Esben Heick
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I was lucky to pick up a copy of This War of Mine Kickstarter edition, and I wanted to share my own experience with you guys, after going through the complete campaign with a group of characters played by myself and my girlfriend, so 2 players. I really intended to write a review, but I found that there are plenty talk about game mechanics, so I'll shorten that part and talk mostly about how I felt playing it. I opened the game and started setting up the board, put aside that (I think Kickstarter only) envelope spelling "only open when you've completed the campaign) and all the other stuff that was in the box. I'll get back to that.

So lets start with the game setup. Skip the first part if you know the game system already.

About the game
As the game began, we started setting up the game. The setup takes a while if you dont know what you are doing. The rulebook instructs you to start your first game, where it "tutorials" you through the first game round. It sort of worked okay. The rules ARE quite easy, (as the developer clearly wants us to have faith in since they opted for the "setup-the-game-and-begin-round-1 without-knowing-the-rules" approach), but we quickly realized that there are a thousand variables that should dictate how you spend your day actions. So within the context of simple rules, your starting situation can still be quite bewildering, so I'd recommend someone have a rough idea of the rules before the game begins. But we started up, and we did learn the rules, and it was not that big a deal.

We were given a holed building full of debris, and 3 survivors. A game round equates a single day. You take turns to do stuff and decide what you want to do, but you dont have a character each. You, the Player Group, has a group of characters you want to see live through this, so you decide together what to do, with the quickly changing first player to take any decisions you might not be able to agree on. Especially during the night phases, you might be told to read these little numbers that will refer to the big "Book of Scripts" that is in the game. These scripts will provide small stories you need to react to, or give you dilemmas or problems that will be hard to deal with. You have little capacity to defend yourself, and your guys can easily die from a single attack. Or from hunger, illness, or just go hang themselves in the barn or somesuch if their misery gets too high.

The Phases of a game round, or "1 day"
Morning: An event card. It will likely fuck up your plans and be horrible.
Day: Then the day begins and the characters can spend actions in the house, build fittings in the house, clearing debris, gathering resources, cook, sleep, rest, board up the holes and so forth.
Dusk: You gotta eat and drink - or receieve Hunger tokens.
Evening: Then you prepare the night. Someone needs to go and scavenge new food, water and supplies. Some needs to guard the house. If you can afford it, someone should to sleep.
Night: Scavenging. The scavengers get an amount of exploration cards, some of which have loot on them. You have a Noise Level you need to consider. The cost of looking at stuff requires you to add or roll for noise, or subtract cards from the explore pile (effectively decreasing your chance of finding stuff the less explore cards you have)
Night: Raid. While the scavengers are out, the ones who stayed behind have to draw a Night Raid card. People who wants to kill you and grab your stuff. You need to stop them. Its horrible.
Dawn: your guys return with the scavenged loot. Its also a kind of Status Phase, where you resolve some stuff and get ready for the next Day. After this, turn 2 begins and you start over. New Morning, new problem and so on. If you play Campaign Mode, you need to go through many days in order to reach the Event Card named CEASE FIRE, which will end the war and the game.

So, our experience with the game...
Curiously, for the two of us playing this game , 1 day was also 1 sit-down with the game. We found that 1 day took about 1 hour to complete, but we also spent a lot of time debating the events and choices, and that it felt "complete" to take a single Game Round or maybe two in an evening. Talking about choices in the game became the game, more than moving pieces on the board, or tactics. The game comes with a set of Status Sheets where you can easily record the game state and redeploy it later. We had space to leave the game on the table, which made it easier to create a longer campaign. The approach of slicing up the game into several game sessions worked really well, we could take a game day instead of watching series on netflix for an hour, which made the game accessible and relevant.

It is a niche game. It requires a niche brand of player. I had an amazing time with This War of Mine. We got invested in our group. Its not a game for people who really like to play games against each other. There is no element of "me vs you" here. Its also not for people who are impatient. Its also not a game for a large group of players as it would slow the game down I guess. There is more of a investigating moral consensus between the players, sort of thing... In TWOM you are allowed into a larger narrative, one not bound to your character because you dont have one. Some find that this subtracts from the experience, but personally, I felt it enriched it. It was not about me or my character, but about US (the players talking) and THEM (the characters we control collectively). Its unique. It also allows characters that are awesome to have in the house, but would be largely irellevant to scavenging – but such a character would be enormously boring to play full time. You might not like the approach, and in that case, avoid this game - Just, know that fact before you buy it. We thoroughly enjoyed the problems, the priorities and the discussion. A third player could probably add something vaulable. Solo play would probably also be cool, if you prefer a quicker game.

