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Subject: Literal Dogs of War - A review of Clockwork Wars rss

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Scott Sexton
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Elevator Pitch - Dudes on a Map + Deterministic Combat + Simultaneous Unit Deployment + Super Powered Techs and Action cards = Clockwork Wars.

What is Clockwork Wars, and why haven't you heard of it?


Eagle Gryffin Games. I'm not sure what it is about this company. Their games are almost always overly produced in the components department (although one could argue their art is inconsistent at times). Thick cardboard, linen finish on everything, decent minis, above average inserts and clean graphic design. Their games typically feel highly polished mechanically. I've never bought a EGG that felt half baked or imbalanced. You constantly hear folks talk about how awesome their games are (Mystery Rummy, Baseball Highlights, Xenon Profiteer, Fantastiqa) but you never see anybody playing these games at game nights (at least not in my experience). Part of me wonders if they don't get review copies of games out to the right people. Was Jamie at The Secret Cabal sent a copy? If not, why!?! This game is up their alley and I think they would have raved about it.

Dudes on the map games are all the rage these days. You've got a hand full of modern classics from Matagot, Eric Lang, CMON, and Fantasy Flight. But, if you track down most gamers and tell them there was a Kemet quality "dudes" game out there from EGG, they'd probably look at you with a blank stare. The fact that The Dice Tower has never done a proper review is huge part of the problem, as is the utter lack of well known video/podcast reviewers (sorry Charlie T. & Discriminating Gamer). The bottom line is that this game NEEDS MORE VISIBILITY. I picked this game up at an absurd discount, which is just wrong.

I will tell you right now, Clockwork Wars is worthy of being considered in the same league as those other "dudes" essentials like Cyclades, Kemet, Inis, Blood Rage, and Nexus Ops. Clockwork Wars is a perfect example of a true gem that is flying under the radar. If you aren't doing so already, you need to be playing this game.

Before I get into my review proper, I should mention that I will also be mentioning the game Scythe. I am one of those gamers for whom Scythe just didn't click. Scythe simply lacks the joy most dudes games revel in. Scythe in short, is a depressing cold war game driven by a frustrating action selection and resource management game system. I mention Scythe now, because it is important to understand my prejudices and preferences regarding this type of game when considering my review.

What do I like about Clockwork Wars?

1- Combat resolution focuses on troop deployment and maneuvering instead of tactical card play, resource management, or dice chucking. Battles are fun, but largely deterministic. There is room for some surprise from the espionage cards (but this isn't that common), but mostly the "surprise" comes from the decisions players make about how to best reinforce their units in battle. Do I divide up my forces to try and win all the battles? Do I concentrate forces to protect the most important location? There are no dice, and very little hidden information to worry about. Combat outcome is almost entirely driven by player choices in how they manipulate open information on the board. Clockwork Wars is the most skill dependent dudes game I know of due to its interesting simultaneous deployment mechanism.



2- The art is mostly top tier, like almost Scythe good. I love the tile art. I love some of the card/tech art. The best art is every bit as good as what you find in Scythe. The game is every bit as GORGEOUS as Scythe is on the table.

3- The component quality is typical EGG quality. Very good to excellent quality in all component categories. Your game will feel like a deluxe edition. That said, the steam tank mini has droopy pipes & gun barrels.

4- Asymmetry is driven by board position and a "glass cannon" unit rather than true variable player powers. CW does something similar to Blood Rage when it comes to variable player powers. In Blood Rage, players develop asymmetrical powers through the game's draft. In CW, the asymmetry of each faction is driven by their Unique Unit (which happens to be very powerful, yet very killable) AND their starting space on the board. Your strategy in CW is typically driven by what territories are close to your Capital (or are otherwise cut off from your opponents). The board layout gives each player a unique puzzle to figure out when it comes to managing their war effort. This type of asymmetry is easy enough to balance because there are only so many territories you can be adjacent to on a hex map. If you are strong in one area of resource gathering, you will necessarily be weak in others. Example. If I have a bunch of Towers nearby, I can make it so that my faction utilizes a heavy Sorcery strategy. The trade off is that I the map layout may have it so that its harder for me to move my units into scoring hexes, or into villages to increase my unit production. The map layout gives you both variable player strategies, but also balances them in a satisfying manner.

