Reviewed by Chris Wray
IWARI (Thundergryph Games, 2 to 5 players, ages 14 and up, 45 minutes; $59.99)
Few games deserve the title “modern classic” as much as Michael Schacht’s Web of Power, which was later remade into China and Han. Countless other designs were inspired by the Web of Power family, and the game was a launching point for Schacht’s award-winning career.
But in recent years, it has been difficult to buy Web of Power — copies would go for double or triple the original MSRP, if you could even find them — and the re-implementations were never popular in the United States. Then, last year, Thundergryph Games launched Iwari, earning nearly 400,000 Euros on Kickstarter.
Iwari recently shipped to Kickstarter backers. Taking the classic gameplay from Web of Power, the game features a new theme, beautiful new artwork, plastic 3D totems, and some new gameplay elements, including a solo and cooperative mode. I’m a longtime fan of Web of Power, so I was excited to buy and play Iwari. After a few plays, I think the game mostly lives up to the stellar reputation of its predecessors.
Iwari is, at its core, a fast-playing majorities game. The rules are remarkably simple. Each player has 20 tents and 8 totems, plus a hand of 3 cards. On a player’s turn, they play cards following the “3-2-1 Golden Rule,” which provides that they can use up to 3 cards, to play up to 2 pieces, in 1 territory. One card earns the right to place one piece in that color of territory — and there are usually five colors of territory on the map — but two matching cards can be used as a wild to place in any territory. The most noteworthy exception to this rule is that if you’re the first player to go into a territory, you can only place one piece.
At the end of your turn, you draw up to a hand of 3 cards. There’s a face-up display of 4 cards to draw from, or you can draw from the facedown stack.
The turns are that simple, but the real game is in the scoring. The tents are scored twice during the game: once when the deck runs out the first time, and again when the deck runs out the second time, which ends the game (though players all get an equal number of turns). In each region, the player with the most tents gets as many points as there are tents in that region. Second place gets as many points as there were tents of the first place player, and third place gets as many points as there were tents of the second place player, and so on and so forth. Ties are always friendly in Iwari, so if a region of four pieces has two players with two tents each, they would each get four points.
Game end scoring is a bit more involved. Each region has certain connections to other regions, and if a player has a totem majority in both regions, they earn as many points as the combined total of both regions’ totems. Lastly, the map has various paths and roads, and if a player has a straight line of 4 or more pieces, they earn a point per piece.
The end result is a tense, fast-paced, strategic game that can be played in 30-45 minutes. The scoring, while simple, controls the strategy. Anytime you attempt to earn points, you are also giving somebody else points, creating a fascinating dynamic. And though the game can be decidedly confrontational, it never feels mean-spirited, a trait I love in games.
Though players will inevitably stay because of the gameplay, a new generation of buyers will be drawn into Iwari because of its beauty. Thundergryph Games did an exceptional job of making the cards and maps beautiful. The game comes in both a retail and deluxe edition, with the biggest difference between the two being additional maps: the base game has two, and the deluxe edition has eight. But the deluxe edition also has components for a sixth player and a few other small extras.
While this version is visually stunning, it does have a few flaws that have detracted from what otherwise would have been a remarkable success. Two of the totem colors — the yellow and the orange — are so close in color and shade to be difficult to distinguish. The box insert for the deluxe edition is designed in a way that makes fitting everything into that box difficult. And, for some odd reason, despite the inclusion of numerous pieces to be sorted, the publisher opted not to include plastic bags.
But overall, Iwari lives up to the stellar reputation of its predecessors. Web of Power has too much sentimental memory for me to get rid of my copy, but I love having the eight maps of the deluxe edition, and Iwari will likely be my go-to Michael Schacht game going forward. – – – – – Chris Wray
Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.
Other Fall 2020 GA Report articles