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Subject: Cry Havoc Review by Oakwolf - after 11 games rss

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Oak Wolf
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Cry Havoc Review – 11 games later

I just wish to leave my opinion on this game, since it’s been played alot in the last weeks here and i think it’s worth sharing our findings and maybe, help people decide if they want to try it or not. Since there’s quite a bit of reviews on the net at the moment, and by much better reviewers than me, there's alot of information already available.

The premise
Cry Havoc is an assymetrical area control game that pits 2 to 4 factions against each other to contest over a resrouce that is spread over the game board. The game is not long compared to many of the genre, and this might actually surprise veterans of such games. There is little « buid up » or « preparation » before a player’s choice of action impact the outcome of the game, even for the slower factions. For newcomers, this game might be seen as a quickie due to how simple the rules appear to be…but underneath it’s clean graphics and relatively easy to go by rules, there’s alot of depth and it may seem like a faction is stronger than the rest. Let’s talk about that.

Does it actually work?

Short answer : Yes, the game works well enough.

Long answer: Yes it does, but there's a catch!

This game has a hidden learning curve that is quite steep right at the beginning. You may know the rules by heart, have read the guides on this forum a few times, but you need to get on the table many times to really start learning how to play each faction, let alone mastering them. In fact, the rules are relatively simple (to me at least), but even if you’ve won a couple times, repeating the same moves will eventually be countered by the other races and that’s one thing i like about the game : all races can compete in their way. What needs to be clearly stated is that how you start the game will have impact later on, and if you let one faction start off well, they might take off early or end strong.

Something that frustrated me at first is that the game can sometimes make you think that you are playing very well, in fact you may be leading the game by a decent margin or your army may be in a seriously good position, but be completely crushed on the last turn without seeing it coming. This will happen while you are on the learning curve, and you will not expect some factions to litterally bounce up in victory points or to loose key battles because you’ve spent all cards. The game won’t tell you that your 3-4 initial actions were actually not great and you’ll pay for it later when you forgot about them. The game does not forgive, nor it will hint that you are actually loosing the edge. I felt compelled to ask for answers about balance myself on these forums at first, but...it's really actual game time that resolved that question for me.

Two factions are late-bloomers (Machines and Pilgrims), while the two others must start strong (Humans and Trogs). By now, i actually see the threats much better, and my actions to prevent the « bloom » of a faction start right off the first round. My favorite faction is the machines, and i must try to balance the power of the other factions in order to « prepare » them for my massive invasion at the end of the game. You get between 12 and 15 actions in the whole game, and every one of them count from start to finish.

Humans are more obvious to « catch » early, and there are a few threads of them being too powerful. I feel that this is not quite precise after many games; The learning curve of the late-blooming faction is longer than it is for humans so this might make it harder. There’s more decisions to make before their strategies pay off. This may lead the human player to win more games at first, and is why i also agree with what seems to be the general concensus here; give them to new players.

I really recommend to use the default skills for a while (and not just a few games). Adding more skills add more complex interactions to the game and each skill becomes an additional (!) factor to assess when you choose your actions. Combine this with the different learning curve i mentionned above and you get really tough decisions to make each round. Also, if you want to compare games and evaluate the strenght of a faction, always mention what skills were available and the number of players, as it can change opportunities simply by introducing or removing one of the skills. Simply put, you can't evaluate a faction's balance by its performance in a different scenario, and without the whole game sequence, it's impossible to know if someone actually made a mistake that allowed one faction to take the lead or make one fail to bloom.

This game may lead to analysis paralysis. So while the actions available are simple and a new player will be able to pick one relatively quick, the resource management is complex and the factors that will let you identify the ideal action to take at every moment of the game will rarely be identical. The situation will usually be different, every round, every turn.

This is a big deal for this game. I used the words often in the wall of text above, but it has to be stated again. There’s huge depth in decision making in this game. Where to send your troops, when to spend your cards, what terrain tactics to draw, which regions to focus in…when, where and who to attack, what structure to activate. There’s alot of choices, and it all depends on who you are fighting, what units or structure they have, what are their apparent intentions, how many cards they have, where are the crystals, what turn it is, who has the initiative and how many actions are left in the round. And i could go on like this for a while. It does speak volumes on the replayability of the game. At the end of most of our games, i was just thinking about what i would do next time…see, the game tricks me into thinking that there’s a formula for each faction (like those computer RTS), while in retrospect, it’s really adaptation and opportunity.


