A dog howled in the distance; a light flashed at a window; we cowered down behind a heap of rubble, hoping nobody had heard the clatter of our shovel against the brickwork.
It was now or never; we needed to make it across the open street to get to the old, disused, garage. Three fingers; two fingers; one finger – we were up and running – a shot rang out; Marin went down in front of me. I met his eyes as I passed, despair written on his face, I didn’t look back… This War of Mine – a thematic, story driven, adventure?
- Designer: Michal Oracle, Jakub Wisniewski
- Publisher: Galakta
- Year Released: 2017
- Players: 1-6
- Playing Time: 45-120 min
- Ages: 18+
- Recommended Retail Price: £65:00
This War of Mine places you as civilians trying to survive in a besieged city. Mixing a ‘worker placement’ type mechanism, with a ‘choose your own adventure’ narrative, the game attempts to question your morality – Do you decide to do the right thing? Or do you decide to survive?
What’s in the box?
- 1 Double-sided board
- The book of scripts
- 1 Double-sided scenario sheet
- 2 Plastic bags
- 12 Character miniatures
- 4 Coloured miniature base discs
- 1 Noise marker
- 4 Dice
- 32 Resource markers
- 14 Components – 6 Water – 12 Wood
- 200 Cards
- 5 Blank cards – 7 Fate cards – 20 Fitting cards – 19 Shelter cards – 12 Character cards – 26 Exploration cards – 11 Findings cards – 10 Night raid cards – 14 Residents cards – 18 Location Cards – 12 Visitor cards – 15 Event cards – 15 Narrative action cards – 3 Chapter Cards – 8 Chapter objective cards – 5 Colour cards
- 186 Tokens
- 33 Green tokens (Food & Drink) – 30 Red tokens (Weapons & Ammunition) – 18 Yellow tokens (Medical supplies) – 23 Grey tokens (items) – 40 State tokens (Hunger, fatigue, illness, misery, wounds) – 4 Colour character markers – 1 Objective status token – 9 Script tokens – 7 Blank tokens – 3 Wait tokens – 6 Cold tokens – 3 Board-up tokens – 9 Enemy tokens.
The board is very good quality with dark, thematic, artwork adorning both sides – A normal side, and an advanced side. The board depicts your shelter, and around the outside there are labelled spaces for all the cards.
The cardboard tokens are of the same high quality being the thick, high-density, punch out type – make sure you don’t throw the blank tokens away!
Card stock is very nice, with a glossy finish, and the minimalistic artwork, with just hints of colour here and there, keeps the theme going.
Plastic resource tokens offer a clear representation of what they are – components, wood and water.
Miniature quality is pretty average. The sculpts offer a good level of detail, but will take a fair bit of cleaning up before painting. Very few of mine were standing up straight, and required the ‘hot water’ treatment to correct.
The Journal is a 16 page (cover-to-cover), glossy booklet that leads you through the game turn sequence.
The Book of Scripts contains the narrative paragraphs, typical of a ‘choose your own adventure’ book, that are read as directed by the cards in the game. The book contains 1947 paragraphs, appears to be well bound, and of good paper stock quality.
The Dice are pretty standard, as are the remainder of the components.
The box is nice and sturdy, with distinctive box art. There is a nice plastic insert that holds the tokens nicely during game play.
How does it play?
- If you’re familiar with the game play, feel free to leopard crawl down to ‘What do I think?’
I’m not going to mention everything; there are a few things that are best left to be ‘discovered’…
The Journal runs you through set up, and then guides you through the turn phases. It is designed so that you learn as you play. The player who is the current leader holds the journal. They read out the cards, and when a decision is required, they have the final say. Each time the journal indicates ‘Next Player’, the journal is passed on.
Set up is fairly straight forward; determining the leader, drawing starting characters, placing the cards in their respective locations, preparing the events deck, and putting the starting resources in the storage area.
The characters are divided into two, red and black. The red are the more elite of the two, and you will start with one red and two black. Each has a number representing prowess, empathy, and inventory (how much they can carry). They also have ‘Spirit’ traits, broken down in to A, B and C.
A turn is broken down in to 7 phases:
- Day Actions
- Night Raid
The Morning phase sees you draw an event card – This will indicate any cold tokens that need to be placed, and you then carry out whatever is described on the card. Inevitably, this is something undesirable!