The Book of Scripts generates some really grotesque stories. The stories I give examples of here will likely play out differently in your playthrough, it they happen at all, there are A LOT OF stories. We had a group of characters, Marko, Emira and Emilia, and the stuff they had to do to survive and the reasons why became a really great story.


Our story
... On the first day, when Emira and Marko was out trying to find supplies, neighbors came to the house. They were panicking, said that murder patrols were roaming the street. Emilia was on guard, and was quite alone in the house and unarmed, so she left with the neighbors and ran for her life. When the rest of the group came back they found her tired and sad in the house after a panicked night. It was a ruse by thieves to create rumours of death patrols so they could steal our stuff. Emira had found vegetables enough though, so they had food for the next day. Then they met Pavle, a gloomy person carrying an axe and some jewels (likely not his own, we assumed) and he was being really miserable - but he became a part of the group. He joined Emira and Marko as the scavenging party, but they soon got caught by a group of soldiers. The soldiers gave us wooden guns and told us to walk slowly in the middle of the street as Sniper Bait. We chanced an escape and dived into the rubble, and survived, ran like hell, gunfire behind and over us. The winter got really harsh, so people started getting sick from the cold. Out getting stuff we could burn and meds for Emilia who was close to death we met a guy who had a captured cat that and we decided to liberate it. Had to "persuade" the owner to let it go - It moved in with us, and stayed there the rest of the campaign. There was famine and hungry refugees, and we really wanted to help them. A young group of Scamps really wanted to get into the house, and as they got booted, they said they wanted to come back with more guys (their vengeance lasted the rest of the game) and ramped up the difficulty a lot. It took many days before they did come back though, but they did come back in force. Our group starved, and had to take unpleasant choices as they went food hunting. They came back with all that food and ate what they had, but the next morning the hungry refugees had gathered, and Emilia and Emira got way too depressed that they had eaten while those outside had not. Both Emira and Emilia left the group. We had spent every single resource to get to that point. We had little to defend ouselves, and there were snipers on the roofs and harsh winter. Between snipers and the scamps and the rising level of violence around the house we chose to evacuate and hit the streets all night. The house got ransacked and everything we could not carry was stolen. But we survived, and though sick and tired, we reached the Cease Fire with Marko and Pavle. The Epilogue Stories we reached for them were not quite optimistic, though it did close the story in a fitting manner.


Really, the rules to tell this story are very simple. The game IS that story. Or, its gonna be ANOTHER story for you. There are no player tactics, just group dynamics, priority calls and choices. And more choices. Its pretty hard, we dodged a few close calls by completely randomly having the right card on the hand to deal with tricky situations. If not, we might not have survived. Normally I'd say that this would be a bad game dynamic, as negative playing experiences will lead you to not pick up that game again, but I found it quite exciting. I'm not sure we survive the next game. There is obviously a really powerful anti war message in the game about not turning war games into casual entertainment, and my gosh, it is not. Geek and Sundry made that almost provocative statement: "It’s every bit as brutally difficult as the video game, and the soul-crushing anti-war message it communicates might just prove that, yes, board games can be art. " Art ?! Big word.

But the campaign is long and sad and exciting. And we finished the campaign. And we open the envelope that says "DO NOT OPEN UNTIL YOU COMPLETE THE CAMPAIGN".

This part is about whats in the envelope, so skip it if you want to find out for your self:

Spoiler (click to reveal)
In the envelope we find a page that looks like a faux article from a news paper, telling you gossip and health tips on staying pretty, and pop and "Crazy Man Pizza" commercials and no-one cares articles on celebrities. And then below all that on the back, on the bottom of the page, a small note: Peace has finally reached this-and-that city somewhere in another country, they agreed on mutual cease fire. Also, "Carrots Are Great For Staying Beautiful", and "Parents Forced Kid To Live Without Computer". And the absurdity kinda hit me. Our group had just survived hell, so it was a little disappointing to be reduced to a note that on the back, behind the celebrity gossip, but I guess thats part of the message. I guess that is This War of Mine. It felt real. The idiocy of the article is like a knife in your gut.


