Note: this content has also appeared on my Wordpress blog, playing and designing board games. I only cross-post about half the time.
I played three games of Wargame last night and was struck once again by how many choices that game offers in such a short time frame. Even though each player only gets 26 moves, the game is really quite complex. As I told my friend and opponent yesterday, “it makes my brain explode.” In a good way, of course. :-)
To be honest, I had begun to doubt the game a bit, wondering if it really was as good as I had initially thought, feeling that perhaps I shouldn’t have released it when I did. Part of the problem was that I didn’t really understand the game, at one level, and had only won when teaching it to newbies. I was afraid that there was perhaps some obvious strategy I was missing, some key parameter to focus on that would render other approaches to the game untenable.
And of course that might still be true, but I’m a lot less worried about it now.
The guy I played it with, C, used to play chess in his younger days and got to be quite good at it. I can’t remember the details, but I think at one point he even played in the nationals. So I was particularly keen to see if he could break the game.
He couldn’t. Granted, we only played three games, but still I was gratified to find that such a strategically-minded thinker couldn’t find an obvious path to victory, especially since (as I said above) each player only gets 26 moves.
I won’t say which of us ended up winning overall, but I will say that it took three games for one of us to win a best two out of three. And yes, this does mean that I won a game! And no, it wasn’t the first game we played, either. :-)
I think what saves the game is that are so many things to think about: you want to avoid losing three adjacent battles (since this limits your ability to switch cards), you want to bluff your opponent successfully regarding the traitors (keep ‘em guessing), you want to win each battle by as small a margin as possible (save bigger cards for bigger battles), you want to switch cards in such a way that it puts you ahead in both battle areas (make the most of each switch), you want to try to create “sure winners” on your side and “sure losers” on your opponent’s side (while preventing your opponent from doing the same), et cetera, et cetera.
Every time I play the game I learn more about it. Last night, for example, I learned the value of attacking a higher-valued card. This puts your opponent in a dilemma, since he has to decide if he wants to win with the card he’s got there or switch in another winner to do battle with you. (He could also conceivably switch in a loser to do battle, but I don’t imagine that would happen very often.) If he leaves the piece, you’ve taken that piece out of play (and have prevented him from using it elsewhere); if he subs in another piece for it, you’ve caused him to squander one of his five switches on a less-than-optimal trade. And also, of course, you’ve forced him to go first in the next battle, and that’s not often going to be to his advantage.
One thing that’s interesting about the game is how you can only rarely be guaranteed a victory when attacking (if your opponent’s card is pinned, if he’s out of switches, or if you’ve got an unbeatable card). What this means is that you have to be very careful where you attack in addition to what you attack with.
This was actually how I won the second game we played: though I was far behind, I had won a couple battles on the right-hand side of the board. There was just one battle area between the two battles I had already won, and he chose that as the area he wanted to attack. I paid to switch two cards so I could win the battle and take three-in-a-row. This three-in-a-row prevented him from switching out one of the cards right next to it, so I paid to switch before my attack and won both the battle and the game (since I now had four-in-a-row). It was ugly, but hey — it worked. :-)
Anyway, I was happy that the game held up last night under scrutiny. I was also happy to discover the other day that Chris Hansen has uploaded a number of photos of the game. Very cool!