Time to play: 120 – 150 minutes per game (Teaching: 20-30 minutes)
Best played with: 1+ players (Best with 2)
It’s time to delve into the stark world of civil war and a game set in one of the most foreboding and challenging landscapes – This War of Mine. This game is a hugely important game bringing sandbox computer gamers to the world of solo board gaming and co-orperative board games. Just like in the computer game of the same name, you play civilians in the midst of a civil war which is tough to survive and dangerous to venture out into. Throughout the game you will build your means for survival, salvage and steal the resources you need and perhaps even lose some characters on the way…
This incredibly thematic game is a narrative driven co-operative game where players share all the characters and all the possible actions. You will take turns, passing the guiding book, to make decisions about the characters in the world of This War of Mine. You will work as a team and occasionally be required to carry the key decisions of the day – which character eats and which character risks their lives.
The game is highly thematic and this starts with how the game plays – in rounds mapping the days of the civil war. Starting with dawn and going through to evening / night, players will wake, take basic actions around the house, eat together (when they can) and then venture out into the city or stay and defend the house from raids. There are two big rounds in this where you will make decisions – day actions and evening scavenging.
In the day, you will decide what you spend your few resources on and which parts of the house you try to clear out. There are unlikely to be many debates about these, but you will have to pick a strategy early on – aiming to build certain resources that will help you. There’s a good variety here – you can focus on getting water, food, weapons or boarding up the house to protect you. There are some important items that make the game easier, but trying to develop your home through the game is a very interesting mechanic. Failure to develop this part of the game well will end in certain disaster.
In the evening, you pick how many people sleep, how many defend the house and how many go and search the streets and other houses. Those defending will reveal a card and may suffer wounds or need to fight off enemies steeling food! Those who go outside will be raiding someone else and in doing so there will be many more choices. They will shuffle through cards representing a search through rooms and the hope of finding items. Sometimes as you look through the rooms you trigger an event that you must read out from the book.
The mechanics are clean and once set up the game flows quickly and in a well considered manner. As you walk through the turn the administration is manageable and the story is constantly putting pressure on your characters – each tiring from fatigue or hunger, and with each turn that passes they will seem to have less actions and less options. As you get towards the later turns you might start to get to a more manageable position only to have a tough event arrive and twist the game away from you again.
One of the ways in which the game manages to convey this constant threat and foreboding is the use of trackers for each of the areas in which your characters “suffer” – illness, wounds, fatigue, misery and hunger. These trackers capture how much the suffering is effecting your character – how few actions you can have. The worse your character feels the less actions he has to do anything about it!
However, these tracking tiles are one of the areas where the administration can become overwhelming. This game has a huge amount of cards, pieces and miniatures. It’s manageable at most points within the game, and the board is well set out, however it is a very lengthy set up to the game. Many cards to separate, the board to set and the items to be distributed in the box. It’s a worthwhile venture but it does take a lot of time (20 mins).
It’s also worth saying that the thematic book is great at creating diverse and interesting stories – they packed it with over 1500 stories. However, splitting the rules between the story book and the other book creates a somewhat tricky referencing and the stories can become a little bit too detailed into the 3rd or 4th hour of the game.
Lastly, it’s probably obvious from the above but this is a game that can be played with many players but the more involved the longer the game will take and the more likely that there is an alpha player. Each additional player just dilutes the actions / choices of the lower player count. It works as a solo game, it’s great as a two player, even good as a three player, but beyond that it starts to become difficult to see what each player adds. There are no new characters, no new decisions, no change to mechanics. The game scales perfectly and horribly all at once – it’s the exact same game, and so if players can’t decide it might just feel like an alpha is driving it forward.
All that said, this superb thematic game has hours of game play and comes highly recommended for 2-3 players sitting down with some food and a few hours ahead to grind through a challenging and bleak game. You will take away terrific and terrifying experiences in equal balance. Find hard choices, and discuss how much risk you can afford to take!
- If you like portal games’ First Martians or Robinson Crusoe – games dripping with theme and pushing you to gamble – then this is a must for a modern world addition
- If you want to be able to “win” a game, you may find this brutal sandbox survival unsatisfying at it’s conclusion
- If you win, did you get all three starting characters through? What about building that cooker?