It might be that this artistic nerve subtracts from the game – as it is obvioulsy creating a heavier game that demands investment or it will reject you completely. It lacks tactics and strategic choices to a large extend, so is it a game? So is it art ? And the more art it might be, the less game is it, maybe ? Well, this saying that all political art is bad, but all good art is political ? It might be that because it has this nerve, it is less of a game – simply because it is not as such played, more so experienced. I dont know. It's probably a little much calling a board game a piece of art, but hell, if art is the stuff that shifts something in you, then count me in, because I had a riveting story, slow cooked, with plenty taste, and the stories we created resonated beyond the time I played the game. It touched me. How often does a game do that?


I'll absolutely recommend this game, but steer clear if its not your thing, and quite honestly, it might not be. Its not fun, per se, because its horrible. It is not casual, because the campaign is very long, likely consisting of several sittings. And its horrible. It is very emotionally and intellectually stimulating though. If you have patience, love of storytelling, some political awareness maybe, and emotional investment enough to care about the stories of a few pieces of plastic shuffling about on a piece of card board, it just might be. We had plenty of debate, there were horrible choices to be made, and we talked a lot about what we should do. In that sense it was a great and very powerful story generator. There were dilemmas, and we realized that we were not the first people to have those dilemmas. We talked about the research the developers did, and the interviews with war refugees that created the Book of Scripts horror I just witnessed. I think we'll go for another run at a later stage. I'm quite certain the story will be very different. And did I mention horrible ?


THE KICKSTARTER CONTENTS, (edit)

The kickstarter includes, apart from the envelope mentioned above ( which isnt really so much an envelope as a paper that you can unfold ) some modular add-ons that latches on to the base game, and some new Scenarios: 
-An additional scenario named Blood in the snow. Survive a Blizzard, and a guy named Luka is dying from blood loss and you have to save him... ish.
-An additional scenario named Epidemic. Yay. Guess Illness is gonna be a problem in this one. Comes with Vaccine Counters anyways. Did not try it yet.
-An additional scenario named Refugees. You have a group of refugees to harbor. Soldiers want them. Hide them. Get beat up by soldiers.

Emira. Then there is an additional character, a hobo named Emira. While she did not make it through the campaign mentioned above, she was instrumental in the survival of the group through many hard days. Shes good at scavenging vegetables, and generally pulled her own weight throughout.
Also a dog or a cat., if you want an animal to live in the house from the get-go. You can find both animals in the book of scripts already (we did, above), so its for easier reference, but with these rules you can include them from the beginning.
317. Then there's another envelope marked 317, that contains a secret. I have not yet opened it. There is no set script for that,I should just open it whenever I feel like I could really use a hand. Once.
Dice. You also get an extra set of dice (which is cool, because then you can roll your attacks and the enemy attacks simultaneously. This is awesome, especially if you want to use Tactics, where you want to structure your dice rolling a bit more.
Then there are a few "mod" stories you can mix into your games for adding predefined story setups for your campaigns, like add-ons:
Orphans of War. When you enter the hideout on turn 1, theres a kid. I havent tried it, but holy crap I pretty much guarantee you it's going to be depressing. Try to help the kid, build toys and fittings for the child, and dont die! Be even more sorry when you do.
Farmers. Mix these cards into the pool to make the besieged city a bit more rural. The Farmers add-on is very easy to mix into the base game. Theres gonna be refugee farmers and related events in the various decks, refugees, new types of visitors. Oh, and you'll start with a goat. 
Our Street. 
Then there are 5 Our Street cards. These are different, and give you a new system to show which factions around the house is most numerous (refugees, thugs, soldiers) I did not test this thoroughly yet. But its very random, and quite lethal. It might  be that it works better than my untested(!) bias tells me it will, but it doesnt look so good to me. They are supposed to liven up the game around the house by adding new phase steps. It's a good idea but its not that intuitive, and it enlarges the upkeep steps of each turn. But this is how it works: you roll a dice each morning to see whether you place any models, thugs, soldiers or farmers on the Outside space or the Findings space. This number will vary day by day. Thugs and soldiers are bad news, but you can buy food from farmers. You'd like farmers to be just outside your house, but you dont want thugs. Luckily you can put thug/soldier models on the Findings space but that just mean you risk them when scavenging in stead. The quantity of each model type varies over turns to show the ebb and flow of the war and overall environment of the city (You add or remove one each morning).  While farmers are nice, soldiers and thugs crank up the effect of night raids. Although there is a chance that the soldiers so to speak "defeat the thugs" or somesuch, which will let you avoid any night raids the same night, this does not seem to help a lot. The problem here is that the randomness of the night raids suddenly vary between being way more dangerous, or turned off. Considering how dangerous night raids can be already, it does seem stupid, especially because testing to see whether an attack will happen and be worse than normal, or not happen at all, wont happen until the raid phase. This means you cant plan for it. You can put all your guys with guns boarded up at home and have the raid cancelled, or have your guys out and have your home utterly plundered by enemies. While I appreciate the random lethality in TWOM this tweaks it the wrong way, and it kinda make the Board Up upgrades absolutely mandatory, and not just (very) nice to have. There are other effects to the Our Street cards, but between adding randomness to raids and adding more stuff you got to upkeep, this mod is going to stay in the box. After a single read-through of the cards I can with certainty say I am not impressed. 