The factions

There’s 4 of them, and as you probably already know, the Trogs (planet’s native race) is only available to be played with 4 players. Humans, Machines and Pilgrim are always available. There’s even a different board to play on the 2player format. Playing this game with 2 players will be very different than 3, and also very different than 4. I’ve noticed , at least its my personal experience, that the factions strenght and abilities, while remaining the same, need to be played differently when going on the 2p mode. Some tactics, while still highly relevent, may be harder to achieve and others may be more required.
I really like how they’ve made each factions feel completely different. The Sci-Fi theme adds to the sense that you are not playing the same race at all.

Humans

Humans are encroachers (just like on our own planet…some would say). This faction likes to start strong and keep up there. They spread like crazy and others will need to stop them and work toward doing so very early. The focus of their base deck is movement, but they have no other means of bringing troops to the front lines so they will need to make good use of the cards. Their structures allow for major area control facilitation, and through watch towers and artillery batteries, deter opponents from entering some regions. Their weakness is that once their control is spread out, they may have problems defending it. Often humans find themselves outnumbered at the edge of their influence, but if supported by structures, they will not be easy prey. Their default skill is their method of generating victory points outside scoring. This skill does come with a cost though (1 card need to be discarded), and using it too often will leave you with a lesser ability to act or fight. Used in conjunction with the Enable scoring action, humans can generate an impressive amount of victory points in a single turn. It also paints a bright « target » sign on their heads, too, so be careful with it.

Pilgrims
Described as « euro » styled online, i am not too sure what that means (new to bgg, old to gaming). I find the pilgrims require a passive-aggressive stance, and being good with them means you know what stance to take at every point in the game. That’s no easy task. They need to set up their industry to generate victory points, but also to find a good spot where to do so, and make sure there’s not too much action where it is. This make them late-bloomers in the proper sense, as they prepare the terrain for the end game. They can still fight well enough, and have card-drawing mechanics to make sure that the same cards will return before the game is over. This means pilgrims have a tendency to have more cards left for battle than other factions. They are the only race without a focus toward an action type (move, recruit, build) and as a result, their actions are card-intensive. VP generation is made through owning crystal filled regions, but they can extract the crystals and build their own pool of it. If left to create a big pool, pilgrims can win the game so other factions will need to harass them just enough to slow their productivity.

Machines
This faction is often described as the hardest to play. I’d agree, and mention that it doesn’t mean the others are easy. It just means to me that they are even harder. Guides on these forum will help you learn the basics and fundamentals of the machines, but suffice to say that they can create favorable battles with ease, and are about the only race to do so reliably. Logically, their focus is the build action, and apart from moving, they need little else to expand and compete. In our games they had the most difficulty winning, but i suspect that they also have the longest learning curve. Since their path to victory is only unfolding around the last turn of the game, there is just more things that can go wrong before it happens. When it does happen, it's amazing to see how much VP they can score just by moving the right pieces in the right places.

Trogs

We’ve not yet experienced the game with a trog player, so i won’t comment on them for now from a player’s perspective. I do know that their deck focus is the recruit action, and also have the largest available reserve. One would do well to read the guide in these forums to get a better idea. As a non-player faction, they are still dangerous and Trog War parties and Nests really play a big part of the game. Attacking trogs is the main way of finding crystals. Knowing what to do when fighting or controlling trogs (the player to your left in 2-3p games) can help you alot. Again, another resource management decision has to be weighted in : you can spend your tactic cards for trogs when you control them. This may slow down an opponent just enough for your own forces to achieve their objectives…or cost you too much for what the card is worth. In 2-3p games, the player that is controlling trogs must be careful not to let too many of them fall prisoners, as they have no way of rescuing them afterward. If this occurs early, it might give too many victory points to the opponent.


Battles
I am going to say here that it’s one of the most interesting concept of the game. A battle with no dice that is full of choices and some unpredictable twists. You choose what objective your troops will work for, and the opponent does the same. The defender has an advantage here so the attacker would be well advised to send more troops or have more tactic cards than the opponent, otherwise odds are against him. You can focus on area control, capturing a prisonner, or just killing stuff. Every objective is good, but typically you won’t have enough troops to achieve success in all of them.

Furthermore, there’s tactics cards which will spice it up. While slightly random in the sense that tactic cards are drawn, the number of actual possible events is not too many (around 6). Tactics cards are very powerful, especially the terrain-specific ones. This means you need to manage how many cards you have left, and assume that if you saw the Machines draw alot from the Mountain deck, then they’ll be much stronger in that territory type of regions. You don’t control totally what cards you get (you still draw 2 and keep 1), but it’s up to you to create the situation where those card will be useful and you can always use it as part of an action if you don't need it during a battle. Some races have an affinity for a terrain type (e.g. Machines love mountains) Once you figure out the possibilities, it all comes together. There’s little else to do than give thumbs up to whoever came with the idea for this system, it’s brilliant.

