Six friends find themselves deep within the hardships of war. You and your comrades must face your deepest fears as you attempt to survive.
Style of Game: Thematic
Play Time: 30 minutes
Number of Players: 2-5
Main Mechanics: Cooperative Play, Hand Management, Press Your Luck, Variable Player Powers
THEME AND MECHANISMS:
I don't see a real blend of the theme and any individual mechanism but when you consider the way all the mechanisms work together to create an atmosphere that resembles difficulties, I can see the theme. Now, this is obviously a sensitive theme that deserves respect and tact when doing anything that involves it so I can appreciate the abstracted feel of the game in certain areas. The designers did a very nice job of using abstraction yet conveying the message of the game.
The Grizzled is not a complex game mechanically. Each player will receive a Grizzled Card which represents which solder they are in the game. Each of these cards has a Good Luck Charm (green shamrock) side and a regular side for when the Good Luck Charm has been used.
Next, players will receive 3 Support Tokens at random. In a two-player game some of these are removed frrom player beforehand.
Next, the Speech Tokens should be placed in the middle of the table (number determined by player count) and the Monument Card and the Peace Card should be placed within reach of all players.
Monument Card and Peace Card
Finally, 25 Trial Cards (below) should be placed on the Peace Card (20 with two players) and the remaining 34 Trial Cards should be placed on the Monument Card. There are two types of Trial Cards: Threat Cards and Hard Knocks. Also, give the first player the Mission Leader Token.
Threat Cards will be played to the middle of the table (No Man's Land) and Hard Knocks will be assigned to the players. There are 6 different types of threats. Cards will have multiple types of threats represented. The Whistles function slightly differently and there are some cards with Traps but those will not be discussed in this overview.
You are now ready to play. The Mission Leader will decide the Intensity of the first mission by deciding how many cards each player will receive from the Trial pile on the Peace Card. In the first mission there is a minimum of 3 cards, after the first mission the minimum is 1 card per mission. Once all players have received the number of cards chosen by the Mission Leader players will take turns performing 1 of 4 actions on their turn.
1. Play a Trial Card: If performing this action the player places one Threat Card from his or her hand into No Man's Land (middle of the table) or assigns one Hard Knock Card to his or her Grizzled Card (character card). The player should then make sure that there are not 3 identical Threat symbols in No Man's Land.
2. Use Good Luck Charm: A player may only perform this action if their Grizzled Card is still face-up with the Shamrock showing. If performing the action the player may removed one card from No Man's Land that has the same threat symbol as the Good Luck Charm indicates.
3. Use a Speech Token: A player may only perform this action if he or she has a speech token. If performing this action the player may announce a threat symbol. All players may then remove on card from their hands that have the threat symbol on it. The player should then remove the speech token from the game, unless playing with two players.
4. Withdrawal and Support: Instead of playing a card, the player will stop playing cards of any type and choose a Support Token to use at the end of the mission. The Support Token should be placed face-down on the player's Grizzled Card and the player will no longer take any actions in the current mission.
A mission can end in two ways. The first is that all players have withdrawn. In this case the mission is a success. All cards that are in No Man's Land are discarded (removed from the game). Players will then reveal their chosen Support Tokens (assuming all player's had a Support Token. There are cases when a player will not have a Support Token to play). Players will then pass their Support Tokens to the player that is to receive their Support Token based on the arrows on the token. If one player has received more Support than all other players that player is allowed to remove two Hard Knock cards from his or her Grizzled Card OR he or she may flip over a Grizzled Card to get his or her Good Luck Charm back.
The second way a mission can end is if three identical Threat Symbols have been played to No Man's Land (counting hard knock cards). In this case the mission is a failure and all cards in No Man's Land will be shuffled back into the Trial pile on the Peace Card. The Support Tokens are played the same way but now if a player receives the most Support, he or she is ONLY allowed to remove 1 Hard Knock card from his or her Grizzled Card.
Whether the mission is a success or failure the players will then count how many cards are still remaining in the player's hands. Once totaled, that many Trial Cards are moved from the Monument Card to the Peace Card. There is a minimum of 3 Trial Cards that must be moved at the end of each mission. Players will then pass the Mission Leader Token to the player on the left (assuming there is no restriction in doing so). The player that passes the Mission Leader Token will then collect a Speech Token from the middle of the table to use on future missions.
The game can immediately end in three ways. Two result in defeat and one results in victory.
1. After the resolution of Support, one player has 4 hard knock cards assigned to his or her Grizzled Card.
2. All Trial Cards have been removed from the Monument Card and it is visible.
1. All Trial Cards have been removed from the Peace Card to start the round AND players have managed to play all cards from all hands by the end of that mission.
My assessment of board games is broken into three core areas: Depth of Strategy, Quality of Design, and Replayability.
Let me start by saying I am not a savvy veteran of The Grizzled. I am sure there are some ways to approach the game and groups can try to stick to an overall idea of strategy, but when I play I don't feel strategical as much as I feel tactical. Hoping to be able to play the right card on my turn or adjust No Man's Land effectively for my other players by using my Good Luck Charm or a Speech Token. I think with the game being cooperative and yet the vital information each player knows must be secret deters from a group's strategy, but does make the game more difficult and enjoyable. Often times I find myself playing a card and just wincing as I wait for the reaction of the other players. Maybe that's my fault as a player, but I feel like it's either that or play a card I KNOW is good or play a card that will DEFINITELY fail the mission. There just aren't a ton of decisions to make regarding the Threat Cards in your hand.