Heart of The City

After scavenging but before choosing findings, your dudes might wish to Heart of The City If you do, you can draw a HOTC card , roll a dice, and see what chapter you are in, which will lead you to a Heart of the City event, that comes with its own script book full of HOTC scripts that are chapter dependent. We found less horror in these events than in the big book, but you only have 5 HOTC cards and you have no guarantees that good things happen. Some events are just stories, some of the events are awesome, new trade options, new special items, we even had a quest for a new epilogue and a friendly weapons dealer. So, more events,  chapter dependent and tailored for campaign use. I like it.  It flows seamlessly into the game. It also comes with a small statue of an angel, that I guess i something you put the HOTC cards next to. It seems kinda needless. We found it easier to simply put the HOTC cards on the unknown deck space, and simply put your explore cards on top of them. That way, when you run out of explore cards, voila, there they are. The statue has one other use though - its a great First Player token for when you learn the journal by heart. 

Desperate Measures
Then there are the Desperate Measures cards. You get to draw one if a character dies or leaves or is otherwise lost. They are played just like Narrative Cards, except they have a cost. A card example : "We have to eat this" the characters find something disgusting but somewhat nutricious. This turn, your characters counts as having eaten food, BUT all of them go up 1 misery. 

This is also seamlessly worked into the standard game. Since they work like Narrative Cards, we added them to the bottom of that pile. When someone dies or leaves (Anton, here's to you), we draw Desperate Measure cards from the bottom of the deck. 

Sewers
I did not test this thoroughly yet. This curious addon introduces the sewers into the game? I did find that oddly specific, and everything else outside the house is very abstract, so, why sewers? Well, they are underground, and largely devoid of enemies, so you can use them to get around before nightfall. This means you can do more scavenging each round, both day and night ! You still have to be more careful, and that translates into fewer Explore cards during the day. And obviously, the sewers pose their own threats. I do find the travel system a bit alien to the rest of the game, its a little off. Thats a preference, but I would liked the sewer system to look more like an expansion of the Explore system, so it would mix more seamlessly. The system is easy enough though, and there are drawbacks and potential rewards that balance out to be potentially even. I'm not 100% convinced though, so whether I'll use it will depend on the wishes of my group.