Overall
Cry Havoc has been received very well in our game circle, and so far is the main board game we are putting on the table since we received it. It seems to check alot of boxes to satisfy a gaming itch.

There’s quite a few reasons for that, but one of them is that it’s the only area control strategic game we have that can be played on week evenings (everyone has jobs, kids, families, etc.).

I salute the designers who dared innovating with the genre and provided a fast, easy to grab but deeply complex strategy game…that is exciting without the use of dice. It’s not for everyone, and it might trigger some frustration as you learn your faction at the same time as you learn the game (double learning curves!). As stated above, this may lead to the sensation that one faction is more powerful. But give it time, really, like an engine has to break in. In our 11 games, i feel confident in saying that in 2 and 3 players, using default skills, the factions are starting to look more and more balanced…if the trend continues, we’ll be able to assess the more powerful skill combos.

One thing that i am not too keen on is the way skills are handled. The default skills are fine, but the randomness of the extra skills in « normal » and « veteran » mode have too much impact (imho) on the game. The presence of the Transform skill, or Scouting skill on the table may change your play completely, and this adds to your learning curve. A player that starts playing Cry Havoc facing humans with the Occupation and Scouting skill will be in for some serious challenge.

I am not saying that the balance is completely perfect, this can’t be done in any assymetric game, but that the balance improves alot with experience, and also by re-using the same skill set. I would like the expansion(s) to bring the skill system more in line for that reason, to remove the randomness and power surges that it can create.

There’s alot of comments on the other reviews and forums that indicate that the rulebook is lacking. It’s useable, and far from the worst ever, but it should have included more examples, and answered critical questions that pops right on the first attempt at the game. The answers can readily be found on these forums, fortunately, but not everyone comes here. Sometimes it’s simply due to the fact that the game innovates and its concepts are not usual (Battle-region concept). I would also put a warning sign where the skill system is described…it’s not because you’re a veteran gamer that you should play with 3 skills on the get go. The book could also give more hints about the learning curve, at least to warn players. The player guides found on this forum could even have been included in there.

So there it is. I rated the game highly as a "damn good game" and i am always willing to take it out of the collection, so i continue to believe it is deserving of its ranking. My gaming group actively wants me to find a 4th player to get the trogs on the table for real.

Take care!
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Indenture Forlife
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Thank you for the review!
My copy arrives tomorrow and I will keep your words in mind.
 
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Paul Ferguson
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Good right up, very informative.
 
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Jon Snow
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Thanks for the analysis of the faction interaction. We're experimenting with allowing the players to choose their Skills at game start. We're also using the 8 terrain deck promo cards.
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Oak Wolf
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Thanks for the comments, i'll update the info once we get some experience with the trogs.

P.S. the 8 terrain promo cards are a very nice added ruleset indeed. Too bad they didn't come standard. That being said, it's another factor to consider once an objective has been triggered, so i wouldn't recommend them to be used while still learning the game. It does add even more replayability to a game that has lots of it already, and can allow for some interesting strategic moves and tactical choices about the last turn of the game. I read somewhere that they will be available at one point on Portal's website so it might not be completely lost to those who didn't pre-order.
 
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Jon Snow
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I haven't tried the 4 Player yet either. I had a player cancel out in both of the last two weeks! I did enjoy it solitaire; I'm calling the Trogs for myself when I finally get the chance! The design does seem to get even better at a larger player count.

So I gave up and posted my own review anyhow...
 
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UA Darth
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"One thing that i am not too keen on is the way skills are handled. The default skills are fine, but the randomness of the extra skills in « normal » and « veteran » mode have too much impact (imho) on the game."

Could you explain this randomness further for those like me who have not played the game yet?
 
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Jon Snow
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There are 3 Skill Game Levels; and each player has one "default" skill card and 4 others. At game start:

Level 1: use your default skill only.
2: default skill plus one randomly drawn.
3. default plus two randomly drawn.
 
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Oak Wolf
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Sure thing.

The beginner mode only grants players the default skill of their faction. This makes it much easier to learn and also has a charming balance to it. You only have 4 skills to remember (yours and those of the other factions, course the trog one is only there when 4 players are present). They are also relatively simple to use.