Day Actions see each character take up to three actions, as determined by their states. For example: someone who has level 3 fatigue, which has a white dot followed by two black dots on it, can only do the first action. The actions are indicated on the board and cards with a ‘hand’ icon. They include:
- Actions on shelter cards – This includes searching through heaps and furniture, clearing rubble, picking locks on closed doors, or sawing through bars.
- Place a new fitting – Look through the fitting cards and place one on an empty shelter space. The resources must be paid as indicated on the back of the fitting card.
- New idea – Look through the ideas deck and choose 2 to add to the fittings deck.
- Poke about – Roll the black die and gain resources as indicated.
- Outside – Check to see if a sniper has hit you, then draw and resolve a visitor card.
For each round of actions, you decide which character is doing what, by placing them on the respective action icon. The actions for that round are carried out simultaneously – you can’t use resources gained in the round on another action carried out during that round. But they can be used during the next round.
During the Dusk phase each character must drink water and eat food, otherwise they must suffer the consequences – raising Hunger/Misery!
Evening is where you decide what each character is doing over the next two phases. This can be sleeping in a bed or on the floor, guard duty (at least one character must be assigned to guard duty), or scavenging. Each of which will affect the characters fatigue in some way.
Scavenging. Characters chosen to go scavenging are moved onto one of the three location cards, some of which may have a rule indicated in red that must be obeyed when moving there. The locations also have some indication of what you may come across, as indicated in the top right hand corner of the card – Open spaces; closed doors; bars, etc. Based on this information you can then choose what equipment the characters will take with them, bearing in mind that equipment may take up inventory space.
The noise marker is set to ‘0’, and the unknown deck is prepared – a number of exploration cards are drawn (face down) as determined by the location’s distance from your shelter, with the closest drawing the greater number of cards.
The unknown deck is then resolved one at a time, carrying out the actions as described. You can also elect to return two cards from this deck to take look around the location – the script number is indicated on the location.
Going through this deck sees the characters coming across a range of different things, from finding closed doors and hiding places, to discovering places to search. All the time there is the chance of creating a noise, raising the chance of being discovered. This can lead to a confrontation as a residents card is drawn.
Occasionally you will be asked to draw a card from the colours deck, and referred to look at another card to determine what script is read. For example – you may draw the colour blue, and referred to the exploration colours on the current location. This will give you a number that you look up and read from the book of scripts. You carry out whatever comes up in the scripts until you are told to return to the game.
You may also be involved in combat – Tokens are drawn randomly to represent you assailants prowess; you will be told how many and what they are armed with. There is a grid illustrated on the playing board, and the enemies are placed here according to their weapons. A different colour die for each weapon type is rolled, and indicates the number of wounds dealt. Prowess enables re-roles, and you can also flee at the start of each combat round, but may end up getting backstabbed!
On some cards you may get the option to trade, exchanging things from your findings/inventory with other items. You will have to pay a commission!
Scavenging/exploration can be ended when the bottom of the exploration card gives you the option… Or end exploration… or when the unknown deck is depleted.
You then decide which of your findings you are going to return to the shelter with. You can only carry ‘heavy’ items (as indicated by a weight icon) up to the combined inventory total of the scavenging characters. Many items are not classed as heavy items. You can add basic resources to your findings – wood, components, water – but they are all heavy items.
Before the scavengers return to the shelter, the Night Raid phase must be carried out. A Night Raid card is drawn and resolved, this usually sees the shelter coming under assault one way or another. Damage is inflicted by the removal of indicated resources, and wounds are inflicted on the character(s) on guard. These can be offset by the guard rolling a combat die, dependent on their weapon, and by bolstering the shelter – blocking up holes or reinforcing the door. More cards may then be added to the night raid and residents deck, before moving on to the final phase.
Dawn sees the scavenging party return, and any medication assigned to wounded or ill characters. A fate card is then drawn. This will indicate – what happens to ill or wounded characters; what happens if it’s too cold; which location to exchange; to resolve ‘wait’ tokens; and which spirit letter to resolve on the character cards. Finally two narrative action cards are drawn, you decide which to keep, and return the other to the deck. These are helpful, one-shot, cards, ranging from assisting you in combat, to repairing a broken item.