5- Tech and Espionage cards are balanced because everything is over powered. I'm a fan of super powered cards. I find balanced, vanilla flavored cards dull and boring (I'm looking at you La Granja). The beauty of 99% of the game cards used in CW is that they are all stupidly broken. It is just plain fun to draw a card or buy a tech that does something amazing. Going after Tech and/or Espionage is a must in this game. You can't just play it as a shoving match on the map. You must be clever in balancing your power growth (through tech & espionage) so that you can dominate the struggle to generate VP on the map. I have read the criticism that many techs and espionage cards are situation. Some of them definitely are, however, I have yet to see a card in this game that you can't MAKE useful. If you get a card that isn't immediately useful, you can always push the game in a way to make the card useful later on in the game. This is basic strategic planning.

6- CW is a epic feeling game without the epic play time. Once you get the rules out of the way, CW plays lightning quick. As the game progresses (especially in scoring rounds) things may slow down a bit during deployment if you have a player prone to AP, but even then things don't bog down completely.

7- CW makes you feel smart and does a great job of sucking you into the theme. Nothing feels quite as good as having a plan coming together just right. Every round you'll have a chance to out guess your enemies through clever deployment, or racing to get a perfect tech for your faction. I wish I could offer better words to explain just how good it feels to issue good orders during the deployment phase. The deployment phase is also, by far, the most thematically immersive part of the game. I feel like I'm drawing up military orders and devising battle plans. I believe Eric Lang is credited as saying that he tries to design games with the goal of making players feel empowered, and that a sense of empowerment through gaming creates a more enjoyable experience for players. This is something CW has in spades.

8- CW does a fine job of offering both fun tactical decisions AND satisfying strategic payoff moments. There are tons of games that offer either tactical or strategic decisions (and many more that offer both). What many game designs don't get is how to do tactical/strategic decisions correctly. Tactical decisions should be fun, and never overwhelming. They should have meaning. They should be visceral and at times bloody. Strategic decisions are all about the eventual payoff. They are a slow drip of small or seemingly insignificant choices that eventually come together in a triumphant crescendo. The tactical decisions CW gets right are the ones where you struggle to out guess your opponent. Pulling off the perfect trap, or pushing into your enemy's territory at just the right hex is a thing of pure joy. The strategic machinations of CW are every bit as grand. Building your resources to pull off that perfect broken combo in the third age that you started planning for on turn one is a thing of beauty. Its even better when your opponent doesn't even see the hammer coming.

9- Polish. This game has undergone refinement and it is plainly apparent from the lack of rough edges in the game play. The game FEELS like it has been worked over by a game developer, properly tested, and balanced. I am always happy to own and experience a game that feels like a completed project (I'm eyeing you Portal games) without fear that I'll need to worry about a second edition coming out in a few years.

10- I can't overstate how much fun and fresh the simultaneous deployment is in this game. Each turn you secretly decide where to deploy your troops at the same times your opponents do. Do you deploy your troops tactically, where you are looking just to win battles and hold your enemies at bay? Do you deploy troops strategically where you are willing to concede board dominance in exchange for long term gains? What is my opponent going to do, and how do I take advantage of that? These are great decision moments that have great emotional payoffs.

What are my criticisms about Clockwork Wars?


Note, when I say criticisms, these are things I don't necessarily dislike about the game, rather, I'm hoping to point out things I think that could be turn offs for other gamers.

1- I wish the card/tech art were a tiny bit more consistent and better. This is a stupid critique. The tile art is all GORGEOUS (on par with Scythe). Some of the tech/card art is GORGEOUS (again, on par with Scythe - I mean, check out the Golem). Unfortunately, not all the art used is quite as AMAZING as the high points. You have to expect this from any game that uses multiple artists to do the artwork. I want to emphasize that NONE of the artwork I've seen in CW is BAD per se, its just that the good artwork doesn't look as good when its put next to truly AMAZING artwork.

