Reviewed by Chris Kovac
THIS WAR OF MINE (Awaken Realms, 1 to 6 players, ages 18 and up, 45-120 minutes; $69.99)
This War of Mine is a one to six player cooperative game of survival based on the computer game of the same name designed by Michael Oracz and Jakib Wisniewski from 11 bit studios/galakata. The theme of the game is surviving as civilians in the ruins of a modern city during a civil for a few more days until the ceasefire comes and you can escape the city. Think of places like Syria, Iraq or the siege of Sarajevo in the 1980’s and you will get the idea.
To set up, first choose which type of shelter board you are going to use for the game: standard or advanced (fewer resources). This shelter is where your characters try to survive out the end of the war without dying or leaving. Next, sort out the 18 separate decks and place them on the appropriately marked spaces on the board. Some resident and night raids cards are put to the side to be added during the course of play.
The event deck, composed of three chapter cards with a set number of random events between chapters one and two, is created. After chapter three, there are three fixed event cards of which one is the ceasefire card which ends the game which means can go between ten and thirteen turns. Finally, you add two “goal” cards and the ending goal to make the goal deck (for a total of three goals). One goal event has to be resolved by the end of each chapter (usually by spending some scarce resources) or there are penalties which will inflict damage on the characters’ health.
Players then get a set number of starting resources and tools which are put on the storage space at the bottom right hand corner of the game board. Three location cards are flipped over and put in the three location spaces at the top left of the board which can be explored during the course of the game to find and trade resources. Finally, to complete the setup, three characters are drawn from the character deck of which one must be red (special characters) and two black (standard characters) and then placed on an open space of the shelter board with a hunger health state of two. If all of these starting characters are eliminated before the end of the game, you lose instantly. Each character has a name, picture, empathy rating, inventory rating, combat value, special power which can be used during the game and three character characteristics which can be activated by fate cards.
The game consists of seven phases per round and each decision made during these phases is made by a different player going around the table from the start player in a clockwise direction. These phases are:
An event card (can be a chapter card) is turned over and resolved. Event cards can modify the game with things like cold tokens, health of the characters and whether it is easier or harder to trade for goods during the turn.
Each character can perform up to three actions during this phase but these can be reduced by a character’s negative health state markers (hunger, misery, illness, fatigue and wounds). If any of these health markers reach level four. the character leaves the group (the particular character’s fate is revealed in the book of scripts). If a character dies, additional misery is added to those remaining via a die roll which can cause them to reach level four and in turn leave. As an action, a player can build new fittings (beds, workshops, chairs, etc.) if the group has the appropriate resources, clear shelter spaces of obstacles (rubble, locked or barred doors), search exposed heaps or furniture for additional resources, use built fitting card actions or try to get additional characters to join your shelter. New fittings give characters additional action spaces to perform new actions (build items, repair items, reduce fatigue, etc.) Each set of actions as mentioned is done by a different set of players.
In this phase each character receives one water and food or gets increased misery and/or hunger. Better food such as raw or tinned food reduces hunger.
In this phase, a character(s) must be assigned to guard the shelter from night raids. Other characters may sleep to remove fatigue or go scavenging in the scavenging phase to find or trade for resources. Any character(s) who guards or goes scavenging has their fatigue level raised by one.
Any characters who go scavenging are placed on the findings space with items to trade (the weight of items cannot exceed the carrying capacity of the characters) and any equipment like lockpicks or shovels they think they might need to resolve encounter cards at a location. Next, one of the three revealed locations is chosen for the characters to scavenge in. Each location card has a size, special findings list (activated by exploration cards), “look around” cost and exploration/rare finding numbers (activated by some exploration cards). Some location cards might have trade actions or other special actions which can be activated by discarding a number of face down exploration cards from the unknown deck. Each location has a number indicating how many exploration cards will be encountered by the characters during this phase. You count out this many exploration cards from the exploration deck to form the unknown deck for this turn. In addition, the noise marker is set at one. The exploration cards in the unknown deck are turned over one by one and resolved according to the text on the card. If an exploration card has a terrain not listed on the location, it is discarded and a new card drawn from the exploration deck to resolve. Encounters usually involve discarding a set number of exploration cards from the unknown deck so you can get a findings card which gives you resources and a roll of the locations special findings list for rare goods or raising the noise level and/or rolling a dice to see if you encounter the top card of the resident deck (if you roll equal to or under the noise level). Resident encounters can vary from relatively neutral encounters to attacks depending on who you encounter. After an encounter, the noise level is reset to one. Scavenging continues until all the exploration cards in the encounter deck have been played or players decide to end the scavenging instead of encountering an exploration card.
Night Raid Phase
In this phase, the character or characters on guard encounter the top card of the night raid deck which represent people trying to break into your shelter and steal your resources. Each night raid counter shows how many items they will steal (usually starting with the highest value item) and how many wounds the character on guard takes. The guard(s) then rolls a combat die to see if he causes damage to the attackers (if you have a weapon you roll better hit dice). Each success reduces the number of damage/wounds you take. The prowess number on a character card allows you to reroll attack dice. If you roll a special encounter symbol, you either count it as a miss or draw a fate card to see what happens to you. Boardups covering holes in your shelter also reduce the number of wounds/damage you take. Finally, you shuffle two of the night raid/resident cards you had set aside in the setup into there respective decks. These tougher night raid/resident cards means you have harder encounters as the game progresses (all of these are active by chapter II).
The final phase is the dawn phase. The scavenging party returns carrying any number of items as long as the weight value of the items does not exceed the total inventory value of all characters scavenging. Excess items can be hid at a location for possible later retrieval. Any meds/bandages you have can be assigned to ill/wounded characters. Then a fate card is drawn and resolved. Fate cards usually tell you which location will be exchanged for a new one, what happens to ill/wounded characters (or if people become ill due to the number of cold markers on the cold space) and activates one of the three characteristics on each character’s cards which can influence their misery/illness/wound levels. Finally, two narrative cards are drawn and one is chosen for the group to keep. These are positive one-time actions which can help the characters during a particular phase
The game continues until either you lose all the starting characters (instant loss) or you survive till the end of the ceasefire event with at least one starting character with no health indicator greater than two. The ceasefire card is one of three final event cards which occur after the chapter three card.
This War of Mine does require some setup and you need a few turns in order to get the hang of all the phases. The game is usually fairly tense throughout with lots of replayability. You have to balance out your characters’ activities with sleep, scavenging, guarding and actions to improve your shelter in order to win. Neglect one aspect for too long and you will find all your characters have left/died and you have lost. The game comes with sheets where you can record all your game information so you can save the game – a plus especially since it can take about 4-5 hours to complete. The downsides include the topic which might not appeal to some gamers (some of the decisions might distress some people as you may have to make unpleasant choices just like in real life in order to keep your characters alive) and that many advanced rules are buried in the script book making it hard to remember them during the course of play.
This War of Mine is a very good, medium heavy, gamers game of pure cooperative survival where you strive to keep your characters alive no matter what the cost. This gets an eight out of ten from me. – – – Chris Kovac
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