Tactics
When I played through the campaign on the first playthrough, I saw very little combat, as I refused to roll many Noise Rolls. And I got lucky. Sometimes though, you roll a 1, and you meet thugs, and combat begins, and you cant stop it, and this particular part of the game seems a little like "roll 1d6, if you roll a 1, you lose the game": If you have to fight 3-4 guys with proper weapons, (and guns shoot first), they'll probably just kill you before your can knife them back. If you run away, they will gun you down (unless youre Pavle). If you fight, they will gun you down. Tactics changes this, and it is my favorite Add-on! Its a system that allows you to detail the events that happens when you meet enemies during your scavenge. The system is still lethal, but you dont start the fight in front of the "firing squad at dawn" as normal combat, you start on the tactical battlefield. And you have lots of options to fight, flight or try to stall and gather tactical superiority via the Tactical Tokens. There is this small battle map that consists of various abstract spaces called "rooms" , "hiding places" and "open spaces". You get a chance to leave the battle without being shot if you can leave the battle map, but doing so will get you to the Findings Stage and Scavenging is now over. You get lots of opportunities for survival, or for going places where you can ambush, deny that firearms can shoot first as they normal do, or hinder Prowess rerolls. And some spaces have these Tactical Tokens, that you pick up and discard to add/subtract or reroll with the dice. A guy with a gun will still kill you quickly, or eat through your tactical tokens really quickly, BUT you have a chance to meet him on your terms(ish). And you can then pick up fallen enemies weapons, and continue the fight. With some luck and some patience and all the tactical tokens gathered I had an unarmed Boris kill 4 thugs with guns and knives (he has Prowess 2, which helped a lot, but the fight would be impossible if not for tatics: Without it, the thugs would have wounded Boris with some 2-3 wounds with red die guns, then Boris would have dealt 0-2 wounds on a thug with 1 grey die, and the last of the thugs would have killed him with yellow dice. The battle becomes longer, yes, but they are less one sided. More of a game. Still brutal, if you overextend. But as you can try to navigate your guys off the battle map and avoid the battle, so you can try to avoid overextending. Its a little clunky, but well worth it I think. I started to appreciate the tactics. Basically you move around with your guys through these rooms. In the beginning of Tactics, you know the enemy is "around the corner" somewhere, but you dont know where, and like the computer game, you can meet them and attack them when they are alone. Get tokens. Use them to get leverage. I had an unarmed Boris find 1 guy with a knife. I avoided him, found 2 tactics tokens. I attack him. I roll 0 damage, spend 1 Prowess to reroll for 1 damage. Spends 2 tokens to add 2 damage, which kills him. I took 1 wound. Now I have a knife. I get another Tactics Token and move on. I get to place 1 guy, and I place (or "mark" him) in a room that is a tight space". This means his gun wont have "priority" in the battle. I meet him head on. I roll 0 dam, rerolls with Prowess, and luckily kills him. He rolls 2 dam, and I decrease my wounds with the tac token. Now I have a gun  (it has no shots, but I had picked up 1 ammo prior). Repeat. Repeat. When you are done with the fight (and you won), there is a special rule that you can ignore noise for the rest of the scavenge. Whatever residents there are, ran off (Existing hobos or civilians might still be there) so you can go through the rest of the pile quickly. This luckily means that you will only in extreme circumstances fight twice (first thugs, then perhaps angered hobos already present), but usually just once. 

The rooms on the map have Noise modifiers (broken glass and gravel on the floor, I assume) and Hide modifiers (shadows). Depending on how far and how you move, you have your own modifiers. Noise works the same way as normal. You roll for your enemy to hear you, and if you roll low, he heard you and you start combat. If your character tries to hide, he needs to roll a low Hide check, to avoid being spotted. If the combat is noisy, you effectuate the Alarm Card which will make you run into enemies faster, and make it harder to hide.  CONS: Theres a lot of dice rolling, and I dont know how well it works in a player group, as I tried it alone. Also, its hard to wrap your head around it to begin with if you have noone to learn from. You draw room cards and roll noise and hide all the time, and that part is a little tedious. Well... Unto a point. Daresay, I just won a campaign with 4 characters alive in the end, and two of them had 1 hunger point, and thats it. Maybe, it was luck, and I had both Roman and Boris roaming the Tactics Map with shotgun, axe and pistol and more knives than I needed. Tactics makes it UNQUESTIONABLY easier to win encounters. Not too easy, but the above example is an impossibility in the regular system and merely improbable in Tactics. Despite the clunkyness, I found the system quite excellent.

Conclusion
*The new scenarios all seem great.
*Orphans of War and Farmers seem awesome. Especially Farmers seem to blend into the game neatly.
*Our Street. Pretty bad add-on IMO. Unused. Even in theory it seems a little broken, or AT LEAST tedious.
*Heart of The City. Nice little add-on IMO. Not a big deal, but definetely approved. Used a lot.
*Desperate Measures. Used a lot. Very nice, small add-on ! Works well.
*Tactics. Used a lot. Clunky, yes, but it alleviated the most merciless part of the game. A big yes please.
*Sewers. Unused so far. A little odd, but okay. Before tests can be made, its a maybe. Am a little reluctant when going over the rules.
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John
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Re: My experience of TWOM after surviving the Campaign
Great informative review Esben! Your story is an excellent example of how campaigns may fare.
 