2- This game doesn't forgive stupidity or hubris. Bold moves are almost never the right moves to make in CW. The smart move is the clever, unexpected move. The smart move is the one that sets you up for long term gains. Ill advised moves, especially early in the game can leave you playing catch up the entire game. Now, I should say that the game dolls out VP at a trickle, so it doesn't FEEL like you are truly out of the game at any point, but you are going to need some help if you want to have a shot at winning. This isn't a big deal IMHO, but I do know players who will be upset that they are out of the game because they did something ill advised in the second round and had a TPK moment.

3- I think that some people may think the deployment phase is too much of a guessing game and therefore ultimately is too random. I personally, completely disagree with this point, but I think there are enough sour pusses out there who would make this argument. There is a definite skill in figuring out how to best position your units early in the game to maximize resource gathering. There is also a definite skill in figuring out how to deploy your units defensively. There is also a skill in making educated guesses about when and how to go after your opponents' positions on the board. If a player is unable to figure out the nuance of a game like this, that is on the player, not the game.

4- The Unique Units are glass cannons. Every faction has these amazing unique units, and it is easier to get them killed off then it is to keep them alive. I think that this is going to be a point of frustration for some players. I personally find that it is part of the charm of the game. It is certainly the balancing trade off one should pay for having super powered units you can play for free.

5- This game has a LOT of stuff to teach. I really wish there was a good teaching video for this game. I so wish Rodney Smith would do a rules video. EGG could easily be on their second print run of this game if they'd hired Rodney to do a video for them. Yes, the designer does have a good video for learning most of the game, but I don't feel it does a good enough job so that I could simply send out a link to my game group and have them watch it ahead of time so we can avoid doing a full rules run through. Each round has several phases. Many phases have 3 sub-phases. Then you have the action draft in the spymaster phase where you need to fully explain all 6 options you can draft. Then you need to explain all the tech cards, all the general cards, all the Court rewards available, and all the unique unit powers. Then you have tricky rules that require a bit extra explaining like "being in supply/attrition" or "forced marches". That is A LOT of detail to go through. To do a proper job of teaching this game, I feel it takes at least 20 minutes probably more.

6- The insert isn't card sleeving friendly. I know that EGG tries to make their inserts sleeve friendly, but they aren't. You can fit the sleeved cards in the box, but you'll curl the corners of the sleeves, which wear them out faster and make it harder to shuffle. Luckily, this game requires only minimal shuffling, so I've decided (with much angst) not to sleeve the game.

7- Two words, wooden disks. I would rather have had little figures instead of the wooden disks (think Kemet sized troop units). The disks just don't fit aesthetically in this game. Maybe I've just been spoiled by pretty much every dudes game since Nexus Ops, but the disks just don't look as nice to me. This is made all the worse if you get the mini figures for the unique units. Those look sooo much better on the map.

Conclusion -


Every once and a while I run into a game that just fits me like a silk glove. Clockwork Wars is one of those games for me. Everything about this game feels like a luxury board game. Not just the components mind you, but the game itself. Yes, there are a lot of rules that power this game, but in practice, they run so very smoothly that you forget about the time you invested learning the system. Better yet, the complexity of the rules is there to serve the game play experience. The rules, as they exist, always serve to make for a more enriched experience. Just like some of my other favorite games, CW's rule set just makes sense once you get it, and the depth and richness of the game play is both rewarding and highly satisfying. This is a medium weight game that offers a much meatier experience then what you will find in similarly weighted games.

Are you the type of gamer who enjoys gorgeous dudes on a map style games? Do you enjoy immersive gaming experiences that allow you to make satisfying decisions? Have you enjoyed the recent resurgence of dudes on a map games in recent years? If so, Clockwork Wars deserves your attention. Don't let this game pass by you. Don't let this become an out of print gem that doubles in value on the secondary market. Get this game. Love this game. Become an evangelist for this game! BGG rating - 9.0.
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Ben Rubinstein

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It is a great game! But so is the game that is literally named Dogs of War. They're two of my favorites
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CARL SKUTSCH
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I find this review deeply annoying. I'm trying to cut back on gaming purchases and you are not helping one little bit! Grrrrr!

