THE GRIZZLED (Cool Mini or Not, 2 to 5 players, ages 14 and up, 30 minutes; $19.99)


General William T. Sherman is famously quoted as saying “War is Hell!”. He was, of course, referencing his experiences as a Union general in the American Civil War. But he could have been speaking about the incredible hardships and trauma endured by soldiers who faced off in the grueling years of World War I. In this cooperative game designed by Fabian Riffaud and Juan Rodriquez, that time is revisited as players are the grizzled “men in the trenches” trying to overcome the physical and psychological terrors of war. grizzledbox

All players choose a Soldier card, placing it face up on its “Good Luck” side (noted by a four leaf clover). Players also receive three Support tiles, one with an arrow pointing left, one pointing right and a third, randomly chosen. (Some have double arrows.) The deck of 59 “Trial” cards is shuffled and 25 placed, face down, on the Peace card. The rest of the deck goes, face down, on the Monument card. In between the stacks are several (2 to 5 depending on the number of players) Speech tokens. In keeping with the “grizzled” theme, the hairiest (!) player is given the Mission Leader token and starts the game.

Each turn, the Mission Leader must decide how many cards each player will receive for this particular mission. Although the first mission requires three cards, after that, any number of cards, from 1 on up, may be assigned. Cards are distributed from the Peace card stack and, beginning with the Mission Leader, the game begins.

Cards come in two varieties: Threats and Hard Knocks. There are six types of threats: Night, Snow, Rain, Gas Mask, Shell and Whistle (which signifies the start of an attack). Each Threat card displays at least two of the six threats. Played Threats are placed next to the Peace card stack in what is called “No Man’s Land”. Hard Knocks represent the stress of warfare and these cards are, instead, played directly on a player. Not only do these cards disrupt the regular flow of the game, bending the rules in a disadvantageous way, they also display a lightning bolt (a “hit”).

As cards are played to No Man’s Land, the goal is to avoid having three of the same threats exposed. The risk of this increases because some cards have a rectangle on the bottom called a “trap”. A trap requires you to blindly turn over the top card of the Peace Deck and add it to No Man’s Land. If a played card makes for a trio of the same symbol, the mission fails! Fortunately, besides simple card play, other options are available to make winning moves possible.

All soldier cards have a good luck symbol (the four leaf clover) matching one of the six threats of the game. Rather than playing a card, a player may flip his soldier card and use his good luck to remove ONE card from No Man’s land that matches his symbol. Another possibility is to make a Speech.

The Mission Leader of a previous mission is given a Speech token. Instead of playing a card, a player may use his Speech token and call for one type of threat. ALL players may discard ONE card from their hands that depicts that particular threat symbol.  Finally, if the outlook looks bleak or a player has no more cards to play, a player may withdraw. When withdrawing, a player takes one of his Support tokens and places it on his soldier card.grizzled2

If all players have withdrawn and no symbol has appeared three times, the Mission is successful and ALL cards in No Man’s Land are discarded. The number of cards still held by all players are totaled and that number of cards is added to the Peace Deck from the Monument Deck. But, if three of the same threats have been revealed in No Man’s Land, the Mission has failed. In that case, cards in No Man’s Land are ADDED to the Peace Deck and the deck reshuffled. Now, support comes into play.

At the conclusion of the Mission, support tokens are revealed and passed to players in the direction of the arrow on the tile. If one player ends up with more support tokens than the others (and the mission was successful), a player may flip his soldier back to his Good Luck side OR remove two Hard Knocks cards from their character. If the mission failed, only 1 Hard Knocks card may be removed. If there is a tie for support, nothing happens. Now, the Mission Leader token is passed to the next player with the previous Leader receiving a Speech token, and we embark on the next mission.

To win, players need to work together to successfully remove all the cards from the Peace Deck, thereby revealing the Peace card signalling the end of the war AND have no cards left in their hands. But, if the Monument deck is depleted exposing the war Memorial card (or if a player gets four “hits” on his character at the end of a mission), the game is lost.

The Grizzled is a cooperative game in the sense that all players have a vested interest in securing peace – but communication between players is severely restricted. Direct questioning of what cards are held is verboten so using your Speech tokens can often be a shot in the dark. (Best to call for an icon you hold or one that will trigger a third matching icon in No Man’s Land to make the most of it.)  The critical issue of support requires examining the Hard Knocks cards around the board so that you can direct your support to the player most in danger of suffering four hits and losing the game for everyone. The artwork, very evocative of the style of art of the First World War, was done by Tignous, ironic in that he was killed in the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack in France, another victim of a modern version of war.

While I am generally not a fan of cooperative games (I like to have an individual winner and loser in the games I play), The Grizzled has managed to convince me to rethink my position. This game of World War I centers on the suffering that war entails and presents it in a completely engaging, even personal, way. The game is not easy so when you win, there is a good deal of satisfaction. The Great War devastated Europe but The Grizzled is a great game. – – – – – -Herb Levy

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