Now if you go for the normal mode (can't forget the exact word), you get one random skill + your default skill. There's 5 different skills for each faction including default, so the resulting combo is wildly unpredictable. This adds to the learning curve(s) i talked above, and you now need to consider the combination of skills in addition to their individual effect.

Then, the third option listed as "veteran" gives you 2 additonal random skills (edit: thanks jon snow)

The skills are quite powerful and will often require you to change your way to play. There's even one in the pilgrim set that turn them into seriously annoying skirmishers (they steal crystals from battles!).

So while the skills are fun and thematic, the amount of things that need to be understood and factored in the game is quite large, and the skills can change a huge part of your strategy. That means you will have to re-assess what you know of that faction...and also what you know of the other faction. If you aren't dead solid on the game's mechanics already, this can easily overwhelm even a veteran gamer. There's just too much variables triggered.

This is also why it's so hard to compare our experiences on these boards, as the combos allowed by the random draw of the skills is pretty huge, and the numbers of players as well as which factions were present will also affect the game's meta.

People starting with three skills will also run into very powerful combinations, and some are more obvious to use than others. Since humans are already easier to "grasp" than the other factions, this allow the human player an easier time learning how to use his or her skills...snowballing into the situation that occured with Scouting.

An errata was produced for Scouting as it was by and large probably too powerful in the 2-3p format (you could seize the center territory and then deploy structures from there and spread out), but i still advise to (once really fine with your faction and the game) test it out for yourselves. Other factions also have really good combinations (wait until a machine player will transform his bunker into 3 units far from his HQ).

Lastly, one advice i would give is to start with the default skill for a while. Then, add one random skill or a skill of your choice, depending on your group's desire. Use the same skill combo until everyone in your group understands, then you can switch the skill. Finally, once you've cycled through all skills in the normal mode, you can go all out and add another.
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UA Darth
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Thanks. Doesn't sound so great. That is not the type of randomness that you could do much to combat unfortunately : (.
 
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Grant Rodiek
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shadow9d9 wrote:
Thanks. Doesn't sound so great. That is not the type of randomness that you could do much to combat unfortunately : (.


So, we recommend random skills out of the box as a way to encourage players to not just use your same skills every game.

But...you can pick your favorite or preferred skills. I'm not there in the game to tell you no

In fact, I frequently just play with two Skills, and the non-default one is often chosen by me for things that I think will be interesting match ups.

If you don't like that randomness...that's the easiest home rule to enact.
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Oak Wolf
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shadow9d9 wrote:
Thanks. Doesn't sound so great. That is not the type of randomness that you could do much to combat unfortunately : (.


Don't let that discourage you. It's just one of my few nitpicks to be honest.
 
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Blake W
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I actually have played ti 3 times only. once with 2, then 3, then 4. I played the trogs in the 4 player game. I can say that at first it seems that the trogs get an advantage early in the game. the way the crystals are set up, where the trogs start, and having tunnels. But in the end the trogs did lose, but mainly because someone ended the game in 2 rounds. I feel that, in short, the trogs have a good advantage early in the game, but the other players can easily overcome this as many did in our game. I actually put out as many tunnels as i could early on, and it helped me to cover some ground and put many players almost in a corner. But there is a great balance between all factions in a 4 player game. and what areas you take over can really help give you an edge in battle with the right battle cards.
 
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Oak Wolf
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I've just done a game with 4p last night and i can tell you that i agree: Trogs are very very strong at the start...in fact it feels (we need to play more) that everyone needs to work against them at the beginning.

The fact that they do not need to do much actions apart from drawing cards help them alot, even with half crystals factored in. Typically, they want to enable scoring on the first or second turn in order to secure a massive VP advantage. This is what happened in our game and no one could ever catch them.

Their deck is full of recruit icons, but they really don't need them much as everyone is spawning them from the tokens. In fact they get so many units that sooner or later their reserve is depleted.

One thing that can hurt them on the long run them is taking them prisoners. Killing them just refill their reserve and routing them away from a combat (especially at the start) often simply trigger a new trog spawn where they retreat, giving them crystals and control of the region.

We need to play more at this format to get a hang of it, it's a very different game as far as i can understand what we'll need to do to stop the trogs. It seems to me, and that may be wrong (as i stated earlier, i need more experience) that going against the trogs in 4p require to focus more troops per battle to ensure that

1) trogs don't capture you or kill your troops as you spend most efforts controling the region, forcing you to move/recruit afterward while they just grow in numbers.
2) that their combat cards don't swing the balance completely and make you actually loose the battle. The more troops you have involved the less impact a tactic card has.
3) that you might have a chance to capture trogs and if need be, kill them too.
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