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Re: My experience of TWOM after surviving the Campaign
Great experience, very clever and good game.

We played it on a weekend and did it one sitting. If you compare it to other games like Twlight Struggle or Star Wars Rebellion it isn't really that much longer once you have the mechanics down.

We've played it 7 times and completed it twice. We are on a break from it but want to back and try and the other side of the board and the expansions. I love the unique encounters and items you find in the book.

This lived up to the my expectations of the PC game and the PC game was one of the best gaming experiences I've had.
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Andrew Greenaway
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Re: My experience of TWOM after surviving the Campaign
Esben, I loved reading your post. It brought to mind how captivating this game can be.How brilliantly thematic and true to the experience a board game could get. I might be on my own for having this opinion but seeing responses like this brings out the real "hotness" games that are available through the forums on bgg. I am not disrespecting the games in the column on the left but finding a gem of a game like this to play that creates the senario within your mind and allows you to manipulate it on the table is very rare for me.There will be many games I haven't played that do this ofcourse. I have very little experience of them other than Robinson Crusoe which is another gem in my opinion.

Thank you for sharing your TWOM experience with us.
 
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Re: My experience of TWOM after surviving the Campaign
Great review, thanks for sharing!
 
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Ahmet Uysal
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Re: My experience of TWOM after surviving the Campaign
Thanks for the review. Although story is sad, I enjoyed reading about your perspective on the game.

I have a question. I have the retail version of the game. Does the "campaign" come with the kickstarter goals? If it is, would you mind explaining it a bit more? Certain objectives? Certain locations? Day limit?

Thanks
 
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Josh
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Re: My experience of TWOM after surviving the Campaign
zeenord wrote:
Thanks for the review. Although story is sad, I enjoyed reading about your perspective on the game.

I have a question. I have the retail version of the game. Does the "campaign" come with the kickstarter goals? If it is, would you mind explaining it a bit more? Certain objectives? Certain locations? Day limit?

Thanks


A 'Campaign' is simply a full game of all 3 chapters played to completion.
 
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Jyhne
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Re: My experience of TWOM after surviving the Campaign
Shadrach wrote:
zeenord wrote:
Thanks for the review. Although story is sad, I enjoyed reading about your perspective on the game.

I have a question. I have the retail version of the game. Does the "campaign" come with the kickstarter goals? If it is, would you mind explaining it a bit more? Certain objectives? Certain locations? Day limit?

Thanks


A 'Campaign' is simply a full game of all 3 chapters played to completion.

I have the retail version too. Is the envelope a kickstarter thing?
 
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Ahmet Uysal
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Re: My experience of TWOM after surviving the Campaign
Thanks. After reading that an envolope was opened, I thought there are some other mods in kickstarter version.
 
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Re: My experience of TWOM after surviving the Campaign
jyhne wrote:
Shadrach wrote:
zeenord wrote:
Thanks for the review. Although story is sad, I enjoyed reading about your perspective on the game.

I have a question. I have the retail version of the game. Does the "campaign" come with the kickstarter goals? If it is, would you mind explaining it a bit more? Certain objectives? Certain locations? Day limit?

Thanks


A 'Campaign' is simply a full game of all 3 chapters played to completion.

I have the retail version too. Is the envelope a kickstarter thing?


It mwy have been? It is not so much an envelope but a plastic wrapped paper thing with instructions not to open until you complete the final objective successfully.

I didn't think it was KS exclusive but could be wrong.
 
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Esben Heick
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Re: My experience of TWOM after surviving the Campaign
Thanks for all the replies. Yes I think the envelope is a KS thing. The KS mods are very confusing and dont just mix with the base game. Its a lot of add ons.

I'm writing up a few words on what you get in the kickstarter version, but its not quite ready yet.
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Esben Heick
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Re: My experience of TWOM after surviving the Campaign (Also info on the Kickstarter Contents)
Hello again everyone. I edited the post as requested. Now it includes my thoughts on the Kickstarter Content (above).

Please note that this part is not a REVIEW as such, because I havent tried them all. Its an opinionated overview. for those who havent got a clue what the KS includes.
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