Scott Sexton
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Elevator Pitch:

Warband is a thematic euro game that is heavily inspired by the evolving player powers and pvp cruelty of the classic cube pusher Hansa Teutonica. Your goal in Warband is to manage an army comprised of your race and the races of each of your opponents against the hordes of evil (think the first 10 minutes of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings). This, however, is not a cooperative game. While you are "working with" your allies in a thematic sense, in truth you are trying to position your race as the one who gets to take all the credit for defeating "The Darkness". This is accomplished by manipulating the composition of the allied army, by strategically placing your scouts throughout the land (and gathering intelligence), and by leading the allied army in battle. Think Martin Wallace style combat with Hansa Tuetonica's mechanisms, and the theme/art from Small World.

What do I like:

Polished Game play. The thing that jumps out at me most about Warband is how tightly honed the game play is. Unlike most Kickstarter games, Warband feels like the game play has been heavily tested and polished. I feel like the player powers you level up during the course of the game could have easily been imbalanced and allow for a "solvable" strategy, however, my time with the game has convinced me that there are merits to several different strategies when it comes to developing your player board all of which are balanced nicely against one another. Unlike Hansa Teutonica, leveling up is automatic and there is no way to earn extra actions (outside of a few redress cards) so there is no obvious run away leader problem during a game.

This is a mean euro. Unlike many euros where players are really just playing their own game, Warband allows players to readily screw over their opponents. Buyer be warned, if you don't like confrontation, this may rub players the wrong way (frankly I'm shocked Rhado liked this game as much as he did). There are plenty of times you'll be hatching schemes to kill off your opponents' troops or wrestle control of a province from your opponents. The player interaction is through the roof and again harkens back to Hansa Teutonica where the game rewards you for screwing over your opponents.

Being on the short end of the stick is never totally a bad thing. Even though it stings to have your units die in battles your opponent manipulated, there are always the nifty "Redress" cards you can use to mitigate the loss of your troops. At the very least you can use a redress card to either train your lost troop back into the army or to gain a gold. In my experience though, most of the redress cards offer optional powers that are so strong that you will gladly accept the loss of your troops as a way of gaining these very powerful cards. For example, I was able to use one redress card in my last game to gain 8 gold (a relatively large amount in this game) and my son was able to use one at just the right moment to swing the control of a province his way (a 6 point swing in the score for him, again, not an insignificant amount). The redress cards can be so attractive that you can build an entire strategy around killing off your own people.

Many tough and satisfying decisions. Once players learn how powerful the redress cards can be, it becomes quite tricky to decide when and if you will take actions to hinder your opponents' efforts to control the army. You will always feel like you need 2 or 3 more actions then you have available, so the decision making can become pretty intense.

The layout design is very clean and easy to understand. The game board and the cards are designed with user accessibility in mind and the layout of the board/cards makes teaching/learning the game much easier.

Game flow moves pretty quick (until the last turn or so of the game). There will be criticisms that AP prone players will drag this game out longer then necessary, and I think that is fair, however, most of the game moves pretty quick. Once players have figured out the basics of the game, you can easily work through the game in the advertised hour or so.

The game scales well for various player counts, although the game play does change. In a two player game you have 8 rounds of play, meaning that you will get to develop almost your entire board. With a full compliment of players you have fewer rounds, so you don't develop your personal player board as much. So game time doesn't change much, but in larger games it would seem that you are loosing some ability to customize your tech tree. The trade off is that by having more players you will see far more attack actions because the army builds up much faster. More attack actions means more money for captains, more redress cards in circulation, and more synergy with scouts. The game feels similar with different player counts, but there are trade offs at different player counts. Because of this variety, I don't get the sense that this game has a true sweet spot number of players.

What is not to like:

Art direct seems a bit uninspired. I'm not a fan of the look of the game. Its pretty generically fantasy oriented. Think Small World, but a tiny bit grittier. Even the font used by the game reminds me of Small World.

In your face isn't for everyone. This game is trying to be a true hybrid of Eurogame mechanics with Ameritrash's highly thematic and confrontational game play. I think it succeeds quite nicely, but that may not appeal to everyone. Those of you who are more sensitive to player vs. player screwage though shouldn't loose all hope in this game. The mitigation of the harsher elements of the game mean that having your units killed off is seldom as bad as it would seem.

The game boards aren't separated. There are in truth 2 main game boards in this game. The map of the world and the diagram of the army chain of command. These boards were mounted onto one single board (folded in half) instead of cutting them into two separate boards. It would have been nice to keep these as two separate boards to better accommodate different playing areas. Separate boards could be moved around the playing surface easier. I have no clue why they decided to make just one game board.

There is room for AP, especially during the last round or two. Like many eurogames, players can become overly fixated on min/maxing their last turn or two. My son especially is prone to fits of AP and for him the last two turns became pretty arduous as he tried to math out the best choices.

The theme is well implemented, but I'm wondering if I would have enjoyed something else. The theme works fine, but I get the sense that there was some missed opportunity to give it a bit more gravitas. The game could easily be telling the story of the end of the Shadow War from the TV show Babylon 5. I kind of wish that we had that sci-fi setting. By basing it in a more familiar setting such as B5 or if it had been set during any number of wars in europe, china or japan I feel that the theme might have been less cartoony and been a bit more interesting. Instead of playing different fantasy races, you could have easily played different factions or families in any number of those other settings. This isn't a big deal, its just my own preference that the fantasy theme is a bit of a yawn.