Where I find the enjoyable (or not so enjoyable ) decisions are to be made are in the Hard Knock cards. These decisions will not only press your limits for anguish, they will show you the true colors of some of your comrades. The theme and design of this game create a sense of sacrifice and yet those Hard Knock cards will bring out the whimpers of those players not so keen on taking hits.
At the end of the day I would say there is a low amount of strategy but that doesn't mean you are going to win by clumsily wandering through this game. You will rely on a little luck in your cards (albeit there are ways to mitigate the luck) and you will have to have well-timed tactical moves to have any chance of winning this game.
Depth of Strategy:
2.0 = The game appears strategical but is really more tactical.
The Grizzled has one MAJOR factor that is both a huge contributor to it's replayability and a detriment to it's replayability. The Grizzled is HARD. Possibly as hard as any cooperative I have played. For me, and I believe a lot of other players out there, difficulty is an attraction. I like to know that I am going to have to earn a win when I play a cooperative game or competitive game. Therefore, when I do not win easily and seldom win at all, I like the challenge of trying to beat the game. It encourages me... No. It calls for me to play it until I do beat it. I think the Grizzled's difficulty and replayability stem from the design but the overall replayability is driven by the difficulty to beat the game, for me anyway.
Now, this difficulty level is great for me and many others but it is as equally bad for others. There are people that prioritize winning over fun and thus, there are people that simply do not like to play a game they don't think they can win. Right or wrong, the mentality is real and it hurts the replayability of difficult cooperative games.
There is a second issue with games that are driven by the thrill of trying to beat them and that is that once you have beaten them, the thrill is typically lost. The Grizzled is quick enough, easy enough to learn, and a strong enough design, that I don't think this will be the case very often but if you have found yourself letting a defeated nemesis sit on the bottom shelf, you may want to consider this before purchasing The Grizzled.
At the end of the day, I am going to give the game high marks on replayability with the caveat that if you KNOW you or your group suffers from either of the warnings above, it may suffer some for you.
4.5 = A go-to in almost any situation.
Cooperative: I get very little cooperative feel from this game. It obviously isn't competitive but I seldom find myself working with the other player to organize a plan of action. Instead, I find myself organizing my tactics for each turn and hoping that the other players don't mess up my plans too much. This may be a negative and if it is to you, that is fair. However, this is a HUGE positive for me. There is zero alpha gamer problem in this game because you shouldn't discuss your cards with your comrades. Therefore, I, and everyone else, has to make their own decisions!
Hand Management: The hand management aspect of this game is very intriguing to me. There are two very different elements of the hand management. One on hand you are playing Threat Cards to a pool of cards. This portion of the mechanism is not all that thrilling. It is difficult, but it is extremely restricting. Sometimes I do get to make a decision but I seldom make a tough decision on back-to-back turns. As I stated earlier, I either KNOW the card is a good choice or I have no cards that will help. Now, that is redeemed by Speech Tokens and Good Luck Charms but it just prolongs my lack of decision making to a later turn. The second portion of hand management, the Hard Knocks, is what actually makes the decision-making engaging. Deciding if you can handle the effects of the Hard Knocks Cards and how to are going to handle the effects is what makes for difficult decisions in the Hand Management. You also have a level of planning involved with the Hand Management mechanism because you have to try to account for how many cards you are going to keep in your hand because that mechanism alone is what drives the game forward or backward. This is is because the Trial Cards are moved from the Monument Card to the Peace Card based on how many cards are left in the player's hands at the end of a mission.
Press Your Luck I'm not sure how much press your luck I feel when I play this game. It may be present mechanically, but I usually don't feel like I am doing something that isn't tactically logical. There are some Hard Knock cards that create more a press your luck feeling but I don't know that I would ever describe this game as press your luck when trying to convince someone to play it because I think I would end up answering the question... "Where is the press your luck?" It is certainly difficult and you constantly feel desperate but I don't think it creates the typical board game feel of press your luck.
Variable Player Power: This is unique because never have I seen less "variable" player powers be MORE significant in a game. You basically pick your variable player power based on what you think will be useful but since all the threats are distributed with balance, you are really just hoping to be helpful at the right time.
Quality of Design:
4 = A good design that engages the player for several plays.
My final thoughts are going to address something I find interesting about The Grizzled. This game has solid mechanisms that blend together to make a good experience. However, it is transferring of Trial Cards from the Monument Card to the Peace Card that drives the whole game and yet it isn't even mentioned as a mechanism. I'm not sure I know what you'd call the mechanism, but there's no denying that is plays a MAJOR role in the game. Half or more than half your decisions directly influence or are directly by the cards being transferred. If you do not plan accordingly or choose wisely you can find yourself in that perpetual game of War you used to play as a kid... slowly making your way to the Peace Card... quickly falling behind... slowly making a dent in your opponent's stack... quickly falling behind. This is only the case on the Peace Card pile. The good thing is, you won't be stuck in the fluctuation forever because unlike War there is a factor (the Monument Card) that constantly drives the game forward. This makes the whole group feel that additional pressure as the game progresses.
I'll end with this... The Grizzled is worth the low price tag. It is actually worth a higher price tag. If you like card games you should try it. If you like cooperative card games you should buy it. With the caveats beings the warnings I provided about difficulty and a potential sudden loss of replayability.
Overall Rating -
The Grizzled will be my nemesis until I feel I have a strangle-hold on the game.
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A very well thought, well written, and articulate review!
Have you tried the expansion? Though it may not be for you as it helps to make the game a tad easier!
I have not tried the expansion but have heard really good things. I would be up for trying it if I ever get the opportunity. Thank you for the kind words.