At this point you can ‘save’ the game, filling in the save sheet and placing items in the save bag.
Play then continues from the morning phase until, either, all the characters have died/left the shelter or the game is ‘won’!
For each phase there is a reference in the Journal to the book of scripts. This is in the guise of FAQ’s, and should in most cases answer any questions that may arise during play.
So, what do I think?
Firstly, I have to say that I have only played this solo, more on why later…
Okay, looking at the components – I really like the board. It’s large and well illustrated, giving you a good idea of the hardship you’re living in. It is quite a dark scene and, under certain lighting, it can be difficult to make out at times.
The whole game pretty much fits totally on the board, there are locations for all the card decks, storage area for your in-play resources, and a small combat area, all of which I really liked. My only concern is that it makes it feel very cramped, but that sort of adds to the tension of the game.
All the cards and tokens were very good quality. The item tokens are all limited so, when you run out, you run out!
Miniatures – They are ok, nice detail, but… Mine were at all angles on the base, and there are a lot of mould lines and sprue marks – so there will be a lot of cleaning up to do if you wish to paint them.
Now for an area that will split some people – the rules! I really like the way they’ve done it. There’s the Journal to guide you through set-up and game turn, everything will become clear as you go along. I understand though, that this isn’t going to appeal to everyone. But, there is nothing here that should prove to be of any difficulty; the game play is, more-or-less, straight forward.
The Action and Scavenging phases are the main meat of the game.
The Actions phase is clever, and sees you juggling priorities around. Do you place a fitting to negate cold, or one that can increase food? Mmmh, but I’ll need more resources to do that, so I’ll have to poke about, or I could try and open the locked door. Aaah, but one character is going to have to take a nap, he’s really fatigued, but then that doesn’t leave me enough actions to do everything! The decisions you make during this phase, always impact later on, when you usually wish you’d done A instead of B!
You will rarely get to use all three actions, the characters will inevitably be suffering in some way, and two just never seems to be enough. It is frustrating, in a good way, because it keeps you making decisions and trying to plan out the next few turns.
When Scavenging, I really like the unknown deck acting as a timer – The more cards you have in the deck, the longer you have to explore and find things. Some cards give you the option of returning cards from the unknown deck to the exploration deck, or increase noise and roll for detection. This works thematically; returning cards basically means you have been careful and taken your time, thus, now have less time to explore. Or, increasing the noise because you’ve rushed through an area, but you might attract someone’s attention!
Game play – wow! This is a punishing game! You will lose, and lose repeatedly! And, it may well leave you mentally drained if you experience a particularly gruelling session.
Taking the second of those two points first: There are three ways you can approach this game –
- You can try and avoid confrontation at all times, trying to minimise the risk you are putting your characters in, cutting exploration as short as possible, and only trying to find enough to survive. Ensuring the fittings you have placed provide you with a means of staying safe, and not having to venture ‘outside’.
- There’s the ‘all guns blazing’ approach. Explore everything that comes up; take every opportunity to delve in to the book of scripts, pursuing every story hook. Venture outside looking for visitors, risking the snipers – it’s all about survival of the fittest!
- Or, there’s the balanced approach. Taking risks where necessary, but thinking things through. Finding the medium of the previous two.
Whichever way you play, the game appears to be beatable (I’ve got very close to winning playing each of these, and have actually won with the last approach), but the experience will be totally different.
The first approach, which when you think about it, should be the way to play the game, returns quite a lacklustre experience. Because you’re avoiding confrontation you never get involved in any meaningful script narratives, and this makes it all a bit dull. Whereas, the other two give you a thematic adventure straight out of the movies. Your views on right and wrong are questioned, and you come away with a glimpse of what it would be like to be a victim of war, where the right thing to do, is often the wrong thing to do!
…You have a wounded character, but no bandages. Your all hungry, but with limited food. Decision – do you feed the wounded character, they will probably die of their wounds shortly, or do you save the food to keep the others alive a little longer?