One last nit picky complaint. "Warband: Against the Darkness" is a bad name. Its cheesy and pulpy and I don't feel that it fits with the game itself. I point this out because I wish publishers would put more effort into how they name a game. Keep things simple. Give your games simple names. I would have been far happier if the game was called just "Warband" OR "Against the Darkness" OR "Babylon 5". Subtitles are silly and need to be banned from board games.

Conclusion:

I have enjoyed my time with Warband quite a bit. For the foreseeable future I plan to keep Warband in my active rotation of games I want to play at game night. My criticisms of the game are pretty minor in the big picture and the only reason I even think to bring them up is to serve as a warning for players who may have different taste then I do. This is a game about manipulating a machine that is never under your control. This is a game that will allow you to feel like a master of strategy & manipulation, but constantly remind you that complete disaster is waiting just around the bend. Despite pretty glowing reviews from Rhado, The Dice Tower and The Secret Cabal, I'm not sure why Warband hasn't seen a slew of positive user reviews or is getting any more attention then it has.
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Mike Bialecki
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scottatlaw wrote:
Elevator Pitch:
The theme is well implemented, but I'm wondering if I would have enjoyed something else. The theme works fine, but I get the sense that there was some missed opportunity to give it a bit more gravitas. The game could easily be telling the story of the end of the Shadow War from the TV show Babylon 5. I kind of wish that we had that sci-fi setting. By basing it in a more familiar setting such as B5 or if it had been set during any number of wars in europe, china or japan I feel that the theme might have been less cartoony and been a bit more interesting. Instead of playing different fantasy races, you could have easily played different factions or families in any number of those other settings. This isn't a big deal, its just my own preference that the fantasy theme is a bit of a yawn.


A Great review and a geekgold to you for the Babylon 5 reference!
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David Janik-Jones
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Great review and excellent title for the post.
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Dyskami Publishing
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scottatlaw wrote:
I would have been far happier if the game was called just "Warband" OR "Against the Darkness" OR "Babylon 5". Subtitles are silly and need to be banned from board games.


Just a quick clarification:

"Warband" is the original title that designer Micah Fuller gave his game. Sadly, "Warband" was already used as the title of a 2002 game. While we could have still used the same name without any fear of course ("Samurai", anyone?), we believed that giving it the subtitle "Against the Darkness" was the right choice and helped set up the backstory of the game too.

Calling it "Babylon 5" would have been an awesome choice. Wish we thought of that!
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Scott Sexton
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dyskamipublishing wrote:
scottatlaw wrote:
I would have been far happier if the game was called just "Warband" OR "Against the Darkness" OR "Babylon 5". Subtitles are silly and need to be banned from board games.


Just a quick clarification:

"Warband" is the original title that designer Micah Fuller gave his game. Sadly, "Warband" was already used as the title of a 2002 game. While we could have still used the same name without any fear of course ("Samurai", anyone?), we believed that giving it the subtitle "Against the Darkness" was the right choice and helped set up the backstory of the game too.

Calling it "Babylon 5" would have been an awesome choice. Wish we thought of that!


Fair point. Thank you for making such a great game, your hard work definitely shows.
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Chris
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I wasn't interested at all until words liek "euro" and "dry" started to be mentioned, then the "fake co-op" thing sounded very interesting. Keen to try it, but expect that'll only happen if I buy it. Wonder what I'll cull to try it...

And there is another Warband out THIS year according to search here.
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Micah Fuller
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Thanks for the review!
I'm flattered by the comparison to Martin Wallace, and happy you are enjoying the game.
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Scott Sexton
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Artful Nudger wrote:
Thanks for the review!
I'm flattered by the comparison to Martin Wallace, and happy you are enjoying the game.


Based on the polish of the game play, one might argue it compares quite favorably to Wallace.

Honestly, if I had done a blind play test for this game, I think I would have guessed it was a new Martin Wallace game where he was experimenting with Hansa Teutonica's mechanisms.

I mean that as a compliment.
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Chris
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scottatlaw wrote:
Artful Nudger wrote:
Thanks for the review!
I'm flattered by the comparison to Martin Wallace, and happy you are enjoying the game.


Based on the polish of the game play, one might argue it compares quite favorably to Wallace.

Honestly, if I had done a blind play test for this game, I think I would have guessed it was a new Martin Wallace game where he was experimenting with Hansa Teutonica's mechanisms.

I mean that as a compliment.


Yes, having played it now, I really agree. I think it might come from the fact that the individual mechanics are numerous and very small? Whilst there's "FIGHT!!!" (which I can still favourably compare running your city in London) it's still actually a number of small mechanics rolled up together, not one piece of the game comes up as a primary mechanic. Each thing you do is small and innocuous and builds towards a really interesting game state that's way above a generic Worker Placement game.

My biggest mark against it is that I generally dislike the concept of race powers to push you towards a certain strategy but hopefully it'll find a place in my head with this title! The way things all interlock no power I've looked at really seemed to actually make large chunks of the game pointless like Terra Mystica, Among the Stars and others do though.


Micah, you've done an excellent job. Well done.
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