The sergeant looked on in horror as the River Runner engaged the enemies Poseidon class ship. It was a suicide mission. The green blip moved rapidly along the radar, making up in speed what it lacked in power. At 600 meters the larger red blip pulsed; the bright green blip left a light afterimage that slowly faded away. A voice cut the silence from the rear of the bridge.
“Well done Sergeant. Turn your focus to lower orbit and bring Starship Astrum online. The fate of the River Runner is regrettable but we have more pressing matters. This is War.”
The War of 2620 ruined everything. This is its story.
War Co. the Expandable Card Game is the first game by Brandon Rollins and Pangea Games and it’s an ambitious project. A dueling card game that can scale up to 6 players, featuring 6 distinct decks with 50 unique cards each is no simple game. On top of that, every card has an online listing with story and details of the machine or technology or represents. A lot of care is given to every facet of this game and it pays off. War Co is a snappy affair that plays quickly and punches above its weight class.
While the art and setting will draw comparisons to Star Realms, War Co.’s DNA has more in common with Epic, Magic, or other TCGs than it does with a deck builder. Players will grab one of 6 themed decks and set out to blow up or outlast their opponents. The Bruiser deck is great for people who want big giant ships bristling with cannons whereas the Trickster rewards more careful play with cards that cancel attacks or are better played face down. Information is a currency in War Co and the appearance of strength can be as potent as actual strength, especially in a multiplayer game.
Gameplay is seemingly rather simple. Your cards are your life; the last player with cards remaining wins. Cards are either Technologies or Machines and there are limits to how many can be on the table at once. On your turn you can choose to draw so that you have 4-7 cards in your hand. This is the first clever little twist that stood out to me. It gives you control of your tempo as drawing heavily will fill your hands with options but quickly burn through your deck. Because you also have to discard one card at the end of your turn, there is also a chance you’ll be stuck deciding which of your shiny new cards will end up in the dumpster.
And boy are these cards shiny. While the layout is rather plain, a necessity because of the abilities printed on each card, the art is stunning. James Masino has created a world that is at once futuristic and vintage. It screams “space opera” and - along with the lore - helps to bring the world of War Co. to life on the table. Stealth Classic, pictured below, is one of my favorites. Not only is the art evocative of the setting but it reflects its ability thematically.
Of course, some of your most powerful plays will come from playing a card face down, hiding both the art and the card’s ability from your opponent. The number of constraints in War Co. present a strategic puzzle to both players. Energy is the primary constraint. Each player has a reserve of 10 energy that machines and technologies dip into. Barring abilities that change things, you can never have more than 10 energies worth of cards face up at any time. Generally speaking, the more directly powerful the card the more energy it takes so balancing your energy usage is critical. A resource hog of a machine may enable you to succeed on your turn’s solitary attack but if a clever opponent can remove it on their turn, you may leave yourself wide open and bleeding cards when other players pounce.
This is where playing cards face down comes into play. Not only is their power hidden, they don’t cost energy. Unaware that your 3 face down machines are relatively weak or that you don’t have the energy to power them, your opponent may attack elsewhere looking for a sure thing. Playing all your cards face down is viable, but again you’ll run into a few constraints. You’re limited to 3 machines and 2 technologies on the table no matter their facing. You also can’t freely remove your own cards - hence the above suicide mission - meaning it’s possible to draw a juicy card and have nowhere to immediately play it if you filled the field with facedown cards.
Initially these constraints felt arbitrary and gamey, like they were made out of a need to keep the game simple. Eventually I learned that managing and playing within these constraints was part of a deeper strategy and the game came to life. Cards that reduce your opponent's energy are powerful because their cards are removed in a specific order: from most recently played to earliest. You may not need to attack your opponent's super tank if you can temporarily sap his energy and force him to destroy it himself. Because cards can be revealed at any time, layers of traps abound.
Unfortunately, this does mean that early games can feel stale. I admit that after my first few games I was left with the incorrect impression that the game was flat. Game after game devolved into trading attacks with no one gaining an edge, or runaway games with someone getting a powercard to the table no one could figure out how to remove. Eventually the War Co.’s engine roared to life and cleared the fog out of the way, but it did require learning the game and the specific decks.
50 unique cards per deck, for a total of 300 cards, is impressive and provides immense variety in gameplay and combos but it also ramps up the effect of variance. If Sarah gets Slippery Slope on the table on the first turn and I don’t draw into the right cards for a while, the game can feel like a lost cause. There are ways to play around it, and multiple avenues to deal with it, but again they often are not readily apparent especially to new players. There are rules for deckbuilding that include mixing decks or doubling up on cards, but that requires additional investment.
War Co. manages to capture the cat and mouse feel of a dense card game like Netrunner while keeping the weight closer to something like Epic. It’s the kind of game you can throw in your bag to play while everyone arrives or the kind of game you can play repeatedly as you reveal your deck’s secrets. Discovering combos and manufacturing clever plays provides a steady dopamine drip on your turn and your opponent’s; knowing they can do the same thing keeps your knee bouncing and your stomach dropping as your careful plans crumble under the weight of a planet-crunching mega machine.
This review was originally posted on Ding & Dent! A list of my reviews that you can subscribe to can be found here.
Ding & Dent does not accept monetary compensation for Kickstarter reviews. I was provided prototype versions of 4 of the available decks.
- Last edited Mon Sep 5, 2016 10:40 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Mon Aug 15, 2016 4:54 pm