It's August 2nd, 1914 and the General Mobilization Order has been declared. You and your buddies must assemble and be drafted into the armed forces to fight in the Great War! Will all of you survive? Welcome to The Grizzled!
Box cover art of The Grizzled
The Grizzled is a cooperative game for 2-5 players set in the First World War. It was designed in France and is published/distributed in the United States by Cool Mini or Not (CMoN). The basic idea is that a bunch of buddies drafted into the war must survive a number of missions and stay alive until the war ends. The art is evocative of the Great War without being unnecessary disturbing or graphic.
Two examples of Trial cards and a Grizzled card. The Trial card on the left has the Mask and Whistle threat, the Trial card on the top right has the Whistle and Snow threat.
Rules and Components
The rulebook is short (about 9 pages of rules with a few supplemental pages) and concise. It has plenty of examples and graphics to explain any possible rules questions that might arise. The components include 6 Grizzled cards (the players), 59 Trial cards, a Peace card, a Monument card, some cardboard Support tokens, a handful of Speech tokens, a Mission Leader standee, and a cardboard Game Aid (which shows an overview of the turn's components.) The production value is quite nice! The art is excellent and the components are all sturdy. The components also fit back into the box quite nicely.
In short, the object of the game is for the players to successfully survive all the Trials and reach the Peace card (which is on the bottom of the Trials pile). If the cards in the Morale Reserve run out before the Trials Pile, the Monument card is revealed (which is on the bottom of the Morale Reserve) and the players lose. The implication is that the Peace card represents the end of the Great War and the Monument card represents the death of the players before the war's end.
At the start of the game the 59 Trial cards are divided into 25 into the Trials pile and 34 into the Morale Reserve (with the aforementioned Peace and Monument cards slipped underneath their respective piles). The players choose their Grizzled character cards and the game begins.
The game is played through successive Missions. Each mission has 4 steps: Preparation, The Mission, Support, and Morale Drop.
Preparation: The Mission Leader decides how many cards each player is dealt from the Trials Pile, with a minimum of 1. The game's first mission always has a minimum of 3 cards.
The Mission: The players in turn take a single action. The most common is to play a card from their hand. Threats go into the No Man's Land and Hard Knocks are assigned to a player. This continues until either all players have withdrawn or there are 3 identical Threats in No Man's Land. Players may also take actions to use a Good Luck Charm and Make a Speech to remove Threats or Withdraw from the mission and play a Support tile. If all players withdraw the Mission is successful and the cards in No Man's Land are discarded. If 3 identical threats are present the Mission fails and the threats in No Man's Land are shuffled back into the Trials pile.
Support: Any played Support Tiles are revealed. Each Support Tile points to the left or right of the player who placed it, thus supporting a fellow player to whom the tile is passed. If one player gets more support than any other, they can remove up to 2 Hard Knocks or recover their Good Luck Charm. If any player has 4 Hard Knocks after the Support phase, the game is lost.
Morale Drop: The total number of cards still remaining in all the players' hands is determined and an equal number of cards are now transferred from the Morale Reserve to the Trials pile.
Two examples of Hard Knocks
If at any point the Peace card is visible AND the players have no cards in their hands, the game is won. As soon as the Monument card is visible, the players lose.
This game is all about card/hand management. The basic tension is that players want to empty their hands each mission BUT by doing so they are forced to play Hard Knocks (which make the game harder and harder) and to place Threats in the No Man's Land (thus making it more likely to see 3 identical threats pop up and fail the Mission). Withdrawing from a Mission too early means the players might have a successful Mission but will have a lot of cards in their hands, thus moving a large number of cards from the Morale Reserve to the Trials pile. If the players do not withdraw early enough, they might be forced to play a 3rd identical Threat and thus fail a Mission and end up shuffling the Threat cards back into the Trials pile. In general, each Mission you want to discard more cards from the No Man's Land/Hard Knocks than you move from the Morale Reserve into the Trials pile--thus slowly whittling away at the Trials pile to reveal the Peace card.
So, it's all about figuring out how many Trial cards to distribute at the start of each mission. If you have no cards but another player has 3, during Preparation should you allocate only 1 additional card to each player or do you push it by allocating 2, 3, or even 4+? Do you still have a Good Luck Charm, maybe you can distribute more cards? Does one player has 3 Hard Knocks already, maybe you shouldn't load up their hand? Tough, tough decisions must be made.
What a 3-player game looks like at the end of a successful game. My Grizzled (Lazare) is at the bottom with 3 Hard Knocks! Note that the player on the top had Withdrawn before the last Threat with a Whistle was played--so the Phobia card with a Whistle was no longer active.
An added level of complexity is the Support system. Managing the flow of Support tiles is key to getting rid of Hard Knocks and recovering Good Luck Charms. If you keep giving Support to one player, that player will end up with most of the Support tiles. If they don't Withdraw in a mission, no support will be given out. And of course, if you keep giving Support to your Left, you will run out of Left pointing tiles and thus no longer be able to give any support to the player on your left.
And key to The Grizzled is that players cannot reveal the cards in their hand. This secrecy makes the game a bit harder as active coordination is not possible. To make matters worse, in one game I got the Mute Hard Knock and couldn't communicate in any way to the others players until I got rid of it.
The Grizzled is basically a multi-player cooperative puzzle disguised as a card game. The only random element in the game is the order of the Trails pile--which can of course make a game harder or easier based on which cards are drawn. The game is much more about effectively managing how many cards are in the players' hands, not letting too many Hard Knocks pile up on one player, managing Support tiles, and figuring out the proper time to Withdraw from a mission.
It took about 2 Missions before we figured out how to manage all these issues. Playing at the Rookie level (there are no Traps--which forces the automatic and mandatory play of a card from the Trials pile) quickly became pretty easy. I do though recommend that players start on the Rookie level, even if you are experienced gamers, just to get the rhythm of a game of The Grizzled. Traps are active in the Normal Game and can upset even the best of plans.
The Grizzled is a challenging game and one in which players must truly try and cooperate. The secrecy about what cards are in hand prevents one player from "solving the puzzle" and then telling everyone else what to do...a typical problem in most other cooperative games (cough cough Pandemic cough cough).
Playing the game is fun and not overly long. The box estimates 30 minutes but our games took longer--mainly because we did not rush playing cards. Sometimes you really need to think about the puzzle in front of you and reason out the best action to take. There are great moments in the game when you play that Snow & Whistle threat that you thought was safe to play and the next player groans loudly--you then realize that the only cards they have in hand must be Snow/Whistle and that you have just accidentally jeopardized the Mission.
So give this game a try as it isn't very expensive. You can pick it up at List Price $24.99 at most game stores or find it at online retailers for about $16-19. Once you have your copy, I wish you luck as you try to survive the Great War!
For more reviews, as well as other posts, head over to the blog of the Toledo Tuesdays Gaming Club Toledotuesdays.com