did you like the part about “Operations, Events and the pursuit of Victory Points”? I’m quite fond of that one.

I’ve been spending a lot of time pondering Washington’s War and whether I really like it as a game. Or if I just keep playing it and saying to myself, “That was fun,” it will one day come true.

Card-driven war games seem to fall into two camps with card design. In one camp is the likes of Washington’s War and Wilderness Wars (despite overwhelming evidence, you do not need to have two words starting with W in your title to fall into this camp). In the other are the likes of Twilight Struggle and Here I Stand. In the former, card are either event cards or operations cards, we’ll call these isolated cards. In the latter, cards are both event cards and operations cards, we’ll call these combination cards.

Decks made of isolated cards usually consist of half or more operations cards. The idea being that in any given hand a player  will have enough operations cards to do something. So, even the player gets poor events or the opponents events, the turn won’t be fruitless. However, experience has shown otherwise. And memory seems to latch on to the really bad hands even if they are a small minority of all hands played.

Contrasted with combination cards, even bad hands can be managed or turned out good. Twilight Struggle uses this idea to its fullest. Opponent events must occur, but you get the operations points to manage the situation before or after the event, your choice. Cards with your event may be played for the event or the operations points.

From my play experience, I favor games with combination cards over isolated cards. I prefer the decision making and hand management that comes from combination cards. Every hand, no matter how bad, seems playable. Every hand can build on the last to create a strategy for winning. Isolated cards feel like they take that decision making power away from me. Too much is dictated on the specific hand I am dealt and strategy seems like it doesn’t last much beyond a single hand of cards.

So, will I ever like Washington’s War? I think so. I just need to adjust my play style to account for isolated cards. But, it won’t be knocking Twilight Struggle from it’s throne. And knowing that not all card driven war games are create equal will help when buying future board games.

Disagree? Like isolated cards better? Let me hear about it in the comments.

Edit: It has been pointed out to me that Wilderness War may not fit in the first camp. Until I can verify my original statement, it has been struck out.

Inside the Box: Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game

November 5, 2010

Inside the Box is an in-depth look at the contents of a board game. It covers the quality, quantity, and aesthetic value of what is found inside the game box.

Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game is a mouthful. It’s also a one of the latest games in Fantasy Flight’s Silver Line series. A group of games that are on the “lighter side” and can be “set up and played within an hour.” These games are generally found in small boxes and have relatively small price tags: Death Angel can be picked up for only $20-25. In this game the players use squads of space marines cooperatively to fight off the alien horde. Here’s a look at what you get.

The box cover sums up the game well: two space marines being swarmed by what seems like an unlimited number of genestealers.

Death Angel Contents

Death Angel Contents

The great artwork continues on all of the components – most of which are cards. There are 128 cards that are divided into 7 card types:
• Each Genestealer and Brood Lord card is used to represent an enemy alien unit. These creatures are vile and frightening and you certainly don’t want to mess with them. Each card also has a symbol on it to help with gameplay.
• The Action and Space Marine cards represent your forces. These guys look tough enough to take on anything. The marines are broken into 6 different combat teams represented by 6 different colors. The action cards also have a symbol on them, but this symbol isn’t found on the corresponding marine cards. Because the colors aren’t vivid or don’t contrast enough to be easily differentiated this makes game play a little difficult at times. Not putting the symbols on the marines was a big mistake.
Card Examples

Card Examples

• The space marines fight and move through the levels through the use of Location and Terrain cards. Although the some of the Terrain cards you see the most, like the Vent or Corridor, are a bit boring, the Artefact looks good. There are also 3 different randomly chosen location cards for each level to allow for lots of replayability.
• The last deck of cards is the Event deck. These cards are resolved at the end of each round to spawn new enemies. They also offer up some special events that can help or hurt the team.

The only other components is one counter sheet with support and combat team tokens and a die.

The Tokens and Die

The Tokens and Die

The combat tokens only purpose is to be placed in front of each player to remind the others of what units are his. The main feature is the symbol of their units, which as I already mentioned, should have been included on the marine cards. The support token guns are simple but effective. The custom die included in the game goes from 0-5 (and you thought rolling a 1 was bad!) as well as having three sides with skulls on them. This one die can then be used for the various types of rolls used in the game. This die is also very cool – it is certainly the coolest die I own.

The rules are… well… Fantasy Flight rules. For whatever reason this company makes great looking games, but their rulebooks have always been a problem for me. I think my main problem is that their rules don’t read front to back. They offer the game rules in more of a summary format and then direct you to other pages for more details. In theory this should be great. But for whatever reason I felt like I was constantly searching for sections and pages, then flipping back to remember why I was trying to find them. For example, just to setup the game you need to flip back and forth 8 times. I think if the rules were presented in a more linear fashion they would make for an easier read.

Overall, the presentation of the game is fantastic. There are almost as many unique artworks as there are cards in the decks. The cards and token quality is very good and did I mention the die is cool? The rules can be grasped after one or two plays so they aren’t a deal breaker. The non-colorblind friendly marine cards are a big disappointment especially considering they created symbols and chose not to use them. However, I certainly felt like I got my money’s worth and I look forward to checking out some of their other Silver Line games.

Shamless Plug for Pics of Her Royal Cuteness

November 1, 2010

I just posted on my family blog, The House on Winslow, about our newborn beginning to “play” boardgames with the family. Check it out!