Welcome to our very first review. I promise not to name our second review The Very Second Review. Hello. My name is Efka and I am obsessed with games. All kinds of them. And today I will be talking about Lords of War.
It's a strange game to start our reviews with. Why not go for something big and very popular and much in demand? To be honest, it just happens to be the last game I played and I really thought it deserved a review. Little card games like this one don't get as much attention as they should, what with their lack of big boards and masses of wooden/cardboard toke... Gotcha! You might think this game is a small indie release - but only if you haven't heard of it. This game is huge! Whilst it's the first and only thing published by Black Box Games, it's already won multiple awards and attracted the attention of some of the best game critics out there. So the game should be pretty good, right?
I bought Lords of War based on a recommendation by a friend, even though I was aware of the game before. My initial reluctance to acquire it was based mostly on the art and theme. Whilst there's nothing wrong with either of them, I feel that generic fantasy-themed games can be a little dull, and, well... generic. The art is definitely on the comical side so I judged it to be some sort of a Munchkin type of experience. Boy was I wrong. You know that saying about books and covers right?
So yes, my friend Will recommended this game to me and I take his recommendations very seriously. He loves deep strategic games, and happens to be a one-time world champion of Caylus. If he thought it was good, I probably would as well.
So what do we get inside? Two decks, one with Orcs and another one with Dwarves. Despite the art being comical, it is still very well drawn so no complaints there. There's a fold-up rulebook and a fold-up playmat. And the box itself, which, whilst made out of thin flimsy cardboard is very compact and has an in-built divider, lest your Dwarves and Orcs start interbreeding (a big no-no in my book).
But Efka, enough about these boxes and rulebooks. Tell us about the game you say.
Ok. Ok. So what you're doing is you're laying cards on the playmat (battlefield) and those cards are basically soldiers in your army, who can attack in various directions, based on the arrows on the corners. Players each take turns laying cards, checking to see if any unit dies, and refreshing their hands. The objective is to be the first one to kill twenty enemy units or four commanders (a special type of card). The game is really simple, but within its simplicity lies its brilliance.
It took me about ten minutes to read the rules and explain it to my opponent and off we went. Most of your units should be able to kill other enemy units if placed correctly (aside from commanders, they usually require an opposition of two other units to be slain), so a lot of the game you are trading one-for-one. The trick is to create an advantageous situation where you can preserve your units and keep slaying your enemy. Because the field is so vast and you usually have multiple places where you can deploy your new soldiers, you find that the board becomes very dynamic. You start feeling like a real general, vying for position, retreating, laying traps, creating a wall of archers, charging into the thick of battle. Steel clashes with steel, blood spills and you let out a bellow, nay, a warcry as you retract your claymore from the enemy's crushed skull, hungry for more.
I was surprised by this little gem. Yes, it's very simple, but each play has so many possibilities that it breeds complexity. After our first game, which lasted all but thirty minutes, I wanted more (mostly because I lost, and learned a valuable lesson about recalling troops and not deploying my general early - his death means an extra turn for my opponent). I won the second game and we sort of drew the third one. I should have lost, but I was in such a desperate situation I wanted to see if I there was a way I could win so I started talking through my plays with my opponent, and we were looking to see if there was a feasible way I could win. I had to make careful plays just to survive (nineteen of my units were dead), and try and craft every little bit of advantage I could. I felt like Mel Gibson in Braveheart and Brad Pitt in Moneyball, facing un-winable odds and maximising every single bit of efficiency from my soldiers. In the end I took the win, but later we noticed that my opponent could have won after all, and because we were practically playing open hands by then it didn't matter.
And that's when it hit me. This game is cut-throat competitive, hence the cartoonish theme. It counterbalances what would otherwise be a very intense experience and makes it more friendly. To add icing to the cake, this game also has scope to grow beyond the initial release because... wait for it... there are two more sets! Elves vs Lizardmen is already available and Templars vs Undead has been successfully Kickstarted, both adding extra decks and extra complexity to the game and letting you build your own decks. In addition, the website features the rules for three-player and team games.
By now it's no secret that I love this game so I would definitely recommend buying it, especially if you're looking for a quick two-player game that could fit into your traveling bag or you'd like a competitive card game experience that's less cut-throat and much less expensive than some of the CCGs.