The Book of Scripts overall, is pretty well written, and will give a highly thematic sense of what war can be like. There are a few paragraphs, which for me, don’t really add anything; especially some of the shorter ones that just send you back to the game. But the lengthier passages I found very rewarding, and it gave me a lot to think about – some of it can be quite emotionally moving.
Now, back to the first of my two points: This game is hard. For me the characters aren’t as well balanced as they could be during the opening game, and can put you at a disadvantage, especially for inexperienced players, though things do even up as the game progresses.
There is also a lot of luck in the game, but as you make headway, this can be mitigated by the fittings you place in the shelter. For most of the decks, when you draw a card, it gets shuffled back in, and because the decks are quite small, its easy to keep drawing the same card repeatedly.
Unfortunately, a few bad card draws, and rolls of the die in the opening few rounds, can be game ending – putting you in a position that is pretty irretrievable.
For example, as happened in my last play through – despite my best attempts at trying to gain food, I just couldn’t. I couldn’t trade at the available locations, every findings card I drew had a distinct lack of food on it, and I couldn’t roll well on the die for toffee! My first night raid card caused my guard 2 wounds, I had no bandages, and the fate card I drew raised the wound further. So during the next turn I had one character that could only do one action, and the others could only do two… This then impacts on what you can do the following turn, and unless you get a big dollop of good luck (very rare in my experience!), you’ll be game over by turn 4 or 5.
The Fate cards, which are drawn at the end of the turn, are damning! This is where you may see wounds and illness’ healing or getting worse. You will also have to resolve a ‘spirit’ trait on the characters. By looking at the characters you have an idea what may happen, but trying to negate the outcome early in the game, can prove nigh on impossible. And, as I mentioned previously, this is one deck where you can keep drawing the same card turn after turn!
Finally, I wish there were more cards in some of the decks. The events, objectives, night raids, fate, and findings, all get a little repetitive, especially, if you’re prepared to put a few games under your belt. I feel more could have been done with some of them.
Can I play it… all on my own?
For me, this is the only way to play this game. It’s not that I don’t particularly like games where you pass a book around, trying to make each player feel like they’re taking part. It’s the subject matter. I feel that, to play with others, you really need the right group. One with people who are comfortable discussing, and justifying, their moral approach to a situation.
The game also feels like it was designed solely for one player, but then had the multi-player option added as an afterthought. The only thing I can see it adding, other than game time, is the discussion between players – which may be a good or bad thing, depending on the group, with the context of the subject matter.
Play solo though, and the game moves along at a fair pace; you’ll be kept busy trying to find a way to keep your characters alive. You’ll make decisions that may well see some of them die, and you don’t have to justify yourself to anybody else… anybody else, that is, other than those little plastic pieces with names like Marko, Anton, and Katia!
This game isn’t going to appeal to everyone, in-fact, with it’s sombre and often gruesome, narrative, it may not appeal to many at all. For me this is one for the seasoned gamer – ones who like a challenge, enjoy an emotional story, and don’t get frustrated when they hit a streak of bad luck.
There’s a whole bunch of replayability here though. Once you’ve mastered the normal game (really?), you can flip the board over to the advanced side. I found that luck plays an even greater part in the opening game than the normal side!
There are also two scenarios you can play. Both offer a short game, and offer a slightly different experience. The challenge is still tough though – no walks in the park here!
Game play is tight; what I mean by that is, your options are often limited, either by resources when placing fittings, or by choices on cards/scripts when scavenging. During the actions phase, you have to make the right decisions on how to use your very limited actions. Get it wrong, and you’ll be ruing it further down the line. If you prefer to have more freedom in your choices, and less pain when you make the wrong one, then this probably isn’t for you.
Game time is a tricky one. You can play a game that is over in 45 minutes, believe me, it’s when it all goes wrong! Otherwise a complete run through can last anything up to 4 or 5 hours. The ‘save’ feature is a nice addition, and the game can quickly be put away and then restored when required.
I feel an opportunity has been missed here. Reduce the luck element – Make it a semi-co-op game – Give each player a character to control – Give each character a few special traits (Marin likes to see others miserable – when someone else raises there misery Marin lowers his!) – Maybe give them hidden victory conditions – And voila, I think you could have one hell of a game!
Official site – Galakta Games
Recommended video review – The Dice Tower
Board Game Geek Page – This War of Mine
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