Seriously, nice review. Well written and organized (without all that: "here are all the rules" stuff that I just can't stand). If I was in my binge buying phase I would have already clicked "buy" six seconds after reading your review. As it is, I'm going to think about it, maybe putting it on my Xmas list.

Any words on how it plays 2 player?

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Darren Prestoe
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Yes great review of a great game, probably our groups most played and enjoyed game. Only played with 3, 4 and 5 player count so cant comment on 2 player, but I would think it would be just as enjoyable.
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Ben Rubinstein

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Well you should get it, because it's amazing.

Although, while I've never played it 2 player, I don't think it would shine. This game is very punishing about mistakes. Runaway leaders can occur. But they're self-balanced in 3 or 4 players.
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Hassan Lopez
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Scott, thanks so much for taking the to write such a lengthy, balanced review. It's a great feeling reading a positive review like this! I hope it gets more people to check out the game.
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Rock Bronson

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skutsch wrote:
Any words on how it plays 2 player?


I've played 2 player quite a bit and with equally experienced players it's awesome. If you're a bit more experinced than the person you're playing with, you might want to give them a game to get warmed up. The game systems click pretty quick, but as the reviewer mentioned CW doesn't favor the foolhardy, and practice reading your opponents can make a big difference on the board.
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Randolph Bookman
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skutsch wrote:
I find this review deeply annoying. I'm trying to cut back on gaming purchases and you are not helping one little bit! Grrrrr!

Seriously, nice review. Well written and organized (without all that: "here are all the rules" stuff that I just can't stand). If I was in my binge buying phase I would have already clicked "buy" six seconds after reading your review. As it is, I'm going to think about it, maybe putting it on my Xmas list.

Any words on how it plays 2 player?



My friend swears it is a two player game with Multiplayer tagged on for game sales. He won't play it with more than two.

I haven't played so I can't say, but I'm curious is it a game where if there are 3 players the one that doesn't fight wins?


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Scott Sexton
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shieldwolf wrote:
skutsch wrote:
I find this review deeply annoying. I'm trying to cut back on gaming purchases and you are not helping one little bit! Grrrrr!

Seriously, nice review. Well written and organized (without all that: "here are all the rules" stuff that I just can't stand). If I was in my binge buying phase I would have already clicked "buy" six seconds after reading your review. As it is, I'm going to think about it, maybe putting it on my Xmas list.

Any words on how it plays 2 player?



My friend swears it is a two player game with Multiplayer tagged on for game sales. He won't play it with more than two.

I haven't played so I can't say, but I'm curious is it a game where if there are 3 players the one that doesn't fight wins?




Your friend is crazy. I actually like it best at 4 & 5 players. I think the 2 player experience is somewhat dependent on how familiar the players are with this sort of game and what map is used. If you start out further away from one another, it allows both players to get their soldiers on the board for a round or two before the fights break out (and makes it harder for a single player to run away with things). Three player could devolve so that a single player wins because they kept their head down, BUT I've not had this happen so far. People forget that its VP that win this game, not battles. Knowing who and when to go after your opponents is part of the skill of this game.
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Ben Rubinstein

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shieldwolf wrote:
skutsch wrote:
I find this review deeply annoying. I'm trying to cut back on gaming purchases and you are not helping one little bit! Grrrrr!

Seriously, nice review. Well written and organized (without all that: "here are all the rules" stuff that I just can't stand). If I was in my binge buying phase I would have already clicked "buy" six seconds after reading your review. As it is, I'm going to think about it, maybe putting it on my Xmas list.

Any words on how it plays 2 player?



My friend swears it is a two player game with Multiplayer tagged on for game sales. He won't play it with more than two.

I haven't played so I can't say, but I'm curious is it a game where if there are 3 players the one that doesn't fight wins?


Your friend is crazy. In two players, a runaway victor is quite likely. It's hard to come back once you get behind.

In a 3 player game, if a person is left alone, yes they will probably win. But that's true of most area control games. Don't let anyone stay left alone.
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CARL SKUTSCH
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Ok, I bought it, partly because of your review. And...

It's good, it's quite good. Fun, quick, slight Euro flavor but enough theme to make it go down smooth. I really am surprised this hasn't gotten more exposure.
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